Marilyn’s Struggle in ‘Bus Stop’

Marilyn filming Bus Stop in Sun Valley, Idaho (Photo by Al Brack)

Bus Stop is one of my favourite Monroe films: an evocative character piece with an outstanding performance from Marilyn. However, many now find its gender politics – and Bo’s manhandling of Cherie – outdated and sexist. On the Culled Culture blog today, Genna Rivieccio considers why Bus Stop ‘didn’t do justice to how Marilyn Monroe fought to break free of the studio’s stereotype of her.’ (In her recent book, Some Kind of Mirror, Amanda Konkle takes a more positive view, noting that Cherie resists Bo’s advances until he learns to satisfy her desires.)

“Marilyn Monroe had spent months waiting out her unprecedented studio battle with 20th Century Fox. After fleeing to New York from Los Angeles like some sort of blonde haloed fugitive, Marilyn refused to ever turn back. To ever succumb to any of the dumb sexpot roles Darryl Zanuck wanted her to make in perpetuity. Yet the choice of ‘Chérie’–ultimately pronounced Cherry by the one who ‘wrangles’ her–in William Inge’s play, Bus Stop, didn’t seem to do much to distance herself from the image she so strongly claimed to detest. But maybe a part of her was terrified to shed it completely. For the thought of losing her adoring fans–the only source of true love in her life–was likely just as scary as forever being typecast. So it is that she went with the “just daring enough” role of Chérie … there is a meta tongue-in-cheek moment in which Chérie talks about her big plan to make it to Hollywood where ‘you get treated with a little respect.’ It’s an overt dig at Zanuck and 20th Century Fox (which Marilyn famously called 19th Century Fox for its backward treatment of female stars) …

Yet like Chérie, she can’t help but look to men for salvation. The two prototypes that would be her most tumultuous romances (and marriages), Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, are both apparent in Beau. Outwardly, his rough-hewn tactlessness makes him a closer match to DiMaggio … Upon learning of her ‘sordid’ past (a.k.a. that she’s been with a few men to further accent the fact that Beau hasn’t–Miller, too, was rather virginal, having only ever been with his first wife before Marilyn), Beau finds the key to unlocking her heart by telling her, ‘Well, I’ve been thinkin’ about them other fellas, Cherry, and, well, what I mean is, I like you the way you are, so what do I care how you got that way?’ Miller told her pretty much the same thing, never chastising her the way DiMaggio did for parading her sexy persona, which is a primary reason why she fell in love with him …

Once again in this film (as in life), Monroe is a little girl lost, who is put back on the right path by a male savior. This was not a departure by any means from what she had done in the past with the studio, and made one wonder how the accolades came in so readily for a movie such as this, when past roles in Clash By Night, Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara provided her far more opportunity for dramatic range.

Bus Stop is still billed as somewhere in between a comedy and drama, though it very much falls into an almost screwball comedy genre (for that’s kind of how one has to look at a movie so overtly dripping with misogyny and the suppression of the female will). Marilyn would only make four more movies after this, among them being one of the most praised of her career, Some Like It Hot (with another two, The Prince and the Showgirl and Let’s Make Love, being largely panned), a film in which, you guessed it, Marilyn relies on the comedic sex symbol shtick that launched her into the spotlight in the first place.”

The Female Lens: Marilyn and Eve

While reviewing The Female Lens, a New York exhibition of contemporary works for White Hot Magazine, art critic Anthony Haden-Guest recalls a shining past example of women photographing women…

“As a beginner magazine writer, back in the Golden Age of Magazines –  and, yes, I want those caps! – I got to know some terrific photographers and Eve Arnold was one of them. Arnold, an American in London with hair swept back into a no nonsense look, was with Magnum, which was a photographer’s sect as much as a major agency, and she once shared memories of working conditions during the austere post-war years, such as a big shoot for Life magazine, who allotted her just six rolls of film. Is it a false memory that the subject was Marilyn Monroe? Arnold did indeed shoot the filming of the John Huston movie, The Misfits, bonded with the actress and produced a book. Just why did this show prompt these memories? Because Arnold made it clear that she had an advantage on such a shoot, a situation which involved both chance and intimacy, a single word: Trust.”

