Celebrating Marilyn’s Dramatic Chops

Although better-known for her high-glam comedies, Marilyn shone in dramatic roles when the opportunity arose. Over at NCN, The Misfits represents 1961 in an article listing the Best Western Films from the Year You Were Born, while at Classic Movie Hub, Gary Vitacco Robles continues his series on Marilyn’s movies with a look at Don’t Bother to Knock (you can read his take on Niagara here.)

“Four years before she set foot into the Actors Studio, Marilyn gives a Method Acting performance, beginning with her entrance. Nell enters the hotel’s revolving door in a simple cotton dress, low heels, a black sweater, and a beret. From behind, we see her outfit is wrinkled as if she had been sitting on the subway for a long time … Nell’s backstory is cloaked, and Monroe builds the character through use of her body in a manner studied with [Michael] Chekhov. She moves with hesitancy and scans her environment in a way that suggests she has not been in public for a long time.

According to [co-star] Anne Bancroft, Marilyn disagreed with both [director] Roy Ward Baker and acting coach Natasha Lytess on how to play the final climatic scene, ignoring their advice. ‘The talent inside that girl was unquestionable,’ Bancroft told John Gilmore. ‘She did it her way and this got right inside me, actually floored me emotionally.’

Nell Forbes is a fragmented personality with a blank expression. Sadness, fear, and rage register in Monroe’s face with credibility. She fluctuates from an introverted waif to someone who seems ruthless, even dangerous. Having worked with Chekhov, Monroe learned to delve deep into her own reservoir of painful memories and accessed her own natural talent for portraying vulnerability and madness. Employing Chekhov’s technique of physicality, she frequently held her waist as if the character were preventing herself from succumbing to madness. Perhaps Monroe’s mother, Gladys, served as inspiration. Gladys was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and institutionalized for long periods of time.

Monroe gives a stunning, riveting performance as a damaged woman, and suggests an alternative path her career might have taken if her physical beauty had not dictated the roles Fox gave her. Indeed, her comic performances were gems, which ultimately led to her legendary status, but what heights might she have achieved had she been allowed to experiment with more dramatic roles earlier in her career? Sadly, the film is rarely emphasized as a part of her body of work.

Arguably, Monroe effectively channeled her mentally ill mother and gives a believable performance as a vaguely written character in a script without any description of her personality. Monroe later told friend Hedda Rosten that Don’t Bother to Knock was one of her favorite films and considered Nell her strongest performance.”

Marilyn: Behind the Icon of ‘Niagara’

Marilyn with Joseph Cotten in Niagara (1953)

In the first of a series for the Classic Movie Hub website, Gary Vittaco Robles looks at Marilyn’s star-making performance in Niagara. Gary is (of course) the author of the two-volume biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, upon which his new podcast, Marilyn: Behind the Icon, is also based.

Niagara was Marilyn’s only opportunity to portray a villainous, narcissistic woman with virtually no redeeming qualities who conspires with her lover to murder her husband … Interestingly, studio memos suggest original casting consideration of Monroe in for the role of Polly, and Anne Baxter as Rose. However, studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck’s image of Monroe likely cemented her fate as—in the words of the film’s marketing—the ‘tantalizing temptress whose kisses fired men’s souls.’

[Director] Henry Hathaway’s reputation was that of a tyrant who belittled and cursed his actors. However, he took an immediate liking to Monroe, or perhaps she melted his icy exterior. Hathaway considered Monroe’s opinion when editing the daily rushes and allowed her input to the selection of takes chosen for the finished film.

For the first time, Monroe was hailed for precision in her acting in a leading role. ‘The dress is red; the actress has very nice knees,’ wrote Otis Guernsey of New York Herald Tribune, ‘and under Hathaway’s direction she gives the kind of serpentine performance that makes the audience hate her while admiring her, which is proper for the story.’ Time hailed its full-bodied assertion, ‘What lifts the film above the commonplace is its star, Marilyn Monroe.’

In the final analysis, Monroe served Fox well. Niagara cost $1,250,000 and returned $6,000,000 in its first release. She had achieved global stardom. Nearly seventy years after its release, Niagara retains its nail-biting suspense, showcases Monroe’s dramatic talents, and illustrates its leading lady’s transcending appeal and charisma. She had personified the culture’s standard for beauty and sensuality.”

Marilyn: Behind the Icon

From the team behind Goodnight Marilyn comes a new podcast series. Based on Gary Vitacco Robles’ two-volume biography, the first season ofMarilyn: Behind the Icon is now available online, with Erin Gavin playing Marilyn.

