‘Fellow Travelers’ in the Hamptons

Fellow Travelers, Jack Canfora’s new play about Marilyn, Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Hollywood Blacklist, has opened at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY to glowing reviews – although Monroe fans may prefer to judge for themselves…

“While Monroe is not central to the moral issue at stake here, she is an integral part of the two men’s lives. She had a long affair and friendship with Kazan, and she fell in love with Miller even though he was married. The tabloids gorged on her short marriage to Joe DiMaggio, her surprising liaison with Miller, his ‘quickie’ divorce, and finally, their five-year marriage.

Today Monroe is an iconic touchstone of the era. We know her all-too-human story, her emotional wounds, her breathy voice, her luscious body. Ms. Hewitt in a blonde wig does a boffo job of portraying that Marilyn with warm earthiness, touching grace and surprising self-awareness.

Though some might cavil that her part is underwritten, she was not faced with the moral question of betrayal for art. Nor is she the Greek chorus here, for she does not comment on the action but rather lives in it. Her relationships with Kazan and Miller demonstrate how acts of great consequence do not occur singularly alone …

Indeed, Marilyn is necessary here, for she is the force who brought the former friends together in 1963, though they would never be great pals again.” – Lorraine Dusky, 27East

Marilyn (Rachel Spencer Hewitt) with Kazan (Vince Nappo) and Miller (Wayne Alan Wilcox)
Recreating the infamous 1951 meeting with Columbia’s Harry Cohn (Mark Blum)

“Playing icon Marilyn Monroe in a movie or play is always a tall order, but Rachel Spencer Hewitt measured up to the task and took her performance to a high level. The sexy aspects that made Marilyn Monroe along with some shockingly blunt dialogue again kept the audience captured in the story.

Fellow Travelers is an important play because it deals with a dark time in our nation’s history. A time with congressional hearings on ‘Un-American Activities’, and blacklists and betrayals to friends, and in some cases, to the country. Fellow Travelers is a hit because it is a great script that comes to life with excellent acting and wonderful directing.” – T.J. Clemente, Hamptons Theater Review

“As Monroe, Rachel Spencer Hewitt holds back on the bombshell we know so well, instead showing us a troubled woman coming to terms with her public perception … While dialogue drags at times, the play offers illuminating glimpses of the creative genius of Miller and Kazan.” – Barbara Schuler, Newsday

“The cast is exemplary … Hewitt is a strong presence as Monroe, and later as Barbara Loden, Kazan’s second wife, who then portrays the Marilyn character, Maggie, in Miller’s After The Fall, directed by Kazan.” – Bridget LeRoy, Hampton Independent

“Among the top-notch cast is Rachel Spencer Hewitt strongly portraying Marilyn Monroe. Fans of the starlet will appreciate how Ms. Hewitt doesn’t necessarily copy Monroe’s famous public persona, but cleverly infuses her own take on the role.” – Melissa Giordano, Broadway World

“With the play’s punchy, often vulgar dialogue, Mr. Canfora wrings genuine conflict and emotion from his two talented and driven characters … But in a production with so many excellent performances, it is no small compliment to say that Rachel Spencer Hewitt, as Marilyn, makes the play her own. So iconic is Monroe — and so caricatured in popular culture — that there may be no more treacherous role for an actress to play. Just on sheer guts, one must tip his hat to Ms. Hewitt for trying.

But the actress does much more than that, with a portrayal that captures both the iconic Marilyn and the tender and innocent woman she most likely hid from the world. In Fellow Travelers, we get a Marilyn on the cusp, both world-weary and yet still hopeful about her career and the possibility of love. After her divorce from Miller, she would never be quite the same.

While the play hardly absolves Kazan, there is at least the desire to understand him. And just when Miller’s saintly posturing grows tiresome, Mr. Canfora has both Kazan and Harry Cohn take pithy potshots at the playwright’s sanctimony.

But it’s Marilyn Monroe who, even in death at play’s end, gets the last word. Just as her image bedeviled millions of filmgoers (and continues to do so), so did she loom in the minds of Miller and Kazan; neither ever really got over her. Thanks to a great performance by Ms. Hewitt and the tender writing of Mr. Canfora, she ultimately dominates Fellow Travelers as well.” – Kurt Wenzel, East Hampton Star

Miller (and Marilyn) Haunting the Stage

This month sees three plays looking at Arthur Miller’s legacy reaching the stage. Firstly, Jack Canfora’s new play, Fellow Travelers – looking at Miller, Marilyn and Elia Kazan, set against the backdrop of the red-baiting era – is at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, NY, until June 17, with Rachel Spencer Hewitt playing MM. Over in London, Miller’s last play, Finishing the Picture – about the filming of The Misfits – will have its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre from June 12-July 7.

