Famous Final Roles: Marilyn in ‘The Misfits’

Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits features in Esquire‘s list of the most memorable final roles (although I always think of the unfinished Something’s Got to Give as her last.) The only other woman on the list is Rita Hayworth (The Wrath of God, 1972.)

“The death that launched a thousand conspiracy theories, Monroe overdosed on barbiturates at home on 5 August 1962. She was 36-years-old and was in the midst of filming Something’s Got To Give (a film which 20th Century Fox re-filmed with a new cast and released 16 months later). Monroe’s last completed role was as divorcee Roslyn Tabor in drama The Misfits. The film was widely regarded as a career highlight for Monroe’s co-star Clark Gable while Monroe received the 1961 Golden Globe for ‘World Film Favourite’. Despite this, Monroe repeatedly claimed she hated both the film and her performance and tragedy struck for both actors, with Gable suffering a fatal heart attack two days after filming ended, while Monroe – who attended the premiere while on a pass from a psychiatric hospital – passed away less than 18 months later.”

The Misfits: End of An Era

Marilyn and Eli Wallach, ‘The Misfits’

Yesterday we learned of the death of Marilyn’s friend and co-star, Eli Wallach. At 98, he was one of America’s finest character actors. I will post a longer tribute soon, but for now here’s a great review of The Misfits from Carley Johnson over at the Black Maria blog – a movie that was so greatly enriched by Eli’s performance as the likeable, but untrustworthy Guido. While Marilyn, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Thelma Ritter all died within a few years of making The Misfits, Eli went on to even greater triumphs – winning a lifetime achievement Academy Award in 2010, the same year his last movie was released.

“By 1961, the Hollywood Studio System had begun a slow rot from the inside out which would, by decade’s end, see to its total collapse thus ending the Golden Age of classical Hollywood. The Misfits, directed by John Huston and penned by Arthur Miller, is a fascinating relic from those years in flux that bewildered its audiences just as much as it bewildered the execs. On paper, the words Clark Gable (the king), Marilyn Monroe (the queen) and Montgomery Clift (the rebel) looked like box office magic. The result is a mixed bag that would be Gable and Monroe’s final film, and one of Clift’s last.

Miller masquerades a deeply intimate, and highly modern, character study under the guise of a Western romance. It was no secret that Miller wrote the screenplay for his wife. The role of Roslyn could have been played by anyone, sure, but perhaps no other performance would have been nearly as truthful.

Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach were all Method actors. Monroe’s close friend and acting coach happened to be Paula Strasberg who was a constant presence on the set. Gable came from a more… square shooting school of acting, perhaps best summed up by Jimmy Cagney: know your mark and know your lines.

There is no denying the fact that The Misfits proved enormous strain on Gable, physically and emotionally. But. Be that as it may, the truth is, The Misfits didn’t directly kill Gable anymore than the Kennedy’s killed Marilyn. The strenuous Misfits shoot did not cause Gable’s premature death– but at the same time, cannot be disqualified as one of its many contributing factors.

Clift was greatly shaken upon hearing of the tragic death of his dear friend Marilyn, and was noted as having said ‘Hollywood deaths always come in threes. First Gable, now Marilyn… who’s next.’

The eerie lyricism of Miller’s words would prove to be hauntingly prophetic: ‘Honey, nothing can live unless something dies.'”


Clark and Marilyn’s Long Goodbye

The excellent Dear Mr Gable website takes a look back at The Misfits today:

“A poetic and fitting goodbye. The Misfits is far from a perfect film, but his performance is a divine send-off. ‘Look everyone, see, I can really act! I always could!’ And in that same vein it feels like we were cheated out of more such performances. The film itself is preachy and talky, like a poem that goes on too long. It is a bit painful to see Clark looking so deteriorated.  Decades and decades of heavy smoking and drinking and taken their toll and instead of looking like his actual age of 59, Clark looks more like 70. Marilyn’s ghosts were beginning to show and her performance is more because of it–the fluff and glitter were stripped away. Who would have ever guessed that this would be the last film for two legends.”

You can read my own tribute to Clark Gable here.

A.C. Lyles 1918 -2013

A.C. Lyles, a veteran producer of Westerns for Paramount Studios, died last Friday, September 27th. His long, illustrious career has been marked by the Los Angeles Times, the Hollywood ReporterVariety, and Forbes.

