Biopic Stars: Marilyn, Judy, Gloria

As a new Judy Garland biopic is released, Inkoo Kang looks at how classic female entertainers are portrayed, over at Slate. Her analysis is interesting, though I would argue that ageing is not as central to My Week With Marilyn (set at the peak of her career) as it is to Judy and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (another recent biopic of a neglected screen icon, Gloria Grahame), which are both set at the end of the womens’ lives. In fact, the strongest link between all three subjects might be their loneliness.

“It’s obvious enough why Judy and company keep getting made … [Michelle] Williams used her portrayal as Monroe to play against type, injecting a dose of flirty, cunning sexuality into her screen image and earning herself a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination in the process … These films do revise the public images of their titular characters in meaningful ways … Monroe—still considered the ultimate dumb blonde in too many circles—is reclaimed as a serious actress with lofty ambitions.

But these films are also, by design, not as empathetic toward their subjects as they could be. Each movie is too enamored of its legend, of her talent and beauty, to acknowledge that her circumstances and pathologies aren’t exceptional but widely shared, borne largely of gendered inequality: unequal pay, imbalance of power, public hypersexualization, and the fast-approaching or long-past expiration date on her usefulness to Hollywood. It’s likely not a coincidence that all three movies are set in England, far from where any Hollywood star ostensibly should be …

But if the film industry’s #MeToo movement has reminded us of anything, it’s that, even in Hollywood, women’s experiences of pressure and discrimination aren’t so much unusual as devastatingly similar. Too many women lived in silence and shame, believing that their encounters were unique, or even that the abuse was somehow their fault, but after the dam broke, we understood how many of these stories were practically interchangeable, no matter the stars’ wattage, or whether they were stars at all.

But by failing to account for the unfortunate commonness of their fates, at least within the entertainment industry, the movies of this genre tend to become opportunities to focus morbidly and myopically on the self-destructive habits of a flailing figure, rather than understand the larger context that gave rise to her. The individual struggle of a Garland, Monroe, or Grahame may be inherently interesting in tight close-up, but these movies would be more revealing if they zoomed out a little to show the fuller picture.”

Did Rock Hudson Reach Out to Marilyn?

In some ways, Rock Hudson was Marilyn’s male counterpart as a misunderstood sex symbol of 1950s Hollywood.  They partied together at the How to Marry a Millionaire premiere in 1953, and in 1962 Rock would present Marilyn with her final award at the Golden Globes. Sadly they never worked together, but Rock was the initial favourite for her leading man in Bus Stop; and in 1958, she was considered for Pillow Talk before deciding to make Some Like It Hot instead. (Doris Day got the part, the beginning of a great comedy partnership with Rock.)

Until now, it has been unclear how well the two stars knew each other (although a recent hack tome made the unlikely claim that Marilyn and Rock were lovers – as we now know, Hudson was gay.) In a critically praised new biography, All That Heaven Allows, author Mark Griffin draws on interviews with Rock’s secretary, Lois Rupert, who claims they often spoke on the phone. Although the frequency of their conversations may be questioned, the obvious affection of their Golden Globes photos combined with this information could suggest that Rock was one of the few Hollywood figures trusted by Marilyn in her final months – and Griffin also reveals that Hudson generously donated his fee for narrating the 1963 documentary, Marilyn, to a cause very close to her heart.

“It was while he was on location for A Gathering Of Eagles that Rock received word that a friend had died. As Lois Rupert recalled, ‘Rock met me at his front door with the news … “Monroe is dead” is all he said.’

Only five months earlier, Rock and Marilyn Monroe had posed for photographers at the annual Golden Globes ceremonies. In images captured of the event, Monroe, who was named World Film Favourite, is beaming as Hudson enfolds her into a protective embrace. With a shared history of abuse and exploitation, it was inevitable that these two should be drawn to each other. Recognising that he posed no sexual threat to her, Monroe had latched on to Hudson and had lobbied for Rock to co-star with her in Let’s Make Love as well as her uncompleted final film, Something’s Got to Give.

Lois Rupert remembered that in the early 1960s, Rock regularly received late-night distress calls from Monroe as well as another troubled superstar. ‘If it wasn’t Marilyn Monroe crying on his shoulder, then it was Judy Garland,’ Rupert recalled. ‘It was almost like they took turns. Marilyn would call one night and Judy the next. He was always very patient, very understanding with both of them, even though he wasn’t getting much sleep. I think he liked playing the big brother who comes to the rescue.’

Within ten months of Monroe’s death, 20th Century-Fox would release a hastily assembled documentary entitled Marilyn. Fox had initially approached Frank Sinatra about narrating, but when the studio wasn’t able to come to terms with the singer Hudson stepped in. Hudson not only provided poignant commentary – both on and off camera – he donated his salary to help establish the Marilyn Monroe Memorial Fund at the Actors Studio.”

Marilyn and Judy Garland

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Marilyn chats with Judy Garland at a concert, 1962

Showbiz impresario Sid Luft was married to Judy Garland from 1952-1965. He died in 2005, leaving behind an unfinished memoir, which is now being published as Judy and Me. As Liz McNeil reveals in an article for People, the book also mentions Judy’s friendship with Marilyn.

