2015: A Year in Marilyn Headlines

10888615_10152588248917584_8987576087019859357_nIn January, Marilyn was named as the ‘new face’ of Max Factor cosmetics. Also this month, Joe Franklin (Marilyn’s first biographer) and Anita Ekberg, a fellow blonde bombshell of the fifties, both passed away.

In February, New York Fashion Week included a Fall 2015 collection from Max Mara, inspired by Marilyn’s 1960s style. A hologram of multiple Marilyns appeared in the Oscars opening ceremony. Also this month, Richard Meryman – the last person to interview Marilyn – passed away.

adf8341a9d7c6e436611f9b166316971In March, Marilyn was featured in a vintage-inspired ad campaign for Coca Cola. In book news, the long-awaited first volume of Holding A Good Thought For Marilyn, a two-part biography by Stacy Eubank, was published.

eubankMarilyn Forever, an opera by Gavin Bryars, had its US premiere. And Marilyn: The Strength Behind the Legendary Monroe, showcasing the collection of Ted Stampfer, opened in Liechtenstein.

In April, a viral hoax news story, claiming that a CIA agent had made a deathbed confession to Marilyn’s murder, was debunked. Plans for a monument to Marilyn in South Korea were announced. And in book news, Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe, edited by Marcelline Block, was published.

fan phenomIn May, Dr Cyril Wecht – one of the world’s most renowned forensic pathologists – gave an interview to Immortal Marilyn’s Marijane Gray, laying to rest some of the many myths about Marilyn’s death. Marilyn was the subject of two controversial TV shows: Autopsy – The Last Hours of Marilyn Monroe, a documentary; and The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, a mini-series based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography, starring Kelli Garner.

bfi monroe_season_posterOn June 1 – Marilyn’s 89th birthday – the British Film Institute launched a month-long retrospective of Marilyn’s movies, and a nationwide reissue of The Misfits. Menswear designer Dries Van Noten used iconic images of Marilyn in his Spring 2016 collection. A benefit performance of Bombshell (the Marilyn-inspired musical subject of TV’s Smash) spurred plans for a full Broadway run. And Marilyn Monroe: Missing Moments, a summer-long exhibit, opened at the Hollywood Museum.

jpegOn June 29, Julien’s Auctions held a Hollywood Legends sale dedicated to Marilyn, and her floral dress from Something’s Got to Give sold for over $300,000. Sadly, it was also reported that the ‘Dougherty House’ in North Hollywood, where Marilyn lived from 1944-45, has been demolished – despite protests from local residents. And George Winslow, the former child actor who appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, passed away.

hollywood-legends-catalogIn July, Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modelling Years, a new book by Michelle Morgan, was published. Limited Runs launched the Red Velvet Collection, a US touring exhibition featuring Tom Kelley’s famous nude calendar shots of Marilyn, as well as rare photos by Gene Lester. In Los Angeles, the Andrew Weiss Gallery launched their own exhibition, Marilyn: The Making of a Legend, and published a catalogue, 17 Years.

morgan before marilyn

1129929.MAD.9

In August, the Marilyn Remembered fan club’s annual memorial service was held at Westwood Memorial Park, marking the 53rd anniversary of Marilyn’s death. It was reported that hip hop producer Timbaland would sample ‘Down Boy’, a ‘lost’ song recorded by Marilyn for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And the Daily Express published rare photos of a young Marilyn in Salinas.

In September, a large number of rare candid shots of Marilyn were auctioned by Profiles in History. A new exhibition, Becoming Jewish: Warhol’s Liz and Marilyn, opened in New York. And Norman Farberow, the psychologist who contributed to the first official report on Marilyn’s death in 1962 , passed away.

wills marilyn in the flashIn October, Marilyn – in the Flash, David Wills’ stunning sequel to MM: Metamorphosis, was published. Members of Everlasting Star discovered rare photos of an early public appearance by Marilyn at the Hollywood Legion Stadium in 1947. October also marked Arthur Miller’s centenary, and the death of movie legend Maureen O’Hara.

In November, Marilyn’s blue gabardine suit from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was sold at Bonham’s for $425,000. Congressman Tony Cardenas introduced a bill to rename a Van Nuys post office after Marilyn. Cartier unveiled a new ad, featuring a diamond-themed homage to Marilyn. And the Writers’ Guild of America voted Some Like it Hot as the second funniest screenplay of all time.

And finally … in December, Marilyn-related items from the collection of Dame Joan Collins were sold at Julien’s Auctions, and Ferragamo launched a capsule collection featuring a Marilyn-inspired shoe. Over in Toronto, the TIFF Cinematheque launched a season of movies starring Marilyn and her greatest Hollywood rival, Elizabeth Taylor.

‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?’

Photo by Ben Ross
Photo by Ben Ross

‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?’ was the title of a panel discussion held at the BFI in June as part of their MM retrospective. Film programmer Jemma Desai chaired a wide-ranging debate that encompassed acting methods, body image and feminism. Film scholar Lucy Bolton, writer Jacqueline Rose (Women in Dark Times) and playwright/novelist/critic Bonnie Greer (Marilyn and Ella) share their perspectives on why Monroe’s life and work continue to fascinate – with Greer even suggesting that “Marilyn was a hundred times more radical than Arthur Miller could even begin to dream of being.” You can watch the discussion in full here.