Lyles also befriended a young Marilyn Monroe. In 2001 he shared his memories with members of Marilyn Remembered:

“A. C. spoke of Marilyn in the most delightful of ways, remembering her as a young sweet girl who had a ‘Gracie Allen‘ quality to her. He said she was always interested in the goings on in the studio, but never in a gossipy way. A.C. shared with us that when he first met Marilyn he wanted her to be his little sister, someone to hug and protect. He said that she would immediately evoke from you a feeling of protectiveness over her, like she was vulnerable and needed looking after.

Story #1: A.C. used to accompany Marilyn to the studio commissary where she would confide in him her dreams to become a big star. He said she would look around the studio commissary all wide eyed and said, ‘One day people will turn their heads to look at me.’ Later on in Marilyn’s career A.C. would accompany her to the studio commissary where she was now a big star, and indeed peoples heads would turn to stare. Always conscious of her appearance, A.C. said Marilyn only ordered soup when she went out to lunch with him because as she put it, ‘If someone comes up to me I don’t want to be caught with a big mouth full of food!’

Story #2: He said that Marilyn would often want to know details about stars that A.C. knew. But they were usually obscure stars like Lili St. Cyr or Mae West. She was even interested in the intimate life of Christine Jorgesen, famous for being the first person to have a man to woman sex operation!

Story #3: Mr. Lyles was a good friend to agent Johnny Hyde who was instrumental in Marilyn’s career. A.C. said he often would get calls from Johnny asking for him to look after ‘Baby,’ (Johnny’s nickname for Marilyn) because he had to work late. A.C. said he would often take Marilyn out to nightclubs for the evening at the request of Johnny Hyde and would have many conversations with her about her career. One such conversation he remembered was her concern about becoming a star. She thought she had the talent for it but that her butt was too big and therefore she might not make it! Of course as history would later prove it was one of her most important assets!

Story #4: A.C. Lyles also shared another delightful story about Marilyn and journalist Sidney Skolsky. Sidney was a close friend to Marilyn Monroe, as well as to other young starlets. He often would rely on them for transportation from one studio to the next as he did not drive. In exchange for these actresses help, Sidney often would write favorable items for them in his column. It was said that Sidney was never at a loss for a ride in Hollywood! Well, one Saturday morning Marilyn was having lunch with A.C. and she turned flush. In a panic she asked A.C. what time it was, to which he replied 12:15. She utter ‘Oh No! I was supposed to pick up Sidney at 11:30!’ A.C. said, ‘Well Marilyn you are only 45 minutes late.’ To which she replied, ‘You don’t understand. I was supposed to pick him up on Monday!’

Story #5:Interesting to note, A.C. Lyles was asked about Robert Slatzer. (For those who are unfamiliar who Robert Slatzer is, he is the gentlemen who claims among many other things to have once been married to Marilyn Monroe.) A.C. actually had some rather nice things to say about Mr. Slatzer. He said that although he won’t comment on the ‘supposed marriage to Marilyn,’ he can say he remembers attending many parties where BOTH Marilyn and Bob were seen together. He said Mr. Slatzer used to work at the Paramount Studio and that he is really a delightful man whom he has the highest regard for. Coming from Mr. Lyles this was quite something and makes one stop to think.

A.C.’s insight to Marilyn gave us all such a fresh perspective of this sensitive and talented star. He didn’t recall a woman who was all breathy and put on, but instead a sweet, insecure, young woman who was tremendously sensitive. A girl who broke out in tears when told of a story about Clark Gable having to pass by a studio stage showing a plane crash shortly after his wife Carole Lombard had died in a similar way.”

Star-Spotting in Durango, 1950

Marilyn on location for ‘A Ticket to Tomahawk’, 1949

It’s well-known in Durango, Colorado, that the then up-and-coming actress, Marilyn Monroe, visited the town in 1949 to film a small role in the comedy Western, A Ticket to Tomahawk. But did you know that MM returned a year later, during filming of another Western, Across The Wide Missouri, starring none other than her idol, Clark Gable?

Interestingly, Across the Wide Missouri was released in November 1951, on the same week as another early Monroe film, Let’s Make it Legal.

A relaxed moment off the set

Mickey Hogan, now 82, remembers meeting the hopeful starlet in today’s Durango Herald:

“So, what was she doing in Durango in 1950? She has no credited role in Across the Wide Missouri. She could have been trying to land a role, or trying to catch someone’s attention. Clark Gable was among her favorite actors – maybe she was observing.

