From Some Came Running to Irma La Douce, Shirley MacLaine played several roles previously considered for Marilyn.What a Way to Go! was first offered to Marilyn by Twentieth Century Fox and would have been her next film after the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give.
In the week before she died, Marilyn attended screenings of films by J. Lee Thompson, who was set to direct.But the main attraction of this vehicle – then titled I Love Louisa – was undoubtedly that it would have rounded off her old studio contract.
Released on this day in 1964, What a Way to Go! featured several of Marilyn’s friends and associates, including former co-stars Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly and Dean Martin, plus Gentlemen Prefer Blondes songwriter Jule Styne (who spoke with Marilyn in her final days), cameraman Leon Shamroy. The film also marked the producing debut of Arthur P. Jacobs, who headed up Marilyn’s team of publicists.
This musical extravagaza, with costumes by Edith Head, seems today like the last hurrah of a beleaguered studio system, but at the time it garnered a very favourable review from the Hollywood Reporter.
“What a Way to Go! is hard to define but easy to recommend; the 20th-Fox presentation is a funny musical comedy, or comedy with music, with all the glamour that Hollywood can throw into one film, and a high-powered cast to light the marquee. The J. Lee Thompson production, produced by Arthur P. Jacobs, is a dazzler. It should be one of the year’s most popular attractions. Thompson directed the pleasantly nutty shenanigans.
Shirley MacLaine is the central figure in the Betty Comden-Adolph Green screenplay, a charmer whose attractions include the Midas touch and the kiss of death. Every man who takes up with her is rewarded by fabulous success. Unfortunately, he doesn’t live long to enjoy it or her. Hence the title. In the midst of wealth and endearing charms, he departs this life. Each time, Miss MacLaine is a rich widow, and each time, increasingly rich.
The story is told in the form of a flashback, with Miss MacLaine trying to give away some $200,000,000. She feels guilt. Rich, but guilty. Since the government won’t take her money, she goes to a psychiatrist … At the end she is reunited with the one man she said she’d never marry, Dean Martin. Bob Cummings plays the psychiatrist who listens to this gaily macabre tale.
The Comden-Green script, inspired by a story by Gwen Davis, is only the thread on which are hung a succession of funny scenes and musical numbers. The production is mounted richly. Sets are big and splendid. Costuming for Miss MacLaine by Edith Head is a major item … In this and other areas, this is the kind of movie Hollywood once made its worldwide reputation on, scorned by the aesthetes, adored by the multitudes.
Miss MacLaine is at her best as the girl who succeeds in getting her husbands’ businesses started without trying at all. She has the figure for the clothes and the sense of fun for the lines. She dances, she sings (on one occasion with another voice, dubbed for humor) and she generally cements the episodic frame … Mitchum is offhand and amusing as the super-rich tycoon. Dean Martin is not as interesting as usual — perhaps the role doesn’t give him a chance to get off the ground. Gene Kelly (who also did the bright choreography) clowns amusingly as a small-time operator who blossoms into the big-time.”
One of the most popular American comedians of the last century, Jerry Lewis has died of heart disease aged 91.
He was born Joseph (or Jerome) Levitch to Russian Jewish parents in Newark, New Jersey, in 1926. His father was a vaudeville performer, and his mother played piano. He joined them onstage at an early age, and dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. A heart murmur rendered him ineligible for military service in World War II. Already a prankster at 15, he developed a ‘Record Act’, exaggeratedly miming the lyrics to popular songs. He married singer Patti Palmer in 1944, and they would raise six sons together.
In 1946, he formed a comedy partnership with crooner Dean Martin. Over the next ten years, they graduated from nightclub act to the internationally celebrated stars of radio, television and movies.
