In another great article for the BFI website, Christina Newland explores the sometimes difficult, but highly creative relationships that Marilyn forged with her many gifted directors. (I was a little disappointed that Joshua Logan, another brilliant director who guided Marilyn through one of her finest performances in Bus Stop, didn’t make the cut.)
“The breathy voice, the windswept white dress, and the endless litany of falsely attributed Pinterest quotes: since her death of a drug overdose in 1962, Marilyn Monroe has been so relentlessly mythologised that she often seems to exist more as commemorative poster art than as a film star…
The immediate persona – deemed ‘vulgar’ by numerous critics and commentators – was that of a well-meaning dumb blonde; all baby talk and male fantasy made flesh. That she was apparently ill-at-ease with this image has long passed into common lore about Monroe.
In spite of early attempts at breaking into more serious dramatic roles – as with Don’t Bother to Knock in 1952 – sexist condescension was never far behind. Archer Winston, a critic at the New York Post remarked: ‘[…] they’ve thrown MM into the deep dramatic waters, sink or swim. And while she doesn’t really do either, you might say that she floats. With that figure, what else can she do?’
Estranged from her sex goddess image and striving for artistic validity, Marilyn went on to study at the Actors Studio, hiring Paula Strasberg as her acting coach. Strasberg was Marilyn’s constant companion on set, to the fury of numerous directors.
Nonetheless, each director Marilyn worked with – from Billy Wilder to George Cukor – helped to piece together a part of her persona. There is the exaggerated, almost burlesque femininity of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953); the wounded and childlike vulnerability of her role in The Misfits (1961); and the less-discussed, duplicitous femme fatales of her early career, as in Niagara (1953).”