Actor Tab Hunter, one of the great Hollywood heartthrobs of the 1950s, has died aged 86. Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York, he moved to California with his mother as a child, and lied about his age to join the U.S. Coast Guard at fifteen. He began acting in 1950, winning his breakthrough role in wartime drama Battle Cry five years later. Rumours of his homosexuality were first reported in Confidential magazine, but didn’t dent his burgeoning career as a teen idol. Over the next four years he was Warner Brothers’ most popular male star, with roles in Damn Yankees (1958), and They Came to Cordura (1959.) He also enjoyed a No. 1 hit single with ‘Young Love’ in 1957, and was given his own TV show.
From the 1960s onward Hunter also acted onstage, and starred in spaghetti westerns before returning to Hollywood in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972.) He later became a favorite of independent filmmaker John Waters, and made two films with legendary drag queen Divine. In his 2005 memoir, Tab Hunter Confidential, he spoke openly about the challenges he faced as a gay actor under the Hollywood studio system. The book inspired a documentary of the same name, and a biopic is currently in development.
Just five years younger than Marilyn, Tab Hunter was also judged by his striking good looks during his early career and had to struggle to prove his talent ( a 2016 article on The Wow Report website even describes him as ‘the male Marilyn Monroe’.) In 2011, Tab spoke to Monroe expert Scott Fortner about (among other things) an encounter with Hollywood’s other favourite blonde, as recalled on the MM Collection Blog:
“I of course asked Mr. Hunter if he’d ever met Marilyn Monroe, and their paths did cross in the early 1950s at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Both were there for a Hollywood event, and upon meeting, Mr. Hunter told Marilyn, ‘I loved you in Clash By Night. No one wears a pair of Levis like you,’ to which Marilyn replied, (spoken in Mr. Hunter’s best Marilyn impersonation) ‘Thank you, Tab.'”
Marilyn is the latest cover girl for Noir City, a digital quarterly published by the Film Noir Foundation. Inside, there’s an eight-page illustrated article, with Jake Hinkson analysing her diverse roles in The Asphalt Jungle, Clash by Night, Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara. Fellow bombshells Diana Dors and Gloria Grahame are also profiled in this issue. To subscribe to Noir City, join their mailing list and donate $20 or more to the foundation, who host regular screenings across the US and a yearly film festival, and also publish an annual print round-up of the best features.
Marilyn will be the star attraction at a very special event in one of London’s most famous concert venues, the Royal Albert Hall, on Sunday, October 8. Aptly titled ‘The Many Sides of Marilyn,’ the movie double bill begins in the Elgar Room at 5pm, with a rare screening of Fritz Lang’s 1952 melodrama, Clash by Night, where a young Marilyn plays a feisty factory girl. There will be a post-film discussion with film producer Mia Bays, and Jacqueline Rose, who wrote about Marilyn in her 2015 book, Women in Dark Times. Then at 8:15 pm, the comedy classic Some Like It Hot follows. You can see both films for £25, or book separately if you wish. Seating is unreserved, at cabaret tables, and you can order dinner with a 20% discount.
Actor Martin Landau has died aged 89. He was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1928, and worked as a political cartoonist at the New York Daily News before joining the Actors Studio (alongside Steve McQueen) in 1955. His audition piece was a scene from Clifford Odets’ Clash by Night, which had been filmed with a young Marilyn Monroe three years earlier. He became a close friend of fellow student James Dean, and reportedly dated Marilyn for a few months before her 1956 marriage to Arthur Miller.
Landau made his theatrical debut in a touring production of Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night, starring Edward G. Robinson, in 1957. Marilyn had attended the Broadway premiere in 1956 (before Landau was cast.) Marilyn was offered the lead in the 1959 movie adaptation, but Kim Novak was eventually cast alongside Marilyn’s sister-in-law, Joan Copeland. Landau did not reprise his role, having been spotted by Alfred Hitchcock during a West Coast performance. His first major film was Hitchcock’s classic thriller, North by Northwest.
He went on to appear in Cleopatra and The Greatest Story Ever Told, finally achieving stardom in TV’s Mission Impossible. An established character actor, he also worked as a drama coach and became an executive director of the Actors Studio. After winning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), Landau was nominated again for Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), and at last won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994.)
He continued acting and teaching into his eighties, playing elderly billionaire J. Howard Marshall in a 2013 biopic of Anna Nicole Smith, the tragic model and reality TV star whose bombshell image was heavily influenced by Marilyn’s. Landau’s last major film was The Red Maple Leaf (2016), with two more currently awaiting release.
Martin Landau died at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centre in Westwood, Los Angeles on July 15, after being hospitalised and suffering from complications. He is survived by his former wife and Mission Impossible co-star, Barbara Bain, and their two daughters.
You can read more about his memories of Marilyn here.
Movie website Cheat Sheet has compiled a list of Marilyn’s best films. It includes some great picks, but I think The Prince and the Showgirl, and maybe Clash By Night should be up there too. Which are your favourites?
Marilyn makes the cover of Carmel magazine’s Summer/Fall issue, with an article by Michael Chatfield about her links to the Monterey area inside, which you can also read here.
“Marilyn, like so many others then and now, succumbed several times to the tempting siren call of the Monterey Bay area. The Salinas Californian documented her first known visit of August 5, 1948: ‘…she came here to help promote a diamond sale at Carlyle’s Jewelers…’
The starlet stayed around for about a week, staying at the Jeffrey Hotel on Main Street. While here, she evidently made appearances at several service club luncheons. It was at one of those meetings that representatives of Castroville, an agricultural town 15 miles from Salinas that— then and now—specializes in the growing of artichokes, had the bright idea to make the ambitious future movie star the ‘California Artichoke Queen.’
