So What Was Marilyn’s Secret?

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The first part of Lifetime’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe has aired in the US, with the second half due this evening.  In an insightful review for The AV Club, Molly Eichel considers why MM has proved so difficult to portray onscreen.

“Her talent lay in her incredible charisma: When she walked onscreen, even in the smallest roles (check her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in All About Eve), she magically became the only thing worth looking at in the frame. But the problem with Monroe biopics is that it’s nearly impossible to capture that charisma. Few actors, if any, have that superpower to the same degree, which makes her copycats look that much more ridiculous trying to ape her mannerisms. As good as Garner is, she doesn’t have it.

It’s also incredibly difficult to reflect that power in screen versions of Monroe’s rise to fame. Instead, it all too often seems like Monroe got where she was by sleeping her way to the top, not because of her inherent talent and watchability…That’s not to say Monroe was some saintly nun who has been mischaracterized all these years, but The Secret Life Of Marilyn Monroe is yet another example of a show that makes it seem as if Marilyn’s ascent has little to do with how talented she actually is. Unlocking how to portray that is her ultimate secret.”

Kelli Garner on Playing Marilyn

KelliGarnerAsM.Monroe-ftr Kelli Garner has been talking about the challenges of playing Marilyn in a series of press interviews – firstly, with GM News:

One of Marilyn’s most distinctive attributes was her voice. Difficult nailing that part of the role down?

Early in the process when I was working with the director, she really didn’t want a voice. Everyone has their idea of Marilyn Monroe, so it is probably hard to watch so many people’s tapes come in, and I think she was done with the voice by the time I met with her. She was like, “Please don’t do the voice,” and I was like, “Can I just try one?” [Laughs] But by the time it came to shooting, we were more about it being there for times when she wanted to be using Marilyn for some effect and not being there for others to try to keep her more human. It was fun to play around with!

Tell me about getting to peel back the layers on an entertainment icon that even fans know so little about and to show how complex her life really was.

It was beautiful to see that this is a woman that struggled with things that we all still struggle with today, and some stuff that we don’t — like mental health, like the fact that her mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic and she had to deal with that on a daily basis. It was a really interesting side of her that is not as playful as we know Marilyn to be. She was so smart. She had the courage and fortitude against everything she was dealing with in her life to become this construct that was Marilyn Monroe. I didn’t know a lot about her when I booked this. She is so wise. She is deep and she is soulful. And she is really creative. It makes me sad she is, to this day, so loved, and it is probably the one thing she couldn’t find.

Did a little bit of Marilyn go with you when filming ended?

I think one of the most beautiful things about Marilyn Monroe is she had fun playing Marilyn Monroe. I have been acting for 15 years and I am proud of myself most days and it is such an interesting thing to live in. But I have the tendency to forget to have fun. And I think Marilyn is such a feminist. … I think that one of Marilyn’s greatest qualities is her vulnerability — and maybe one of her worst. But she stood up for her power and her talent. She was way ahead for her time. The tragedy is what a voice Marilyn Monroe would have been today for the continuous struggles with inequality of the sexes and civil rights, and I think she would have been a huge voice for gay rights. I just think she is really special. We all do.”

Kelli Garner as Norma Jeane
Kelli Garner as Norma Jeane

In a Hollywood Reporter article, Kelli discusses Marilyn’s glamorous style:

“I can only imagine all the cool pieces you got to wear on set.

[There were] 99 costume changes. It was over a week of costume fittings and the costume room was just wallpapered with, I think, every image of Marilyn possible. That was my first week of work. Everyone kept handing me photo books and I was like, ‘I get it! I know what she looks like [laughs].’ It taught me a lot about my own wardrobe. I actually came home and threw out half of my clothes. I had gone through this phase where I stopped being attracted to color.

Was that an influence on today’s darker color scheme?

Yes, well, I love hunter green. And it is a color. Marilyn taught me, for my figure, to go tight but high neck. Keep it classy, so that’s really nice. I think I was also doing that bohemian thing where all my sweaters were boy sweaters and boyfriend pants, which I love, but this is me, too, when I dress up. I was just not embracing my figure the way you can as a woman. And she loved colors. A lot of people say she wore famous black turtlenecks, but she was really good in some color.

Of all the costume changes, which one was your favorite?

