‘Fellow Travelers’ in the Hamptons

Fellow Travelers, Jack Canfora’s new play about Marilyn, Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Hollywood Blacklist, has opened at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY to glowing reviews – although Monroe fans may prefer to judge for themselves…

“While Monroe is not central to the moral issue at stake here, she is an integral part of the two men’s lives. She had a long affair and friendship with Kazan, and she fell in love with Miller even though he was married. The tabloids gorged on her short marriage to Joe DiMaggio, her surprising liaison with Miller, his ‘quickie’ divorce, and finally, their five-year marriage.

Today Monroe is an iconic touchstone of the era. We know her all-too-human story, her emotional wounds, her breathy voice, her luscious body. Ms. Hewitt in a blonde wig does a boffo job of portraying that Marilyn with warm earthiness, touching grace and surprising self-awareness.

Though some might cavil that her part is underwritten, she was not faced with the moral question of betrayal for art. Nor is she the Greek chorus here, for she does not comment on the action but rather lives in it. Her relationships with Kazan and Miller demonstrate how acts of great consequence do not occur singularly alone …

Indeed, Marilyn is necessary here, for she is the force who brought the former friends together in 1963, though they would never be great pals again.” – Lorraine Dusky, 27East

Marilyn (Rachel Spencer Hewitt) with Kazan (Vince Nappo) and Miller (Wayne Alan Wilcox)
Recreating the infamous 1951 meeting with Columbia’s Harry Cohn (Mark Blum)

“Playing icon Marilyn Monroe in a movie or play is always a tall order, but Rachel Spencer Hewitt measured up to the task and took her performance to a high level. The sexy aspects that made Marilyn Monroe along with some shockingly blunt dialogue again kept the audience captured in the story.

Fellow Travelers is an important play because it deals with a dark time in our nation’s history. A time with congressional hearings on ‘Un-American Activities’, and blacklists and betrayals to friends, and in some cases, to the country. Fellow Travelers is a hit because it is a great script that comes to life with excellent acting and wonderful directing.” – T.J. Clemente, Hamptons Theater Review

“As Monroe, Rachel Spencer Hewitt holds back on the bombshell we know so well, instead showing us a troubled woman coming to terms with her public perception … While dialogue drags at times, the play offers illuminating glimpses of the creative genius of Miller and Kazan.” – Barbara Schuler, Newsday

“The cast is exemplary … Hewitt is a strong presence as Monroe, and later as Barbara Loden, Kazan’s second wife, who then portrays the Marilyn character, Maggie, in Miller’s After The Fall, directed by Kazan.” – Bridget LeRoy, Hampton Independent

“Among the top-notch cast is Rachel Spencer Hewitt strongly portraying Marilyn Monroe. Fans of the starlet will appreciate how Ms. Hewitt doesn’t necessarily copy Monroe’s famous public persona, but cleverly infuses her own take on the role.” – Melissa Giordano, Broadway World

“With the play’s punchy, often vulgar dialogue, Mr. Canfora wrings genuine conflict and emotion from his two talented and driven characters … But in a production with so many excellent performances, it is no small compliment to say that Rachel Spencer Hewitt, as Marilyn, makes the play her own. So iconic is Monroe — and so caricatured in popular culture — that there may be no more treacherous role for an actress to play. Just on sheer guts, one must tip his hat to Ms. Hewitt for trying.

But the actress does much more than that, with a portrayal that captures both the iconic Marilyn and the tender and innocent woman she most likely hid from the world. In Fellow Travelers, we get a Marilyn on the cusp, both world-weary and yet still hopeful about her career and the possibility of love. After her divorce from Miller, she would never be quite the same.

While the play hardly absolves Kazan, there is at least the desire to understand him. And just when Miller’s saintly posturing grows tiresome, Mr. Canfora has both Kazan and Harry Cohn take pithy potshots at the playwright’s sanctimony.

But it’s Marilyn Monroe who, even in death at play’s end, gets the last word. Just as her image bedeviled millions of filmgoers (and continues to do so), so did she loom in the minds of Miller and Kazan; neither ever really got over her. Thanks to a great performance by Ms. Hewitt and the tender writing of Mr. Canfora, she ultimately dominates Fellow Travelers as well.” – Kurt Wenzel, East Hampton Star

Marilyn and Arthur in Philadelphia

In an article for the Jewish Press, Saul Jay Singer explores the Judaism of Marilyn and Arthur Miller, including their 1959 appearance at an American Friends of the Hebrew University dinner at Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.

“Invited along with her husband to address a United Jewish Appeal (UJA) conference in Miami, Monroe wrote a speech about why she believed that Jewish institutions, especially Israel, deserve broad public support, but she ultimately declined to deliver the address when the UJA rescinded its invitation to Miller after his House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC ) indictment. She did, however, later attend a dinner held on September 27, 1959 in Philadelphia by a chapter of the American Friends of the Hebrew University where Miller was awarded an honorary degree to commemorate his ‘distinguished achievement in the Dramatic Arts.’

