Gwendoline Christie Inspired by Marilyn

Gwendoline Christie, the English actress who plays Brienne of Tarth in TV’s Game of Thrones, has revealed that Marilyn was a formative influence on her chosen career. “I remember seeing Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop on television and thinking, what she was doing was so incredibly extraordinary,” Christie told People magazine. “I didn’t come from an acting background, but I just knew —that’s what I want to to do.”

Marilyn: A Proto-Synaesthete?

Norma Jeane by Richard C. Miller, 1946

In an article for the New Yorker, no less, Robin Wright says, ‘I have something in common with Marilyn Monroe – and you might, too.’ That shared condition, she claims, is synaesthesia…

“Marilyn Monroe had a condition called synesthesia, a kind of sensory or cognitive fusion in which things seen, heard, smelled, felt, or tasted stimulate a totally unrelated sense—so that music can be heard or food tasted in colors, for instance. Monroe’s first husband, Jim Dougherty, told Norman Mailer about ‘evenings when all Norma Jean served were peas and carrots. She liked the colors. She has that displacement of the senses which others take drugs to find. So she is like a lover of rock who sees vibrations when he hears sounds,’ Mailer recounted, in his 1973 biography of Monroe.”

While Marilyn was never diagnosed with synaesthesia, there’s a good reason for that – it wasn’t an established concept during her lifetime, although Wright believes it has been described in literature for centuries, noting that many artists, musicians and writers exhibit aspects of synaesthesia.

Maureen Seaberg first suggested that Marilyn might have been a synaesthete in a 2012 article for Psychology Today – a hypothesis supported by Mona Rae Miracle. (It would be interesting if a psychologist could examine other incidents from Marilyn’s life from this perspective.)

Marilyn photographed by Milton Greene, in costume for ‘Bus Stop’ (1956)

“It didn’t disturb me that Mr. Mailer did not refer to Ms. Monroe’s displacement of the senses specifically as synesthesia — no one was using that word in 1973. I decided to follow up with her survivors and spent months seeking them until an email arrived from her niece, Mona Rae Miracle, who with her mother, Berniece Baker Miracle, wrote a well-received biography of her famous aunt herself, titled My Sister Marilyn.

‘Synaesthesia is a term Marilyn and I were unaware of; in the past, we simply spoke of the characteristic experiences with terms such as extraordinary sensitivity and/or extraordinary imagination … Marilyn and I both studied acting with Lee Strasberg, who gave students exercises which could bring us awareness of such abilities, and the means of using them to bring characters to life. As you know, the varied experiences can bring sadness or enjoyment … Marilyn’s awesome performance in Bus Stop (the one she was most proud of) grew out of the use of such techniques and quite wore her out.'”

Marilyn Goes From ‘Eve’ to ‘Niagara’ in Arizona

Marilyn’s steamy 1953 thriller, Niagara, will be screened on October 3 at the NAU College of Arts and Letters in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona, as part of a two-season retrospective, 20th Century Fox: The Stars. Prior to this, you can enjoy Marilyn’s supporting role in All About Eve on September 26. (Let’s hope Bus Stop gets an airing in the next season, as it was partly filmed in the state capital of Phoenix, Arizona.)

The Secret of Marilyn’s Timeless Appeal

Marilyn in  ‘River of No Return’ (1954)

In an insightful piece for the Ipswich Star, arts editor Andrew Clarke suggests that the reason for Marilyn’s enduring fame is not merely because of her beauty and dying young, but also her talent and charisma, best seen in her movies.

“The reason that Marilyn continues to be an international star, long-after her death, is a combination of good looks, striking personality and a fine actress. Once she hit her stride she also made some brilliant films, films that have become classics and still entertain audiences 60 years after they were made.

Films like Some Like It Hot and Seven Year Itch remain as bright and effervescent as the day they were made. If you research some of Marilyn’s lesser known films like Niagara or How To Marry A Millionaire with Lauren Bacall then you will find the performance and the material equally good.

Examination of her dramatic films such Bus Stop and The Misfits reveals a talented, thoughtful actress who connects with the character and with her audience. In these films, more so than her comedies, she played a character probably more akin to the real Marilyn, a vulnerable, emotionally exposed individual trying to find her place in the world.”

‘Bus Stop’ Stage Revival in Maine

Another stage revival of William Inge’s Bus Stop has just opened at the Acadia Repertory Theatre in Somesville, Maine. Director Andrew Mayer outlined the differences between the play and Marilyn’s 1956 movie to readers of the Mount Desert Islander.

“‘This play is as good an American play as has ever been written. It depicts characters one doesn’t often see on the theater stage: cowboys, a nightclub singer, waitresses and a bus driver, Kansans, Missourians, Montanans. It shows them in their own world, with all the dignity, flaws and humanity of each on full display. And while the play has the (highly unconventional!) love story between Bo the cowboy and Cherie the nightclub ‘chanteuse’ at its heart, it gives plenty of stage time to the rest of the characters as well. Inge’s genius is in making these characters compelling and recognizable to everyone, while keeping the play deeply rooted in its Midwestern milieu. It’s not just a masterpiece, but a distinctively American masterpiece!'”