Well, I’ll give you two. Iconic Marilyn — I would have to say that gold lame dress with the crinkle and low [neckline]. It’s just such a beautiful dress. But I think my favorite in the whole show is a Norma Jeane outfit. They reconstructed to the exact outfit that you see she wears in a little red striped shirt, these tiny Daisy Duke white overalls and big ol’ ’40s heels.”

‘Secret Life of Marilyn’ Stars Speak Out

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Actresses Kelli Garner and Susan Sarandon – who play Marilyn and her mother, Gladys, in the upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, to premiere on the US Lifetime Channel on May 30-31 – have spoken to the New York Daily News about their roles.

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“‘It is different because it deals with the relationship with the women in her life, the mother, the schizophrenia, and dives into the personal life with the men in her life, and Marilyn in fictional psychotherapy is a fun idea,’ Garner says in an exclusive interview with the Daily News.

Sarandon’s goal was ‘to try to make [Gladys] a person and find those times where she is aware,’ she says. ‘They describe her as never smiling, being very flat. It was not so easy. She did not want to touch people and to just sit.’

Still, Sarandon makes the most of it, tapping into a complex woman who seemed incapable of joy. In one scene, she methodically shreds the magazine covers Monroe is so proud of gracing.

‘This is a sinful business,’ Gladys tells her daughter. ‘It is not what God intended you to do with your life.’

To chronicle her life from a horrendous childhood to dying of an overdose at 36, the film uses the device of Monroe talking to her latest therapist. She tells him how her mother gave her away when she was two weeks old and how she never met her father.

‘I’ve been going to therapy for years, and to get to use the device that was used, the therapy session, I love the exchange of ideas,’ Garner says. ‘She has just become a really interesting human to me.’

Flashbacks set during the Depression show an unkempt blond girl who bounced around family friends and orphanages. Monroe married at 16 when her mother’s friend, a steadying influence, would no longer keep her.

As she tells her story to the shrink, Monroe can’t help herself from striking seductive poses. Garner nails Monroe’s physicality, how she just oozed sex even when doing the most mundane tasks. To copy her moves, Garner watched Monroe’s movies.

‘I watched so much and I stared at so many photographs,’ Garner says. ‘She’s a little tease, a total flirt. One of my favorite photos of Marilyn is she is sitting on a couch with a 12-year-old boy. And he couldn’t be happier and she is flirting with this little boy with this dynamic smile on her face, which always made her child come out. They say 90% of communication is nonverbal and I feel like she is a genius of nonverbal communication.’

Garner and Sarandon, separately, recall their introduction to Monroe was watching Some Like It Hot on TV.

‘I remember thinking it was very funny,’ Sarandon recalls. ‘Coming of age, until I knew more about the complexity of Marilyn Monroe, I kind of blamed her for the dive women’s identity took at the time. We had come out of these periods, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman, people you saw in movies so strong and quick, and suddenly that was no longer the goal. And vulnerability was what defined sexuality or defined attractiveness.’

She pauses and adds, ‘She was a great comedic actress and so beautiful and even then, before I knew that much about her, she seemed to have gotten caught in this persona that was working for her and she was maybe outgrowing. That feeling that she was setting back what women were about; I had very mixed feelings about her and her place in history as I was growing into a woman.’

‘She was so smart in a time where we didn’t know how to categorize her kind of intelligence, which was intuition,’ Garner says. ‘She wanted to learn. She was a hard worker. She really loved and needed to be validated and loved.’

Ultimately, of course, Monroe’s demons did her in. But Sarandon dismisses the conspiracy theories that she was murdered.

‘I don’t understand how she lived as long as she did because she was mixing so many difficult drugs,’ Sarandon says. ‘I don’t think anyone had to kill her. She was so hell-bent on killing herself.’

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Meanwhile, actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan has discussed his performance as Joe DiMaggio in an interview with Variety:

“So you went from a Western to playing one of the most famous baseball players of all time. (And, in between, did the Robert De Niro film Bus 657).

That’s right. A big Italian-American by the name of Joe DiMaggio … Look, it’s not a Joe DiMaggio story. It’s the Marilyn story. I’m an arm piece. I kind of help the story go along, but it’s very much the Marilyn story that I think Kelli Garner pulls off with aplomb. She’s really good in it. And of course, Susan [Sarandon] and Emily [Watson, who plays Marilyn’s foster mother Grace]. These are some fine actors.

