Marilyn Steps Off the Casting Couch

Photo by Milton Greene, 1953

In the wake of last year’s scandal regarding sexual exploitation in Hollywood, several ill-informed commentators have claimed Marilyn as a historic symbol of the casting couch. In an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News, author Michelle Morgan explains how her new book – The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist – sets the record straight. (You can read my review of The Girl here.)

“‘She had said that she never fell for it,’ Morgan told Fox News. ‘She had walked out of various interviews and situations that she deemed inappropriate … She was doing a series of interviews in 1954. At that time, she really wanted to write her autobiography but … In the end, she decided not to go through with it because it had been leaked out to the British press.’

In the mid-1950s, Monroe spoke out about being harassed by an executive whom she did not name. ‘She was very intelligent about that, to keep his name out of the article. But she certainly did speak about it.’

‘She was never going to let herself be victimized. She spoke about it and as a result, inspired other people to speak out … She was one of the only actresses in Hollywood at that time who was speaking out about that.’

Morgan added: ‘I think based on the things she said herself and the outspoken way she approached Hollywood, I personally don’t believe she was ever a victim of the casting couch. I think she was able to walk away.'”

Finnish Pop Star Brings ‘M’ to Venice

M, a Finnish horror film inspired by Marilyn and starring pop star Anna Eriksson, is heading to the Venice Film Festival this year, where it has been described as the most experimental film in the line-up, as Nancy Tartaglione reports for Deadline. Finnish news sources indicate that Eriksson became interested in Marilyn after reading Sarah Churchwell’s feminist ‘meta-biography’,The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe – a good place to start – and her film explores the objectification of women. (M was also the title of Fritz Lang’s classic 1931 film, starring Peter Lorre as a child-killer.)

Eriksson discussed her inspiration in a recent Facebook post:

“Even though Marilyn Monroe was my inspiration for the film, in the end M turned out to be a deeply personal work. Somewhere along the way I realized that the link between sexuality and death, that to me so profoundly defines Monroe’s fate, is a link that we all share with her. That the ancient bond between these two forces is in fact an integral part of humanity. And that the myth that is Marilyn, holds in itself a reflection of our own dreams, our desires and our losses.”

Thanks to Merja Pohjola

British Press Goes Mad for Marilyn

British fans can expect lots of media coverage for Marilyn this month. In this week’s issue of free magazine Stylist, Rhiannon Lucy Coslett interviews gallery director Amy Thornett about Up Close With Marilyn, the exhibition of Milton Greene photos at London’s Proud Central  until June 24. You can read it here, or buy a copy (N415) for just £1 from Newsstand (shipping costs may vary outside the UK.)

And in the latest issue of The Lady (dated May 11), ‘Marilyn Monroe: An Unlikely Feminist’, a four-page article by Michelle Morgan, author of The Girl (just published in the US, and coming to our shores very soon), is accompanied by more Greene photos.

Finally, Alfred Eisenstadt’s 1953 portrait of Marilyn is featured in today’s Daily Mail, in a review of a new book by Ian Haydn Smith, The Short Story of Photography.

Thanks to Fraser, Valerie and Nicola at Marilyn Remembered

UPDATE: Here’s a few more…

From ‘Amateur Photographer’ magazine

Was Marilyn Really a Feminist?

Marilyn returns to Los Angeles after her triumphant studio battle in 1956 (photo from the Frieda Hull collection)

An extract from Michelle Morgan’s upcoming book, The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist, has been published in L.A. Weekly. Looking not only at Marilyn’s life but also the culture surrounding women in her time, Michelle brings some much-needed historic nuance to our perception of what it is to be a feminist.

“Since she was such a complex character, Marilyn Monroe found herself stuck in the middle of two different types of women: those who were disgusted or intimidated by her glamour and wanted her to tone everything down, and those who loved her look just as it was and wanted her to stop trying to be taken seriously.

