Alexandra Pollard takes a fresh look at Marilyn’s ill-fated last movie, Something’s Got to Give, in an insightful piece for The Independent.
“She hadn’t been on a film set for over a year when she was cast in Something’s Got to Give, a remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife. Her time off had been plagued by illness and drug addiction … The accumulative physical toll had caused her to lose so much weight that she was thinner than she had been in all her adult life. The studio, Twentieth Century Fox, was delighted. ‘She didn’t have to perform, she just had to look great,’ said the film’s producer Henry Weinstein, ‘and she did.’
But in hindsight, Monroe wasn’t ready – either physically or mentally – to return to acting … ‘She was just fearful of the camera,’ said Weinstein, who recalled Monroe throwing up before scenes. Early on, he found her unconscious, in what he described as a barbiturate coma … The studio and production team had little sympathy for their star. ‘Yes this is a sick woman,’ said screenwriter Walter Bernstein, ‘but this is a movie star who’s getting her way, and who doesn’t give a damn about anybody else, and is being destructive and self-destructive.’
But watching Something’s Got to Give’s raw footage – most of which remained unseen for years after the film was scrapped – gives a very different impression. On camera, Monroe is earnest, demure, desperate to get her part right. If she messes up, she apologises profusely … She is gentle with her young co-stars, too. Alexandria Heilweil, who played her five-year-old daughter, is told to sit up straight. ‘If I do the right thing…’ says the little girl, but [George] Cukor cuts her off: ‘Be quiet.’ Monroe smiles at her. ‘You will,’ she says gently. It certainly doesn’t seem like the behaviour of someone ‘wilfully disruptive’.
And there were a few good days. During the now (in)famous swimming pool scene, Ellen takes a late-night skinny dip, attempting to lure her husband out of his bedroom. The set was closed, but a few select photographers were allowed to stay. When Monroe ended up removing the flesh-coloured swimming costume she had been given, they were caught completely off guard. ‘I had been wearing the suit, but it concealed too much,’ she later told the press, ‘and it would have looked wrong on the screen… The set was closed, all except members of the crew, who were very sweet. I told them to close their eyes or turn their backs, and I think they all did. There was a lifeguard on the set to help me out if I needed him, but I’m not sure it would have worked. He had his eyes closed too.’ Photos of Monroe emerging from the pool, sans suit, appeared on magazine covers in over 30 countries. By all accounts, spirits seemed high.
But things went rapidly downhill. On 19 May 1962, having been too sick to work for most of the week, Monroe flew to New York for President John F Kennedy’s birthday celebrations … Monroe had gained permission to attend the event long before filming began, but [Cukor] deemed it unacceptable. In June, just a few days after Monroe’s 36th birthday, she was fired for ‘spectacular absenteeism’, and sued by Fox for $750,000 for ‘wilful violation of contract’. ‘Dear George,’ wrote Monroe in a telegram to Cukor, ‘please forgive me, it was not my doing. I had so looked forward to working with you.’
In fact, it may not have been entirely Monroe’s doing. At the same time as Something’s Got to Give was being made, Fox was haemorrhaging money on its three-hour epic Cleopatra … The studio was panicking. ‘Tensions were high, nerves were frayed, funds were low,’ wrote Michelle Vogel in Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life, ‘and it’s clear that Something’s Got to Give and Marilyn Monroe were the scapegoats for some very anxious studio executives who felt they were spinning out of control with both productions. The lesser of the films had to go.’
A few days before she died, Monroe had given an interview to a journalist from Life Magazine, and the subsequent profile was published a few weeks later. It ended with the following: ‘I had asked if many friends had called up to rally round when she was fired by Fox. There was silence, and sitting very straight, eyes wide and hurt, she had answered with a tiny, “No”.'”
A wide range of Marilyn-related items, including her 1956 Thunderbird, will be up for grabs at Julien’s Icons & Idols auction on November 17. Another high-profile item is the white beaded Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business, purchased at Christie’s in 1995; as yet it’s unclear whether this is the same dress listed at Julien’s in 2016.
Marilyn owned several pairs of checked trousers, wearing them repeatedly throughout her career. This pair, seen in one of her earliest modelling shoots, was purchased from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.
