Rudy Behlmer, Historian of Zanuck, Marilyn and Fox, Has Died

Film historian Rudy Behlmer has died aged 92, Variety reports.

“Behlmer was among the most widely respected historians of Golden Age Hollywood, in part because of his insistence upon researching ‘primary source material’ and not relying on faulty memories or exaggerated press accounts of the time.

Memo From David O. Selznick, which Behlmer edited from thousands of Selznick’s private letters, telegrams and memoranda, was a best seller in 1972. Behlmer first interviewed the Gone With the Wind producer for a 1963 article for Films in Review, one of dozens of magazine pieces he wrote over the decades.

Other books followed: Hollywood’s Hollywood: The Movies About the Movies (with co-author Tony Thomas, 1975), Inside Warner Bros. 1935-1951 (1985), Behind the Scenes: The Making Of… (1989) and Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck (1993).

But essays and journalism were only part of Behlmer’s life. He enjoyed a lively and successful career in television and advertising throughout the 1950s and ’60s … He was director on ABC’s Ray Anthony Show, featuring the big-band leader and his orchestra, during the 1956-57 season, and served as executive producer and director for KCOP from 1960 to 1963, overseeing various shows including his own Movies’ Golden Age. “

In Memo From Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century Fox, which is still in print after a quarter of a century, Behlmer offered insights into Marilyn’s prickly relationship with her studio boss, including this letter he sent to her North Crescent Drive address in December 1951, regarding her leading role in Don’t Bother to Knock and her insistence on having her dramatic coach Natasha Lytess on the set. (This was a battle Zanuck ultimately lost: Natasha continued working with Marilyn – much to the annoyance of her co-workers – until she was replaced by Paula Strasberg in 1956.)

“… I think you are capable of playing this role without the help of anyone but the director and yourself. You have built up a Svengali and if you are going to progress with your career and become as important talent-wise as you have publicity-wise then you must destroy this Svengali before it destroys you. When I cast you for the role I cast you as an individual …”

This memo from September 1952 reveals Zanuck’s vision for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in which Marilyn would play Lorelei to Jane Russell’s Dorothy – making clear that he recognised how crucial their friendship was to the movie. (This memo was addressed to producer Sol Siegel, director Howard Hawks and writer Charles Lederer.)

“There are two things which I consider vital to the telling of the story, and which I want to emphasise in the script. These are (1) The love story between Dorothy and Malone [Elliott Reid]; (2) Dorothy’s genuine affection for Lorelei.

This is not a satire. It is a solid and honest comedy … We must be completely sold on Dorothy’s love for Malone, or we won’t be able to accept her taking him back. And we must be sold on her real affection for Lorelei or we won’t be able to understand her sticking her neck out for her in the courtroom scene.

In order to accomplish these two things we must be willing, if necessary, to sacrifice comedy in these particular scenes …”

In March 1953, Zanuck contacted writer Nunnally Johnson, director Jean Negulesco and others involved with How to Marry a Millionaire, to express his satisfaction at how CinemaScope technology was enhancing the movie.

“… Almost in all instances the composition has been vastly improved over previous material. The full figure shot of [Lauren] Bacall on the bed and the big closeup filling the screen of Monroe were unique examples of the new medium.

I am still opposed to too much camera movement. I fully believe that while we have to occasionally move the camera we should put the emphasis on moving the actors …”

In 1954, Zanuck mooted the idea of a torrid biblical epic, The Queen of Sheba. It was never made, although United Artists would later produce Solomon and Sheba, starring Gina Lollobrigida.

“In a nutshell, this should be the story of a glamorous but evil temptress … As you know, confidentially, I have even flirted with the idea of Marilyn Monroe as Sheba. I think it might be one of the biggest box-office combinations of all time …”

And in 1955, Zanuck revealed that he had been offered I’ll Cry Tomorrow, the sensational biopic about alcoholic singer Lillian Roth, as a potential vehicle for Marilyn (then involved in a contractual dispute with Fox.) After Zanuck passed on it, the film was produced at MGM.