Marilyn and the Studio Club Women

Film historian Cari Beauchamp, who last year wrote ‘Atomic Blonde‘, an article detailing Marilyn’s mysterious 1953 PSA for the US Military, has now contributed a definitive history of the all-female Hollywood Studio Club, where Marilyn lived on and off during the late 1940s, to Vanity Fair. (Marilyn had mixed feelings about her stay, often finding it restrictive and perhaps reminding her of her time in an orphanage. However, there is little doubt that the Studio Club offered her some much-needed stability in the early days of her career.)

“For more than a century in Hollywood, young women have learned in horrendous ways that men in power often consider them goods to be bartered or simply consumed. There is little new about #MeToo, but what is new is that women are shattering their isolation by speaking out and finding strength and community as a result. Yet for nearly 60 years there was a residence that housed women (10,000 in all) in a protected and supportive environment. And though few people remember the Hollywood Studio Club, a recounting of its neglected history reveals how little has changed—and how powerful female friendships can be.

[Julia] Morgan’s multiarched structure, designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, opened to much fanfare in 1926. The first floor featured a spacious lobby, writing rooms, a library, a large dining area, and a stage. The two upper stories consisted of single, double, and triple rooms to house 100 women—each paying 10 to 15 dollars a week for lodging and two meals a day. They were indirectly inspired by Hollywood luminaries such as Gloria Swanson, Jackie Coogan, and Frances Marion, whose names appeared on small brass plaques above the bedroom doors. (Each had donated $1,000 to the club. Norma Talmadge had pitched in $5,000.) The rules of the house were simple: You had to be working or seeking work in show business, be between 18 and 35 years old, and not stay longer than three years. Men were prohibited above the first floor.

Today, the fellow resident [Barbara] Rush remembers best is Marilyn Monroe: ‘She wasn’t a bombshell then, and was so sweet with that whispery voice.’ Robert Wagner, who, along with Monroe, was under contract at Twentieth Century Fox, recalls dropping off Monroe at the HSC and thinking ‘the concept of the place was just fantastic,’ especially for someone like her, who ‘everybody loved and felt protective of.’

In late 1949, Monroe secured a part in John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle. While she had had small roles at Fox, Monroe would later say that she so needed $50 in 1949 that she agreed to pose for what would become her infamous nude calendar. Even if the HSC suffered negative backlash as a result, house director Florence Williams fondly remembered Monroe. When asked who was the most stunning woman she ever encountered there, Williams answered, ‘Marilyn Monroe, because she was even beautiful first thing in the morning.’

As the ’60s and ’70s brought about enormous culture shifts, the number of residents dwindled to the point that the Hollywood Studio Club was no longer financially sustainable. The doors were closed in 1975 and the furnishings were auctioned off. Several years later, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places and continued to be maintained by the Y. In the fall of 2018, Faye Washington, CEO of the YWCA Greater Los Angeles, announced a new partnership with PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) to provide transitional housing for about 60 homeless women at the HSC. One of the rules: Residents, like the starry-eyed women of years past, would be allowed to stay for a maximum of three years.”

Marilyn Bucks ‘Dead Rich List’ Trend

Gender inequality is still a widespread problem, with even today’s biggest female stars often earning less than their male counterparts. And as sociologist Ruth Penfold-Mounce reports for The Conversation, the trend also applies to profits generated by deceased artists. Marilyn, the only woman listed in the final 10 of this year’s Forbes Top Earning Dead Celebrities, is a rare exception.

“Both in life and death, celebrities wield significant power as a catalyst for cultural meaning. They possess symbolic and economic value that extends into death through the traces they leave behind. These traces continue the dead star’s celebrity power as a brand and include such things as photographs, films, signatures and recordings of their voice, as well as their celebrity persona (the character or personality they presented to fans).

But this posthumous celebrity varies in value. For many high profile celebrity women, the traces they leave possess sexualised value, much as they had in life – related to their youth, beauty and sensuality. A great deal of their symbolic and economic value is about their bodies, so the way in which their traces are put to work after they die reflects gendered inequality.