A few years later, Marilyn returned to Monterey County, this time to do what she had set her sights on doing: act in a Hollywood movie. Some scenes for the 1952 potboiler Clash by Night were filmed on Cannery Row, then a still-bustling sardine-processing district. She was by no means the international superstar she was to become: Marilyn’s salary for this film was $500 per week.
Two years later—when Marilyn was a big star—she put in an appearance a little bit south of Monterey County. She and the Yankee Clipper tied the knot in a San Francisco civil ceremony on January 14, 1954, and proceeded south toward Los Angeles by automobile. The newlyweds spend their first night as man and wife at the Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo.
The next day, a reporter from the local newspaper spotted the celebrities having lunch at that establishment and phoned his newsroom to summon a photographer. San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune snapper Paul Nelson arrived on the scene and immediately spotted them. According to a November 13, 2013 story published by that paper (now the Tribune), Nelson said to DiMaggio, ‘I’m with the press. I would like to shoot your picture but I know you’re on your honeymoon. You name it.’
‘My wife doesn’t have any make-up,’ Joltin’ Joe replied. ‘I’d really rather not.’ And that was that. Respecting their privacy, Nelson retreated. What a contrast that story illustrates. In today’s tabloid press, the couple would probably have a name like ‘Marjoe,’ or ‘Monaggio’ and be relentlessly hounded by paparazzi.”
Keds Shoes, one of America’s most familiar brands, celebrates its centenary this year. As Rachael Allen reports for Footwear News, Marilyn sported a pair in her opening scene in Clash by Night (1952), and also wore jeans for her role as feisty cannery girl Peggy in the Monterey-set melodrama.
On St Valentine’s Day, Armen D. Bacon shares a romantic encounter with Marilyn – as told to her by 89 year-old George Blair – in an article for the Fresno Bee.
“Pedaling back through time, he began telling us a story that had taken place 65 years ago. Freshly graduated from Stanford University, newly employed in San Francisco, his first assignment was taking him to Monterey’s famed Cannery Row.
One night, while dining solo at the Monterey Mission Inn, he recounts spotting a beautiful woman also sitting alone in the restaurant. The heart is a lonely hunter.
‘In those days, I was petrified of women and very immature,’ he added. But mustering his nerve, he asked the waiter to offer the young lady a drink. To his surprise, not only did she say ‘yes,’ she invited him to join her for dinner.
Which, of course, he did. They talked. He was in Monterey selling chlorination equipment to fish canneries. She was an aspiring actress breaking into the film industry.
‘Very, very attractive,’ he reminded us with verbal repetitions that mirrored a double set of pull-ups. By now, audible heavy breathing filled the gym, excessive calories being burned by overheated imaginations.
Why was such a beautiful woman having dinner alone, we all wondered.
He delighted in answering that her co-star, Barbara Stanwyck, was hosting a birthday party for her maid that night, and she didn’t want to go.
He stopped here for a moment, a sheepish grin covering his face, all of us gasping for air – awaiting the big finish. But according to George, the pair went their separate ways after dinner. She had to be back on the set at 5 a.m. He had to return to San Francisco.
The following morning, he drove past what looked like a movie set with lights and camera equipment surrounding an old Monterey residence on the outskirts of town.
He pulled over. There she stood on the porch. Clad in cut-off denims. I could tell by the look on his face that the vision remained crystal clear in his mind’s ageless eye.
And then, he drove off.
Five years later, he spotted her photo on a matchbox. Marilyn Monroe. Yes, that Marilyn Monroe. The movie was Clash by Night, which premiered in June 1952.”
The release of The Misfits on February 1, 1961 – exactly fifty-five years ago this week – was overshadowed by the recent death of Clark Gable, and Marilyn’s divorce from Arthur Miller. Nonetheless, one of the most favourable reviews came from Kate Cameron, critic for the New York Daily News, and has been republished in full.
“Arthur Miller sang a sweet swan-song to his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, in The Misfits. His written tribute describes her as a beautiful, beloved and ‘loving, sweetly sentimental woman with an emanating lost lady’ aura. The story is prophetic when the song, gay through most of the action, goes into a minor key, as if the author were aware that his love was slipping away from him …
Gable has never done anything better on the screen, nor has Miss Monroe. Gable’s acting is vibrant and lusty, hers true to the character as written by Miller.
It is, I believe, of finer quality and of greater dramatic interest than any American product released last year … The screen vibrates with emotion during the latter part of the film, as Marilyn and Gable engage in one of those battles of the sexes that seem eternal in their constant eruption …”
While some highbrow critics were slow to warm to Marilyn’s talent, Kate Cameron was one of her early champions. Here is a selection of her comments:
“Marilyn Monroe, cast as Miss Stanwyck’s gay, excitement-craving future sister-in-law, is a real acting threat to the season’s screen blondes.” – Clash by Night (1952)
“Marilyn Monroe and David Wayne play their roles well, the former representing a successful contestant in the ‘Mrs America’ beauty pageant, the latter as her disgruntled husband.” – We’re Not Married (1952)
“Ginger and Cary are assisted in this amusing nonsense by Marilyn Monroe, who can look and act dumber than any of the screen’s current blondes.” – Monkey Business (1952)
“Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe give off the quips and cracks, generously supplied by Nunnally Johnson, with a naturalness that adds to their strikingly humorous effect, making the film the funniest comedy of the year.” – How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
“Marilyn stars in three specialty numbers amusingly, as she does a comic burlesque as the sexy singer of naughty songs.” – There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)
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.)