Emily Watson to Play Grace in ‘Secret Life’

Emily Watson in 'Gosford Park' (2001)
Emily Watson in ‘Gosford Park’ (2001)

British actress Emily Watson will play Grace Goddard (nee McKee) – who became Marilyn’s legal guardian after her mother’s breakdown – in Lifetime’s upcoming miniseries, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, based on J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2009 biography, reports Deadline.

Watson, who is 47, began her career on the London stage. She shot to fame in Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996), and went on to star in Hilary and Jackie (1998), Angela’s Ashes (1999), Gosford Park (2001), Miss Potter (2006), War Horse (2011), The Book Thief and Belle (2013.)

Grace McKee Goddard
Grace McKee Goddard

This latest news of A-list casting will boost the hopes of fans hoping for a high-quality biopic. Although Taraborrelli’s biography has been disputed by some, his focus on the women who raised Marilyn seems to be highlighted in this production. And Watson actually bears a striking resemblance to Grace.

With Kelli Garner confirmed as Marilyn, and Susan Sarandon as Gladys, one question remains – who will play Marilyn’s beloved ‘aunt’, Ana Lower?

Susan Sarandon Cast as Gladys in ‘Secret Life’

susan-sarandon

Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon will play Gladys Baker, Marilyn’s ill-fated mother, in Lifetime’s upcoming adaptation of J. Randy Taraborrelli’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, according to the Hollywood Reporter. It is set to be filmed in Ontario and Los Angeles, reported GlobalNews.ca earlier this week.

Taraborrelli focused heavily on Marilyn’s relationship with Gladys, although some of his claims have been disputed (more details here.) Gladys was previously played by Sheree North (in the 1980 TV movie, Marilyn: An Untold Story) and Patricia Richardson (in Blonde, the 2001 mini-series based on an eponymous novel by Joyce Carol Oates.) As Gladys was only 24 when Marilyn was born, I would hope that Sarandon – now 68 – will be playing her in later life.

Finally, there are two major errors in Secret Life‘s synopsis: firstly, Gladys’s mother did not commit suicide; and secondly, Marilyn’s first marriage did not end because she was frigid. She divorced her husband because he disapproved of her career.

“Sarandon will portray the blonde bombshell’s mentally ill mother, Gladys Mortenson. The character is described as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, who is the product of a mother who committed suicide as a result of her own mental illness, and a father who died of syphilitic insanity. Frequently delusional, sometimes violent, Gladys sexually adventurous in her youth but taught her daughter that sex should be avoided at all costs. Deeply devoted to Christian Science, she urges Marilyn to reject her reliance on drugs and that her salvation will be achieved by returning to the tenets of the faith. (The role of Monroe has not yet been cast.)

24 and The Kennedys‘ Stephen Kronish is on board to pen the mini, with Sherrybaby‘s Laurie Collyer attached to direct the Marilyn Monroe entry.

Here’s Lifetime’s official description of the mini: ‘Marilyn is both the personification of sex, whose first marriage ironically collapses because of her frigidity, and a fragile artist who seeks the approval and protection of men.  But after tumultuous marriages with Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, she realizes she has the strength to stand on her own. She becomes the face and voice of an era, yet wants most of all to be someone’s mother and someone’s little girl. She’s the Marilyn you haven’t seen before, the artist who, by masking the truth with an image, gives her greatest performance.'”

Taraborrelli’s Marilyn Set for TV

taraborelli pb

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, celebrity author J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2009 biography, is being adapted into a mini series for the Lifetime Channel, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Lifetime is poised to find out if blondes really do have more fun…24 and The Kennedys‘ Stephen Kronish is on board to pen the mini, with Sherrybaby‘s Laurie Collyer attached to direct the Marilyn Monroe entry. The entry hails from Asylum Entertainment, the production company behind Lifetime’s June Carter Cash biopic Ring of Fire as well as Reelz Channel’s ratings hit The Kennedys.

Asylum’s Jonathan Koch and Steven Michaels will exec produce alongside Kronish and Keri Selig. Selig was attached to exec produce Reelz’s Kennedys follow-up, After Camelot, which, like Marilyn, was based on a book by Taraborrelli.

Taraborrelli’s book is considered the most definitive Monroe biography. Published in 2010 [actually, it was 2009], the title explored the actress/pin-up girl’s relationship with her mentally ill mother, her foster mother and her legal guardian as well as Monroe’s own mental illness and her relationships with her family and the Kennedys.”

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe is a sympathetic take on MM, and avoids conspiracy theories about her death. Director Laurie Collyer has enjoyed critical acclaim. However, Lifetime’s recent biopics (such as Liz and Dick, starring Lindsay Lohan) have been widely panned. And screenwriter Stephen Kronish’s prior depiction of Marilyn in The Kennedys was rather disappointing.

One of Taraborrelli’s more contentious allegations about Marilyn is that she suffered from schizophrenia, which has never been proved. Some authors have also raised doubts about Taraborrelli’s use of unnamed sources. In Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012), Lois Banner criticised the author for not using footnotes, arguing that this made it ‘impossible’ to check his sources and evaluate his conclusions.

Banner judged Taraborrelli’s allegation that Grace Goddard put Norma Jeane in the orphanage because she wasn’t getting along with Doc’s daughter, Nona, as ‘incorrect’, adding, ‘I can find no evidence that Nona lived with them in 1935. [Fred Lawrence] Guiles [in Legend] mentions a visit that summer.’

Banner also challenged Taraborrelli’s claim that Marilyn took liquor to Rockhaven Sanatorium to drink with her mother (Gladys Baker Eley, a residential patient from 1952-1967) as ‘inaccurate,’ adding that ‘Gladys considered drinking a sin, and Marilyn never visited her…Marilyn wasn’t present when Grace discussed placing Gladys at Rockhaven, and Gladys was taken to Norwalk State Mental Hospital before Grace took her to Rockhaven some months later.’

You can read my review of The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe here.