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 at Julien’s: Friends in Need

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962 – SOLD for $1,280

When perusing Marilyn’s personal correspondence and keepsakes, what always impresses me is that for all her self-doubt, there were so many people in her life whom she cherished, and they adored her in return. And this is evident in the lots going under the hammer in Property From The Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe at Julien’s Auctions on November 1. (You can read all my posts on the sale here.)

“A Bank of America check written entirely in Marilyn Monroe’s hand in blue ink dated January 1, 1952, made payable to N. Lytess in the amount of $100.00. ‘N. Lytess’ is Natasha Lytess, Monroe’s acting coach from 1948 until 1955.”

SOLD for $2,560

“A standard handwritten check entirely penned in black fountain pen ink by the star, dated ‘Dec 1 54,’ written out to ‘Mr. M. Chekhov’ [Michael Chekhov, her acting coach] for ‘$60’ and signed in the lower right corner ‘Marilyn Monroe,’ cancellation stamps and punch-outs evident on verso.”

SOLD for $3,520

“A watercolour painting rendered on construction paper by Marilyn herself depicting an abstract image of a cat in shades of black and gray, further inscribed by Monroe on the lower right side ‘a cat watching its own tail move’; included with a photocopied letter dated ‘March 5th, 1999’ reading in part ‘(this) painting / was found among Lotte Goslar’s personal files…Lotte and Marilyn were close / friends’ — Goslar being a German choreographer who worked in Hollywood and who had occasion to meet and work with Monroe.”

SOLD for $5,120

“A Paula Strasberg gifted and inscribed copy of Great Stars of the American Stage, with inscription reading ‘For Marilyn/With my love and admiration/ Paula S/ May 29-1956.’ Interestingly, this was the date of Marilyn Monroe’s completion of filming for Bus Stop.”

SOLD for $1,125

“A handwritten note from John Moore, one of Marilyn Monroe’s favorite designers [sent shortly after Marilyn’s hospitalisation for an ectopic pregnancy.] The August 12, 1957, note reads, ‘Dearest Marilyn, I knew you were ill in Europe and meant to send a cable – but – since I am a SLOB, I didn’t!!! I’m so happy you are well and I do hope your life will be filled with my Joy.’ Best love, John.”

SOLD for $100

The “A two-page telegram to Marilyn Monroe from Tony Award winning actor Sydney Chaplin [her friend since the late 1940s.] The July 11, 1958, telegram reads, ‘It sure was nice to hear your voice again/ In my book you are still the same wonderful person you always were/ Things have been slow in pictures for me/ I am sure a few words to Billy Wilder from you will help me get on the picture as one of George Raft’s mob men/ Please Marilyn do this for me as you know I will deliver as far as my talent is concerned/ If I get an interview with Mr. Wilder I’m sure he will use me as a personal favor to you/ Many will try to return by sixteenth/ Will cable again tonight definitely/ Love Sydney.'”

SOLD for $256

“A one-page typed letter on Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation letterhead to Marilyn Monroe from studio executive Ben Lyon. The April 15, 1960, letter reads, ‘Dear Marilyn, It was very sweet of you to send Jack Daniels over to me. I met him sometime back. He is a smooth character. Somehow he hit me on the back of my head about midnight and I was a sight for sore eyeballs for a couple of days. This time I am going to watch him. The offer from you and Whitey [Snyder] is the best I have had in a h— of a while. Being here is a privilege they tell me. Sometimes I wonder.’ The letter is signed ‘Sincerely, Ben.’ Monroe has acknowledged that Lyon was responsible for helping her select the name ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and for giving her her first break.”

SOLD for $256

“A three-page handwritten letter to Marilyn Monroe from poet and friend Norman Rosten, written while Rosten was in court for jury duty. The May 2, 1960, letter reads in part, ‘This is just to tell you my reaction to the house in the country. Everything looks wonderful – the work on the inside of the house but especially the outside, I meant the new trees. They are not out in full leaf yet but will be soon, and then they will be stunning. I love the single tree in the back, it’s placed exactly right.’ Rosten goes on to say that Arthur [Miller] was a good host, and ‘he did everything except bake a cake’ and ‘I assume he does that for you.’ Included is a separate piece of paper with a previously affixed newspaper clipping of the story of a man hitting ‘the only tree within 1,000 miles.’ Handwritten by Rosten on the paper is this: ‘So you think you have had tree troubles in Roxbury!’ Included is the original envelope addressed to Monroe at the Beverly Hills Hotel in California.”

SOLD for $512

“A telegram from Rupert Allan to Marilyn Monroe, dated February 10, 1961. The telegram reads, ‘I don’t want to be a sockeyed salmon/ Please get me out of this too dam [sic] cold Trukee [sic] River soon/ I’m with you always and I want to get on those meadows again with you/ Much much love Glitter Bitter/Rupert.'” [On the day of this telegram, Marilyn had just been released from the Payne Whitney Clinic, and was admitted to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for a 3-week stay.]