I watched a documentary with Joe and Marilyn. I was so fascinated with this couple that had such a tumultuous relationship and yet, they were supposed to be remarried on the day that she died. He never married again. He visited her grave every single day for the rest of his life. Watching that documentary made me say yes to doing the movie because I was so fascinated with that love. They couldn’t hardly be in the same room together, but they couldn’t be apart.

She was married several times …

… But she always ended up back with Joe. The Arthur Miller [marriage] is probably very fascinating; that’s the one I might be more interested in. But the DiMaggio one: There’s so much passion, and he was Joe DiMaggio! They met at the height of their lives. Joe was around during all of the Kennedy stuff, so you know who she was going to. Having him deal with that aspect of her life and still be in love with her …

What he did to her, there was some physicality with her from what I understand … he pushed her around a little bit, but they always went back. That, to me, is very fascinating. That is a love that I would like to be able to tell.”

Subway Ad for ‘Secret Life of Marilyn’

monroe-nyc-subway-hed-2015The Lifetime Channel have found an unique gimmick to promote their upcoming mini series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, reports Adweek. Eight New York subway stations now feature audio-activated digital advertisments, depicting Kelli Garner as Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch – with her skirt blowing up as trains arrive on the platform. (Not sure why her dress is red, though!)

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On a more serious note, a new trailer has been released, depicting a (probably fictitious) scene in which Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio visit her emotionally disturbed mother, Gladys, in a sanitarium. While Kelli Garner exudes softness and vulnerability, Susan Sarandon seems a little too brash in the maternal role.

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe will be broadcast in the US on May 30-31.

First Look at ‘Secret Life of Marilyn’

marilyn-01 Two still photos from the Lifetime Channel’s upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe – based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2009 biography – have been posted today by Entertainment Weekly. It will premiere on the US cable channel on May 30-31 (the eve of Marilyn’s birthday.) Kelli Garner stars as Marilyn, with Susan Sarandon playing her mother, Gladys.

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‘”The role was something I tried to appreciate every second of,’ Garner says. ‘Some of these scenes, I just kind of sat back and said, All right. I’m going to learn a lot today.’

‘She’s playing a woman who’s hard to get a gauge on, who hears voices, who thinks things are there when they’re not, who disappears for long periods of time,’ says Garner of Sarandon’s character, Gladys. ‘There was a distance between us that I hope reads really beautiful. You start seeing droplets of both of these people trying to connect, and having nothing to connect on.'”

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Posted by Kelli Garner on Instagram

 

2014: A Year in Marilyn Headlines

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In January, Newsweek published a special issue, Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook. Photographer Larry Schiller claimed to own a scrapbook given to Sam Shaw by Marilyn, though expert readers noted the handwriting was dissimilar to her usual style.

Also this month, Unclaimed Baggage – a documentary about ‘the unclaimed trunk of MM‘ – was screened on European television, and George Jacobs, valet to Frank Sinatra, died aged 87.

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In February, Life published The Loves of Marilyn, another magazine special with text by J.I. Baker (author of a conspiracy novel, The Empty Glass.) Many fans were surprised to see the widely discredited Robert Slatzer listed among Marilyn’s alleged paramours. It has since been republished in hardback.

Also this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acquired an archive of 58,000 pictures by press photographer Nat Dallinger. His photos of Marilyn at the Let’s Make Love press conference were featured in the Hollywood Reporter. And archive footage of Marilyn was featured in Bob Dylan’s Chrysler ad, screened during America’s Superbowl.

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In March, Icon: the Life Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I, 1926-1956 was publishedMarilyn also graced the cover of Julien’s 90210 Spring Auction catalogue, and was the subject of another magazine special, part of the ‘Etoiles du Cinema‘ series in France.

Stanley Rubin, producer of River of No Return, died aged 96, and William Carroll, one of the first photographers to work with Marilyn, also passed away. Bob Thomas, the veteran Hollywood columnist who reported Joan Crawford’s verbal attack on Marilyn back in 1953, died aged 92.