Dead women celebrities are put to work selling feminised products such as chocolate or perfume. Meanwhile, Steve McQueen sells Ford Puma cars and Einstein promotes Genius Bread.

The way in which gender inequality reaches beyond the grave is clearly revealed by Forbes magazine’s publication of its Top Dead Earning Celebrities List every October since 2001. Affectionately referred to as the Dead Rich List, it reveals distinct gender inequality. Of 52 celebrities who have appeared on the list in nearly two decades, only five have been women: actresses Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, 1950s striptease artist and pin-up model Bettie Page, and singer-songwriters Jenni Rivera and Whitney Houston.

Men – including Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Charles Schultz (of Peanuts fame) – consistently dominate the top positions on the Dead Rich List. Their earnings after death are staggeringly high compared to those of the women who appear.

First place has been held by Michael Jackson every year since his death (excepting 2009 and 2012) helping buck the trend of the underrepresentation of black and minority ethnic performers. Jackson’s earnings have been immense, rising to US$825 million in 2016 due to the sale of his half of the Sony/ATV Music catalogue which owned much of the Beatles’ music, before dropping to their lowest point in 2019 with US$60 million.

In contrast, Monroe was the highest female earner with US$13 million in 2019, allowing her to maintain eighth place on the list for a second year.

But even if they make the rich list, the posthumous career earnings of Monroe, Taylor, Page, Rivera and Houston illustrate how women and black and minority ethnic people continue to be underrepresented among those who achieve high incomes after death. They reveal that celebrity value, in terms of symbolism and economics, is heavily gendered after death.

Dead celebrity women’s posthumous careers are limited by being valuable due to their bodily capital. Men have a good track record of making wealth through the books they write or the music and lyrics they compose and own. In contrast, celebrity women are less likely to be a source for the production of wealth but a means for generating wealth for others.

But the 21st century, in particular, is witnessing the emergence of perceptive and well-informed celebrity women who own the sources of production of wealth and are not restricted to their bodily capital. Women such as Oprah Winfrey, the Kardashian sisters and JK Rowling are in firm control of their economic and symbolic value – which is something they can take forwards into death.

Pretty much all of the possible women candidates for future lists have long lives ahead of them – hopefully, barring illness or accident – meaning it will be many years before this gendered inequality in death is properly challenged. As it stands, gendered inequality of bodily capital means that for celebrity women, death is not the last great equaliser – inequality continues in death.”



Biopic Stars: Marilyn, Judy, Gloria

As a new Judy Garland biopic is released, Inkoo Kang looks at how classic female entertainers are portrayed, over at Slate. Her analysis is interesting, though I would argue that ageing is not as central to My Week With Marilyn (set at the peak of her career) as it is to Judy and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (another recent biopic of a neglected screen icon, Gloria Grahame), which are both set at the end of the womens’ lives. In fact, the strongest link between all three subjects might be their loneliness.

“It’s obvious enough why Judy and company keep getting made … [Michelle] Williams used her portrayal as Monroe to play against type, injecting a dose of flirty, cunning sexuality into her screen image and earning herself a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination in the process … These films do revise the public images of their titular characters in meaningful ways … Monroe—still considered the ultimate dumb blonde in too many circles—is reclaimed as a serious actress with lofty ambitions.

But these films are also, by design, not as empathetic toward their subjects as they could be. Each movie is too enamored of its legend, of her talent and beauty, to acknowledge that her circumstances and pathologies aren’t exceptional but widely shared, borne largely of gendered inequality: unequal pay, imbalance of power, public hypersexualization, and the fast-approaching or long-past expiration date on her usefulness to Hollywood. It’s likely not a coincidence that all three movies are set in England, far from where any Hollywood star ostensibly should be …

But if the film industry’s #MeToo movement has reminded us of anything, it’s that, even in Hollywood, women’s experiences of pressure and discrimination aren’t so much unusual as devastatingly similar. Too many women lived in silence and shame, believing that their encounters were unique, or even that the abuse was somehow their fault, but after the dam broke, we understood how many of these stories were practically interchangeable, no matter the stars’ wattage, or whether they were stars at all.