It could easily be argued that Marilyn suffered frequent frustration because people wanted to pigeonhole her into being just one kind of personality. This undoubtedly came as a result of her unique and modern outlook on life—one more fitting to the twenty-first century rather than the 1950s. She was actually a modern-day feminist, though the very idea struck the nerves of many at the time.

Although vulnerable and complex, Marilyn was a strong woman who consistently fought for what she believed in. However, because of the confusion and stigma related to the word, it is highly unlikely that she would ever have considered herself a feminist in 1955. Friend Norman Rosten further doubted that she would have joined the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and argued that in terms of economic equality, she had already proven herself.”

Bringing ‘The Girl’ to Birkbeck

A new book by one of Marilyn’s best biographers, Michelle Morgan’s The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist, is due to be published in May. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, and will be reviewing it in due course. (And rest assured – you’re going to love it!)

But wait, there’s more – if you’re in London on the afternoon of May 16, Michelle will be discussing her book from 2-5 pm with Gabriella Apicella, Underwire Film Fest founder and ardent Monroe fan, and Catherine Grant, Professor of Screen Studies at the Birkbeck University cinema on Gordon Square, Bloomsbury. The conversation will be followed by a Q&A – more details here.

Marilyn and Miller on HBO Tonight

Arthur Miller: Writer, the new documentary from daughter Rebecca Miller, has its US television premiere on pay-per-view channel HBO tonight. Over at The Ringer, Lindsay Zoladz has penned a rather wide-ranging article about Marilyn and Arthur, including hints of what’s in the documentary.

“When Arthur Miller met Marilyn Monroe, she was crying. Or at least that’s the story he always told her, the one she repeats in footage used in the new documentary Arthur Miller: Writer: ‘As he describes it, I was crying when he met me.’ As he describes it.

Comprising home movies and interviews Rebecca shot of her father in his later years, Arthur Miller: Writer has a homey, scrapbook intimacy … Rebecca was born in 1962, just weeks after Monroe died. Imagine grilling your elderly father, on camera, on what it was like to have been with Marilyn Monroe.

The portrait of Monroe that emerges from Arthur Miller: Writer, then, is inherently lopsided and not nearly as intimate as the one we get of Miller himself. One of the hardest parts of putting together the film, Rebecca admits, was finding ways to diminish Monroe’s presence, to prevent her from completely overtaking her father’s story … Monroe always seems to be doing that—inconveniencing narratives. It’s the most potent power she’s retained after death.

Monroe has, throughout the years, been a sticking point for feminists; the many contradictions of her story do not fit cleanly into the doctrines of any of its waves. Perhaps for the best, she maps particularly awkwardly onto this moment of pop-cultural ’empowerment feminism’ …  And yet gender stereotypes are exactly what imprisoned Monroe, and what her star persona was crafted to reinforce.

‘I just thought it would be a terrific gift for her,’ he says in Arthur Miller: Writer, ‘because she’d never had a part in which she was supposed to be taken seriously. And she really wanted to do that.’

Arthur Miller: Writer is, among other things, a fresh reason to mourn the fact that Marilyn Monroe never got to be old and wise like her last husband … But maybe, at least for a fleeting moment, Miller took her seriously. In Rebecca Miller’s interviews, filmed at his kitchen table in Connecticut near the end of his life, the playwright seemed to retain a real compassion for his second wife.

‘She was witty,’ Miller says, gazing wistfully from his kitchen table in Connecticut. ‘She was making fun of the situation as she was playing it. That was the difference. People thought they could imitate her by being cute. But she was being cute and making fun of being cute at the same time. There was another dimension, which is very difficult to do.'”