Finally, Bernard Weinraub’s Fall – now at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston – looks at Arthur’s conflicted attitude towards Daniel, his son with Inge Morath, who grew up in institutions after being diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. While Arthur was a public figure, Daniel (who is still alive) is not, and it all seems in questionable taste to me.

“Miller, not having recorded his thoughts about his son, cannot defend himself here,” Jesse Green writes in the New York Times. “I’m not sure Mr. Weinraub would let him anyway. He seems to want to take Miller down, and not just as a man who made an abominable choice like thousands of other parents in his day.”

Carl Rollyson on ‘Arthur Miller: Writer’

Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, has set out his thoughts on Arthur Miller: Writer, the new documentary made by Miller’s daughter Rebecca, now on HBO in the US.

“It is a remarkable revelation of the man, but it is also a very limited view. How could it not be? It is his daughter’s film , and she could not, for example, bring herself to interview him about his institutionalized Down’s syndrome son. The film is really a memoir, and not a biography.

But I am going to concentrate on the treatment of Marilyn Monroe. For the most part, she is treated as rather pitiful, with Miller spending his time propping her up. He wrote very little while married to her but does not mention the countless hours locked away in a room trying to write. More importantly, he gives a very distorted view of what happened during the shooting of The Misfits. He says she doubted she could perform in a serious role. This is a staggering lie, or an example of self-delusion. Monroe was upset about the script and was shut out from the Miller-Huston deliberations about how to fix it. She wasn’t happy that her husband was treating her as a myth, not a real person. If he was going to give her lines that she actually had spoken, then he was obligated to give the full context in which such lines were spoken.

The most telling moment occurs earlier when Miller mentions Elia Kazan as telling him what a great play Death of a Salesman was. Kazan may have been the first one to say so to Miller. Miller trusted Kazan’s judgment and his sincerity. But when it comes to The Misfits, Miller does not mention the letter [Elia] Kazan sent him detailing the faults with the character of Roslyn that Monroe had to play. And those faults were exactly the ones Monroe had identified.

Another telling moment in the film is when Tony Kushner analyzes After the Fall and says Miller was afraid of Monroe. Just so, she had a much more capacious sensibility than he did, and he did not know how to respond to her. The same is true with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. When she died, Hughes said, ‘It was her or me.’ In both cases, these men simply could not come up to the level of their wives, and afterwards suggested that was because the wives were doomed. And that is the impression Miller conveys in his daughter’s film.”

On the Waterfront: Marilyn and John Garfield

Three years after their encounter on the set of We Were Strangers (see here), Marilyn and John Garfield were early contenders for the lead roles in On the Waterfront, according to Marilyn’s photographer friend, Sam Shaw, who was then developing it as a screenplay. (Director Elia Kazan denied all of this, but Al Ryelander, then a press agent for Columbia Studios, insisted the story was accurate.)

By 1952, Marilyn’s star was rising –  but Garfield’s career was destroyed, after he refused to ‘name names’ to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and became the most famous victim of the ‘red-baiting’ era. He died of a heart attack months later, aged 37. Author Robert Knott retold the story, which also touches on Marilyn’s relationships with Kazan and future husband Arthur Miller, in He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield (2003.)

On the Waterfront was released to acclaim in 1954, starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. Ironically, the film can be seen as director Elia Kazan’s self-justification for his own decision to name names. One can only imagine how different Marilyn’s subsequent career might have been had she played the role of demure Edie Doyle…

‘On the Waterfront’ (1954)

“Shaw gave Monroe the script while she was in New York to take in the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Monroe read the script and passed it on to her lover, Elia Kazan. Shaw, who called himself a ‘half-assed observer at the Actors Studio,’ had met Kazan on the set of the 1950 film Panic in the Streets. ‘Kazan had heard about my script (before Monroe gave it to him) and wanted to see it,’ Shaw said. ‘I wouldn’t give it to him, because he was involved with Arthur Miller on a similar project, The Hook.’ But after Monroe gave Kazan the script, the director called Shaw. ‘You’ve got an interesting script, but it needs a lot of work,’ he told Shaw. ‘Let Budd Schulberg work on it.’ Shaw, seeing the merit in Kazan’s suggestion, raised $40,000 to pay Schulberg to work on the script. According to Shaw, at this point Jack Cohn turned the script over to Sam Spiegel … Within a year Kazan, Spiegel and Schulberg were preparing the film for Columbia Pictures with Marlon Brando … By that point, neither Shaw nor Garfield were involved in any way.”