“This is a very interesting, solid, downbeat story and, while it has an outstanding performance by Susan Hayward, I considered it to be overrated … We turned down I’ll Cry Tomorrow, frankly because we were all afraid of the subject matter and of the fact that Lillian Roth was not a really famous personality. [Producer Julian] Blaustein wanted it but only if he could get Marilyn Monroe for the role …”

Zanuck left Fox to become an independent producer in 1956. By the time he returned in 1962, the studio was fighting bankruptcy. Reportedly, it was Zanuck who argued for Marilyn to be re-hired for Something’s Got to Give, although she would pass away before her final studio battle was concluded.

In 1960, columnist Hedda Hopper asked Zanuck why he had left Hollywood. His response makes it clear that he had anticipated the demise of the studio system…

“I just got well fed up with being an executive and no longer being a producer. That’s what the job became. Actors are now directing, writing, producing. Actors have taken over Hollywood completely with their agents. They want approval of everything … scripts, stars, still pictures. The producer hasn’t got a chance to exercise any authority! … What the hell, I’m not going to work with them!”

Wednesdays With Marilyn in Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Cultural Centre is hosting a summer season of Marilyn’s movies each Wednesday at 7 pm, with Niagara on July 10; followed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on July 17, How to Marry a Millionaire on July 24, and Some Like It Hot on July 31. On Wednesdays at 7 through August, catch The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Let’s Make Love and Monkey Business. And finally, the retrospective winds up in September with Don’t Bother to Knock and The Misfits.

Thanks to Eric at Marilyn Remembered

Marilyn’s Movies: A Birthday List

On Marilyn’s 93rd birthday, Sophia Waterfield aggregates online ratings from Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes to gauge the 10 highest scoring Monroe movies with critics and audiences today in a post for Newsweek. The results are surprising, with her dramatic roles in Don’t Bother to Knock and The Misfits tying for first place; followed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Asphalt Jungle, with perennial favourite Like It Hot coming in fifth. The ranking continues with All About Eve, Monkey Business, The Seven Year Itch, Niagara, and How to Marry a Millionaire.

Meanwhile on the Gold Derby website, Zach Laws and Chris Beachum pick their top 15, with Some Like It Hot, The Misfits and The Seven Year Itch on top. Three more of my favourites – Bus Stop, Clash By Night and The Prince and the Showgirl – occupy the 5th, 13th and 14th places respectively, with River Of No Return ranked 11th and There’s No Business Like Show Business at 15th. (Of all Marilyn’s major movies, Let’s Make Love is the only one not to make either list.)

Marilyn’s Blu-Ray Double Bill

The recent Blu-Ray releases of Don’t Bother to Knock and Let’s Make Love from Twilight Time Video are reviewed by David Krauss for Hi-Def Digest.

“Don’t Bother to Knock offers the 26-year-old Monroe an especially rigorous dramatic workout as an emotionally disturbed young woman whose inner demons come to the fore while she’s babysitting a six-year-old girl in a New York City hotel … Despite her limited acting experience, Monroe tackles the tricky role well, juggling naïveté, passion, rage, and emotional distress with surprising aplomb. She also displays a heartbreaking vulnerability that makes us feel for Nell’s predicament despite her shocking and reprehensible actions. Though still rough around the edges and a bit studied, Marilyn’s work has a disarming authenticity, especially in her emotional scene … Don’t Bother to Knock, which runs a brief 76 minutes, begins sluggishly and the tale isn’t particularly well developed. Still, this throwaway B movie flaunts an impressive pedigree. Director Roy Baker, who would later helm the classic Titanic docudrama A Night to Remember, nicely builds tension, while cinematographer Lucien Ballard (The Wild Bunch) beautifully photographs Marilyn, maximizing the impact of every close-up.