A number of photos owned by Marilyn herself are also on offer, including this picture with US troops, taken on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a set of publicity photos for Love Nest; a photo of Joe DiMaggio in his New York Yankees uniform; and Roy Schatt‘s 1955 photo of Marilyn and Susan Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
A postcard from the Table Rock House in Niagara Falls was signed by Marilyn and her Niagara co-stars, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, in 1952.
This publicity shot from River of No Return is inscribed, ‘To Alan, alas Alfred! It’s a pleasure to work with you – love & kisses Marilyn Monroe.’
A set of bloomers worn by Marilyn in River of No Return (as seen in this rare transparency) is going up for bids.
Among the mementoes from Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Japan and Korea are two fans and an army sewing kit.
Also among Marilyn’s personal property is this ad for There’s No Business Like Show Business, torn from the December 24, 1954 issue of Variety.
Among Marilyn’s assorted correspondence is a latter dated August 22, 1954, from childhood acquaintance Ruth Edens:
“I have long intended to write you this letter because I have particularly wanted to say that when you used to visit me at my Balboa Island cottage, you were a shy and charming child whose appeal, it seems to me, must have reached the hearts of many people. I could never seem to get you to say much to me, but I loved having you come in and I missed your doing so after you’d gone away. I wondered about you many times and was delighted when I discovered you in the films. I hope the stories in the magazines which say you felt yourself unloved throughout your childhood, are merely press-agentry. In any case, I want you to know that I, for one, was truly fond of you and I’m proud of you for having developed enough grit to struggle through to success … I hope you are getting much happiness out of life, little Marian [sic]. I saw so much that was ethereal in you when you were a little girl that I fell sure you are not blind to life’s spiritual side. May all that is good and best come your way!”
Marilyn’s loyalty to the troops who helped to make her a star is attested in this undated letter from Mrs. Josephine Holmes, which came with a sticker marked ‘American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.‘
“My dear Miss Monroe, I was so happy to hear from Mr. Fisher about your visit to the Veterans Hospital. When I spoke to Mr. Alex David Recreation he said the veterans would be thrilled, probably the best present and tonic for them this holiday and gift giving season. I am sure it will be a wonderful memory for you, knowing you have brought happiness to so many boys, many have no one to visit with them. Thank you, and may God bless you and Mr. Miller for your kindness.”
Marilyn wore this hand-tailored black satin blouse for a 1956 press conference at Los Angeles Airport, as she returned to her hometown after a year’s absence to film Bus Stop. When a female reporter asked, ‘You’re wearing a high-neck dress. … Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’ she replied sweetly, ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.’
Letters from Marilyn’s poet friend, Norman Rosten, are also included (among them a letter warmly praising her work in Some Like It Hot, and a postcard jokingly signed off as T.S. Eliot.)
Among Marilyn’s correspondence with fellow celebrities was a Christmas card from Liberace, and a telephone message left by erstwhile rival, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
File under ‘What Might Have Been’ – two letters from Norman Granz at Verve Records, dated 1957:
“In the September 5, 1957, letter, Granz writes, ‘I’ve been thinking about our album project and I should like to do the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to an album called MARILYN SINGS LOVE SONGS or some such title.’ In the December 30, 1957, letter, he writes, ‘… I wonder too if you are ready to do any recording. I shall be in New York January 20th for about a week and the Oscar Peterson Trio is off at that time, so if you felt up to it perhaps we could do some sides with the Trio during that period.'”
Also in 1957, Marilyn received this charming card from the Monroe Six, a group of dedicated New York teenage fans, mentioning her latest role in The Prince and The Showgirl and husband Arthur Miller’s legal worries:
“Marilyn, We finally got to see ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ and every one of us was so very pleased. We are all popping our shirt and blouse buttons. Now we will be on pins and needles ‘til it is released to the general public. You seemed so relaxed and a tease thru the whole picture and your close ups, well they were the most flawless ever. You should be real pleased with yourself. No need to tell you what we want for you to know now is that we hope everything comes out all right for Mr. Miller and real soon too. Guess what we are working on now. We are trying to scrape up enough money for the necessary amount due on 6 tickets to the premiere and the dinner dance afterwards. Well again we must say how happy we are about T.P.+T.S. and we wanted you to know it. Our best to you.”