On February 9, 1953, Marilyn Monroe met Lewis and Martin for the first time, at the annual Photoplay Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She was wearing the revealing gold lame dress fleetingly glimpsed in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Actress Joan Crawford would later speak witheringly of Marilyn’s ‘vulgar display’ as she collected the award for Fastest Rising Star. “The audience yelled and shouted, and Jerry Lewis shouted,” Crawford told reporter Bob Thomas. “But those of us in the industry just shuddered. It reminded me of a burlesque show.” At twenty-six, Marilyn was the same age as Jerry Lewis, and part of Hollywood’s new vanguard. Crawford, a star from a prior generation, later apologised for her remarks amid widespread criticism.
On February 24, Marilyn appeared on the Martin and Lewis Radio Show, accepting an award from Redbook magazine, and sparring with the comedy duo in an eight-minute sketch, ‘So Who Needs Friends.’ Columnist Sidney Skolsky, who accompanied her that day, wrote about it in his 1954 book, Marilyn.
“Jerry Lewis visited her dressing room and said, ‘I know you’re scared. Don’t be. I was awfully nervous when I went on the radio for the first time, with Bob Hope.’ He pressed her hand. ‘You’ll be great,’ he said, and left the room. This brief talk and vote of confidence from Lewis helped Marilyn considerably. Marilyn was great on the program. After it, Jerry said to me, ‘She’s got nothing to worry about. She knows more about sex than I do about comedy.’ Which is the highest compliment a comedian could bestow on an actress who is selling glamour.”
Marilyn became good friends with both Jerry and Dean Martin. Sensing her loneliness, they often invited her to dinner alongside fellow pal Sammy Davis Jr. A lifelong insomniac, Marilyn would sometimes call them in the small hours and ask to meet up at all-night diners.
On October 18th, columnist Sheilah Graham published an interview with Marilyn in which she named the ten most fascinating men in the world, including future husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, her River of No Return co-star Robert Mitchum, Asphalt Jungle director John Huston, close friends Marlon Brando and Sidney Skolsky, acting coach Michael Chekhov, photographer Milton Greene, and India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (the only one she hadn’t met.) And the last man on her list was Jerry Lewis…
“I think that Jerry has a lot of sex appeal. It might have something to do with his vitality. I can’t figure out what it is. He makes funny faces because he thinks people want him to make funny faces. But behind it all there’s something serious and very sexy. I just think he’s sexy.”
On December 6, Hedda Hopper reported that Jerry and Dean had called upon friends to donate items for a charity auction for muscular dystrophy. “They asked Marilyn Monroe for something personal – anything close to her. What they got was a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace autographed by Marilyn.”
After Marilyn moved to New York in early 1955, the men-only Friars’ Club broke code and invited her to their annual roast, compered by Milton Berle in Martin and Lewis’s honour. When Berle called her to the podium, Marilyn blew a kiss and whispered, “I love you, Jerry.”
Lewis remembered Marilyn with great affection in his 2005 memoir, Dean & Me: A Love Story…
“To my vast regret, the one actress we never performed with was Marilyn Monroe – and how great she would have been in a Martin and Lewis picture. She had a delicious sense of humour, an ability not only to appreciate what was funny but to see the absurdity of things in general. God, she was magnificent – perfect physically and in every other way. She was someone anyone would just love to be with, not only for the obvious reasons but for her energy and perseverance and yes, focus. She had the capacity to make you feel that she was totally engaged with whatever you were talking about. She was kind, she was good, she was beautiful, and the press took shots at her that she didn’t deserve. They got on her case from day one – a textbook example of celebrity-bashing.”
In 1956, the Martin and Lewis collaboration ended as Dean, tired of being the ‘straight man’, decided to pursue a solo career. Jerry was heartbroken but his partner was adamant, and despite occasional public appearances together, the pair were estranged for thirty years.
