Marilyn made 29 films during her 15-year career (excluding the unfinished Something’s Got to Give.) Around half of these were made while she was still a starlet, and her screen-time is often quite limited although she always made the most of her role. In the first of an New York Magazine series profiling classic Hollywood stars, Angelica Jade Bastien has taken on the daunting task of ranking all 29 films from worst to best, with insightful commentary on each one. I don’t agree with all her opinions – for example, I would put The Seven Year Itch (ranked 10th) in my top 5. There’s also a question of whether to judge each movie as a whole, or by Marilyn’s performance – for example , her debut film, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (ranked 24th) is enjoyable fluff, but Marilyn’s role was cut to ribbons. Whereas her next ‘bit part’, in Dangerous Years (ranked just below at 25th) was more enaging. Let’s Make Love (ranked 22nd) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (ranked 15th) are among my least favourite of Marilyn’s major films, but her musical numbers are superb. However, we all have our own preferences and it’s always great to see Marilyn’s true legacy in the spotlight, where it belongs.
“Hollywood has been creating a mythology around blonde bombshells since its beginnings. But no blonde sex symbol has had a deeper and more long-lasting impact on film and American culture than Marilyn Monroe. You probably had an image of Monroe in your mind long before you ever saw her on film. The dumb blonde. The white-hot sex symbol. The foolish girl-woman. The picture of mid-century femininity — wasp-waisted, platinum blonde, and buxom. The tragic victim. These warring images have lasted long after Monroe’s death in 1962 at 36 years old, and they’re easy to twist into caricature. She’s been flattened onto dorm-room posters, mugs, T-shirts, artist renderings. She’s been linked to falsely attributed quotes, conspiracy theories, and lurid rumors. But Monroe was more complex than her legacy suggests, as both an actress and a woman. This ranking of Monroe’s 29 films — based on her performance in each — gives a sense of what a supremely talented comedian and dramatic actress she was, with a keen understanding of the camera that few actors can replicate.”
Aleshia Brevard, the pioneering transgender actress, model and writer, has died aged 79, reports the Telegraph. She was born Alfred Brevard Crenshaw to Southern fundamentalist parents and grew up in abject poverty on a farm in the Appalachian Mountains. From an early age, Alfred dreamed of movie stars – and at 15 he took a Greyhound to California. So far, so Cherie in Bus Stop – but by the late 1950s, inspired by George Jorgensen aka Christine, America’s first transsexual, Alfred was working as a female impersonator at San Francisco nightclub Finocchio’s, and had begun the surgical transition process.
In 1960, during a break from filming The Misfits, Marilyn saw Aleshia impersonate her onstage at Finocchio’s. One of Monroe’s early biographers, Fred Lawrence Guiles, first told the story in Norma Jean (1969.)
“Finocchio’s in San Francisco is one of the few tourist attractions of that city of special interest to show folk. It features some of the best female impersonators in the business. Marilyn had expressed an interest in seeing the show when others of The Misfits company came back talking about the place. Now it had been rumoured that one of the boys was impersonating her. She had seen and laughed at Edie Adams, a good friend, in her celebrated parody of Marilyn, but the Finocchio act was something special she would go out of her way to see.
Everyone in her party was a little tense as they took their ringside table at the club. [Allan ‘Whitey’] Snyder was frankly apprehensive and kept reminding Marilyn that she should keep in mind it was all in fun. And then the breathless moment arrived. The man was gusseted in a skin-tight sequinned gown, a wind-blown platinum wig on his head. The resemblance was uncanny. [Ralph] Roberts observed Marilyn’s eyes widening in recognition, and then she grinned. Her mimic was undulating his lips in the familiar insecure smile and cupping his breasts, taking little steps around the floor, wiggling his rear.
‘You’re all terribly sweet,’ the mimic said in a little-girl voice. Marilyn put her hand to her mouth. ‘I love you all!’ the man was saying as he began to point at the men in the audience in turn. ‘You … and you …’
While Marilyn might have worn her black wig and tried to control the fits of girlish laughter that would give her away, this night she had not wanted anonymity. She had told the others she might leave them later on and wander down to Fisherman’s Wharf to visit DiMaggio’s Restaurant and then perhaps Lefty O’Doul’s. Neither establishment would find a Marilyn incognito especially amusing.
The mimic, discovering his model, could not avoid playing to her. There was a rising buzz of whispers around them as the audience saw the rapt and smiling original. Regretfully, Marilyn suggested they leave. The impersonator rushed to finish his turn. It was a short one anyway. No one could sustain such a parody for very long. As Marilyn and her friends were leaving, the man, blowing kisses to the audience and then to Marilyn removed his silvery wig.”