Shown here is a unique and rare item from my collection, a program from that historic event on which Monroe has signed and inscribed ‘To Stevie – Happy Bar Mitzvah! Marilyn Monroe.'”

On the Waterfront: Marilyn and John Garfield

Three years after their encounter on the set of We Were Strangers (see here), Marilyn and John Garfield were early contenders for the lead roles in On the Waterfront, according to Marilyn’s photographer friend, Sam Shaw, who was then developing it as a screenplay. (Director Elia Kazan denied all of this, but Al Ryelander, then a press agent for Columbia Studios, insisted the story was accurate.)

By 1952, Marilyn’s star was rising –  but Garfield’s career was destroyed, after he refused to ‘name names’ to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and became the most famous victim of the ‘red-baiting’ era. He died of a heart attack months later, aged 37. Author Robert Knott retold the story, which also touches on Marilyn’s relationships with Kazan and future husband Arthur Miller, in He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield (2003.)

On the Waterfront was released to acclaim in 1954, starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. Ironically, the film can be seen as director Elia Kazan’s self-justification for his own decision to name names. One can only imagine how different Marilyn’s subsequent career might have been had she played the role of demure Edie Doyle…

‘On the Waterfront’ (1954)

“Shaw gave Monroe the script while she was in New York to take in the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Monroe read the script and passed it on to her lover, Elia Kazan. Shaw, who called himself a ‘half-assed observer at the Actors Studio,’ had met Kazan on the set of the 1950 film Panic in the Streets. ‘Kazan had heard about my script (before Monroe gave it to him) and wanted to see it,’ Shaw said. ‘I wouldn’t give it to him, because he was involved with Arthur Miller on a similar project, The Hook.’ But after Monroe gave Kazan the script, the director called Shaw. ‘You’ve got an interesting script, but it needs a lot of work,’ he told Shaw. ‘Let Budd Schulberg work on it.’ Shaw, seeing the merit in Kazan’s suggestion, raised $40,000 to pay Schulberg to work on the script. According to Shaw, at this point Jack Cohn turned the script over to Sam Spiegel … Within a year Kazan, Spiegel and Schulberg were preparing the film for Columbia Pictures with Marlon Brando … By that point, neither Shaw nor Garfield were involved in any way.”

Patricia Bosworth Remembers Marilyn

60FEAA44-2855-4514-98C2-83E34BA93F37-15264-00000575E804A0B4_tmp

Patricia Bosworth has written acclaimed biographies of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda. A lifelong member of the Actors Studio, she also wrote ‘The Mentor and the Movie Star‘, a 2003 article about Marilyn and the Strasbergs for Vanity Fair, and appeared in the 2006 PBS documentary, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life.

In her new memoir, The Men In My Life: Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan, Bosworth recalls her acting days. In an extract published by Lithub, she describes an encounter with Marilyn.

D71AC946-5810-4177-B206-518AAEBA9EFD-2802-0000013B14CC8903_tmp

“I slid into the backseat, where I found Marilyn Monroe huddled in a corner dreamily puffing on a cigarette. Her bleached blond hair was tousled; she seemed to be wearing no makeup. I noticed there was dirt under her fingernails, but I couldn’t stop looking at her. We were about to pull away from the curb when a voice cried out, ‘Hey Lee, goin’ my way?’ and Harry Belafonte hopped in beside me. We drove uptown in silence.

I knew Marilyn was aware I was looking at her. She was used to being looked at, and she wasn’t self-conscious. She had a mysterious indefinable quality that made her a star and separated her from everyone else. At the moment she appeared to be floating in another world as she puffed delicately on her cigarette and blew the smoke softly out of her mouth. The newspapers were full of stories about her—how she’d left Hollywood and come to New York to be a ‘serious actress,’ how Lee was coaching her at his apartment and letting her observe sessions at the Studio.”

Elsewhere, Bosworth confirms that Tennessee Williams had wanted Marilyn to star in Baby Doll (but Gore Vidal thought she was too old.) Bosworth knew many key figures in Marilyn’s life, including Elia Kazan, Lee and Susan Strasberg – who found her father’s ‘obsession’ with Marilyn disturbing.

As Bosworth admits, Marilyn was part of Lee’s inner circle from which she felt excluded. She was also intimidated by Marilyn’s fame, which nonetheless kept the Actors Studio in the headlines. Lee Strasberg often seemed cold and domineering, but Bosworth considered him ‘a great teacher.’

Bosworth, unlike Marilyn, was born into a life of privilege, and forged a stage career as well as starring alongside Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story. However, her impeccable connections couldn’t save her from family tragedy (her brother and father both committed suicide), and an abusive marriage.