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Playboy re-released its very first issue – with Marilyn as its cover girl and centrefold – in April, as part of an ongoing celebration of the magazine’s 60th anniversary. And a collection of Elia Kazan’s private correspondence – including a 1955 letter to his wife, Molly, regarding his prior relationship with Marilyn – was also published.

Also in April, Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney (Marilyn’s co-star in The Fireball) died aged 93. And Pharrell Williams released his hit single, ‘Marilyn Monroe’.

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In May, make-up artist Marie Irvine shared her memories of Marilyn with readers of the Daily Mail. AmfAR, the world’s leading charity for AIDS research, held a ‘Red Marilyn’-themed fundraising ball during the Cannes Film Festival.

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June 1st marked what would have been Marilyn’s 88th birthday. Also in June, actor Eli Wallach, Marilyn’s friend and co-star, died aged 98. An archive of ‘lost’ Milton Greene photos was auctioned in Poland, and a revised, updated edition of Carl Rollyson’s MM: A Life of the Actress was published.

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In July, Some Like it Hot was re-released in UK cinemas, winning a 5-star review in The Guardian. Sadly, several people with connections to Marilyn passed away in July, including psychic Kenny Kingston, journalist Robert Stein, and actors James Garner and Elaine Stritch. Meanwhile one of Marilyn’s old haunts – the Racquet Club in Palm Springs – was engulfed by fire.

August marked the 52nd anniversary of Marilyn’s death, with a live stream of the annual memorial service in Los Angeles. Also this month,  Lauren Bacall, Marilyn’s co-star in How to Marry a Millionaire, died aged 89; and Tom Tierney, ‘Marilyn’s paper doll artist’, also passed away.

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In September, Newsweek published a cover feature exposing the many inaccuracies in C. David Heymann’s posthumously-released Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love. And TV Guide released a special issue dedicated to Marilyn, part of their ‘American Icons’ series.

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Several rare photos of Marilyn were featured in Profiles in History’s Hollywood Auction 65 catalogue, while Britain’s Daily Express published a special supplement about Marilyn’s tragic death, as part of a ‘Historic Front Pages’ series.

Also this month, self-confessed ‘Marilyn Geek’ Melinda Mason launched a new exhibition at the Wellington County Museum in Ontario, Canada; and the chameleon-like actor John Malkovich posed as Marilyn for photographer Sandro Miller.

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In October,  A retrospective of photographer Nickolas Muray opened in Genoa, Italy. Carl Rollyson’s latest book, Marilyn Monroe Day by Day, was published.

A rather sensationalised documentary about Marilyn’s mysterious death – Marilyn: Missing Evidence – was broadcast in the UK. Her death was also the subject of a cover feature in the US magazine, Closer.

Also this month, Kelli Garner was cast as Marilyn in Lifetime’s upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of MM.

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In November, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ Icon: The Life, Times and Films of MM – Volume II, 1956-1962 and Beyond was published, earning a rave review from columnist Liz Smith. Fansite Immortal Marilyn published a series of myth-busting articles at Buzzfeed. And Anna Strasberg, current owner of Marilyn’s estate, lost a lawsuit against Profiles in History, regarding a so-called ‘letter of despair‘ from Marilyn to Lee Strasberg.

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In December, items from ‘the lost archive of Marilyn Monroe‘ sold for high prices at Julien’s Auctions. Marilyn graced the cover of Esquire‘s Colombian edition, and a new CD boxset, Diamonds, was released. Finally, photographer Phil Stern died aged 95.

Kelli Garner Cast in Marilyn Mini-Series

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Actress Kelli Garner, best-known for her role as Kate Cameron in TV’s Pan-Am, will play Marilyn in Lifetime’s upcoming mini-series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, reports TVLine. As previously reported, Susan Sarandon will play Marilyn’s mother, Gladys.

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Garner, who is 30, won critical acclaim at an early age for her performances in Bully (2001) and The Aviator (2004.) In recent years, she has starred in several well-received independent films, including Thumbsucker, Dreamland, Lars and the Real Girl and Taking Woodstock, as well as more mainstream movies like Man of the House and Going the Distance.

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Kelli has just completed When I Live My Life Over Again with Christopher Walken, and is currently filming Americana, described as ‘Hollywood Noir’. While she may not look like exactly like Marilyn, she has a quirky, innocent quality that may be quite effective. A native Californian, Kelli is also a talented musician.