The Telegraph reports that Marilyn wrote in her diary that evening that the experience was ‘like seeing herself on film.’ However, Marilyn did not keep a regular diary and this remark doesn’t appear in her private notes, so it’s more likely that she said this to one of her friends. Aleshia would share her own account in her 2001 memoir, The Woman I Was Not Born to Be: A Transsexual Journey.
“Newspaper columnists touted me as Marilyn’s double. That was flattering, but it was only good publicity. Mr Finocchio paid for such fanfare. I was young, professionally blonde, and sang, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ in a red knit sweater, but that does not a legend make. I knew the difference. Marilyn was the epitome of everything I wanted to become.
The nation’s favourite sex symbol came to Finocchio’s to catch my act. She must have read the publicity.
‘Marilyn left after your number,’ I muttered to myself.
That was true. I might be reacting to the pre-op medication, but I wasn’t hallucinating. Miss Monroe had watched me perform her song from Let’s Make Love – and fled.
‘Well, I wouldn’t be sittin’ my famous ass in some nightclub watching a drag queen sing my number,’ I mused. ‘Not if I was Marilyn Monroe! No way, darlin’, I’d have better things to do with my life.”
When Marilyn died, Aleshia was recovering from her long-awaited operation and would recall, ‘I felt as though I’d lost a close, personal friend.’ She later became a Playboy Bunny, and appeared in a film produced by Robert Slatzer, a man notorious for his exaggerated stories about Marilyn, claiming they were secretly married and linking her death to the Kennedys.
“Most of my audition time had been wasted by Slatzer’s bragging about his marriage to Marilyn Monroe,” she wrote. “‘Joe DiMaggio maybe; Bob Slatzer, never,’ I thought. My Marilyn, I believed, would never have married the man I personally regarded as a blustering, rotund, B-grade movie maker. I didn’t believe a word he said.'”
Nonetheless, Slatzer gave Aleshia a part in his 1970 film, Bigfoot – as a seven-foot mother ape! “A munchkin from The Wizard of Oz would play my Sasquatch child,” Aleshia cringed. “There would be no Academy Award for this acting stint. In film history, no Sasquatch has ever received the coveted statuette. The only appeal to the potboiler was its cast. John and Chris Mitchum, brother and son of screen luminary Robert Mitchum, were in the debacle … John Carradine taught me to play poker – and I paid dearly for the privilege.” After enduring long days in full gorilla makeup without filming a scene, Aleshia contacted her agent and, much to Slatzer’s chagrin, the Screen Actors’ Guild intervened.
Aleshia went on to work in television, and after earning a master’s degree, she taught film and theatre studies to supplement her income. She was married four times, and followed her successful autobiography with a novel and further memoir. After her death on July 1, author Gary Vitacco-Robles, who interviewed Aleshia for his 2014 biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, paid tribute on Facebook: “She was a brave and lovely woman. May Aleshia’s memory be eternal.”
The annual Hollywood Legends auction at Julien’s, set for April 29, features a number of Marilyn-related items, including a 1961 check book which, as UK tabloid The Mirror reports, shows she was overdrawn at the time.
Here are some of the more unusual lots…
“A Marilyn Monroe novelty game night set. The Brown & Bigelow set contains two decks of playing cards, one showing Monroe in the ‘A New Wrinkle’ pose and one of Monroe in the ‘Golden Dreams’ pose from her 1949 Red Velvet photo session with Tom Kelley, and a set of four tin coasters showing Monroe in the ‘Golden Dreams’ pose and ‘Marilyn Monroe’ printed on each. Contained in a black flocked presentation box, stamped with an image of Monroe and branded text that reads ‘Always First/ with the Best Figures/ T D F CO.’ at lower right.”
Rare photos taken by Bruce Davidson during filming of Let’s Make Love.
A number of items related to photographer John Florea, including this contact sheet from the ‘Heat Wave’ number in There’s No Business Like Show Business.
A personal note from photographer Zinn Arthur to Marilyn and Milton Greene, probably penned during filming of Bus Stop.
CONTACT, an exhibition of famous images and their original contact sheets, includes images of Marilyn captured by Lawrence Schiller on the set of Let’s Make Love, and is on display at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles until January 28, reports L’Oeil De La Photographie.
Darryl F. Zanuck may have blamed Marilyn for delays in the River of No Returnshoot, but co-star Robert Mitchum did not, writing on this letter, “Dig!!! Marilyn – my girl is your girl, and my girl is you. Ever – Bob.”