Patricia Bosworth Remembers Marilyn

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Patricia Bosworth has written acclaimed biographies of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda. A lifelong member of the Actors Studio, she also wrote ‘The Mentor and the Movie Star‘, a 2003 article about Marilyn and the Strasbergs for Vanity Fair, and appeared in the 2006 PBS documentary, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life.

In her new memoir, The Men In My Life: Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan, Bosworth recalls her acting days. In an extract published by Lithub, she describes an encounter with Marilyn.

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“I slid into the backseat, where I found Marilyn Monroe huddled in a corner dreamily puffing on a cigarette. Her bleached blond hair was tousled; she seemed to be wearing no makeup. I noticed there was dirt under her fingernails, but I couldn’t stop looking at her. We were about to pull away from the curb when a voice cried out, ‘Hey Lee, goin’ my way?’ and Harry Belafonte hopped in beside me. We drove uptown in silence.

I knew Marilyn was aware I was looking at her. She was used to being looked at, and she wasn’t self-conscious. She had a mysterious indefinable quality that made her a star and separated her from everyone else. At the moment she appeared to be floating in another world as she puffed delicately on her cigarette and blew the smoke softly out of her mouth. The newspapers were full of stories about her—how she’d left Hollywood and come to New York to be a ‘serious actress,’ how Lee was coaching her at his apartment and letting her observe sessions at the Studio.”

Elsewhere, Bosworth confirms that Tennessee Williams had wanted Marilyn to star in Baby Doll (but Gore Vidal thought she was too old.) Bosworth knew many key figures in Marilyn’s life, including Elia Kazan, Lee and Susan Strasberg – who found her father’s ‘obsession’ with Marilyn disturbing.

As Bosworth admits, Marilyn was part of Lee’s inner circle from which she felt excluded. She was also intimidated by Marilyn’s fame, which nonetheless kept the Actors Studio in the headlines. Lee Strasberg often seemed cold and domineering, but Bosworth considered him ‘a great teacher.’

Bosworth, unlike Marilyn, was born into a life of privilege, and forged a stage career as well as starring alongside Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story. However, her impeccable connections couldn’t save her from family tragedy (her brother and father both committed suicide), and an abusive marriage.

The 1950s, as Bosworth observes, was a staid, even repressive decade – but the creativity and rebellion of the 60s was already fermenting. She talks about the impact of the anti-communist witch-hunts, both on the artistic community and her own family, and the rampant sexism she constantly endured.

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Elizabeth Winder will focus on Marilyn’s New York period directly in her forthcoming book, Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy, but Patricia Bosworth’s account comes from her own experience. For anyone interested in learning more about the bohemian world that women like Bosworth – and Marilyn – helped to define, The Men In My Life is essential reading.

Collaborators: Marilyn, Miller and Kazan

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Richard A. Schwartz, a Professor Emeritus at Florida International University and author of several books about the Cold War era, has published a new play, Collaborators: Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Beginning with the accidental death of a journalist on the eve of Marilyn’s 1956 wedding to Arthur, the action then looks back to their first meeting five years earlier, when he unsuccessfully pitched a movie to studio head Harry Cohn. Marilyn was casually dating Arthur’s friend and creative partner, Elia Kazan, at the time.

However, it was Arthur she fell for – it has often been rumoured that he continued corresponding with her after returning to his wife and children in New York. Using a split stage, Schwartz imagines what Arthur might have written to her, comparing his inner turmoil with her heady rise to fame (and ongoing association with Kazan.)

The other main strand of the drama is the very different responses of Miller and Kazan to the red-baiting era. Although it’s clear that both had long since left their youthful dabblings with communism far behind and posed no threat to national security, Kazan chose to inform on fellow travellers in the theatre, thereby saving his Hollywood career, while Miller – supported by Marilyn – refused to ‘name names’, and was ultimately vindicated as a liberal hero. Unsurprisingly, their alliance came under strain, and they didn’t work together again until after Marilyn’s death, on the controversial After the Fall.

