French Author On Marilyn’s Last Picture Show

Olivier Rajchman’s Hollywood Ne Repond Plus (Hollywood Unresponsive) is a new book in French exploring the crisis at Twentieth Century Fox in 1962, focusing on three films made that year: the scandalous Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and helmed by Joe Mankiewicz; Darryl F. Zanuck’s magnum opus, The Longest Day; and Marilyn’s last movie, the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give. It is available now in paperback and via Kindle.

Thanks to Eric Patry 

‘Cleopatra’ and the Firing of a Star

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One of my favourite film-related reads this year has been My Life With Cleopatra: The Making of a Hollywood Classic, a reissue of producer Walter Wanger‘s diaries of the turbulent shoot. Among its many interesting aspects is his depiction of the power struggle at Twentieth Century-Fox, between the old guard (Spyros Skouras) and the new (Peter Levathes.)

It’s now generally accepted that the escalating costs of Cleopatra was the real reason behind the shelving of Marilyn’s last film, Something’s Got to Give, in 1962. At the time, however, Marilyn was the studio’s scapegoat. Wanger’s thoughts on her firing are quite astute.

Marilyn filming 'Something's Got to Give'
Marilyn filming ‘Something’s Got to Give’

He suggests that the real problem faced by the cast and crew of Cleopatra was not the much-publicised Burton-Taylor affair, but Fox’s chronic ineptitude. This sounds remarkably similar to the ill-fated production of Something’s Got to Give, though the results were rather different.

Wanger also believed that Marilyn would have thrived in the 1960s heyday of Continental film-making. Sadly, it was not to be.

Walter Wanger, producer of 'Cleopatra'
Walter Wanger, producer of ‘Cleopatra’

June 9, 1962

Levathes phoned from Hollywood to say he had fired Marilyn Monroe. He considers himself a big hero. He reminded me of a time when I was a very young man and was general manager of the greatest of all motion-picture companies, Paramount. I had practically unlimited powers. One day, however, I was impatient and fired a star.

Jesse Lasky, who was my boss, said to me, ‘Walter, under your contract you have a perfect right to get rid of that star, but that is not what we hired you for. We hired you to get the best out of people, not to fire them.’

June 10, 1962

The Monroe story is in all the European newspapers. ‘No company can afford Monroe and Taylor,’ a Fox spokesman says. No company can afford the mismanagement of Fox, I say.

June 16, 1962

Had a long talk with [Angelo] Rizzoli, the William Randolph Hearst of Italy and a big picture-maker (he financed La Dolce Vita) about Marilyn Monroe. I’m sure Marilyn would be excellent in films here where the picture is shot first, the sound dubbed in later.

In American films, sound and picture are done together. Using the European system it would be possible to make a picture quickly with Marilyn, then have her dub her own voice later. I think such a system would be successful and so does Rizzoli. I will get in touch with Marilyn later and try and fix a deal for her.”