Among the lots is assorted correspondence from Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, dated 1958. In that year, Marilyn sent Xenia a check which she used to replace her wallpaper. She regretted being unable to visit Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot, but would write to Arthur Miller on November 22, “I wanted to tell you how much your visit meant to me and how glad I was to see you and my beloved Marilyn being so happy together.”
In April 1959, Marilyn received a letter from attorney John F. Wharton, advising her of several foundations providing assistance to children in need of psychiatric care, including the Anna Freud Foundation, which Marilyn would remember in her will.
This telegram was sent by Marilyn’s father-in-law, Isidore Miller, on her birthday – most likely in 1960, as she was living at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love. She was still a keen reader at the time, as this receipt for a 3-volume Life and Works of Sigmund Freud from Martindale’s bookstore shows.
After Let’s Make Love wrapped, Marilyn sent a telegram to director George Cukor:
“Dear George, I would have called but I didn’t know how to explain to you how I blame myself but never you. If there is [undecipherable due to being crossed out] out of my mind. Please understand. My love to Sash. My next weekend off I will do any painting cleaning brushing you need around the house. I can also dust. Also I am sending you something but it’s late in leaving. I beg you to understand. Dear Evelyn sends her best. We’re both city types. Love, Amanda Marilyn.”
Here she is referencing her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and Amanda Dell, the character she played. “Dearest Marilyn, I have been trying to get you on the telephone so I could tell you how touched I was by your wire and how grateful I am,” Cukor replied. “Am leaving for Europe next Monday but come forrest [sic] fires come anything, I will get you on the telephone.”
There’s also a June 30, 1960 letter from Congressman James Roosevelt (son of FDR), asking Marilyn to appear on a television show about the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research, to be aired in October. Unfortunately, Marilyn was already committed to filming The Misfits, and dealing with the collapse of her marriage to Arthur Miller.
In 1961, movie producer Frank McCarthy praised Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits:
Rather touchingly, Marilyn owned this recording of ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ sung by Adriana Caselotti. The record copyright is from 1961, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was originally released in December 1937, when Marilyn was just eleven years old.
This pen portrait was sketched by George Masters, who became Marilyn’s regular hairdresser in the final years of her life.
On July 5, 1962, Hattie Stephenson – Marilyn’s New York housekeeper – wrote to her in Los Angeles:
“My Dear Miss Monroe: How are you! Trusting these few lines will find you enjoying your new home. Hoping you have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Fields by now. Found them to be very nice and the childrens [sic] are beautiful. Got along very well with there [sic] language. How is Maff and Mrs. Murray? Miss Monroe, Mrs. Fields left this stole here for you and have been thinking if you would like to have it out there I would mail it to you. Miss Monroe Dear, I asked Mrs. Rosten to speak with you concerning my vacation. I am planning on the last week of July to the 6th of August. I am going to Florida on a meeting tour. Trusting everything will be alright with you. Please keep sweet and keep smiling. You must win. Sincerely, Hattie.”
Hattie is referring to Marilyn’s Mexico friend, Fred Vanderbilt Field, who stayed with his family in Marilyn’s New York apartment that summer. She also alludes to Marilyn’s ongoing battle with her Hollywood studio. Sadly, Hattie never saw Marilyn again, as she died exactly a month later. Interestingly, the final check from Marilyn’s personal checkbook was made out to Hattie on August 3rd.
After Marilyn died, her estate was in litigation for several years. Her mother, Gladys, was a long-term resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, which had agreed to waive her fees until her trust was reopened. In 1965, Gladys would receive hate mail from a certain Mrs. Ruth Tager of the Bronx, criticising her as a ‘hindrance’ due to her unpaid bills. This unwarranted attack on a sick, elderly woman reminds one why Marilyn was so hesitant to talk about her mother in public.
Among the upcoming screenings of the newly restored Some Like It Hot is an intriguing double bill. At 1:30 pm on December 16, the 1959 classic will be screened at London’s Regent Street Cinema, followed by It Should Happen To You (1954) at 3:50 pm. Not only does Jack Lemmon appear in both films, but It Should Happen To You also stars Judy Holliday, the blonde star who, alongside Marilyn, was one of the leading comediennes of the era.
The film was directed by George Cukor, who later worked with Marilyn in Let’s Make Love and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give. Judy stars as an out-of-work actress whose life is transformed when she rents a billboard to advertise herself. In his first major film role Lemmon plays a photographer, while Peter Lawford – another figure from Marilyn’s life – is cast as a rather caddish businessman.