Let’s Make Love is a pleasant, innocuous diversion, but it lacks the effervescence of more spirited romantic comedies. Though peppered by a few pointed barbs, Norman Krasna’s script meanders along, and the direction by the esteemed George Cukor is anemic at best …The only reason Monroe consented to do this inferior film was because she was desperate to fulfill her contractual obligations to Fox, which never really respected her talent and often saddled her with vapid, ornamental roles designed to exploit her sexuality. Yet despite looking a tad zaftig and occasionally glazed here, Marilyn does her best to rise to the occasion. She handles her free-spirited part like a pro, exuding marvelous warmth, sensitivity, and some welcome spunk. She’s at her best in a couple of lively musical numbers, the finest of which is her dynamite opening salvo, a coyly sexy, tongue-in-cheek take on Cole Porter’s ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ that stands as one of Marilyn’s finest screen moments.”

Clash By Night: Marilyn’s Female-Led Noir

Over at Vulture, film critic Angelica Jade Bastien names  Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952) in a list of ’10 Female-Led Noirs’. Some might argue that Clash isn’t a classic noir, as it’s not set in a major city and no serious crimes are committed – but for me, its gritty treatment of post-war discontent, and repressed sexuality and simmering violence place it firmly in the canon. (I would argue that Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara also partially qualify, thanks to Marilyn’s gripping scenes with Anne Bancroft and Jean Peters, respectively.)

“What happens when the woman people view you as isn’t who you really are, nor who you want to be? Clash by Night poses this question by beginning where most noir ends. Mae Doyle (Stanwyck) has grown accustomed to a decadent life, but is forced to return to her hometown of Monterey, California, after that life falls apart. Soon, Mae settles into a life in which she’s uncomfortable, navigating marrying a gruff fisherman (Paul Douglas) and having a daughter quickly after. She finds herself drawn to the far more exciting, equally restless Earl (noir stalwart Robert Ryan). Clash by Night is a domestic noir bolstered by its rich insight into the ways women feel confined by society, as well as by its amazing direction by the legendary Fritz Lang and its performances, including a magnetic supporting turn by Marilyn Monroe. But it’s Stanwyck’s performance as a woman of temerity who is far too bold and yearning for the prosaic existence she finds herself trapped within that earns it a spot on this list.”

Remembering Lurene Tuttle in Indiana

Publicity shot for ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’

Actress Lurene Tuttle, who appeared in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) and Niagara (1953), will be the subject of a presentation by Elten Powers of the Steuben County Genealogical Society at the Carnegie Public Library in Angola, Indiana on Monday, September 17 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm, KPC News reports.

Born into a family with theatrical connections in nearby Pleasant Lake in 1907, Lurene Tuttle became a radio actress in the 1930s, and made her movie debut in 1947. In Don’t Bother to Knock, Lurene plays Ruth Jones, who is staying in a  hotel with her husband during a business conference, when the elevator operator suggests they hire his niece, Nell Forbes (played by Marilyn) to babysit their young daughter.

It soon becomes clear that Nell is a troubled young woman, and after Ruth leaves her alone with the little girl, Nell puts on Ruth’s negligee, jewellery and perfume. Towards the end of the film, Ruth returns to find her daughter bound and gagged in the bedroom, and a struggle ensues in which Ruth ultimately overpowers Nell.

This brief scene was recreated in a rather lurid series of publicity photos featuring Lurene and Marilyn. They did not appear together in Niagara, in which Lurene plays Mrs Kettering, the cheerful, long-suffering wife of honeymooning ad-man Ray Cutler’s loquacious boss. Her character mirrors that of Polly Cutler (played by Jean Peters.)

‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ Reviewed

Reviews are coming in for Twilight Time’s limited Blu-Ray release of Don’t Bother to Knock.  First of all, here’s some thoughts from Lorraine at Marilyn Remembered:

“It is STUNNING! Honestly worth it for the packaging alone! I’ve had a sneak peek and it’s very well done, although the only down side is that the inclusion of the wonderful documentary The Mortal Goddess as a special feature is just the 45 min version, not the full 90 min version.”

