Arnold Newman’s ‘Environmental’ Marilyn

Photographer Arnold Newman, who died in 2006, was known as the ‘father of the environmental portrait’, although according to the New York Times, he hated that title: “He was not interested in the details of his subject’s surroundings, but the symbols he could create with them.” In 1962, he photographed Marilyn dancing and chatting with her poet friend Carl Sandburg during a party at the Beverly Hills home of Something’s Got to Give producer Henry Weinstein. Dressed casually with minimal make-up, Marilyn appears thin and rather fragile. The photo shown above is featured in Arnold Newman: One Hundred, published last year to celebrate what would have been his centenary,

Newman was one of many notable photographers who appeared in Marilyn Monroe: Still Life, a 2006 documentary for PBS:

“He says it’s the real Marilyn, you know? It really is this portrait shot of her, cut out of a two shot of her talking to Carl Sandburg. I had looked at those pictures many times, and never seen that the portrait was actually just a cropped version of this photograph. So already the eye of the photographer is present, just in being able to see what he has in his own picture. And I said to him, ‘God, look at that. Carl Sandburg is just listening to her,’ and he said, ‘No, she was just pouring her heart out, she was miserable.’ He did that photograph in March of ’62 and she was dead by August of ’62. She was already very troubled, very sad. So the whole circumstance of the photograph was one that you didn’t necessarily know when first looking at it. “

Gail Levin, filmmaker

Behind the Scenes of Marilyn’s Last Movie

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”.'”

Arnold Schulman Remembers Marilyn

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.)

Marilyn photographed with another writer, George Axelrod, on the Backstory 3 cover

“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 [1963] 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.

That’s shocking.

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.’

Marilyn in Something’s Got to Give

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…’

Thanks to Sherry at Immortal Marilyn

James Garner and ‘Something’s Got to Give’

Actor James Garner, who first found fame as a comedic cowboy in the 1950s TV series, Maverick, has died aged 86. His most popular role was that of private detective Jim Rockford in the long-running series, The Rockford Files. He also made over fifty films, including The Great Escape, Victor/Victoria, Murphy’s Romance, Sunset (as Wyatt Earp) and Maverick (a big-screen remake, starring Mel Gibson.) One of Garner’s final roles was in The Notebook (2004.) He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Lois Clarke, and two daughters.

Garner is best-known to MM fans as Doris Day’s leading man in Move Over Darling, the 1963 remake of Marilyn’s unfinished last film, Something’s Got To Give. What readers may not recall, however, is that Garner was originally chosen to star alongside Monroe, as Ted Schwarz explained in his 2010 biography, Marilyn Revealed.

“James Garner demanded $200,000 to do the picture, but Fox thought he was a $150,000-a-picture actor and would pay him no more. He quit. Then, in the convoluted thinking of Hollywood, the new producer, a man named Henry Weinstein, turned to Dean Martin that March, paying Martin double what Fox had wanted to pay Garner.”

Marilyn with her Something’s Got to Give co-star, Dean Martin
James Garner and Doris Day, Move Over Darling

Garner commented on both projects in his autobiography, The Garner Files (2012.)

“The best part of this remake of the 1940 screwball comedy My Favourite Wife was Doris Day. I’d been slated to make it as Something’s Got to Give with Marilyn Monroe, but I did The Great Escape instead, so Dean Martin took my part. Twentieth fired Marilyn for chronic tardiness and stopped production, retitled it Move Over Darling, and made it with me and Doris.

Doris didn’t play sexy, she didn’t act sexy, she was sexy. Which is better in the bedroom than a lot of things. And Doris was a joy to work with.”

After Marilyn was fired, executives at Fox spread the rumour that her work on the film was ‘unwatchable.’ However, footage from Something’s Got to Give, uncovered in 1990, shows Marilyn looking better than she had done in years. Her screen chemistry with Dean Martin was evident, and the opening scene, in which she greets her long-lost children after being rescued from a shipwreck, ranks among her finest work.

However, there is something undeniably stilted and weary about Something’s Got to Give – perhaps a combination of the hackneyed script, and George Cukor’s indifferent direction. Move Over Darling is a briskly efficient 1960s rom-com, though lacking some of the star-power Marilyn could have brought. Patrick Samuel compared the two versions in a 2011 review for Static Mass Emporium:

“Despite its shortcomings it has its charm and moments of fun but misses what Monroe and Martin brought to the unfinished Something’s Got To Give; sensuality and a high doses of sex appeal. Although, from watching what remains of Something’s Got To Give, it misses the charm and fun of Move Over Darling! Cukor’s version is sombre and swings more toward melodrama than screwball comedy. If only there was a way to move something over.”