Marilyn: A Life in Portraits

Photographed by Eve Arnold on a break during a public appearance in Bement, 1955
Photographed by Eve Arnold on a break during a public appearance in Bement, 1955

In another great article for the BFI website, Nigel Arthur explores photographs from the National Archive, and considers how Marilyn’s image was purveyed through different modes of photography: including promotional and paparazzi shots, film stills, portraits and behind-the-scenes photos.

“In Richard Dyer’s Stars, first published by BFI in 1979, the author refers to Marilyn Monroe’s image as ‘situated in the flux of ideas about morality and sexuality that characterised 1950s America’. Indeed, her image transcended her films, and swiftly became firmly entrenched in pop culture. Andy Warhol (Marilyn Diptych, 1962) and Richard Hamilton (My Marilyn, 1964/65) both manipulated her photographic image using a silkscreen process, provocatively referencing her wide eyes and open mouth. In the early 1950s, Monroe was put under contract by Darryl F. Zanuck and became the leading artist at Twentieth Century-Fox. Her public persona was constructed, to a large extent, through the distribution of a wide variety of images, which served to increase her popularity with cinema goers.”

On Fate, ‘The Misfits’ and Marilyn

misfits-the-1961-010-marilyn-monroe-in-plaits-clark-gable-00m-f45-00o-hmuWhile the troubled production of The Misfits might have felled a lesser project, Marilyn’s last complete film wears its scars well, Geoff Andrew argues in another excellent piece for the BFI website.

“The almost palpable atmosphere of pain, disappointment and ubiquitous mortality reinforces, complicates and enriches the script’s sometimes trite conception of damaged masculine souls (the ranchers and rodeo-riders played by Gable, Clift and Wallach) redeemed by their encounter with a woman (Monroe’s divorcee Roslyn). Roslyn is essentially presented as a life-force corrective to their apparent indifference regarding the suffering of all the gentle, innocent and beautiful creatures on this earth.

Due to their various personal circumstances, Gable, Clift and Monroe come across as fragile, vulnerable, indecisive and not quite sure where they’re headed or why. That rather muddies Miller’s ‘message’ (which was probably inspired by his own feelings about and experiences with Monroe), which is no bad thing. For all the (strikingly staged and shot) struggles with stallions and so on, the film consequently feels less like some sort of poetic fable about primal forces, and more like something recognisably human in scale and nature.”

Marilyn Versus 10 Great Directors

On the set of 'How to Marry a Millionaire' with director Jean Negulesco, 1953
On the set of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ with director Jean Negulesco, 1953

In another great article for the BFI website, Christina Newland explores the sometimes difficult, but highly creative relationships that Marilyn forged with her many gifted directors. (I was a little disappointed that Joshua Logan, another brilliant director who guided Marilyn through one of her finest performances in Bus Stop, didn’t make the cut.)

“The breathy voice, the windswept white dress, and the endless litany of falsely attributed Pinterest quotes: since her death of a drug overdose in 1962, Marilyn Monroe has been so relentlessly mythologised that she often seems to exist more as commemorative poster art than as a film star…

The immediate persona – deemed ‘vulgar’ by numerous critics and commentators – was that of a well-meaning dumb blonde; all baby talk and male fantasy made flesh. That she was apparently ill-at-ease with this image has long passed into common lore about Monroe.

In spite of early attempts at breaking into more serious dramatic roles – as with Don’t Bother to Knock in 1952 – sexist condescension was never far behind. Archer Winston, a critic at the New York Post remarked: ‘[…] they’ve thrown MM into the deep dramatic waters, sink or swim. And while she doesn’t really do either, you might say that she floats. With that figure, what else can she do?’

Estranged from her sex goddess image and striving for artistic validity, Marilyn went on to study at the Actors Studio, hiring Paula Strasberg as her acting coach. Strasberg was Marilyn’s constant companion on set, to the fury of numerous directors.

Nonetheless, each director Marilyn worked with – from Billy Wilder to George Cukor – helped to piece together a part of her persona. There is the exaggerated, almost burlesque femininity of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953); the wounded and childlike vulnerability of her role in The Misfits (1961); and the less-discussed, duplicitous femme fatales of her early career, as in Niagara (1953).”

Marilyn at the BFI: Full Schedule Announced

bfi mag
Flyer shared by Valerie

The full programme for the BFI’s June season of MM films is now online, with tickets available now for members, or from May 12 for non-members. All of Marilyn’s films from 1952-62 are included (apart from O. Henry’s Full House), with multiple showings of The Misfits as part of its nationwide reissue, and a new print of Niagara. This retrospective includes two other events: ‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?‘ on June 3rd, featuring authors Jacqueline Rose and Bonnie Greer; and a Marilyn Monroe Study Day on June 27, with guests including Sarah Churchwell. You can view the digital guide for June here.

bfiguide

Marilyn in June at the BFI

marilyn-monroe-southbank-season-artwork-june-2015

Details of the British Film Institute’s June retrospective (at London Southbank) have been posted on their blog, naming 12 of the 15 Marilyn movies to be screened – and giving us a sneak preview of the season’s poster. (Interestingly, the BFI have partnered with Stylist, the free women’s magazine who have picked Marilyn as their cover girl on more than one occasion.)