SOLD for $320

“A single page of beige paper, two-hole punch marks on top margin, dated March 26, 1962, typed text to Monroe from a secretary, the star’s green ballpoint ink responses reading in full ‘ask Hedda Rosten / good / keep it going until I / tell you’ (in reference to paying for Dr. Ralph Greenson‘s New York Times subscription).”

SOLD for $1,280

“A one-page typed letter to Marilyn Monroe from Frederick Vanderbilt Field, dated July 31, 1962, in which Field thanks Monroe for allowing him and his wife Nieves to stay in Monroe’s New York apartment. The letter reads in part, ‘It is quite impossible to thank you enough for your wonderful hospitality to us during our recent visit to New York. The apartment was the key to the success of the whole expedition. It is an extraordinarily attractive place, which is not altogether surprising considering who owns it. But beyond that your instructions to Hedda [Rosten] and Hattie [Stephenson] went far beyond the call of hospitality.’ The letter closes, ‘Nieves asks me to send you her love and to remind you that we both hope you will soon come down for another visit. She also wants you to know that we hope you are winning your battles in Hollywood. We kind of figure that being who and what you are you will come out on top.’ The letter is signed ‘Fred’ in his own hand. Monroe visited the Fields in February that same year during her travel to Mexico. The couple served as tour guides as Monroe shopped for furnishings for her new home in Brentwood, California. Frederick Field was widely believed to be a member of the communist party, and the FBI monitored Monroe during her trip. Sadly, Monroe would pass away just days after this letter was written.”

SOLD for $384

Marilyn’s Love Affair With Brooklyn

The Rostens’ home in Brooklyn

“When I retire, I want to retire to Brooklyn…it’s my favorite place in the world so far that I’ve seen. I haven’t traveled much, but I don’t think I’ll find anything else to replace Brooklyn. I just like walking around. I think the view is better from Brooklyn, you know, you can look back over and see Manhattan. That’s the best view…It’s the people…I like the streets, just the people and the streets and the atmosphere, I just like it.” – Marilyn to Dave Garroway, NBC Radio, 1955

Marilyn’s adventures in Brooklyn are featured in Robert Furman’s new book, Brooklyn Heights: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of America’s First Suburb, reports the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“84 Remsen St.: Lots of literature lovers can tell you where Arthur Miller lived in Brooklyn Heights. But do they know where the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright met Hollywood goddess Marilyn Monroe?

According to Furman, it was at 84 Remsen St., in the home of Norman Rosten, the late playwright, novelist and Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. Rosten and Miller had been friends since their days as students at the University of Michigan.

As everybody knows, Miller and Monroe did not live happily after. They married in 1956 and divorced five years later.

The Remsen Street brownstone where Rosten once lived now belongs to philanthropists Joseph and Diane Steinberg, Finance Department records indicate.”

Marilyn’s Will and Her Beneficiaries

Marilyn with poet Norman Rosten and his wife, Hedda, in 1955

NPR takes a look at Marilyn’s will. Made in 1961, it remains controversial, and it’s rumoured that she had wanted to change it in the weeks before her death.

“Monroe grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In her will, the actress set up a trust to care for her mother until she died; left money to her half-sister, who Monroe didn’t even know existed until she was 12; and made bequests to a poet friend and his wife (she loved poetry, and even wrote some herself) and to others she trusted.

According to Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling Monroe biography, the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.

‘They took Marilyn under their wings,’ he says. ‘They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.’

Monroe also left a bequest to her psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris.

‘She felt that [Kris] was very helpful and sympathetic,’ says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. ‘She found that [Kris] was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.’

After Kris died, her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Monroe would have approved.

‘That would have made her really happy,’ Churchwell says. ‘She did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.’

But Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe. When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate and eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a company that specializes in managing the estates of dead celebrities, to license Monroe products. That’s when the actress started making big money.

Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Strasberg sold what remained of the Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, for an estimated $20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal.”

‘Was Marilyn a Proto-Feminist?’

An extract from Lois Banner’s Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox was published in The Observer on Sunday.

“I was drawn to writing about Marilyn because no one like me –an academic, a feminist biographer, and a historian of gender –had studied her. As a founder of ‘second-wave feminism’ and the new women’s history, I had dismissed Marilyn for many years as a sex object for men. By the 1990s, however, a generation of “third-wave feminists” contended that sexualising women was liberating, not demeaning, for it gave them self-knowledge and power. The students I taught were swayed by this. Had I dismissed Marilyn too easily? Was she a precursor of 1960s feminism? Was Marilyn in actual fact a feminist? Is she one of the women who changed the world’s attitude toward women?

She certainly took actions that could be called feminist. Her entire life was a process of self-formation. She was a genius at self-creation and made herself into an actress and a star. She formed her own production company, she fought the moguls to a standstill, and she publicly named the sexual abuse visited on her as a child: a major – and unacknowledged – feminist act. She refused to keep quiet in an age that believed such abuse rarely happened and when it did, the victimised girl was responsible. Such self-disclosure would become important to the feminist movement in the 1970s.