The Millers’ marriage is portrayed in two scenes: the beginning is represented by Marilyn’s alleged discovery of unflattering comments in Arthur’s journal, during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl; while the end is marked by another heated argument during production of The Misfits. But that omits a long period of relative stability in Marilyn’s otherwise turbulent life. Perhaps Schwartz could have added a further scene to reveal Marilyn’s vulnerability, and show how painful experiences, like her multiple miscarriages, may have caused her depression.

As it is, Schwartz’s portrayal of a self-destructive Marilyn seems to echo Maggie, the suicidal star in Miller’s After the Fall. He is on safer ground with his male protagonists, and the trial scenes are compelling – perhaps because those events are a matter of public record, rather than private conjecture – and with careful revisions to his characterisation of Marilyn, Collaborators could be a genuinely provocative play.

For those interested in learning more about this topic, Barbara Leaming covered it in detail in her 2000 biography of Marilyn, and Ron Briley’s The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan will be published next month.

 

‘From the First Moment’: Arthur Miller at 100

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Arthur Miller was born 100 years ago today. In this extract from her 1960 interview with Georges Belmont for Marie-Claire magazine, Marilyn describes how they first met and what attracted her to him.

“When I met Arthur Miller for the first time, it was on a set, and I was crying. I was playing in a picture called As Young As You Feel, and he and Elia Kazan came over to me. I was crying because a friend of mine had died. I was introduced to Arthur.

That was in 1951. Everything was pretty bleary for me at that time. Then I didn’t see him for about four years. We would correspond, and he sent me a list of books to read. I used to think that maybe he might see me in a movie – there often used to be two pictures playing at a time, and I thought I might be in the other movie and he’d see me. So I wanted to do my best.

I don’t know how to say it, but I was in love with him from the first moment.

I’ll never forget that one day he said I should act on the stage and how the people standing around laughed. But he said, ‘No, I’m very serious.’ And the way he said that, I could see that he was a sensitive human being and treated me as a sensitive human being, too. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s the most important thing.”

World Premiere for Miller’s ‘Hook’

Marilyn poses for photographer Ben Ross, reading a play by Arthur Miller - shortly after their first meeting in 1951
Marilyn poses for photographer Ben Ross, while reading Arthur Miller – shortly after their first meeting in 1951

The Hook, Arthur Miller’s long-buried screenplay about troubled dockers on the New York waterfront – a district still known as Red Hook – is finally being staged at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton (of all places) after more than sixty years on the shelf, Matt Trueman writes in today’s Guardian.

“This is the script – ‘a play for the screen,’ he called it – that indirectly triggers Miller’s summons to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). It sowed the seeds of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his professional split from director Elia Kazan. Without The Hook, he probably wouldn’t have written The Crucible or A View from the Bridge, nor would Kazan have made On the Waterfront. It might be the most influential film never made.

Don’t think staging it is an exercise in theatrical history, though. Sixty-six years on, The Hook is unnervingly prescient. Its focus is the exploited workforce and union corruption in New York’s docks. ‘It talks about the living wage, zero-hours contracts and industrial communities on the brink of enormous change,’ says director James Dacre, adamant that he wouldn’t programme it otherwise. ‘Why here? Why now?'”

This play is of special interest to Marilyn fans, because Miller originally pitched it as a movie to Columbia’s Harry Cohn in 1951, during his first visit to Hollywood with director Elia Kazan. Marilyn, who was then dating Kazan, even accompanied them to a meeting with Cohn, disguised as a secretary.

As noted in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends, Marilyn’s attendance was intended as revenge on the tyrannical Cohn, who had fired her in 1948 after she rejected his sexual advances. Cohn, furious at his humiliation, dismissed The Hook as communist propaganda.

In 1954, Kazan would direct an Oscar-winning film with a very similar theme for Columbia: On the Waterfront. By then, Kazan had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and named several colleagues as communists, in what many (including Miller) saw as a self-serving bid to save his own career.

In his own testimony before HUAC in 1956, Miller admitted to having attended a few communist meetings many years before, but refused on principle to name others. Marilyn stood by her husband, and he was acquitted in 1958.

2014: A Year in Marilyn Headlines

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In January, Newsweek published a special issue, Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook. Photographer Larry Schiller claimed to own a scrapbook given to Sam Shaw by Marilyn, though expert readers noted the handwriting was dissimilar to her usual style.

Also this month, Unclaimed Baggage – a documentary about ‘the unclaimed trunk of MM‘ – was screened on European television, and George Jacobs, valet to Frank Sinatra, died aged 87.