In 1958, Jerry was offered the chance to star opposite Marilyn as jazz musician and ‘bosom pal’ Jerry/Daphne in Billy Wilder’s classic drag farce, Some Like It Hot. Unsure of his ability to convincingly impersonate a woman, he declined and the part went to Jack Lemmon. In 1959, Lewis signed a groundbreaking deal with Paramount Pictures, earning $10 million plus 60% of the profits for 14 films over the next 7 years. In partnership with director Frank Tashlin, Jerry also produced and co-wrote his movies, including his greatest success, The Nutty Professor (1962.)
Shortly before her death in 1962, Marilyn had been filming Something’s Got to Give with Dean Martin, who refused to work with another actress after Monroe was fired. Many of the rumours surrounding her demise have focused on her alleged affair with John F. Kennedy, but in a 2002 interview with GQ magazine, Lewis – himself a friend of the president – quipped that it wasn’t true, because Marilyn was having an affair with him. This bizarre remark – possibly a joke – nonetheless made headlines, but a sexual liaison at this time seems unlikely.
By the mid-1960s, Jerry’s popularity was fading, though he became a cult figure in France, where he was hailed as a comedic auteur. In 1966, he hosted the first of 44 annual US telethons for muscular dystrophy on Labour Day weekend. His long marriage to Patti Palmer ended in 1982, and a year later he married 30 year-Old stewardess San-Dee Pitnick. They later adopted a daughter.
His performance in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy (1983), as a television host stalked by obsessive fans, hinted at a darker side to the Lewis persona and established him as a serious actor. He played further acclaimed roles in Arizona Dream (1994), Funny Bones (1995.)
In recent years he suffered from increasingly poor health. Tragedy struck in 2009 when his 45 year-old son Joseph died of a drug overdose, and in 2010, Lewis began raising funds to build a facility for vulnerable and traumatised children in Melbourne, Australia. In a recent television interview, he spoke candidly about his fear of dying. He continued working until the end, playing the titular role in Max Rose (2016.) Jerry Lewis died at home in Las Vegas on August 20, 2017.
Actor James Garner, who first found fame as a comedic cowboy in the 1950s TV series, Maverick, has died aged 86. His most popular role was that of private detective Jim Rockford in the long-running series, The Rockford Files. He also made over fifty films, including The Great Escape, Victor/Victoria, Murphy’s Romance, Sunset (as Wyatt Earp)and Maverick (a big-screen remake, starring Mel Gibson.) One of Garner’s final roles was in The Notebook (2004.) He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Lois Clarke, and two daughters.
Garner is best-known to MM fans as Doris Day’s leading man in Move Over Darling, the 1963 remake of Marilyn’s unfinished last film, Something’s Got To Give. What readers may not recall, however, is that Garner was originally chosen to star alongside Monroe, as Ted Schwarz explained in his 2010 biography, Marilyn Revealed.
“James Garner demanded $200,000 to do the picture, but Fox thought he was a $150,000-a-picture actor and would pay him no more. He quit. Then, in the convoluted thinking of Hollywood, the new producer, a man named Henry Weinstein, turned to Dean Martin that March, paying Martin double what Fox had wanted to pay Garner.”
Garner commented on both projects in his autobiography, The Garner Files (2012.)
“The best part of this remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favourite Wife was Doris Day. I’d been slated to make it as Something’s Got to Give with Marilyn Monroe, but I did The Great Escape instead, so Dean Martin took my part. Twentieth fired Marilyn for chronic tardiness and stopped production, retitled it Move Over Darling, and made it with me and Doris.
Doris didn’t play sexy, she didn’t act sexy, she was sexy. Which is better in the bedroom than a lot of things. And Doris was a joy to work with.”
After Marilyn was fired, executives at Fox spread the rumour that her work on the film was ‘unwatchable.’ However, footage from Something’s Got to Give, uncovered in 1990, shows Marilyn looking better than she had done in years. Her screen chemistry with Dean Martin was evident, and the opening scene, in which she greets her long-lost children after being rescued from a shipwreck, ranks among her finest work.