A native New Yorker, Judy Holliday became a star on Broadway with her role as Billie Dawn, a gangster’s moll who falls in love with a straight-laced journalist hired to educate her, in Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday. Kanin later said that a young Marilyn had auditioned for the big-screen adaptation, but the role was ultimately reprised by Judy.
The two actresses – who both battled ‘dumb blonde’ typecasting, finally met in 1956, as Martha Weinman Lear revealed in a 1988 article for Fame magazine. (Sadly, Judy Holliday’s career would also be cut short when she died, aged 44, of breast cancer in 1965.)
“Thirty blocks downtown, a billboard dominated Times Square. This was in 1956, a cave age, but you remember that billboard. Even if you weren’t born yet you remember that billboard: Marilyn Monroe, starring in The Seven Year Itch, loomed twenty feet tall … in what was, and remains, one of the most powerful images ever to come out of movie advertising.
A few blocks east, more peekaboo: Judy Holliday, the Funny Girl of her day, was transforming herself nightly into just that paper doll, and packing them into the Blue Angel supper club with her impersonation — never mind the makeup, it was an act of brains and will, and it was brilliant — of Marilyn Monroe.
It was my first job, at Collier’s magazine, doing my own impersonation — eager researcher playing cool reporter — and yearning for some epiphanic professional moment. It came…
Leonard Lyons, gossip columnist for the old New York Post, was strolling down Fifth Avenue with Holliday one day, or so he reported, and they ran into Monroe. Reality and illusion head-to-head; how avidly the two must have eyed each other! Introductions were made. Someone said, ‘we ought to get together,’ and the women arranged to have tea at Judy’s apartment in the Dakota, Collier’s to record the event for some ravenous posterity. I was sent to take notes.
The photographer Howell Conant, was all set up in the living room. The appointed hour came, and no Marilyn. A half hour later, no Marilyn. Judy grew tenser. Finally, after an hour, a person arrived, and it appeared that this person was Marilyn Monroe.
Time has done nothing to dim the details: She wore a black cotton shirt, sleeveless, a brown cotton skirt and flats. There was a big grease stain on the front of the skirt. The belly protruded. The legs were covered with bumps and scabs, which she kept scratching. The platinum hair showed dark at the roots and, when she raised her arm, I saw a luxuriant dark undergrowth. This was before political statements; we were all shaving our armpits. She looked…tatty, a bit. Only the voice was unmistakable, pure sigh (was it afraid to be heard or demanding that we lean in to listen? I have never been sure). Only the skin, which was truly luminescent, would have stopped you in the street.
‘We were getting worried about you!’ Judy cried. Her voice shook, I think with wrath.
‘I’ve got mosquito bites,’ the goddess whispered, and bent to scratch yet again. And though the sequitur escaped me, I instantly and utterly forgave her for being late.
She wanted to makeup her face. Then the two of them thought that it might be fun for Judy to put on her Marilyn face first, while Marilyn watched in the mirror. They began, and it was impossible. Marilyn guided graciously, with soft breathy urgings: ‘Mm, make the eyebrow a little pointier … Yes, that’s right …’ But Judy couldn’t do it. She did it every night, but here, now, in the presence of the real thing…who did not herself look much like the real thing, which gave rise to problems of philosophic scope, because who or where was the real thing? Was it here, in this sweetly scruffy presence, or was this a mere mortal metaphor for the real thing, which was up there on the billboard?
‘Well, uh…’ Marilyn began, and giggled, craning her own head back gingerly, as though trying to ease a stiff neck. And that was when I finally saw, quick study that I was, that both women had the same problem: They were both straining to impersonate Marilyn Monroe.
So they tried it the other way. Marilyn would make up first. ‘Oh, I look awful,’ she said, but in the mirror she took on authority. She set to work with that total Teutonic dispassion of models, a touch of shadow here, a dab of highlight there, an extravagance of mascara, an artful swirling of hair around the roots. I waited, wild with curiosity — Judy too — for the transmutational touch, peekaboo! But Monroe was doing no magic tricks; she was simply spiffing up what she had, as we all do.