But by failing to account for the unfortunate commonness of their fates, at least within the entertainment industry, the movies of this genre tend to become opportunities to focus morbidly and myopically on the self-destructive habits of a flailing figure, rather than understand the larger context that gave rise to her. The individual struggle of a Garland, Monroe, or Grahame may be inherently interesting in tight close-up, but these movies would be more revealing if they zoomed out a little to show the fuller picture.”

Feminist Live Reads: ‘Some Like It Hot’ in Vancouver

A live reading of Some Like It Hot will be hosted by Feminist Live Reads on October 1st at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, Canada, during this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), as Janet Smith reports for The Georgia Straight. (Incidentally, the poster art shows not Marilyn but Sandra Warner, who was part of Sweet Sue’s Band. She stood in for Marilyn who was unavailable on the day of the photo shoot.)

“The film is as groundbreakingly fluid about its genre as it is about gender—opening as a mafia chase movie before Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon go undercover as women to hide with an all-female jazz orchestra led by Sugar Kane (Marilyn herself).

‘Some Like It Hot is one of my favourite movies, actually,’ says Vancouver actor Katie Findlay (best-known for the ABC series How to Get Away With Murder), speaking to the Straight over the phone from her Vancouver home. ‘My dad only watches movies made before 1960.’

‘I’ve always wanted to be handsome and dashing and morally questionable,’ she enthuses about reading the part of Tony Curtis, who essentially plays three parts: Joe, the jazz musician who witnesses a mafia shootout with his buddy; Josephine, a female jazz musician in disguise; and Junior, a faux millionaire who woos Sugar and sounds an awful lot like Cary Grant. ‘People seem to have trouble with women being more than one thing. And I get to do a Cary Grant impression!’

It helps that her bestie Kacey Rohl (who stars in VIFF 2019 movie White Lie) is reading Jack Lemmon’s role; they’ve watched Some Like It Hot many times together.

In this era of #MeToo and talk of consent, Findlay sees the ongoing relevance of Wilder’s film. When Curtis and Lemmon become women, they’re suddenly the target of a lot of unwanted attention. ‘As a movie I think it has female consciousness; it’s aware of how a woman feels,’ Findlay observes of the male characters facing constant harrassment once they take on female personas.

Adding to the experience, [Chandler] Levack reads stage directions on-stage while local songstress Jill Barber brings to life some of Monroe’s iconic songs from Some Like It Hot ( ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ ).”


Thanks to Eiji Aoki

Marilyn Meets Shakespeare in Dallas

C.C. Weatherly as Marilyn

Marilyn, Pursued By A Bear – a new play by Nicole Neely, blending Marilyn’s life story with Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale – is being staged at the Bath House Cultural Center as part of the 21st Festival of Independent Theatres in Dallas, Martha Heinberg reports for TheaterJones.

“Marilyn Monroe wakes up in a mental institution, where she’s been taken by her third husband. The Hollywood icon is back in the hospital because she’s overdosed again.

In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a jealous duke casts out his faithful wife and newborn daughter because he thinks she’s an adulteress and the baby is a bastard. At one point, the duke’s man ordered to carry out the cruel errand, is chased by a bear, dropping the baby as he exits. Daughter lives, man devoured offstage. The playwright sees some reflections of the bard’s late romance in the real-life traumas of Norma Jean Baker, the funny, gorgeous daughter and granddaughter of abused and abandoned women. 

Here, we see Marilyn (slight, pretty CC Weatherly in platinum wig and blue scrubs) haunted by visions of her dead grandmother (loving, touching Sally Soldo) and her mother Gladys (sharp-featured, defensive Stephany Cambra), trying to battle her way out of a drug fog on an empty stage with blue lighting and three white blocks as props. A chorus of four characters in black, representing everything from accusing orderlies to the dark bear of death (svelte Olivia Cinquepalmi in a clingy satin gown), pursue the anguished actress as she struggles to defend herself against false accusations.