Margot Robbie on Marilyn and Hollywood Sexism

Australian actress Margot Robbie, currently starring in the Oscar-nominated I, Tonya, has revealed her thoughts on Marilyn and her era, The List reports. “I love old films,” Margot says, “but my heart breaks when I watch Marilyn Monroe’s, because the characters she plays are so misogynistic and degrading that it’s mind-boggling that that was the norm. The same with Bonnie and Clyde; parts of it make my blood boil.” (I mostly agree with this, although I would add that it’s a testament to Marilyn’s talent that she was able to rise above or at least subvert her ‘dumb blonde’ typecasting. And sadly, sexism in movies is far from being a thing of the past.)

Marilyn in New York, and an Historic Injustice

Canadian-American musician Meghan Remy aka U.S. Girls is about to release her sixth studio album. In an interview for The Ringer, Meghan takes Lindsay Zoladz on a sightseeing tour of New York, including the subway grate on Lexington and 52nd Street where Marilyn shot an iconic movie scene, while her marriage fell apart.

“The night that iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe was taken—you know the one: stilettos on a subway grate, billowing white dress—Monroe and her husband Joe DiMaggio got into a screaming match. The fight was partially about the photo itself: While shooting The Seven Year Itch, the studio had savvily leaked Monroe’s whereabouts to the press, and by the time Billy Wilder was ready to roll camera on what would become the most notorious scene in the movie, several thousand onlookers had shown up to watch. (They were almost all men, but I hardly need to tell you that.) DiMaggio was there, and he wasn’t too keen on what he took to be his wife’s public exhibitionism. When she showed up to set the next morning, Monroe’s hairdresser applied foundation to hide fresh bruises. She filed for divorce from DiMaggio before The Seven Year Itch wrapped.

‘We’re constantly presented with this smiling Marilyn,’ says Meg Remy, the singer and eccentric creative mastermind behind the band U.S. Girls. ‘But for some reason, when you have all the information, it just feels so heavy.’

I should mention that Remy is speaking into a headset, as she drives a rented, 15-seat van deftly through the streets of Manhattan. In anticipation of the release of U.S. Girls’ new album In a Poem Unlimited—the most ambitious and, as it happens, best album of Remy’s decade-long career—her label suggested a listening party for fans and members of the press. Remy asked around enough to learn what a listening party was, and, ever the DIY-minded eccentric, then decided it just wasn’t her style. What she came up with instead was this: a van tour of ‘sites of injustices in New York City,’ written and narrated by Remy herself, while we listen to the new album in the background.”

Girlfriends Forever: Marilyn and Jane’s Sister Act

Perhaps more than any other of Marilyn’s major films, the critical reputation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its subversive gender politics has grown in recent years, making it both a perfect satire of fifties femininity, and a strikingly modern sex comedy. Back in 1953, it was a box office smash though deemed mere Hollywood fluff, as Christina Newland notes in ‘Male Critics, Female Friendships on Film,’ over at the BFI blog.

“Even when beloved male auteurs turned their attention to female friendship, their films were often not spared. When it comes to women, objectification is more common than nuance. In Howard Hawks’ classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), the gold-digging comedy-musical sees its two showgirls turn men into ineffable fools. But a Time magazine reviewer misses the subtext in order to celebrate what he calls ‘the three-dimensional attractions of its two leading ladies’.”

Meanwhile, in the March issue of the BFI magazine, Sight & Sound (with Greta Gerwig on the cover), Hannah McGill’s article, ‘Sister Act’, takes another look at Blondes alongside other movies featured in next month’s ‘Girlfriends’ season at BFI Southbank (where it’s screening on March 1st, and 11th.)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) with its sugar daddies, its greedy women and its dressing-up games, positions its women as clever and dirty, not pure or mysterious; gives them strength specifically through the fact that they prioritise one another over sexual conquests; and plays on the idea that the absorption of stereotypes about women weakens men. The last thing the male characters expect is for Lorelei and Dorothy to team up and outsmart them, because women who look like them are expected to be both disloyal to each other, and unintelligent. ‘I can be smart when it’s important,’ Lorelei notes, ‘but men don’t like it.'”