Tag Archives: Clifford Odets

Marilyn at Julien’s: Notes On Acting

Marilyn on the set for 'Let's Make Love' (Frieda Hull Collection)
Marilyn on the set of ‘Let’s Make Love’ (1960)

Among the many revelations to be found in the new Julien’s catalogue are a series of notes made by Marilyn on her work at the Actors Studio, where she once played Blanche DuBois in a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A black board notebook with red spine containing lined notebook paper with notes in Monroe’s hand. A very large letter ‘M’ is drawn inside the front and back covers. There are multiple notes written in another hand on the first page of the book, but the next page contains notes in Monroe’s hand in pencil with ideas for a ‘Street Car Scene’ reading in part, ‘begin with ? (1st grade happening Mexican boy accuses me of hurting him – having to stay after school it was nite [sic] outside – have place – concern because of Stan K. accusations plus – getting dress for Mitch trying to look nice especially since what Stan K. has said.’ The note also suggests she hum ‘Whispering while you hover near me,’ which is a song standard found in her notebook of standards in the following lot, only the lyric is ‘Whispering while you cuddle near me.’ The front and back of the last page of the book contain notes from acting class, including ‘during exercise – lee said let the body hang’; ‘2 exercises at one time/ cold & Touch/ one might not be enough for what’s needed’; and ‘sense of oneself/ first thing a child (human being) is aware of (making a circle) touching ones foot knowing himself is separate from the rest of the world,’ among others.”

Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)
Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)

Marilyn also studied the role of Lorna Moon in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, writing her lines twice to memorise them.

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Also on offer is an undated note which reads in part, “keeping all of the changes of pantomime & grimaces etc inside, then it forces the eyes – it all comes through the eyes”; and “Constantly practicing that letting go/ in which you don’t do in life which isn’t necessary or something/ feeling how it feels and practicing that/your spirit speaks.”

Documentaries: Old and New

Last night, I watched two Marilyn-related documentaries online that I’d never seen before. The first, Stars of the Silver Screen: Marilyn Monroe, was made in 2011 by 3DD Productions. The second, Eyewitness: Marilyn Monroe – Why?, was filmed by ABC News just a week after her death in 1962.

Stars of the Silver Screen is a formulaic look at Marilyn’s life career, but it’s quite well-made. Film critic Derek Malcolm and fashion journalist Matthew Bevan provide a mostly interesting commentary, while interviewees include Tony Curtis, Eli Wallach, Curtice Taylor (son of Misfits producer Frank), and Angela Allen (John Huston’s script supervisor.)

A highlight was the rare footage from the David Di Donatello Awards in 1958, where Marilyn was named Best Actress for her role in The Prince and the Showgirl. When a reporter witlessly asked if she took acting seriously, Marilyn replied, ‘Yes, I’m afraid I do!’

My main criticism would be that, as with so many documentaries, the focus was more on Marilyn’s legendary on-set insecurities than the celluloid magic that resulted from her painstaking work.

Eyewitness: Marilyn Monroe – Why? has the advantage of being recorded immediately after Marilyn died. The producers were able to engage people who knew Marilyn well and were famous in their own right. It also gives a more authentic picture of how the world perceived Marilyn in her own lifetime.

Emmeline Sniveley, Jean Negulesco, Lee Strasberg, George Cukor, plus fellow actress Kim Novak and playwright Clifford Odets all feature in the programme. Novak seems to have the most empathy towards Marilyn, while Odets offers the most eloquent commentary.

There is also some rare footage from the day that the Miller’s divorce was announced, with a distraught MM telling reporters, ‘I can’t talk about my personal life.’

 

Marilyn and Nicholas Ray

Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, a new  biography by Patrick McGilligan, features insights into the on-off relationship between Marilyn and the eccentric Ray, who helmed such classics as In a Lonely Place and Rebel Without a Cause.

This extract reveals how the romance began in 1951. The photo above shows Marilyn and Nick at a preview of John Huston’s The African Queen.