The tone of the play shifts from a sense of pity for the embattled heroine shrinking from a menacing animal growl in the distance to the overly melodramatic … The action swirls and the bear growls, but unlike the Shakespearean romance, there is no magical ending in this evocative, sad remembrance of a woman. We are, however, left with a sense that ‘like mother, like daughter,’ might also mean that these poor women are also forgiving and supporting, despite the husbands, doctors and fathers who left them behind.” 

Marilyn Book Signing in Savannah, GA

Author Amanda Konkle will be signing copies of her new book, Some Kind of Mirror: Creating Marilyn Monroe, at E. Shaver Booksellers in Savannah, Georgia on Saturday, May 18, from 1 – 3 pm EDT. Amanda, who is an assistant professor of film studies and English at Georgia Southern University, has written a dynamic study of how Marilyn’s screen performances both reflected and pushed the boundaries of attitudes towards women and sex in 1950s America. (I’m currently working on a review of Some Kind of Mirror, and I thoroughly recommend it!)

Marilyn and the Not-So-Dumb Blondes

Over at Refinery 29, Daniela Morsini looks at the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype so unfairly applied to Marilyn, and still a staple of lame jokes today. While I strongly agree that it’s an outdated, sexist trope, I’d like to add that in her movies, Marilyn often parodied those assumptions. Her characters were usually wiser than the men who flocked to them, and in reality, Marilyn was sensitive and intelligent. (Unfortunately, not everyone was smart enough to get the joke – then, or now!)

“Being blonde is loaded. You can be an expensive blonde like Gwyneth Paltrow. You can be rock’n’roll blonde like Debbie Harry. You can be sexpot blonde like Marilyn Monroe. Hell, you can be any kind of blonde you want – as long as you’re a dumb one.

Of course, of all the stereotypes women face, the ‘dumb blonde’ is a mild one, especially considering how harmful and dangerous the hair stereotypes faced by women of colour can be. But it is curiously persistent … I’ve never forgotten a date in 2016, after having what I believed to be pleasant chatter with a man for an evening, him uttering the immortal words: ‘Well, you don’t look clever.’

Historians roundly agree that the notion of blondes being dumb dates back to a play performed some 250 years ago, titled Les Curiosités de la Foire, based on the misdemeanours of the legendary courtesan Rosalie Duthé, which established blondes as both stupid and sexually available. Duthé took long pauses before she spoke, leading people to believe she was literally dumb, as well as stupid. Fast forward to 1953, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes hit the box office with Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei, epitomised as the dumb blonde. Portrayed as absent minded, slightly scatty and interested in marrying solely for money, some of Lorelei’s most famous lines only serve to emphasise the stereotype: ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.’

Over time, the dumb blonde trope has morphed into the ‘beauty and brains’ dichotomy, which at least allows a whole other crop of women to have their intelligence questioned. This is not a step forward, even if it does represent inching away from Western beauty ideals. Calling a blonde ‘dumb’ is a surprisingly effective way to curb someone’s appetite for life and confidence in their own abilities, effective enough to render them docile so they can’t unlock their powers.”

Marilyn and the ‘Warhol Women’ in NYC

Warhol Women, a new exhibition showcasing 42 portraits of Andy Warhol’s female subjects, is on display at the Lévy Gorvy Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side, through to June 15, as Lane Florsheim reports for the Wall Street Journal. (Marilyn is featured next to Warhol’s take on the Mona Lisa, and opposite Jackie Kennedy.)

“Gorvy and Lévy have arranged the show so that the first works viewers see are portraits of Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe, facing one another. [Dominique] Lévy, who came up with the show’s concept, says that no other man has been able to look at women the way Warhol did. ‘Without sexualizing the subject, he was able to do these portraits where the woman is allowed to be who she is,’ she says. ‘He captures the openness, the self-consciousness, the self-assurance, the insecurity. Aren’t we all self-conscious? I think nobody [else] does that, and that’s where he becomes conceptual.’ In Warhol’s depiction of Monroe, Lévy says, he ‘sees the enormous sadness’ that she felt.”