Marilyn: Behind the Icon is a multi-season podcast series blending a uniquely scripted episodic story with commentary on the remarkable life of Marilyn Monroe. It’s up-close, raw and real; telling her story through extensively researched historical events, including Marilyn Monroe’s own perspective in her own words. We explore her inner journey and human side as no other podcast, film or TV show has ever done before. The series portrays her personal struggles with childhood trauma, mental illness, and addiction in addition to her amazing resiliency in achieving her dreams as one of the greatest actresses and icons in motion picture history.”

Marilyn, Dr. Greenson and ‘Box 39’

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962

A spurious report published in UK tabloid The Sun suggests that the truth about Marilyn’s death may be held in a mysterious box file.

“Private detective Becky Altringer told Sun Online how she discovered the box of papers ‘restricted until 2039’ which she believes may contain the answers as to how and why the screen legend died back in 1962 – in a university library in Los Angeles.  

The strange box belongs to Marilyn’s personal psychiatrist Dr Ralph Greenson … ‘Box 39’ is stored in the special collections section of UCLA library but sealed to the public until 2039 – although the list of contents – which is public – shows it contains various documents and letters relating to Marilyn.

‘I’m 100% positive Marilyn Monroe did not commit suicide – not if you go by all the facts of the case,’ Becky revealed.
‘There’s so many unanswered questions and there shouldn’t be. Marilyn Monroe was the only person whose organs and tests and everything that had been with her death disappeared. How does this happen unless it’s a cover up?'”

However, the box is not as mysterious as Ms Altringer seems to believe. All those documents were made available to Donald Spoto while writing his biography of Marilyn, published in 1992. After Spoto alleged that Greenson had accidentally killed Marilyn with an enema (a theory which has found little favour with medical experts), his surviving relatives decided to seal the documents. The theory proposed by author Donald Wolfe and others that Greenson killed Marilyn by ‘hot-shot’ has also been widely criticised.

In fact, ‘Box 39’ consists mostly of Greenson’s correspondence with fellow psychiatrists Dr Anna Freud and Dr Marianne Kris, who had also treated Marilyn in the past. As another Monroe biographer, Gary Vitacco-Robles (who is also a practicing psychotherapist) points out, Spoto should have focused more on Marilyn’s physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, and his liberal use of prescriptions.

And regarding Altringer’s claim that Marilyn’s organs were removed, only tissue samples were taken and their disposal was standard procedure in 1962. Donald McGovern, author of Murder Orthodoxies: A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn Monroe’s Death, comments further on her autopsy:

“In his memoir, Dr. Thomas Noguchi noted that Dr. Raymond J. Abernathy, the head toxicologist at the time, tested Marilyn’s blood and her liver but did not test the organ dissections since the results clearly indicated an ingested overdose and suicide … Marilyn’s liver contained three times the volume of barbiturates than her tested blood. Therefore, Marilyn was not administered a hot shot and certainly not directly into her heart. The branch of pharmacology known as pharmacokinetics explains scientifically why the volume of barbiturates in Marilyn’s liver precludes the use of an enema and an injection.”

Michael J. Pollard 1939-2019

Michael J. Pollard, the veteran character actor known for his short stature and boyish looks, has died aged 80. He was born in New Jersey to parents of Polish descent, and began attending the Actors’ Studio in the late 1950s. He later shared a memory from that time with Charles Casillo, author of Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon

Aged 19 or 20, Michael was sitting in class when he noticed a beautiful blonde, and said to a fellow student, ‘That looks like Marilyn Monroe’. After learning that the blonde was indeed MM, Pollard asked her to do a scene with him, and she agreed without hesitation. Marilyn suggested a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote’s novella which was soon to be produced at Paramount. 

As Pollard walked with Marilyn to her 57th Street apartment, several passers-by noticed her and called out, ‘Hi, Marilyn!’ There was no screenplay, so Marilyn adapted a scene from the book where Holly Golightly climbs through her neighbour’s window. ‘I’ve got the most terrible man downstairs,’ she says, stepping in from the fire escape.

As the day approached when they were due to perform the scene, Marilyn admitted, ‘I’m really worried about the lines.’ She tore out pages from the book so they could spread them out over the stage area. When the scene was over, the formidable Lee Strasberg told Pollard it was the best work he had done. 