And then came this remarkable moment. The child, Jonathan, appeared in the doorway. Judy bent to him and took his hand. ‘Jonathan,’ she said, ‘do you remember that lady we saw in the movie, Marilyn Monroe?’ The cherub nodded. ‘You want to meet her?’ Again he nodded, wide-eyed. ‘Jonathan,’ she said, and her hand swept across the room — flourish of trumpets, roll of drums — ‘this is Marilyn Monroe.’
Marilyn was standing. She had just hitched up her skirt to pull down the blouse from underneath. She looked at the little boy, and he at her, and in that instant it happened. She metamorphosed … And the head tilted easily back, the eyelids closed down, she licked her lips, became that myth and smiled full into the child’s face and sighed, ‘Hi-iiii.’
Conant shot hundreds of exposures that afternoon; not a single one of Marilyn was bad, and most were splendid. Ultimately, what one saw in the room did not matter. Her face, as they say of certain faces — as they first said of Valentino’s face — made love to the camera.
The pictures were never published because Collier’s, soon after, went out of business. The one shown here was taken as a souvenir for me, and I have never looked at it without remembering that moment of her transmutation, and wondering: What on earth she thought she was doing? And it must be that she simply had not thought at all, but had simply heard the bell and gone on automatic. If it was male it was her audience, her element, and she would play to it. This is a gift. It is not necessarily a gift that makes good actors, but it almost invariably makes great performers.”
Arnold Schulman became a playwright and screenwriter after taking classes at the Actors Studio. He became the second writer to work on the beleaguered Something’s Got to Give. He shared his memories of Marilyn’s last, unfinished movie with author Patrick McGilligan for the 1997 book, Backstory 3: Interviews With Screenwriters of the 60s. (The book also includes an interview with George Axelrod, who adapted The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop for MM.)
“I know from reading David Brown’s autobiography, ‘Let Me Entertain You’, that you had at least one not-marvelous experience in Hollywood in the sixties, working with Cukor again, this time on the last, never-completed Marilyn Monroe picture: ‘Something’s Got to Give’.
I haven’t read David’s book, but I’ve been told he said I wore a kimono and sat on the floor when I wrote. Clearly, I was crazy, so he fired me. I still wear a kimono and sit on the floor when I write, and lots of people think I’m crazy— maybe I am—but David and I recall the situation differently. Actually, I quit. Cukor wanted me because we had such a good experience on the Magnani picture, but when I found out what they were doing to Marilyn, I quit. They were setting her up. A guy from the advertising business named Peter Levathes had come in as head of the studio, having taken over from [Spyros] Skouras, who was kicked out, as I recall, because Cleopatra  went so much over budget. Levathes had to prove himself a hero. He had to prove he wouldn’t take any shit from any star. He wanted to humiliate Marilyn into quitting and then sue her, I was told.
You were Marilyn’s friend?
From way back. I met her when she first left Hollywood and came to join the Actors Studio. I got a call one night from Lee Strasberg, and he said, ‘I’ve got two tickets to a poetry reading at the Y. I can’t go. Will you take the person I’m supposed to go with?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I had no idea it was Marilyn until she opened the door. This was at the peak of her fame. I didn’t have a car or anything, so we had to catch a cab. We got mobbed. We finally got to the Y. I’m thinking, ‘Why does she want to go to the Y? Why didn’t Lee tell me who I was going with?’ And, of course, the program couldn’t go on, because everybody left their seats to catch a glimpse of her. We escaped through a side door and ran up the street with a mob chasing us, and finally wound up on 125th Street in a dinky Chinese restaurant I knew about. That’s how I met her, and we became good friends.
What was her condition at the time when you were working on the script? Was she deteriorating, as everybody has written?
I didn’t see any of that. When I was with her, she was bright, warm and loving, and in good shape.
She wasn’t demanding?
Not at all.
She was on time for everything?
She didn’t have to be on time. This wasn’t even preproduction. I hadn’t written a word. But her agent would call and request things—I remember one thing in particular—and Fox would deliberately say no, doing everything to make her quit. She wanted her regular hairdresser, I remember. No—she couldn’t have her regular hairdresser. Whatever she wanted, the rule was, she couldn’t have it. Gradually, it became clearer and clearer what was going on—and then I overheard conversations about it between the executives. As soon as I realized it, I went ape. I think I grabbed David Brown, who is about two feet taller than I am, and shook him against the wall; if not, I wanted to, which is probably closer to the truth. I called Marilyn and told her. She understood what was happening, but there was nothing she could do about it.