‘As I remember, she liked Durango and had a great time here (during Ticket to Tomahawk) and wanted to come back,’ Hogan said.

A major battle scene between the mountain men and the Native Americans was shot by Andrews Lake near the top of Molas Pass. That’s where he became acquainted with Monroe.

The topsoil around Andrews is a spongy peat moss that is flammable, Hogan said. Most everyone on the crew and the hordes of spectators were smokers, creating a potential fire danger. Hogan traveled on a horse with a fire extinguisher, putting out any smoldering spots in the peat moss.

Monroe asked if she could join Hogan on his rounds, and she was set up with a horse and fire extinguisher of her own.

‘People got bored to death,’ Hogan explained. ‘And that’s where Marilyn got involved with me and putting fires out. She didn’t have anything to do. … She just enjoyed riding and doing something. It wasn’t any other reason she had.’

She joined him two or three times, and that was it: Hogan’s brush with Marilyn Monroe. He assumes she was just building her career and thought that people involved with the movie could help.

‘That’s just a guess on my part,’ Hogan said, ‘but I’m pretty sure it’s true.’

He also remembers Monroe visiting Hogan’s Store, and his father, Charles Hogan, waiting on her.

‘My dad was very attentive on providing her with (jeans) to try on,’ Hogan chuckled. ‘I never will forget that. I just laughed at my dad.'”

Cults, Icons and ‘The Misfits’

An interesting perspective on The Misfits from Steve Forrester, editor of the Daily Astorian:

‘One of the most fateful collisions of movie cults and icons was The Misfits, the 1961 film by John Huston, starring Marilyn Monroe (cult), Clark Gable (icon) and Montgomery Clift (cult). The screen play was written by Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller (icon). It was the last film for Gable and also for Monroe. Ten days after the movie’s filming ended, Gable died. Monroe died within 10 months of wrapping the film.

After my wife and I watched The Misfits last week, she said: “That’s a tough movie. I can only watch it once a year.”

As acting goes, The Misfits is magnetic. Many believe it is Gable’s best performance.

The startling effect of this movie stems from the parallel between the fictional characters and the actors playing them. Both bear life’s scars and age lines.

As Gable, Wallach and Monroe move to the desert for their last scene, they reach the kind of crisis that Arthur Miller masterfully concoted in his stage plays of which ‘Death of a Salesman’ is only the most celebrated. The characters leave this scene with more self-knowledge and knowledge of each other.

Then we have the eerie final scene of Monroe and Gable driving through the desert at night. They sit in the truck’s cab looking up at the sky.

Perhaps Monroe captured the hopeless duality of the actor when she told Life magazine: ”It’s nice to included in people’s fantasies, but you also like to be accepted for your own sake.”‘

Gable’s Influence on Marilyn

Amber Grey writes about Marilyn’s relationship with one of her childhood heroes, Clark Gable, over at BellaOnline today:

“Although the cast looks worn and tired, Gable and Marilyn looked as though they were completely comfortable with each other as co-stars … The passing of these two Hollywood icons would make a permanent stamp on the final sequence in The Misfits when Gable and Monroe are riding off into the mountain range under a beautiful sky.”

If you found this interesting, try this article I wrote for Immortal Marilyn: Dear Mr Gable

Top 10 Classic Hollywood Actors

Marilyn comes in 3rd, after Orson Welles and Humphrey Bogart, on this list from Screen Junkies. Along with Bette Davis, she is the only woman on the list – and she appeared in All About Eve alongside Davis, as well as Cary Grant (Monkey Business), Groucho Marx (Love Happy), and her idol, Clark Gable, in The Misfits – the last film either completed.

“There were many early Hollywood sex symbols, but Marilyn Monroe brought sexy to a whole new level. Her most famous movies were Niagara (1953), Some Like it Hot (1959) and Seven Year Itch (1955).”

Vintage Trailers: ‘The Misfits’

Film School Rejects have featured The Misfits among their favourite vintage trailers:

“It’s truly fantastic that in this world of course, Clark Gable once made a movie with Marilyn Monroe. It’s even better that it’s an existential love story that plays like Streetcar Named Desire in the middle of Nevada.

The bonus is that Monroe is insanely good at paddle ball, even if it does lead to bar fights.

It’s the 1960s answer to the Western genre, modernizing it and placing a gorgeous blonde bombshell right in the middle of Gable and Montgomery Clift to see who can make it out alive.”

View trailer here