Marilyn, Bruce Dern and ‘Wild River’

At 83, Bruce Dern is one of Hollywood’s most enduring character actors, with a career spanning almost 60 years. In 2013, he spoke about meeting Marilyn at the Actors Studio, and her advice that success would come to him in later life (see here.) Now in an interview for the New York Post, Dern describes a conversation with Marilyn before he made his big-screen debut in 1960; and while his recollection probably isn’t verbatim – I doubt she used the word ‘wunderkind’, or that she would have made cutting remarks about her husband with a passing acquaintance – it does shed light on a film Marilyn almost made with Dern (and her fragility certainly rings true. )

“I’m sitting in the back row my second day at the Actors Studio, and just before the session starts, this woman comes in with a yellow babushka over her head and sits down next to me.

‘You’re Gadge’s new wunderkind,’ she says — Gadge was Mr. [Elia] Kazan’s nickname. ‘The movie you’re gonna do, Wild River, I was gonna do — but I have to do this dumb movie my husband wrote, so they gave it to Lee Remick.’

Marilyn’s husband was Arthur Miller, the movie she was doing was The Misfits, and the star was Clark f - - king Gable. ‘What if he doesn’t like me?’ she asked. ‘He’s the biggest star that ever lived!’

She was as fragile as anyone I’ve ever seen in show business.”

Wild River was a Twentieth Century Fox production, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Montgomery Clift as an official from the Tennessee Valley Authority who tries to persuade an old woman to give up her home to build a hydroelectric dam on her land. He also becomes involved with her granddaughter Ella (Remick.) Bruce Dern played a small, uncredited role as a TVA agent (see inset, below.)

Marilyn was indeed committed to The Misfits, but it was Kazan who chose Lee Remick to play the lead – perhaps because sensing that his past relationship with Marilyn, and his falling out with Miller would cause conflict. Wild River was a good film, but a less glamorous role than Marilyn usually played, and arguably more suited to Remick.

Marilyn was still contracted to Fox, although she hadn’t worked there since 1956. After losing Wild River, she starred in the lightweight musical, Let’s Make Love, at Fox instead, before making The Misfits independently. Whatever her misgivings, The Misfits was probably a better fit for Marilyn than Wild River, and she finally got to co-star with her friend, Montgomery Clift.

Lee Remick was briefly set to replace Marilyn in the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give (1962), and would go on to narrate a 1987 documentary, Remembering Marilyn. Meanwhile, Miller and Kazan were finally reconciled (with Marilyn’s support), and later collaborated on After the Fall (1964), Miller’s autobiographical play in which Kazan’s wife, Barbara Loden (who had also appeared in Wild River), played a character based on Marilyn.

Stanley Donen 1924-2019

Filmmaker Stanley Donen has died aged 94. He co-directed and choreographed classic musicals such as On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952) with Gene Kelly, and made three films with Audrey Hepburn. The second of Donen’s five wives, Marion Marshall, had appeared alongside a young Marilyn Monroe in A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950.) He also dated Judy Holliday and Elizabeth Taylor, and is survived by his partner of thirty years, the writer and director Elaine May.

Donen never worked with Marilyn, but in a 1999 interview (posted on the Film Talk website), Donen revealed he had rejected a project which Marilyn later filmed with George Cukor, before choosing Indiscreet, a sophisticated romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, which as columnist Louella Parsons had reported in 1956, was originally slated for Clark Gable and either Marilyn or Jayne Mansfield.

“Norman Krasna gave me a script he had written, which was eventually made with Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand [Let’s Make Love, 1960], but I didn’t like it. He then said, ‘You know, I did a play in New York which was a flop [Kind Sir, directed by Joshua Logan in 1952 and starring Charles Boyer and Mary Martin], but why don’t you read it? Maybe you’ll like it.’ I read it, and I was very impressed. I told him, “God, this would make a wonderful movie.’ ‘You think so? Every studio in town has turned it down,’ he said. ‘You know what, you own it, if you can get it made, I’ll write the screenplay.’ So I got it made, I got Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman and we made Indiscreet [1958]. That was the real beginning of me being a producer, I liked putting it together.”

Fake News: Marilyn in the ‘Examiner’

The US scandal sheet, National Examiner, has a typically ludicrous front page story this week. Inside, it is claimed that Marilyn killed her Misfits co-star Clark Gable with pills and sex. Needless to say, there was no affair between Marilyn and Gable, who was happily married and expecting his first child when he tragically died shortly after filming wrapped in 1960.