She never called herself a feminist but the term wasn’t yet in widespread use during her life, and the movement wouldn’t appear until a number of years after her death. Hedda Rosten, her secretary and close friend, identified her as ‘the quintessential victim of the male.’ Norman Rosten, Hedda’s husband, who was equally close to Marilyn, saw her relationship to feminism differently. He contended that Marilyn would have quarrelled with her ‘sisters’ on the issue of sexual liberation. She had achieved the financial and legal gains they sought. And she enjoyed her femininity, recognising its power over men. Marilyn’s stance in his eyes sounds like a post- feminist position, which privileges power over oppression and emphasises the power women possess through their femininity and sexuality.

On the other hand, one could argue that it was her fixation with her femininity – and her attitude towards it, sometimes regal and sometimes tormented – that caused her victimisation in the end. No matter how hard she tried, Hollywood and its men refused to consider her as anything more than a party girl and in the end they treated her like a slut they could use with impunity.

She commented that ‘black men don’t like to be called boys, but women accept being called girls, ‘ as though she were offended by the latter term. And she didn’t like male violence. That is apparent in the dispute she had with journalist WJ Weatherby over Ernest Hemingway. Weatherby liked Hemingway for his understanding of human nature. Marilyn didn’t like his masculine heroes. ‘Those big tough guys are so sick. They aren’t even all that tough! They’re afraid of kindness and gentleness and beauty. They always want to kill something to prove themselves!’ She praised the young people who were beginning to rebel against social conventions. In her best moments, she saw herself as part of that movement. Yet Marilyn had no gender framework to support her stance, no way of conceptualising her situation beyond her individual self, to encompass all women, whose rights were limited in the 1950s. Had she lived a few years longer, into the mid-1960s, the feminist movement could have offered the concept of sexism as a way to understand her oppression and the idea of sisterhood as a support.”

 

St Vincent Inspired by Marilyn’s Writing

Marilyn leaving hospital in 1954

St Vincent – aka musician Annie Erin Clark – performed ‘Surgeon’, a song inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s writings, now available as a free download from her forthcoming album, Strange Mercy, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday, reports the Times:

‘St. Vincent ended her concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday night with an emotionally complicated plea. “Best, finest surgeon,” she sang coolly, fingers skittering along the neck of her guitar. “Come cut me open.”

The song was “Surgeon,” with lyrics inspired by an entry in Marilyn Monroe’s diary, and St. Vincent made its queasy hunger feel palpable, even, somehow, during the mounting vulgarity of the synth-guitar solo that she used as a coda.

Surgery isn’t a bad metaphor for the process by which St. Vincent, a k a Annie Clark, creates her music. But she’s rarely if ever the one being operated on. What she does is traumatic but controlled, unsentimental but not uncaring. She can seem clinical, but she knows what she’s doing in there.’

The song is based on a piece published in Fragments, the 2010 collection of Marilyn’s writing. It was written on Waldorf-Astoria stationary (MM lived at the hotel in 1955.)

This may be an account of a dream. It is filled with characters from Marilyn’s life at the time – Lee Strasberg, Arthur Miller, Milton Greene, Dr Hohenberg, the Rostens – and suggests Marilyn’s intense fear of not living up to their expectations.

Like many of Marilyn’s undefined pieces, it has the quality of a prose poem. The bolded parts denote spelling anomalies, while the crossings-out are her own.

Best finest surgeon – Strasberg

waits to cut me open which I don’t mind since Dr H

has prepared me – given me anesthetic

and has also diagnosed the case and

agrees with what has to be done –

an operation – to bring myself back to

life and to cure me of this terrible dis-ease

whatever the hell it is –

Arthur is the only one waiting in the outer

room – worrying and hoping operation successful

for many reasons – for myself – for his play and

for himself indirectly

Hedda – concerned – keeps calling on phone during

operation – Norman – keeps stopping by hospital to

see if I’m okay but mostly to comfort Art

who is so worried –

Milton calls from office with lots of room

and everything in good taste – and is conducting

business in a new way with style – and music

is playing and he is relaxed and enjoying himself even if he

is very worried at the same time – there’s a camera

on his desk but he doesn’t take pictures anymore except

of great paintings.

Strasberg cuts me open after Dr. H gives me

anesthesia and tries in a medical way to comfort

me – everything in the room is white in fact but I

can’t even see anyone just white objects –

they cut me open – Strasberg with Hohenberg’s ass.

and there is absolutely nothing there – Strasberg is

deeply disappointed but more even – academically amazed

that he had made such a mistake. He thought there was going

to be so much – more than he had dreamed possible in

almost anyone but

instead there was absolutely nothing – devoid of

every human living feeling thing – the only thing

that came out was so finely cut sawdust – like

out of a raggedy ann doll – and the sawdust spills

all over the floor & table and Dr. H is puzzled

because suddenly she realizes that this is a

new type case of puple. The patient (pupil – or student – I started to write) existing of complete emptiness

Strasberg’s hopes & dreams for theater are fallen.

Dr H’s dreams and hopes for a permanent psychiatric cure

is given up – Arthur is disappointed – let down +