According to another Monroe biographer, Gary Vitacco Robles, Truman Capote was also present and thought her performance ‘terrifically good’. She was Capote’s first choice to play Holly, and George Axelrod (who had worked with her on The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop) was hired to write the screenplay, but the role ultimately went to Audrey Hepburn.  

Among Pollard’s early movies was a small part in The Stripper (1963), which had been written by William Inge with Marilyn in mind. After her death, Joanne Woodward was cast instead. He also worked in television, with a memorable role as a child cult leader in Star Trek.

Pollard became a household name as C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde (1967.) He went on to star as Billy the Kid in Dirty Little Billy (1972), and with Robert Redford in the biker movie, Little Fauss and Big Halsy. Michael J. Fox would adopt his middle initial as a tribute to Pollard, whose later films included Dick Tracy (1990), opposite Warren Beatty and Madonna. 

Marilyn Gets ‘Closer’ on TV and Podcast

Speculation about Marilyn’s death makes the pages of Closer in the USA this week (alongside cover star Meryl Streep.) If you’re wondering where all these stories are coming from, it’s partly the Fox News series Scandalous, but also a new podcast, The Killing of Marilyn Monroe. If conspiracy theories aren’t your thing, it might be worth waiting for Marilyn Monroe: Behind the Icon, an upcoming podcast from biographer Gary Vitacco-Robles.

Fox News Gets ‘Scandalous’ With Marilyn

Marilyn’s life and death is the subject of a new 3-part documentary in the Fox News Channel series, Scandalous. It began last night, and will continue over the next two Sundays. It’s being aired in the US and Australia, but not as yet in Europe. Interviewees include authors Gary Vitacco Robles, Charles Casillo, Donald McGovern and Keith Badman, plus Elisa Jordan of LA Woman Tours and photographer Larry Schiller and Leigh Weiner’s son Devik. This alone could make it worth watching, although fans have already complained about the use of Marilyn’s autopsy photo on both the show and tabloid coverage.

Marilyn’s Costumes and Jewellery Sold at Julien’s

The results are in for this year’s Legends sale at Julien’s Auctions. A number of photos from the Manfred ‘Linus’ Kreiner archive (see above) were sold, with the Marilyn-related lots fetching up to $3,800. These photos were recently featured in Parade magazine (see here.)

Marilyn at the Fox luncheon for Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (Manfred Kreiner, 1959)

Within the fan community, biographer Gary Vitacco-Robles won a telegram from Lauren Bacall congratulating Marilyn after her wedding to Joe DiMaggio, for $1,582.50. The biggest Marilyn-related sales, however, were her costume from A Ticket to Tomahawk (sold for $22,400), and her bathrobe from How to Marry a Millionaire (which fetched $28,800.) Here are some more highlights:

  1. A rare ‘Page 3’ copy of Playboy‘s first issue, signed by Hugh Hefner ($16,00)
  2. A cast of Marilyn’s hands and feet from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre ($25,600)
  3. A black chiffon overblouse ($19, 200)
  4. A six-strand, iridiscent crystal necklace in purple and green ($11,250)
  5. A pair of rhinestone clip earrings ($28,125)
  6. Marilyn’s script for Something’s Got to Give, dated August 30, 1961 ($12,800)

And finally, I’ve added the maximum bids for each item featured in my previous posts – learn more about this fascinating auction here.

Marilyn’s How to Marry a Millionaire bathrobe today

Marilyn On the Borderline

In the third episode of May’s month-long mental health awareness vodcast, American Icon: Where Healing Meets Life, Monroe biographer Gary Vitacco Robles will explore the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder with co-host Nina Boski. Tune in here today (Wednesday, May 13) at noon PST/3 pm EST/8 pm GMT (all episodes will be archived on YouTube.)

Marilyn ‘Icon’ Vodcast Explores Childhood Trauma

The second installment of American Icon: Where Healing Meets Life, a new vodcast series from Nina Boski and Monroe biographer Gary Vitacco-Robles, will air today, May 8, at noon PST. It will be repeated at 3 pm and 6 pm; for Eastern time please add 3 hours, or 8 hours in the UK – and tune in here.

“We will be discussing a serious topic of Marilyn surviving the complex traumas of childhood sexual/physical abuse & neglect, its impact on her life, & resources available today for those experiencing the long term impact of trauma. During May as Mental Health Awareness Month, MM is helping us talk about painful & challenging issues to end stigma & start the healing journey. The three-part ‘vodcasts’ will be archived on YouTube as part of the American Icon documentary.”