After a bitter legal battle with Twentieth Century Fox, Marilyn returned triumphantly to Hollywood in 1956, armed with a list of approved directors.
Her first project under the new, improved contract was Bus Stop. Several lots of annotated script sides are up for bids this week.
“This is the first film Monroe made after beginning to study at the Actors Studio in New York City with Lee Strasberg, and the notations in these script sides demonstrate her method. Some of the notes are sense memories, like the following notation written after the line ‘I can’t look’: ‘Effective memory (use Lester – hurt on lawn),’ most likely referencing Monroe’s childhood playmate Lester Bolender, who was in the same foster home with Monroe. Another note adds ‘(almost to myself)’ before a line to inform her delivery or ‘Scarfe [sic] around my arms) Embarrassed.'”
Arthur O’Connell, who played Virgil in the movie, sent Marilyn his best wishes after she was hospitalised with pneumonia.
“A collection of Marilyn Monroe envelopes, messages and notes, including a florist’s enclosure card with envelope addressed to Monroe and a message that reads ‘To make up for the ones you didn’t recall receiving at the hospital. Please stay well so we won’t go through this again’, signed by ‘Arthur O’Connell – Virgil Blessing.’ Also included are five handwritten notes in an unknown hand that reference Clifton Webb, Lew Wasserman and Paula Strasberg.”
“The letter is dated simply June 9, and it accompanied the latest version of the script for The Prince and the Showgirl. Olivier discusses Monroe’s dialogue and that he has ‘written some extra dialogue and a direction or two.’ He reports on where they are in the script writing process and that they have cut the script down from ‘well over 3 hours’ to 2 1/2, to 2 hours 10 minutes. He continues about the scenes that were and were not cut, including ‘The Duke of Strelitz is, I think essential, as otherwise they will be saying what’s the matter with them – why the heck can’t they get married, particularly in view of Grace Kelly and all that, and our only answer to that question must be Yes but look at the poor Windsors do you see?’
On an amusing note, Olivier mentions, ‘By the way Lady Maidenhead has degenerated to Lady Swingdale because I am assured the Hayes Office will not believe there is also a place in England of that name.’ He closes ‘I just called up Vivien at the theatre … and she said to be sure to give you her love. So here it is and mine too. Longing to welcome you here. Ever, Larry.'”
Marilyn had many advisors on this film, including husband Arthur Miller who made suggestions to improve the script.
“Some of your dialogue is stiff. Also some expressions are too British. If you want me to, I can go through the script and make the changes – – in New York. I think the part – on one reading, is really the Best one … especially with you playing it. You are the one who makes everything change, you are the driving force … The basic problem is to define for yourself the degree of the girl’s naivete. (It could become too cute, or simply too designing.) It seems to me, at least, that they have not balanced things in Olivier’s favor. … It ought to be fun to do after BusStop. From your – (and my) – viewpoint, it will help in a small but important way to establish your ability to play characters of intelligence and cultivation. … Your loving Papa – (who has to rush now to make the plane – see you soon! – free!) – Art.”
Marilyn had strong opinions about the casting of Some Like It Hot. In the minutes from a business meeting at her New York apartment, it is noted that “MCA on the Coast has told [Billy] Wilder that there are ‘legal technicalities holding up her decision’ so as not to offend Wilder. Actually, she is waiting for [Frank] Sinatra to enter the picture. She still doesn’t like [Tony] Curtis but [Lew] Wasserman doesn’t know anybody else.”
This short note penned by Marilyn is thought to be a response to Tony Curtis’ notorious remark that kissing her was “like kissing Hitler.”
Novelist Truman Capote wanted Marilyn to star as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, her own advisors deemed George Axelrod’s watered-down adaptation unworthy of her talents. The film was a huge hit for Audrey Hepburn, but Capote hated it.
“A clean copy of the screenplay for Breakfast at Tiffany’s written by George Axelrod and dated July 9, 1959. Monroe was considering the part, and she sought the opinions of her professional team including the Strasbergs, her husband, and management team. The script is accompanied by a single-page, typed ‘report’ dated September 23, 1959, which also has the name ‘Parone’ typed to the left of the date. Literary luminary Edward Parone was at the time running Monroe’s production company and most likely is the one who wrote this single-page, scathing review of the script, leading with the simple sentence, ‘I think not.’ It goes on to criticize the screenplay, determining, ‘I can see Marilyn playing a part like Holly and even giving this present one all the elan it badly needs, but I don’t feel she should play it: it lacks insight and warmth and reality and importance.’ It has been long reported that Monroe declined the part upon the advice of Lee Strasberg, but this document provides further evidence that other people in her inner circle advised her not to take the role. Together with a four-page shooting schedule for November 4, 1960, for the film.”