Joe Hyams 1926-2017

Legendary Hollywood publicist Joe Hyams (not to be confused with the reporter of the same name) has died aged 90, according to the L.A. Times. Born in New York, he served in the Marines during World War II. After a stint in journalism, he was hired as a unit publicist for From Here to Eternity and On the Waterfront. In 1956 he worked on Bus Stop, Marilyn’s acclaimed comeback following a year-long absence from the screen. Four years later, he was appointed national advertising and publicity director at Warner Brothers. He would remain at the studio for over forty years, overseeing major films like My Fair Lady, Bonnie and Clyde, Woodstock, The Exorcist, Blazing Saddles, A Star Is BornChariots of Fire, JFK and Eyes Wide Shut. Hyams also collaborated with actor-director Clint Eastwood on numerous films, including Every Which Way But Loose, Unforgiven and Hyams’ final project, the Oscar-winning Mystic River (2004.)

When Marilyn Brought Hollywood to Pinewood

Film historian Karina Longworth, who recently devoted three episodes of her ‘You Must Remember This’ podcast to Marilyn (which I’ll be reviewing soon), has compiled a list of ‘9 Movies You Need to Watch To Understand Old Hollywood‘ for Harper’s Bazaar. All nine films can be streamed via Warner Archive. Her choices, including Jean Harlow’s Bombshell (1933), are interesting. Last on the list is The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), which is surprising because it’s not really a Hollywood film, and Longworth considers it ‘boring.’

She compares it unfavourably to Bus Stop, stating that Marilyn produced both films, but in fact, Showgirl was her company’s only production to date. Although rather slow-paced, it has plenty of old-world charm, and even Sir Laurence Olivier would later admit that “Marilyn was quite wonderful, the best of all. So what do you know?”

“This is definitely one of my least favorite Marilyn Monroe films, but it’s a fascinating period in her life. It was a very troubled production … though she did it through her production company, she had a very difficult time wielding power … Because this was such a pivotal point in Marilyn’s career, this is the artifact that comes out of that—out of a lot of struggle and sadness … her performance in [Bus Stop] is super great, and she was really excited about it because it was a way of her depicting her struggle in this industry where men are objectifying her. To go from that to The Prince and the Showgirl is kind of a letdown.”

Marilyn’s Little Black Book, and More

The annual Hollywood Legends auction at Julien’s, set for April 29, features a number of Marilyn-related items, including a 1961 check  book which, as UK tabloid The Mirror reports, shows she was overdrawn at the time.

Here are some of the more unusual lots…

“A Marilyn Monroe novelty game night set. The Brown & Bigelow set contains two decks of playing cards, one showing Monroe in the ‘A New Wrinkle’ pose and one of Monroe in the ‘Golden Dreams’ pose from her 1949 Red Velvet photo session with Tom Kelley, and a set of four tin coasters showing Monroe in the ‘Golden Dreams’ pose and ‘Marilyn Monroe’ printed on each. Contained in a black flocked presentation box, stamped with an image of Monroe and branded text that reads ‘Always First/ with the Best Figures/ T D F CO.’ at lower right.”

Rare photos taken by Bruce Davidson during filming of Let’s Make Love.

A number of items related to photographer John Florea, including this contact sheet from the ‘Heat Wave’ number in There’s No Business Like Show Business.

A personal note from photographer Zinn Arthur to Marilyn and Milton Greene, probably penned during filming of Bus Stop.

And an invitation to the 1961 Berlin Film Festival

Marilyn: ‘The Most Visible Star’

Marilyn in ‘Niagara’ (1953)

In an article for Film School Rejects, Angela Morrison asks why Marilyn’s acting achievements are still so often overlooked, and examines how her career was impacted by typecasting.

“What frequently happens when actors play the same types of characters over and over again is that audiences assume that the actor is their character in real life … many people believe Marilyn Monroe was genuinely being herself onscreen. This is inaccurate and does not give her very much credit for the hard work that went into her performances.

She essentially played the same character in all of her comedies, but brought a unique spin to each story … Flashes of her dramatic talents are visible in some of her early roles, such as her emotionally damaged babysitter in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), and and her femme fatale in 1953’s Niagara (one of my personal favorites of her performances).

Her final performance as Roslyn in John Huston’s The Misfits (1961) is just as powerful as Bus Stop, although perhaps more depressing … she was no longer playing young and naive ‘starlets’, but was instead portraying complex women. It takes talent to play both comedy and drama; however, dramas such as The Misfits require a different kind of depth than comedies such as Some Like It Hot (1959).”

April VeVea on Marilyn, Jayne and Typecast Blondes

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‘Bus Stop’ (1956)

April VeVea (author of Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life) has created a new blog, Classic Blondes – dedicated to Marilyn and her contemporaries. In her latest post, April examines the longstanding assumption that Marilyn’s talents were wasted due to her being typecast in ‘dumb blonde’ roles at Twentieth Century Fox.

“With the exception of Bus Stop, Marilyn’s dramatic roles were NOT making nearly as much as her comedic roles. Fox wasn’t going to throw money into pictures so Marilyn could play in serious roles when they could have hits if she stuck to her comedic skill set. The public was the ultimate typecaster of Marilyn, not Fox … Marilyn actually had a pretty diverse career. Her pictures were evenly spread out between serious and comedic and she shone brightly in most. Her ability to keep herself at a 50/50 split once achieving stardom is amazing. That deserves praise and recognition.”

In another article, April compares Marilyn’s career to that of another fifties bombshell, Jayne Mansfield.

“While Jayne’s movies never grossed as highly as Marilyn’s, it’s safe to say that she was a solid earner for Fox when she was in her element. People wanted to see Jayne in glitz and glamour but her movies also needed to have a solid story line, like Marilyn’s … Jayne wasn’t a bad actress nor was she ‘over’ before she hit 30. She was just promoted incorrectly by Fox and dumped when Marilyn went back to her niche.”