You think they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams—driving her to her death?
It’s not that cut and dried. But they certainly didn’t contribute to her will to live.
Cukor was party to this?
He knew about it.
The whole thing was shocking to me. She asked me to come back and write the picture and be on her side. I told her I was on her side, and that is why I got out of it. I told her she had to get out of it. ‘If I go back,’ I told her, ‘I’m powerless.’ I have terrible guilt about that experience, still. Terrible guilt. The lingering feeling, however irrational, that if I had gone back, I might have made a difference, and she might still be alive today.”
David Brown was the original producer on Something’s Got to Give. He later said of Schulman, ‘He was a great writer, but I was somewhat alarmed when I passed his office and saw that he had removed his desk, and was writing in a yoga position. Bear in mind that the myth of Hollywood is much less than the reality.’
Author Keith Badman adds further detail in The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe (2010), claiming that Marilyn was dissatisfied with Schulman’s script. However, given that Nunnally Johnson’s original adaptation – which she loved – had been rejected, this may be a reflection of her growing concerns about the production rather than a personal attack on Schulman.
“He quit the film in protest when he discovered the menacing treatment Marilyn had been receiving from certain members of the Hollywood hierarchy. He had encountered the actress for the first time in 1955 during her first spell in New York and regarded her as a true and trusted friend. However, friendship meant little in the Hollywood movie industry and Marilyn soon made it clear she was unhappy with several parts of Schulman’s work. Her loathing of it was manifested in several handwritten notes, scrawled across the screenplay’s front page and across several pages inside. ‘This is funny?’ she asked. ‘Not funny,’ she maintained. ‘Not a story for me,’ she insisted.”
In late 1961, Brown was fired and replaced by Henry Weinstein, a rather inexperienced young producer who was a good friend of Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson. Schulman was later replaced by Walter Bernstein, who told biographer Donald Spoto, ‘Everbody was aware that Greenson had put Marilyn in a cocoon-like situation. I always felt that she had become an investment to people like him…’
It seems like every theatre company launches a Marilyn-related play at some point, and most of them have sunk without trace. However, David Bottomley’s The Peacock and the Nightingale has an interesting premise, at least – the meeting of Marilyn and Dame Edith Sitwell, playing at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center, San Diego, on July 3rd, as part of the city’s annual fringe festival, with British actress Claire Jared playing MM.
“1953. Eccentric English poet, Edith Sitwell, is in Hollywood working on a blockbuster movie script for George Cukor about the Tudors. When she meets film star, Marilyn Monroe she’s desperate to play Anne Boleyn. But who will let her?”
Let’s Make Love will be screened at New York’s Lincoln Center on December 25-26 as part of their George Cukor retrospective, reports IndieWire. (It’s interesting to know that while the 1960 musical is not considered a highlight of Cukor’s career – or Marilyn’s – ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ leads a trailer for the series, which you can watch here.)
Last night, I watched two Marilyn-related documentaries online that I’d never seen before. The first, Stars of the Silver Screen: Marilyn Monroe, was made in 2011 by 3DD Productions. The second, Eyewitness: Marilyn Monroe – Why?, was filmed by ABC News just a week after her death in 1962.
Stars of the Silver Screen is a formulaic look at Marilyn’s life career, but it’s quite well-made. Film critic Derek Malcolm and fashion journalist Matthew Bevan provide a mostly interesting commentary, while interviewees include Tony Curtis, Eli Wallach, Curtice Taylor (son of Misfits producer Frank), and Angela Allen (John Huston’s script supervisor.)
A highlight was the rare footage from the David Di Donatello Awards in 1958, where Marilyn was named Best Actress for her role in The Prince and the Showgirl. When a reporter witlessly asked if she took acting seriously, Marilyn replied, ‘Yes, I’m afraid I do!’
My main criticism would be that, as with so many documentaries, the focus was more on Marilyn’s legendary on-set insecurities than the celluloid magic that resulted from her painstaking work.
Eyewitness: Marilyn Monroe – Why?has the advantage of being recorded immediately after Marilyn died. The producers were able to engage people who knew Marilyn well and were famous in their own right. It also gives a more authentic picture of how the world perceived Marilyn in her own lifetime.