Marilyn and Judy arrive at a Hollywood luncheon for President Khrushchev of Russia, 1959
Marilyn and Judy arrive at a Hollywood luncheon for President Khrushchev of Russia, 1959

“According to Luft, Monroe’s death was ‘especially troubling to Judy since Marilyn had been one of Judy’s telephone pals during her years of insomnia.’

The book also includes an excerpt from an article written by Garland about Monroe for Ladies Home Journal in 1967, in which she revealed a haunting conversation she’d once had with the star.

In the article, Garland described a Hollywood party one evening in which Monroe followed her ‘from room to room.’

‘I don’t want to get too far away from you,’ she said. ‘I’m scared!’

I told her, ‘We’re all scared. I’m scared, too!’

“If we could just talk,” she said, “I know you’d understand.”

I said, “Maybe I would. If you’re scared, call me and come on over. We’ll talk about it.”

They never did.

As Garland wrote: ‘That beautiful girl was frightened of aloneness — the same thing I’d been been afraid of. Like me, she was just trying to do her job — garnish some delightful whipped cream onto some people’s lives, but Marilyn and I never got a chance to talk. I had to leave for England and I never saw that sweet, dear girl again. I wish I had been able to talk to her the night she died.’

‘I don’t think Marilyn really meant to harm herself,’ Garland continued, in an eerie foreshadowing of her own death from an accidental drug overdose in 1969.

‘It was partly because she had too many pills available, then was deserted by her friends. You shouldn’t be told you’re completely irresponsible and be left alone with too much medication. It’s too easy to forget. You take a couple of sleeping pills and you wake up in 20 minutes and forget you’ve taken them. So you take a couple more, and the next thing you know you’ve taken too many.’

Luft’s memoir also describes how Monroe would visit their home and play with their young children, Lorna and Joey Luft.

‘She’d sit by the fire, not talking much, a quiet presence,’ Luft writes. ‘Marilyn was sweet and very unhappy. She’d chat with Judy and play with the children, hang out. She was separated from one of her husbands [whom Luft doesn’t name] whom she complained was a nice person but said didn’t know how to make love to a woman. She’d hoped this pattern would change when they married. She was frustrated and disappointed.’

Now 61, their son Joey Luft, has sweet memories of Monroe, whom he remembers would sport jeans and eyeglasses for her casual visits.

‘She kind of looked like a really pretty schoolteacher,’ Joey recalls to PEOPLE. ‘That’s what I was thinking to myself. This can’t be like one of the huge sex symbols! My sister had just explained to me who she was before she walked in. My dad and mom were talking to her about movies and things and directors and people. I couldn’t figure it out. She came over the second time and she did the same thing and she only stayed for about 20 to 25 minutes. The next day or following day, I turn on the TV and I see Marilyn Monroe singing to President Kennedy, Happy Birthday. I put it together. I thought, Oh, that’s right! Now I get it.'”

Marilyn at Julien’s: Let’s Make Music

Marilyn’s RCA Victor award for ‘I’m Gonna File My Claim‘ after it was released as a single to promote River of No Return and sold 50,000 copies in 1954, as well as promotional materials, are among the items in the upcoming Julien’s sale.

An unedited, 30-minute audio recording of Marilyn performing multiple takes of ‘Runnin’ Wild’ and ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ (from Some Like It Hot) on a reel of acetate tape, from the estate of Studio 7612 owner Myron Blackler, is also on offer.

Marilyn’s personal songbook – containing more than 369 indexed pages of song standards, such as Cole Porter’s ‘You Do Something To Me’ – is up for bids. Receipts show that in February 1960, Marilyn purchased three albums by Frank Sinatra; and in April 1962, she bought a live double-album by Judy Garland.

Finally, a set of vinyl compilations featuring Marilyn herself are on sale, as collected by Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull.

Liza Minnelli Remembers Marilyn

Marilyn with Judy Garland at the Golden Globe awards, 1962

Liza Minnelli – actress, singer, and daughter of Judy Garland – remembers meeting Marilyn as a child:

‘Liza befriended some big names in Hollywood because of her lifestyle. One of those names was legendary screen icon Marilyn Monroe, who Liza says was very sweet.

“She befriended me! I didn’t know her that well. She used to come to some of the dinner parties we had at home and I’d met her a couple of times, then one evening when she came for dinner she came up and said, ‘I just wanted to know if you were awake,’” she explained.

“We sat and talked for about an hour. She was really nice and sweet and interested and I think probably a little shy.” ‘

Film News

 

Isabel Keating Voices ‘Fragments’ CD

“In mid-October, Farrar Straus & Giroux will bring out a book called Fragments – purported to be a work of Marilyn Monroe’s writings, poems, notes, letters from her personal archive. Isabel Keating did the audio voice of Marilyn for the Macmillan Audio version of this sure-to-be-hot book.

She did the recording of the material on the anniversary of Marilyn’s death and says: ‘During the sessions, a small group of us realized the fact and a collective shiver was felt and a tear was shed … Whatever anyone thinks about the book itself, even the jottings of this famous woman evoke her spirit, her mind. They show her as a woman searching and hoping to amplify her experience. She wanted to improve herself and was reaching and searching. I found the work so smart – and so fragile.'”

Liz Smith on WowOwow today

Isabel Keating is an acclaimed stage actress, having played Judy Garland (Marilyn Monroe’s friend and one of her favourite singers) in the much-praised 2003 Broadway production, The Boy From Oz.