“Atop the list of glamour girls romantically linked to the director was Marilyn Monroe. One of Hollywood’s rising stars, just starting to get good parts, Monroe shared a flat with Shelley Winters, who blew hot and cold on Ray over the years. Winters and Monroe passed Ray back and forth in the early 50s, but Winters later reflected that the very things about Ray that daunted her – his age and intelligence – were the traits that turned Monroe on.

While Ray was working on ‘The Lusty Men’, Monroe was filming ‘Clash by Night’, the Fritz Lang film of Clifford Odets’s play that Jerry Walf was producing for RKO. Ray had known Monroe for a while by then, escorting her to Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair’s parties more than once. He had a real crush on Monroe and often talked about working with the actress on a film one day, but Monroe always kept a few steps ahead of him. Whether Ray and Monroe were in Wald’s office or out on a date, the director ‘monopolised’ her, as one columnist put it, fluttering around the sexy blonde as if she were a personal trophy. Monroe sincerely liked Ray, but her interest in him ebbed and flowed, not always coinciding with his interest in her.

Richard Baer, Wald’s young assistant, was also pining for Monroe and kept trying to finagle a date with the actress. Monroe loathed watching dailies but insisted that Baer phone her nightly to report on her scenes in ‘Clash by Night’ – how she performed, how her hair and costume looked. Baer kept hinting that it would be easier if he could just come to her place in person. ‘Over the phone is just fine,’ Monroe always replied sweetly.

Finally, Baer coaxed Monroe into a lunch date at Lucey’s. They were just getting settled when Ray swept in, wearing some kind of cape, and headed straight for their table. The director plunked himself down in their booth, fawning over Monroe, stroking her arms and patting her thighs. Balefully eyeing Baer, Ray kissed Monroe good-bye on the cheek before making a grand exit. The actress waited until Ray was out of sight, then gave Baer a look and murmured dolefully, ‘I never knew a man with such terrible teeth.'”

 

Marilyn and Clifford Odets

'Clash by Night' (1952)

One of Marilyn Monroe’s strongest early film roles was as Peggy, the feisty cannery worker in Clash by Night (1952), based on a play by Clifford Odets (although her character was not in the original script.)

Marilyn knew Odets quite well and later played Lorna Moon in a scene from his most famous play, Golden Boy, at the Actor’s Studio during the late 1950s. She later considered starring in Odets’ screenplay, The Story on Page One (1959), but that role went to Rita Hayworth, and was directed by Odets himself.

Always competitive with Miller, Odets took a rather dim view of The Misfits (1960), Monroe’s last completed film, which Miller wrote and John Huston directed.

Odets was the leading New York playwright of the 1930s and 40s, and his plays focussed on social injustice and the plight of the ‘little man’. He was also involved in the formation of the Group Theatre alongside Lee Strasberg.

Unlike Arthur Miller, the playwright who ultimately eclipsed him, Odets chose to ‘name names’ in the House Un-American Activities Committee trials of the early 1950s, a decision he would bitterly regret. He died in 1963.

In his essay on Monroe in the book, Who the Hell’s in It, director Peter Bogdanovich recalled, ‘Clifford told me that Marilyn Monroe used to come over to his house and talk, but that the only times she seemed to him really comfortable were when she was with his two young children and their large poodle. She relaxed with them, felt no threat. With everyone else, Odets said, she seemed nervous, intimidated, frightened. When I repeated to Miller this remark about her with children and animals, he said, “Well, they didn’t sneer at her.'”

Soon after Monroe’s death, Odets wrote, ‘One night some short weeks ago, for the first time in her not always happy life, Marilyn Monroe’s soul sat down alone to a quiet supper from which it did not rise. If they tell you that she died of sleeping pills you must know that she died of a wasting grief, of a slow bleeding at the soul.’

One of Odets’ later plays, The Country Girl (filmed in 1954 with Grace Kelly) is currently being revived in London. Walt Odets has spoken to the Jewish Chronicle about his famous father and his memories, and mentioned, rather unfavourably, the marriage of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe:

“The Strasberg version of the marriage was that Arthur treated Marilyn badly. So I grew up with bad feelings about Miller. I met Arthur a few times and he was a very hard, cold man. He was the kind of guy who doesn’t like children or dogs. And for a child that is immediately perceptible.”