Emmeline Sniveley, Jean Negulesco, Lee Strasberg, George Cukor, plus fellow actress Kim Novak and playwright Clifford Odets all feature in the programme. Novak seems to have the most empathy towards Marilyn, while Odets offers the most eloquent commentary.
There is also some rare footage from the day that the Miller’s divorce was announced, with a distraught MM telling reporters, ‘I can’t talk about my personal life.’
Elliott Reid – who played private detective Ernie Malone, Jane Russell’s love interest in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – has died aged 93.
A versatile actor with a flair for comedy, Reid was born in New York in 1920, and after making his name in radio drama serials such as Orson Welles’s TheMercury Theatre on Air, joined the Actor’s Studio when it was founded in 1947.
In that same year, Reid appeared in George Cukor‘s A Double Life, which made a star of Shelley Winters. One of his most important roles was in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953.)
Onscreen, his character was something of an adversary to Lorelei Lee. In one memorable scene, Lorelei and her best friend, Dorothy, spike Ernie’s drink and pull off his trousers, in order to retrieve some compromising photos.
“I thought [Monroe] was lovely-looking, beautiful and charming. She was quiet and shy but we didn’t really get to know each other during the shoot because as soon as the scene was finished Marilyn would go to her dressing room to work with her drama coach.
She was often late – sometimes ten minutes or so, but not extreme; her lateness was well known and it was just how she was. She was charming and everyone understood her lateness and no one got mad. There were no problems during the making of the film because she was so sweet; she was never aggressive – she just wanted to do her best.”
Also in 1953, Reid co-starred with Jean Peters (who had just finished shooting Niagara with Monroe) in Vicki, a remake of an early film noir, I Wake Up Screaming. (The 1943 original had starred one of Marilyn’s idols, Betty Grable, and she had used the script as an audition piece.)
Reid played a supporting role in Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind, followed by The Absent-Minded Professor in 1961. He also appeared regularly on television.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Reid impersonated John F. Kennedy at a 1962 dinner. Time magazine reported that the president was ‘convulsed’ by Reid’s performance.
‘I was very sad when [Marilyn Monroe] died,’ Reid told Michelle Morgan, recalling her tragic overdose in August 1962. ‘Surprised, but more than anything I was shocked.’
In 1963, he played psychiatrist Dr Herman Schlick in Move Over Darling, a remake of Marilyn’s abandoned last film, Something’s Got to Give. Doris Day took the lead, while Reid replaced comedian Steve Allen.
Reid continued working on stage and television until his retirement in 1995. One of his final roles was in a 1992 episode of the acclaimed US sitcom, Seinfeld.
Elliott Reid died of heart failure on June 21st. His nephew told the Los Angeles Times that Reid had been residing in an assisted living facility in Studio City, California.
An interview with George Cukor – who directed Let’s Make Love and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give – is quoted in Peter Bogdanovich’s essay on Marilyn, published in his 2004 book, Who the Hell’s In It?
“Marilyn Monroe had no confidence in herself. She found it very difficult to concentrate, and she didn’t really think she was as good as she was. She’d worry about all kinds of things, and she would do the difficult things very well. Sometimes she was very distracted and couldn’t sustain it, and you had to do it in bits and pieces; sometimes she was in such a state of nerves that you’d have to shoot individual lines. But such was her magic that you’d put them all together and they seemed as if she spoke them all at one time. She was a real movie personality – a real movie queen. She had the way all these great picture personalities have…Quite different – and, I thought, much more subtle than it is now.”
Also included are Marilyn’s first offer on her Brentwood home from 1962, and a letter from Arthur Miller to director George Cukor, thanking him for his kindness to Marilyn during filming of Let’s Make Love in 1960.
“I just wanted to thank you for the way you have behaved toward Marilyn. The picture, of course, is important to her and to you, but immeasurably more important are the precious days and weeks of her life which your patience and skill and understanding have made humanly meaningful for her. I have never known her so happy at work, so hopeful for herself, so prepared to cast away the worst of her doubts. You must know now some of the reasons why she is so precious to me and will understand the sincerity of my respect for you. / I am at work here, but I don’t know how long I’ll be able to bear this bachelorhood…”