However, there is something undeniably stilted and weary about Something’s Got to Give – perhaps a combination of the hackneyed script, and George Cukor’s indifferent direction. Move Over Darling is a briskly efficient 1960s rom-com, though lacking some of the star-power Marilyn could have brought. Patrick Samuel compared the two versions in a 2011 review for Static Mass Emporium:
“Despite its shortcomings it has its charm and moments of fun but misses what Monroe and Martin brought to the unfinished Something’s Got To Give; sensuality and a high doses of sex appeal. Although, from watching what remains of Something’s Got To Give, it misses the charm and fun of Move Over Darling! Cukor’s version is sombre and swings more toward melodrama than screwball comedy. If only there was a way to move something over.”
Norma Jeane Mortenson (aka Marilyn Monroe) was born on June 1, 1926, 86 years ago. This photo, taken by Lawrence Schiller in 1962, shows her celebrating her 36th birthday with co-star Dean Martin, on the set of Something’s Got to Give.
Let me begin by saying I was quite surprised when my friend Veronica invited me to see this dinner show. I had never attended a dinner theatre production before, and I was actually surprised to know that they still existed. I had often assumed that dinner theatre was a nostalgic activity that had its hey-day in the 50s or 60s, and was no longer around. And when my friend and I were seated at our table directly in front of the stage, this assumption was proven partly correct as I scanned the audience and saw a lot of gray and silver-headed attendees. That’s when Veronica and I realized we were the youngest people in the audience!
We were presented with a menu and had an hour to dine before the show began. The food was on the average side, but the wait staff was very helpful and friendly, and I was really enjoying what was a totally new (for me) form of entertainment.
The show began with Andy DiMino taking the stage as Dean Martin. I have to admit I was not very familiar with Dean’s music before, so the material he was going to sing would be new to my ears. But I could see (by the swaying of female heads in the audience) that his music is well loved, and certainly stirred memories of the golden days of the crooners, as well as old romances. By the end of the evening, Andy’s performance gave me a greater appreciation for the music of Dean Martin.
After singing some more solo numbers, Andy/Dean summoned Susan Griffiths as Marilyn Monroe to the stage. And when Susan wiggled onto the stage in a skin-tight red cocktail dress, I have to admit I could not keep my eyes off her! Susan had Marilyn’s mannerisms and breathy voice down perfect, and there was obvious and genuine chemistry between her and Andy.
The show proceeded with the two stars singing together, then Andy left as Susan took over the spotlight, and the show continued with variations of this solo and duet arrangement. For me particularly, it was great to hear songs from classic Monroe films in this live setting, which were re-recorded by Griffiths with just the slightest different arrangement that gave them a freshness. I was especially pleased to hear ‘A Fine Romance’ and ‘River of No Return’ – two lesser-known songs from the Marilyn catalog – which were superbly rendered by Susan.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that the show contained a lot of comedy! Andy had great comic delivery and really served the laughs, while Susan occasionally descended the stage and mingled with the audience, picking certain people in the crowd to participate in the fun. Another highlight was the duet ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, which ended with faux snow descending onto the stage. It was a magical moment which recalled a scene from the great Hollywood musicals.
After the show, Andy and Susan were generous enough to meet in the lobby for photos and greet audience members. I had a chance to speak briefly with Susan and ask her about the origins of the show. Apparently, Andy had been doing Dean Martin in a solo Las Vegas show some years before, and after the two of them connected, the idea came to them to perform together as Dean and Marilyn. I also asked Susan if there would be future shows. According to her, they have no scheduled tour dates, but instead try to fit in shows when and where the opportunity arises. The next day they were booked to perform the same show in Staten Island, and then she was off for an engagement in Sweden.
Susan reminded me that the show is still a work-in-progress, and that eventually they would like to integrate into the show some background history of the real-life Marilyn and Dean’s working and personal relationship. As most Marilyn fans already know, Dean and Marilyn were close friends in real-life, and were starring together in the unfinished film Something’s Got to Give at the time of her death.