Marilyn was generous to her co-stars in Let’s Make Love, giving a framed cartoon to Wilfrid Hyde-White on his birthday, and an engraved silver cigarette box to Frankie Vaughan. She also asked her friend, New York Times editor Lester Markel, to write a profile of her leading man, Yves Montand. “He’s not only a fine actor, a wonderful singer and dancer with charm,” she wrote, “but next to you one of the most attractive men.”
A handwritten note by Paula Strasberg reveals how she and Marilyn worked together on her role in The Misfits. “searching and yearning/ standing alone/ mood – I’m free – but freedom leaves emptiness./ Rosylin [sic] – flower opens bees buzz around/ R is quiet – the others buzz around.”
In 1962, Marilyn began work on what would be her final (and incomplete) movie, Something’s Got to Give. This telegram from screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, who was later replaced, hints at the trouble that lay ahead.
“The telegram from Johnson reads ‘In Revised script you are child of nature so you can misbehave as much as you please love – Nunnally.’ Monroe has quickly written a note in pencil for reply reading ‘Where is that script – is the child of nature due on the set – Hurry Love & Kisses M.M.’ ‘Love and Kisses’ is repeated, and additional illegible notations have been crossed out.”
“Raw footage of Monroe performing with the children in Something’s Got to Give exists, and Monroe’s notations are evident in the footage. The top of the page reads ‘Real Thought/ Mental Relaxation/ substitute children – B & J if necessary/ feeling – place the pain where it is not in the brow.’ B & J likely refers to Arthur Miller’s children Bobby and Jane. Another notation next to one of Monroe’s lines of dialogue reads simply ‘Mona Lisa’, which does in fact mirror the expression she uses when delivering this line. Even the exaggerated ‘Ahhhhh—‘ that Monroe does at the beginning of each take in the raw footage is written on the page in her hand, reading in full, ‘Ahhh–Look for the light.'”
Marilyn inspired many within the Pop Art movement, including Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton and Pauline Boty. Now another British artist of this period has come to light, with a recent exhibition and a profile in The Guardian. Sue Dunkley produced at least two paintings based on photographer John Bryson‘s 1960 cover story for Life magazine, and the private drama that unfolded between the Millers and the Montands during filming of Let’s Make Love.
“This substantial series of Pop Art paintings on large canvas have recently been rediscovered in Dunkley’s London studio by her daughter and brother. The works in the series were produced between 1968 and 1972, and notably take as their subject the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, the female body, and human relationships, often touched by violence and betrayal. A large number of pastel studies for these works and independent sketches have also been discovered, many of which explore intimacy, sexuality and the role of women in changing eras.
These works are often populated by numerous faces and figures, sometimes difficult to discern and placed in uneasy dialogue with one another. Dunkley herself often appears in the works, looking on or departing, merging the political and personal in both intimate and yet culturally significant works of art. These early works employ the bold and graphic language of Pop Art, referencing familiar media imagery and fashion photography. Recognisable images such as Ethel Kennedy’s screaming face and outstretched hand following Robert Kennedy’s assassination alongside images of Marylin Monroe recur, as if ghosts on the edge of these significant events and moments in history. Dunkley returned to Monroe often, fascinated by her seemingly irreconcilable sexuality and vulnerability, the impossible expectations placed on her to be both child and sex symbol.”
Today, items from Marilyn’s wardrobe sell for thousands – millions, even. But as Hap Roberts – nephew of Marilyn’s masseur and close friend, Ralph – tells the Salisbury Post‘s Mark Wineka, the Burberry trench-coat which she gave him is now lost.
It’s not clear exactly which coat this was – but Marilyn wore a trench-coat during her time in England, while filming The Prince and the Showgirl – and again for a scene in Let’s Make Love(1960.)
In one interview, Ralph claimed that Marilyn picked it up from Arthur Miller’s home in Roxbury, Connecticut after their divorce, but she decided to give it to Ralph when she found it smelled of another woman’s perfume. (This is odd, because in her own account of the same visit, Marilyn’s half-sister Bernice Baker Miracle said it was a fur coat, and that MM gave it to her dog, Maf, to sleep on.)
“Roberts became Monroe’s official masseur in 1959, and for the last three-plus years of her life, during her various romantic entanglements, Ralph would give her massages daily, becoming a close confidante and friend to Monroe.
Together, they ran errands, ate meals, attended parties and took plane trips across the country between New York and California.