This is just one of many headlines over the years which has sought to blame Marilyn for Gable’s death. While her chronic lateness certainly tested his patience, Gable’s own poor health, his heavy drinking and smoking habits combined with his insistence on doing his own stunts, all contributed to his fatal heart attack.

The source for this story, the Examiner claims, is actor Charlton Heston, who supposedly told all on his deathbed in 2008. However, Heston never worked with Marilyn and was only seen with her once, at the Golden Globes in 1962. Why the legendary actor would have been talking about a woman he barely knew in his dying breath is never explained.

Thanks to All About Marilyn

Dear Mr. Gable: Hollywood’s Misfit King

Although The Misfits gave us one of Marilyn’s finest performances, it’s hard not to recall it without sadness. This is even more true for fans of Clark Gable, who died on November 16, 1960 (58 years ago this week), having suffered a heart attack two days after filming wrapped.

Gable had been Marilyn’s childhood idol (and an imaginary stand-in for her absent father.) He was probably her favourite leading man, and although her delays on the set often frustrated him, he remained a supportive friend to her throughout.

She was heartbroken by his death, and while some journalists blamed her for it, his widow would invite her to the christening of their only son in April 1961. Here’s a review from fansite Dear Mr. Gable, who are marking the King of Hollywood’s anniversary with Misfits-related posts on their Facebook page.

Gable on the ‘Misfits’ set with wife Kay

The Misfits is an apt title for this film, not only fitting for its group of wandering cowboys and recent divorcee, but for the cast portraying them: The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, who at age 59 was in no shape to be playing a 40-something-year-old cowboy in the hot Nevada desert. In fact, he failed his first physical for production insurance. After giving up alcohol temporarily and crash dieting to lose 35 lbs, he passed. And celebrated with whiskey and a steak.

Clark is paired as the unlikely romantic interest for the 34 year old Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was in a dark place at the time … This film to me is just sad. I wonder if I would feel the same way if it wasn’t Clark’s swan song and if he didn’t look so terrible in it. I’m not sure though; it’s just a bleak film. The screenplay is very poetic, full of perfectly executed prose that at times seems overdone … It’s unfortunate for us all that we never got to see Marilyn attempt to play such a dramatic role again.

His wife Kay recalled: ‘Most of The Misfits was shot on a blistering hot dry lake bed 50 miles from Reno. The thermometer generally registered 135 degrees by mid-afternoon. Many members of the cast and crew became ill. But Clark outrode and outwalked men half his age.He did take after strenuous take roping a wild stallion singlehanded … Clark explained they had filmed a scene in which he was dragged on a rope behind a truck going 30 miles an hour. I was appalled. “Why are you doing those scenes?” I asked. “You’ve got a stunt man who’s supposed to do them.” Clark confessed that he’d found the waiting so demoralizing he’d volunteered to do the scenes just to keep occupied.’

On November 4, 1960, production wrapped on the film as the final scene was shot: Clark and Marilyn, alone in the car, surrounded by darkness.

‘How do you find your way back in the dark?’ she asks.

‘Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it, it’ll take us right home,’ he says.

Those were the final words either of them would utter onscreen. There were no end credits, no ‘The End’ on the screen; it just faded to black. You can’t get more poetic than that.”

Did Marilyn’s Nude ‘Misfits’ Scene Survive the Final Cut?

A briefly nude scene from The Misfits – cut by director John Huston – may have survived, according to Charles Casillo, author of the new biography, Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon.

Still photos attest that Marilyn was indeed semi-nude in the bedroom scene, in which stayed in the movie after being edited. She wanted to keep the footage intact, but Huston dismissed the idea. Marilyn was more attuned to the mood of the times, as minor nudity was already becoming commonplace in films made in Europe.

Dalya Alberge reports for the Daily Mail 

“Charles Casillo interviewed Curtice Taylor, son of the film’s producer Frank Taylor, and was taken aback to learn that he has kept the footage in a locked cabinet since his father’s death in 1999.

Mr Taylor said: ‘A lot of times, unused takes were destroyed. But Frank Taylor believed that it was so important and so ground-breaking that he saved it.’

The footage, with sound, lasts about 45 seconds. Curtice Taylor, a photographer and teacher, understands why his father was so keen to include it: ‘It’s much more passionate.’