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In February, Life published The Loves of Marilyn, another magazine special with text by J.I. Baker (author of a conspiracy novel, The Empty Glass.) Many fans were surprised to see the widely discredited Robert Slatzer listed among Marilyn’s alleged paramours. It has since been republished in hardback.

Also this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acquired an archive of 58,000 pictures by press photographer Nat Dallinger. His photos of Marilyn at the Let’s Make Love press conference were featured in the Hollywood Reporter. And archive footage of Marilyn was featured in Bob Dylan’s Chrysler ad, screened during America’s Superbowl.

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In March, Icon: the Life Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I, 1926-1956 was publishedMarilyn also graced the cover of Julien’s 90210 Spring Auction catalogue, and was the subject of another magazine special, part of the ‘Etoiles du Cinema‘ series in France.

Stanley Rubin, producer of River of No Return, died aged 96, and William Carroll, one of the first photographers to work with Marilyn, also passed away. Bob Thomas, the veteran Hollywood columnist who reported Joan Crawford’s verbal attack on Marilyn back in 1953, died aged 92.

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Playboy re-released its very first issue – with Marilyn as its cover girl and centrefold – in April, as part of an ongoing celebration of the magazine’s 60th anniversary. And a collection of Elia Kazan’s private correspondence – including a 1955 letter to his wife, Molly, regarding his prior relationship with Marilyn – was also published.

Also in April, Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney (Marilyn’s co-star in The Fireball) died aged 93. And Pharrell Williams released his hit single, ‘Marilyn Monroe’.

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In May, make-up artist Marie Irvine shared her memories of Marilyn with readers of the Daily Mail. AmfAR, the world’s leading charity for AIDS research, held a ‘Red Marilyn’-themed fundraising ball during the Cannes Film Festival.

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June 1st marked what would have been Marilyn’s 88th birthday. Also in June, actor Eli Wallach, Marilyn’s friend and co-star, died aged 98. An archive of ‘lost’ Milton Greene photos was auctioned in Poland, and a revised, updated edition of Carl Rollyson’s MM: A Life of the Actress was published.

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In July, Some Like it Hot was re-released in UK cinemas, winning a 5-star review in The Guardian. Sadly, several people with connections to Marilyn passed away in July, including psychic Kenny Kingston, journalist Robert Stein, and actors James Garner and Elaine Stritch. Meanwhile one of Marilyn’s old haunts – the Racquet Club in Palm Springs – was engulfed by fire.

August marked the 52nd anniversary of Marilyn’s death, with a live stream of the annual memorial service in Los Angeles. Also this month,  Lauren Bacall, Marilyn’s co-star in How to Marry a Millionaire, died aged 89; and Tom Tierney, ‘Marilyn’s paper doll artist’, also passed away.

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In September, Newsweek published a cover feature exposing the many inaccuracies in C. David Heymann’s posthumously-released Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love. And TV Guide released a special issue dedicated to Marilyn, part of their ‘American Icons’ series.

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Several rare photos of Marilyn were featured in Profiles in History’s Hollywood Auction 65 catalogue, while Britain’s Daily Express published a special supplement about Marilyn’s tragic death, as part of a ‘Historic Front Pages’ series.

Also this month, self-confessed ‘Marilyn Geek’ Melinda Mason launched a new exhibition at the Wellington County Museum in Ontario, Canada; and the chameleon-like actor John Malkovich posed as Marilyn for photographer Sandro Miller.

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In October,  A retrospective of photographer Nickolas Muray opened in Genoa, Italy. Carl Rollyson’s latest book, Marilyn Monroe Day by Day, was published.

A rather sensationalised documentary about Marilyn’s mysterious death – Marilyn: Missing Evidence – was broadcast in the UK. Her death was also the subject of a cover feature in the US magazine, Closer.

Also this month, Kelli Garner was cast as Marilyn in Lifetime’s upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of MM.

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In November, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ Icon: The Life, Times and Films of MM – Volume II, 1956-1962 and Beyond was published, earning a rave review from columnist Liz Smith. Fansite Immortal Marilyn published a series of myth-busting articles at Buzzfeed. And Anna Strasberg, current owner of Marilyn’s estate, lost a lawsuit against Profiles in History, regarding a so-called ‘letter of despair‘ from Marilyn to Lee Strasberg.

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In December, items from ‘the lost archive of Marilyn Monroe‘ sold for high prices at Julien’s Auctions. Marilyn graced the cover of Esquire‘s Colombian edition, and a new CD boxset, Diamonds, was released. Finally, photographer Phil Stern died aged 95.