Toward the end of his life, Ralph Roberts returned to Salisbury and lived in a little house off Parkview Circle, not far from Hap’s offices with Statewide Title. They would meet every afternoon around 4 p.m. to talk, and every Sunday at 5 p.m. Ralph would show up at Hap and his wife Annette’s house for martinis.
Ralph Roberts always brought his Sunday New York Times with him and would leave the newspaper with the couple so they could read it later. Once, Roberts carried with him an art deco martini set Monroe had given him.
Roberts also possessed a box of chandelier crystals Monroe had collected. The actress thought the crystals carried healing properties, and in the years after her death, Ralph sometimes would hand them out as gifts to friends.
Ralph Roberts died April 30, 1999, at age 82. About a month later, Hap and his cousin Claudette began the somber task of cleaning up and going through their uncle’s house. They noticed a woman’s Burberry trench coat in the closet and figured it was a friend’s coat, left at Ralph’s house in the past.
They placed it in the things going to Goodwill.
About a month later, Hap found a list of Marilyn Monroe items Ralph had inventoried. On the list was ‘Burberry trench coat.’
Hap could only ease the heartache of having given away the coat by thinking to himself that ‘at least it’s keeping somebody dry and warm and Ralph would like that.'”
Magnum alumni Bruce Davidson, who photographed Marilyn behind the scenes during filming of Let’s Make Love and The Misfits in 1960, is the subject of a new book by Vicki Goldberg in the Magnum Legacy series, reports CNN. (It follows the first Magnum Legacy book about Eve Arnold, another photographer of Marilyn’s, which was published last year.)
“What makes Davidson’s photographs so compelling is that they stem from patience and an ability to empathize with his subjects.
‘I stay a long time,’ he said. ‘My eyes open to their lives. In my silence, they feel secure. My philosophy is to stay until it becomes a subject. I am an outsider on the inside.'”
Veteran Hollywood publicist Dick Guttman has been interviewed by Susan King for her excellent Classic Hollywood column in the Los Angeles Times.
“Guttman fell into the career by accident when he began an office boy at age 19 at Rogers & Cowan while attending UCLA. The budding journalist had worked at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner as a teenager in a program in which students would write the high school sports page on Saturdays.
But he didn’t have a clue what Rogers & Cowan did or even what publicity was, then ‘one day I made a delivery and Kirk Douglas answered the door. So I started reading the memos I was delivering.’
Guttman soon discovered he had found his calling. ‘I was a journalist,’ he said. ‘And I knew a lot about motion pictures. They were my two passions.’
When he began at the company — Henry Rogers was [Warren] Cowan’s partner in the firm — Rogers and Cowan had ‘more stars than MGM, who had more stars than there are in the heavens,’ recalled Guttman. ‘This was 1954-55, and it was just when the contract system was ending. Everybody was celebrating this — their new freedom and they were going to make their own films. Little did they know it was the end of the golden age.'”
In his 2015 memoir, Starflacker: Inside the Golden Age of Hollywood, Guttman recalled meeting Marilyn during filming of Let’s Make Love, while he was representing her co-star, Yves Montand, whose actress wife, Simone Signoret, won an Oscar that year (for Room at the Top.)
“Simone had become a special friend of mine during the Room at the Top campaign. She and Yves, royalty in Europe as actors, as intellects and as bold political activists, arrived in Hollywood as the most doted-upon European artist couple since Olivier and Leigh. They generated constant media attention. So I was obliged to spend a large amount of time at the Montands’ second storey bungalow apartment above the gardens of the Beverly Hills Hotel. When media was in attendance, the door across the landing at the top of the stairs was always closed. But if I was there only to go over photos or to have a discussion, no media, that door would open and Marilyn Monroe would wander in, usually in a thick black bathrobe, beautiful in the absolute absence of make-up and with the soft confusion of unbrushed hair. Apparently, she never had in her and Arthur Miller’s refrigerator whatever she could count on being in Simone and Yves’. As she ate from a bowl of cereal or a small carton of yoghurt, she would wander into their conversation or look at the photos and make pretty good choices. Miller would come in sometimes in slacks and sweater, and they seemed an informal melding of close friends. This is before Simone had to go back to Paris for work there and before Yves and Marilyn would start their work together on their ultimately unsuccessful musical comedy, Let’s Make Love.”
Marilyn’s choreographer and friend, Jack Cole, is the subject of a new retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), ArtForum reports. Opening tomorrow (January 20), ‘All That Jack (Cole)‘ is a two-week tribute, and will include screenings of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, There’s No Business Like Show Business and Let’s Make Love.