Shirley (and Marilyn’s) Way to Go

From Some Came Running to Irma La Douce, Shirley MacLaine played several roles previously considered for Marilyn.What a Way to Go! was first offered to Marilyn by Twentieth Century Fox and would have been her next film after the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give.

In the week before she died, Marilyn attended screenings of films by J. Lee Thompson, who was set to direct. But the main attraction of this vehicle – then titled I Love Louisa – was undoubtedly that it would have rounded off her old studio contract.

Released on this day in 1964, What a Way to Go! featured several of Marilyn’s friends and associates, including former co-stars Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly and Dean Martin, plus Gentlemen Prefer Blondes songwriter Jule Styne (who spoke with Marilyn in her final days), cameraman Leon Shamroy. The film also marked the producing debut of Arthur P. Jacobs, who headed up Marilyn’s team of publicists.

This musical extravagaza, with costumes by Edith Head, seems today like the last hurrah of a beleaguered studio system, but at the time it garnered a very favourable review from the Hollywood Reporter.

“What a Way to Go! is hard to define but easy to recommend; the 20th-Fox presentation is a funny musical comedy, or comedy with music, with all the glamour that Hollywood can throw into one film, and a high-powered cast to light the marquee. The J. Lee Thompson production, produced by Arthur P. Jacobs, is a dazzler. It should be one of the year’s most popular attractions. Thompson directed the pleasantly nutty shenanigans. 

Shirley MacLaine is the central figure in the Betty Comden-Adolph Green screenplay, a charmer whose attractions include the Midas touch and the kiss of death. Every man who takes up with her is rewarded by fabulous success. Unfortunately, he doesn’t live long to enjoy it or her. Hence the title. In the midst of wealth and endearing charms, he departs this life. Each time, Miss MacLaine is a rich widow, and each time, increasingly rich. 

The story is told in the form of a flashback, with Miss MacLaine trying to give away some $200,000,000. She feels guilt. Rich, but guilty. Since the government won’t take her money, she goes to a psychiatrist … At the end she is reunited with the one man she said she’d never marry, Dean Martin. Bob Cummings plays the psychiatrist who listens to this gaily macabre tale. 

The Comden-Green script, inspired by a story by Gwen Davis, is only the thread on which are hung a succession of funny scenes and musical numbers. The production is mounted richly. Sets are big and splendid. Costuming for Miss MacLaine by Edith Head is a major item … In this and other areas, this is the kind of movie Hollywood once made its worldwide reputation on, scorned by the aesthetes, adored by the multitudes. 

Miss MacLaine is at her best as the girl who succeeds in getting her husbands’ businesses started without trying at all. She has the figure for the clothes and the sense of fun for the lines. She dances, she sings (on one occasion with another voice, dubbed for humor) and she generally cements the episodic frame … Mitchum is offhand and amusing as the super-rich tycoon. Dean Martin is not as interesting as usual — perhaps the role doesn’t give him a chance to get off the ground. Gene Kelly (who also did the bright choreography) clowns amusingly as a small-time operator who blossoms into the big-time.”



When Marilyn Made Hot Dogs for Gene Kelly

Marilyn and Gene Kelly on the set of Let’s Make Love (1960)

Gene Kelly – the legendary dancer, choreographer and actor/director – will be honoured with a statue in London’s Leicester Square. Patricia Ward Kelly, who became his third wife in 1990 until his death six years later, has shared some of Kelly’s memories with Metro.

Kelly was a friend of Marilyn from her early years in Hollywood. His first wife Betsy Blair recalled seeing Marilyn with director Nick Ray during a 1951 party in their home, and Marilyn would meet Milton Greene for the first time in the same house, two years later. Kelly also had a cameo role in Marilyn’s penultimate movie, Let’s Make Love, and was considering a role in her upcoming film project, What a Way to Go!, when Marilyn passed away. (He took the part, and Shirley MacLaine replaced Marilyn.)

Ironically, Patricia’s story of Marilyn making hot dogs for Gene Kelly recalls a scene in The Seven Year Itch (1955), when Sonny Tufts asks Tom Ewell who the blonde in the kitchen might be, and Ewell retorts, ‘Maybe it’s Marilyn Monroe!’

“These were in the years before I met him, but his house, the front door was never locked and people would just come in at any hour of the day or night. There was one experience where the writer James Agee, and a famous director came in with a young woman in the middle of the night. Gene realised the men had quite a bit to drink, so he thought that he should rustle up some food for them. He went into the kitchen with this young woman to see what was in the fridge and found some hot dogs. He had her boiling hot dogs – which coincidentally was the first meal I had with him. He turned to this young woman and said, ‘What’s your name?’ She said, ‘Marilyn’. And it was Marilyn Monroe.”


Amy and Joshua Greene Remember Marilyn

In a new interview for the Hello Giggles website, Joshua and Amy Greene talk about Marilyn and their spectacular book, 50 Sessions: The Essential MM By Milton Greene.

“On meeting Marilyn for the first time at Gene Kelly’s house:

AG: So, I also have to tell you that very few people in Hollywood had ever seen Marilyn because she was almost a recluse. She got up, she went to work, and she came back. So Milton said, ‘I’m gonna get Marilyn’ and come back to Gene’s house, [and] that’s where I met her. She came walking in. She was wearing a big Polo coat and no makeup. Her hair looked good. I sort of waved at her and she waved at me. The first break, I went over to her and she threw her arms around me and said, I’m delighted to meet you, and I kissed her. It was lovely because we became girlfriends.

On finding out about Marilyn’s death:

AG: We were in France, in Paris. Milton was doing the collections for Life magazine, and there was a radio. I kept saying, ‘Well let’s try to get some music or something.’ All we got was news, news, news, and neither one of us could understand French that well. All of a sudden, the words Marilyn Monroe came on. We didn’t know what it was. So, we went to [Château de] Fontainebleau, had a wonderful picnic lunch, drove back to Paris, and the first thing we heard—the telephone was ringing off the wall. It was Arthur Jacobs, who was her publicist trying to get us all day. And he said Marilyn’s dead. […] I collapsed. Milton was staggering. That was the last thing we expected.

On the subconscious feminism of Marilyn and Marilyn Monroe Productions:

JG: When you look at the history of what she was up against, what she did—she knew exactly what she was doing with men, and she knew exactly what she wanted to do for herself. With the right help [and] the right people, she was able to change and break the chain, break the glass ceiling, for someone with essentially no power and no money in the ‘50s as a woman. You gotta look at it through those rose-colored glasses. There’s movements that were created based on her life path—things that she wasn’t necessarily doing for that reason—she was just fighting for her freedom.”