Next up is a review from Mike Clark at Media Play News:

“Filmed on three or four simple sets and clocking in at just 76 minutes, Don’t Bother to Knock is an unusual movie for Marilyn Monroe to have made just as she was on the brink of the Twentieth Century-Fox superstardom that was obviously on Darryl Zanuck’s mind (along with, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear, one of two other things). Though professionally speaking, Julie Kirgo notes in another of her well-researched Twilight Time essays, that he did make Monroe test for the part, a lesson that one wonders if he forgot when it came to Bella Darvi.

Knock was one five movies that marked Monroe’s 1952 output — along with two Fox comedies, a cameo in the opening segment of the studio’s all-star anthology O. Henry’s Full House and a loan-out to RKO for Clash by Night. Though the last was a drama, she didn’t have to carry large chunks of it, but in Knock, she has to bring off a case of frightening bonker-dom brought on by her lover’s death — an emotional condition that ends up threatening a child’s life.

It’s a somnambulant performance somewhere between effective and one she gets away with — though some will tell you that I’m underrating it, and possibly so. Call Monroe’s approach a second cousin, say, to Kim Novak’s deadpanned dialogue deliveries in Vertigo, though the passage of time has pretty well rendered Novak’s turn a complete success, no matter how she and Alfred Hitchcock got there. Monroe, of course, just got better as she aged, which more people should have told her at the time.”

Marilyn Gets Lost in ‘Noir City’

Marilyn is the latest cover girl for Noir City, a digital quarterly published by the Film Noir Foundation. Inside, there’s an eight-page illustrated article, with Jake Hinkson analysing her diverse roles in The Asphalt Jungle, Clash by Night, Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara. Fellow bombshells Diana Dors and Gloria Grahame are also profiled in this issue. To subscribe to Noir City, join their mailing list and donate $20 or more to the foundation, who host regular screenings across the US and a yearly film festival, and also publish an annual print round-up of the best features.

Kim Morgan On Understanding Nell (and Marilyn)

As reported last week, Don’t Bother To Knock has been released on Blu-Ray. Film critic Kim Morgan a longtime friend of this blog, has reviewed it for the latest issue of Kill Or Be Killed magazine, which you can order here.

“It’s a heartbreaking portrait, and a movie that sympathises with Nell [Monroe], but the moral of the story comes somewhat at Nell’s expense – Widmark’s Jed becomes the decent man for not giving in to temptation with the damaged woman. He finally shows an ‘understanding heart.’ It’s almost heroic because in real life many men wouldn’t be sensitive enough to resist. And you know that Nell will learn that soon enough. Likely, she already has.”

‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ on Blu-Ray

One of my favourite Monroe movies, Don’t Bother to Knock will be released on Blu-Ray by Twilight Time Video on March 20. It’s a limited release with a high-def transfer, and it’s Region 0 so should be compatible with most Blu-Ray players. Special features include the excellent documentary, Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess.

Here’s an excerpt from Mike Finnegan’s Twilight Time review:

“Made early in her blazing movie career before the full range of her comedic and dramatic gifts were fully explored, it’s intriguing to note that many later reappraisals of the Marilyn Monroe thriller Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) cite the storyline of a mentally fragile woman whose personal insecurities and sad delusions trigger dangerous behavior seem to prefigure her later-in-life struggles. It does endure as a neatly executed noir exercise with a richer than usual bench of character portrayals from Monroe’s colleagues Richard Widmark, young Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Lurene Tuttle, Elisha Cook Jr., Jim Backus and Verna Felton, and in that company, Monroe impressively delivers the goods … Monroe reportedly struggled with the role and caused some consternation with her director and castmates, but 66 years later, that very process of struggle seems to vindicate the promise of her undeniable talent on screen, while subsequent assessments of Don’t Bother to Knock, which got no critical love in its time but now seems all the more “on the cusp” of greater things henceforth, not only for Monroe (who would show further evidence of her dramatic chops as a scheming wife contemplating spousal murder in the following year’s Niagara), but for Baker and Bancroft too.”

Thanks to Fraser Penney