He said: ‘So Gable’s fully clothed. He comes into her bedroom. She’s asleep. He caresses and kisses her neck, turns her face around and gives her a good lip-lock. That exists in the scene in the [final] film – but not to the passionate degree of this one, which is much better. The smile on her face when he’s kissing her shoulder is just sublime.’

After Gable leaves the room, Ms Monroe holds up the sheet to put on her blouse. Mr Taylor believes that she dropped it partly due to her training as a method actress.

He said: ‘Why would a woman sitting up in bed, with nobody in the room, pull the sheet up and then try to put a blouse on at the same time? It makes no sense. So she just drops the sheet. I think it’s one of the reasons she did this. There are quite a few takes of this scene. Whenever she dropped the sheet, which she did a few times, Huston would say “Cut, remember the sheet, Marilyn”.’

Mr Taylor was surprised that the footage is an edited sequence, and wonders whether the censors had insisted on its removal.

He attended the shoot at just 13-years-old, and said he remembers Ms Monroe talking to him and asking him to do ‘little favours’. He said: ‘She’d give me $5 to go get something.'”

Remembering Robert Mitchum at 100

Robert Mitchum was born 100 years ago, on August 6, 1917. During the early 1940s he worked at the Lockheed munitions plant with Jim Dougherty, and claimed to have met Dougherty’s pretty young wife, Norma Jeane, remembering her as ‘shy and sweet.’ (Dougherty has denied this early encounter between the two future stars occurred.)

One of Hollywood’s most celebrated tough guys, Bob starred with Marilyn in River of No Return (1954.) He and Marilyn remained friendly and worked well together, although neither got along with director Otto Preminger. Bob recalled that she didn’t take her ‘sex goddess’ image seriously, playing it as a kind of burlesque. He was later offered another chance to be her leading man in The Misfits, but was unimpressed by the script and the role went to Clark Gable instead.

Robert Mitchum died in 1997. River of No Return will be screened at this year’s New York Film Festival, as part of a major Mitchum retrospective. You can read more about the shoot here.

Don Dondero: Marilyn in Reno

The camera equipment of photographer Don Dondero will be auctioned at the Holabird Western Americana Office, Reno, on April 17, reports Reno Gazette-Journal. The Reno-based photographer chronicled much of Marilyn’s 1960 stay in the city, including her arrival; a press conference with the cast of The Misfits, and a birthday party for John Huston at the Mapes Hotel; a weekend break at the Cal-Neva Lodge; and her return to the city after a week’s rest in hospital.

Marilyn with Arthur Miller and Clark Gable at a press conference for ‘The Misfits’.
With director John Huston on his birthday, August 5.

You can view Dondero’s photos of Marilyn at Getty Images.

“In the second half of the 20th Century, if a photograph from Reno appeared in a national or international publication, it likely came from the camera of the late Don Dondero.

When he died in 2003 at age 83, the lifelong Nevadan was eulogized by then Gov. Kenny Guinn, who said, ‘Thanks to Don Dondero, future generations of Nevadans will have a glimpse of our state’s history.’

Born in Ely and raised in Carson City, Don Dondero took his first ‘celebrity’ photo at age 12 when he snapped a shot of President Herbert Hoover outside the state capital.

He graduated from Carson High School in 1937 and enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor, becoming a pilot and flying bombers. In 1944, his plane was shot down over the Philippines as he bombed a Japanese merchant ship in Manila Bay. Dondero parachuted safely into the bay and was hidden in the jungle by Filipino guerrillas for 40 days until he could be rescued. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for sinking the enemy vessel.

After the war, Dondero returned to Carson City and married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Franks. He worked for the state of Nevada for several years before moving his growing family to Reno to open his own photography business.

Affable, talented, intelligent and dependable – he never missed a deadline – Dondero became Reno’s go-to photographer from the 1950s into the 1990s. His work appeared in publications around the globe. As longtime newspaperman Warren Lerude said, ‘Dondero owned the Reno dateline.’

Reno was the divorce capital of the world at the time and photos of celebrities in town to get ‘the cure’ were in high demand. In addition, the Mapes, Riverside and other downtown hotels were bringing in top-name entertainment. He photographed celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra and political leaders including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

‘He promoted Reno more through his photos than any one individual,’ said Harry Spencer, a former Mapes publicist and longtime friend of Dondero.”

Marilyn chats with Frank Sinatra after a concert at the Cal-Neva Lodge, August 13. (Arthur Miller at left)
Marilyn is welcomed back to Reno by producer Frank Taylor after a hospital stay. Photo by Don Dondero, August 20.