The 1950s, as Bosworth observes, was a staid, even repressive decade – but the creativity and rebellion of the 60s was already fermenting. She talks about the impact of the anti-communist witch-hunts, both on the artistic community and her own family, and the rampant sexism she constantly endured.

EC572109-99BA-41A7-9675-CBAC7E64B6FA-2802-0000013B7B082170_tmp

Elizabeth Winder will focus on Marilyn’s New York period directly in her forthcoming book, Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy, but Patricia Bosworth’s account comes from her own experience. For anyone interested in learning more about the bohemian world that women like Bosworth – and Marilyn – helped to define, The Men In My Life is essential reading.

Collaborators: Marilyn, Miller and Kazan

IMG_0034

Richard A. Schwartz, a Professor Emeritus at Florida International University and author of several books about the Cold War era, has published a new play, Collaborators: Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Beginning with the accidental death of a journalist on the eve of Marilyn’s 1956 wedding to Arthur, the action then looks back to their first meeting five years earlier, when he unsuccessfully pitched a movie to studio head Harry Cohn. Marilyn was casually dating Arthur’s friend and creative partner, Elia Kazan, at the time.

However, it was Arthur she fell for – it has often been rumoured that he continued corresponding with her after returning to his wife and children in New York. Using a split stage, Schwartz imagines what Arthur might have written to her, comparing his inner turmoil with her heady rise to fame (and ongoing association with Kazan.)

The other main strand of the drama is the very different responses of Miller and Kazan to the red-baiting era. Although it’s clear that both had long since left their youthful dabblings with communism far behind and posed no threat to national security, Kazan chose to inform on fellow travellers in the theatre, thereby saving his Hollywood career, while Miller – supported by Marilyn – refused to ‘name names’, and was ultimately vindicated as a liberal hero. Unsurprisingly, their alliance came under strain, and they didn’t work together again until after Marilyn’s death, on the controversial After the Fall.

The Millers’ marriage is portrayed in two scenes: the beginning is represented by Marilyn’s alleged discovery of unflattering comments in Arthur’s journal, during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl; while the end is marked by another heated argument during production of The Misfits. But that omits a long period of relative stability in Marilyn’s otherwise turbulent life. Perhaps Schwartz could have added a further scene to reveal Marilyn’s vulnerability, and show how painful experiences, like her multiple miscarriages, may have caused her depression.

As it is, Schwartz’s portrayal of a self-destructive Marilyn seems to echo Maggie, the suicidal star in Miller’s After the Fall. He is on safer ground with his male protagonists, and the trial scenes are compelling – perhaps because those events are a matter of public record, rather than private conjecture – and with careful revisions to his characterisation of Marilyn, Collaborators could be a genuinely provocative play.

For those interested in learning more about this topic, Barbara Leaming covered it in detail in her 2000 biography of Marilyn, and Ron Briley’s The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan will be published next month.

 

Marilyn: A Political Animal

11e004721a93f64f00644804235f8982

Marilyn had a lifelong affinity with the underdog and a passion for justice. Her hero was Abraham Lincoln. She was proud of her working-class origins, and defended husband Arthur Miller in his stand against red-baiting. She also supported the Civil Rights movement. In an article for Time, Lily Rothman interviews Marilyn’s biographer, Dr Lois Banner, on the subject of her ‘forgotten radical politics.’

“Those beliefs were a product of her time, Banner says: being born in 1926 meant that she was a child during the Great Depression … As a result of her own poverty and her close contact with people of other races, Monroe grew up with progressive views on race and what Banner calls a ‘populist vision of equality for all classes.’

Her background peeked through in her film roles, as she was often cast as a working girl … Even as Monroe stepped out in public in glamorous evening gowns, she favored blue jeans and flat shoes at home.

In 1956, when she married the playwright Arthur Miller, her working-class roots blossomed into full-on political fervor. In 1960, she became a founding member of the Hollywood branch of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy; that same year, as she kept a home in Roxbury, Conn., she was elected as an alternate delegate to the state’s Democratic caucus. She did not hide her pro-Castro views on Cuba or her support for the then-burgeoning civil rights movement.

Broadway was not affected by McCarthyism and anti-Communist investigations to the same extent as the movie business, but Miller was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee shortly before their marriage. Monroe was never called on, which Banner believes was because the anti-Communist Congressmen ‘thought she was just a dumb blonde.’ (In fact, some historians have theorized that Miller saw Monroe as a political shield.)

‘When you put it all together, [her political side] is pretty substantial. But in most of the biographies, including mine, it comes out as salt scattered on the biography, because one gets so fascinated by her psychological makeup,’ [Banner] says. ‘But the political involvements are no less real.'”