Spanish Novelist Retraces Marilyn’s ‘Nevada Days’

Bernardo Axtaga is a Spanish author whose 2014 novel, Nevada Days – a fictionalised account of his nine-month stay as writer-in-residence at the Centre for Basque Studies – is now available in English, and the early chapters include several references to Marilyn and The Misfits.

She is first mentioned when Axtaga flips through a copy of The Misfits: Story of a Shoot, Sergio Toubania’s monograph of the Magnum photographers who documented the production. “Individually, the photographs were really good,” Axtaga comments, “… but perhaps because the photographs were the work of different photographers, seeing them all together jarred somehow.”

He later visits Pyramid Lake, and is surprised to find no postcards from The Misfits in the gift shop.”There was one, I seemed to remember, that would have been perfect: Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable lying next to each other on the shores of Pyramid Lake. I asked the waitress, but she had never heard of the film. Nor was she interested in Marilyn Monroe.”

The final, extended passage about Marilyn occurs during a long drive, while Axtaga is talking to his wife Angela about Arthur Miller’s stay at Pyramid Lake in 1956, where he wrote the short story that would become The Misfits while waiting out his first divorce, and conducted a long-distance relationship with Marilyn, who was filming Bus Stop. Axtaga imagines Marilyn’s anguished telephone call to Miller from the set, as described in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends.

Axtaga then recalls the famous scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955), where Marilyn’s character, ‘The Girl’, sympathises with the monster in yet another movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon. (This was foreshadowed in an earlier episode, when Axtaga’s young daughter cries at the end of King Kong.)

As the author forms his own impressions of Nevada, Marilyn disappears from the novel. But her ghostly presence reflects how an outsider’s preconceptions about American life  can be shaped by literary and cinematic mythology.

Marilyn’s Lost Song in ‘The Shape of Water’

Diehard Monroe fans have noticed a little-known recording by Marilyn in Guillermo Del Toro’s new film, The Shape of Water. Set in the early 1960s, the film stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a laboratory assistant who develops a close bond with ‘Amphibian Man,’ the mysterious creature being held captive in a tank. This plotline is reminiscent of Creature From the Black Lagoon, the monster movie that Marilyn and Tom Ewell go to see in The Seven Year Itch. Afterward, Marilyn (as ‘The Girl’) famously declares: “He wasn’t really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection, you know? A sense of being loved and needed and wanted.”

According to fans at Marilyn Remembered, her voice can be heard in a song accompanying a scene in The Shape of Water, when Elisa’s friend Giles makes a pass at the waiter in a cafe and is asked to leave.. But while Marilyn’s singing voice may be familiar, the song is not.

‘How Wrong Can I Be’ was a song recorded by Marilyn, probably in the late 1940s (around the time Fred Karger coached her for Ladies of the Chorus), but its existence was not widely known until 1995, when it was listed for sale at Sotheby’s of London. Until now, only a 20-second snippet has been released, which you can listen to here.

Marilyn with Fred Karger (top) circa 1948

Unfortunately, it’s not featured on the soundtrack to The Shape of Water, but we finally have an opportunity to listen. Fraser Penney noticed it in the final credits:

And here’s some background information from a 1995 report in the New York Times.

“‘How Wrong Can I Be,’ recorded on a 12-inch acetate disk, was never released. The anonymous seller, whose father was in the music business, was sorting through a stack of his father’s recordings three years ago and noticed one with a hand-written label that read ‘Fred Karger at the piano, Manny Klein on the trumpet, vocal by Marilyn Monroe.’

The ballad, written by Mr. Karger and Alex Gottlieb, tells a story of sorrow and regret, from the point of view of a woman who has ended a love affair out of misguided jealousy.

The song begins:

‘How wrong can I be,

If my heart says to me

Love like ours never dies.

How wrong can I be,

When it’s sure plain to see

That a heart never lies…'”