Inside the Actor’s Studio

In his 2004 collection of essays on movie actors, Who the Hell’s In It?, director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) recalled his sole encounter with Marilyn:

“Only one time was I in Marilyn Monroe’s presence, and she never would have known it. During the winter of 1955, I was sitting a row in front of her at a Manhattan acting class being conducted by Lee Strasberg. Marilyn was 29, at the peak of her success and fame – with seven years left to live – wearing a thick bulky-knit black woolen sweater, and no make-up on her pale lovely face. The two or three times I allowed myself to casually glance back at her, she was absolutely enthralled, mesmerised by Strasberg’s every word and breath.  In his autobiography, Arthur Miller, who would marry her the following year, wrote that he felt Strasberg, though worshipped by Monroe, was a heavy contributor to his breakup with the actress, and that the acting guru’s domination was self-serving and exploitative of her. From the glimpses I had of Marilyn, Strasberg certainly had her complete attention and support, but in a strangely desperate way. She didn’t look contented or studious; she looked quite anxious and passionately devoted to Strasberg as somehow the answer to her troubles.”

Marilyn and John Strasberg

 

Marilyn drives the black Thunderbird she later gave to John Strasberg

John Strasberg, son of Lee and Paula, will be familiar to MM fans as the lonely teenager to whom she gave her black Thunderbird. John’s sister, actress Susan Strasberg, published a family memoir, Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, in 1992.

John went on to become a teacher of acting, developing the ‘Organic Creative Process’, distinct from his father’s Method. His 1997 book on acting, Accidentally on Purpose, is also the title of a documentary.

Actress and writer Sheila O’Malley remembers attending a workshop taught by John on her blog, and also posts a chapter from his book where he recalls a lesson with Marilyn at the Actors’ Studio, working on a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“Marilyn and I rehearsed in the tentative fashion that is common when actors are exploring a new world. We did a lot of anxious searching in one another’s eyes. This longing for eye-contact is one of the things I remember most about her, as she trembled with the desperate hunger of a child for life, comfort, love. Beneath whatever mask I was presenting to the world, I trembled in the same way, but no one ever saw it, not even me.”

Read John Strasberg’s account in full here

Famous Eulogies: Lee Strasberg on Marilyn

Allan Grant, 1962

Lee Strasberg’s tribute to Marilyn, read at her funeral, is featured at Flavorwire in a meme on famous eulogies, posted to mark Halloween. You can read the full text here.

‘Prestigious acting teacher and director of the Actors Studio, Lee Strasberg, gave screen icon Marilyn Monroe’s eulogy in 1962. Strasberg helped train the legendary star and noted, “The dream of her talent, which she had nurtured as a child, was not a mirage.” Norma Jean had a troubled childhood — spending most of it in foster homes — but her young modeling career eventually led to screen stardom, which was sadly cut short after her suicide. As Strasberg points out, “In her own lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain.” ‘

St Vincent Inspired by Marilyn’s Writing

 

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 +

 

Washing Dishes With Marilyn

Marilyn at the Actor's Studio, 1955, by Roy Schatt

Martha Coigney, who worked at the Actor’s Studio in the late 1950s, recalls meeting Marilyn Monroe there.

One of Coigney’s many tasks at the Actors Studio was to stop students who arrived late for class from entering the room until the first break. Monroe, whom Coigney recalls as a “lovely, sensitive woman that Hollywood typecast terribly,” was invariably among that group.

Elia Kazan, the director conducting Monroe’s class, resolved to make an exception for the popular Hollywood actress. “When Marilyn arrives late, just let her in,” he once told Coigney.

“I can’t do that,” Coigney told him. “I can’t make everyone else sit and wait and let her go in alone.”

“Just do it,” Kazan said.

But Coigney would not. When Marilyn invariably arrived late, Coigney would open the door, let Marilyn in and then invite the rest of the late students to enter with her.

This caused Kazan to have a private talk with the actress.

The next morning Coigney arrived at her usual early hour to open the studio and get it ready for the day’s work. A few minutes later Marilyn Monroe showed up.

“What are you doing here so early?” Coigney asked in surprise.

“Kazan said he knew I would never come on time,” Monroe explained. “But he said, ‘Can’t you come early instead of late?’ So here I am.” After a pause, Monroe added, “As long as I’m here, is there anything I can do to help?”

“Sure,” Coigney said, “you can help me wash the dishes.”

Monroe happily joined in cleaning plates and glasses.

Moscow Times

Eulogy for Marilyn

George Barris, 1962

“In her own lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain. For the entire world she became a symbol of the eternal feminine.

But I have no words to describe the myth and the legend. I did not know this Marilyn Monroe. We gathered here today, knew only Marilyn – a warm human being, impulsive and shy, sensitive and in fear of rejection, yet ever avid for life and reaching out for fulfillment. I will not insult the privacy of your memory of her – a privacy she sought and treasured – by trying to describe her whom you knew to you who knew her. In our memories of her she remains alive, not only a shadow on the screen or a glamorous personality.

For us Marilyn was a devoted and loyal friend, a colleague constantly reaching for perfection. We shared her pain and difficulties and some of her joys. She was a member of our family. It is difficult to accept the fact that her zest for life has been ended by this dreadful accident.

Despite the heights and brilliance she attained on the screen, she was planning for the future; she was looking forward to participating in the many exciting things which she planned. In her eyes and in mine her career was just beginning.

The dream of her talent, which she had nurtured as a child, was not a mirage. When she first came to me I was amazed at the startling sensitivity which she possessed and which had remained fresh and undimmed, struggling to express itself despite the life to which she had been subjected.

Others were as physically beautiful as she was, but there was obviously something more in her, something that people saw and recognized in her performances and with which they identified. She had a luminous quality – a combination of wistfulness, radiance, yearning – to set her apart and yet make everyone wish to be a part of it, to share in the childish naïveté which was so shy and yet so vibrant.

This quality was even more evident when she was in the stage. I am truly sorry that the public who loved her did not have the opportunity to see her as we did, in many of the roles that foreshadowed what she would have become. Without a doubt she would have been one of the really great actresses of the stage.

Now it is at an end. I hope her death will stir sympathy and understanding for a sensitive artist and a woman who brought joy and pleasure to the world.

I cannot say goodbye. Marilyn never liked goodbyes, but in the peculiar way she had of turning things around so that they faced reality – I will say au revoir. For the country to which she has gone, we must all someday visit.”

Lee Strasberg, 1962