Marilyn, Pharrell and ‘Mr S’ Movie Plans

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In her latest column for the Chicago TribuneLiz Smith suggests that Mr S: My Life With Frank Sinatra – George Jacobs’ 2003 memoir – may be adapted for the big screen. Jacobs, who was Sinatra’s valet for 15 years, died late last year. Rumour has it that Pharrell Williams – whose latest hit is called ‘Marilyn Monroe’ – hopes to star.

Personally, I found Mr S rather overblown and trashy, so I don’t hold out much hope for this project – although it might be interesting to see a different view of Sinatra’s world. However, Liz – who has been documenting the show-business scene for over half a century – thinks otherwise…

“Well, there’s going to be plenty of Sinatra-style ring-a-ding-ding if plans to film Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra come to fruition. You remember Mr. S. It was the memoir of Frank Sinatra’s longtime valet George Jacobs. The book, published in 2003 is wildly entertaining. Perhaps too wild.

It was co-written by William Stadiem, the man who gave us Marilyn Monroe Confidential, which purports to be the memoirs of Lena Pepitone, Monroe’s Manhattan maid. It, too, is pretty wild. Several years after the book had become accepted as fact, Ms. Pepitone, whose relationship with the English language was not expert, admitted that the whole thing was ‘made up.’

But I have to say, Mr. S has always had the ring-a-ding-ding of truth, to me. The tantrums, jealousies, hookers, spontaneous generosity, obsessive love for Ava Gardner, his protective attitude toward Marilyn Monroe — all fell within what I knew about Frank, at least in his younger days. (By the time I met Mr. S, he had mellowed considerably.) After 15 years with Sinatra, the savvy, observant Jacobs was canned after he took Frank’s then-wife, Mia Farrow, out dancing at the legendary Candy Store discotheque.

Several years ago, Chris Rock was attached to the project, but that fell through. Now — so grinds the rumor mill — it is the hot singer Pharrell Williams who wants to portray George Jacobs! Pharrell is said to be a major Sinatra fan, and his signature over-size hats are a nod, some say, to Frank’s famous fedoras.

And Pharrell’s latest single is titled ‘Marilyn Monroe,’ a song that pays homage to Miss M. and other alluring ladies. If the movie happens, how about Scarlett Johansson as Monroe? — well, after Scarlett gives birth, naturally. (One of Jacobs’ most colorful memories of Monroe was when she would model high heels for him. She was always looking for the shoe that would make her legs look longer. What made these modeling sessions memorable, according to Jacobs, is that she modeled the heels in the nude.)

Speaking of Ava, good luck on casting that incredible beauty.

BUT, who would play the pivotal role of Mr. S? Chris Pine, perhaps best known for Star Trek, is said to be wanted. (I know, I know — why not George Clooney? But Jacobs’ book centers on the 1950s and ’60s. Clooney is just a shade too mature.)

Right now, this is simply chatter from the innards of Warner Bros. who own the rights to Mr. S. Of course, the still-protective Sinatra family will likely chime in.

That ring-a-ding-ding might not be terribly melodious.”

Liz Smith: ‘The Earrings of Miss Monroe’

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Liz Smith has commented on Marie Irvine’s reminiscences of Marilyn – published recently in the Daily Mail – in her latest column for the New York Social Diary.

“THE EARRINGS of Miss Monroe.   Another country heard from in the endless re-inventions of the long-dead Marilyn. Now we learn from ‘her closest friend’ Marie Irvine (a name unknown until now) that Marilyn ‘forgot’ her earrings the night of the infamous 1962 ‘Happy Birthday’ serenade to JFK. This ‘close friend’ had to rush back to MM’s NYC apartment to retrieve them.

How odd then, to have dozens of photos of MM leaving her apartment and arriving at Madison Square Garden with earrings intact. (Might I say that the only item of clothing or accessory that Marilyn ever ‘forgot’ was her panties.)

Also, according to this latest best bud, Marilyn bought five tickets to the event to be sure to be invited to the after-party, so ‘desperate’ was she to see JFK.

Uhhhh … aside from JFK himself, MM was the evening’s star attraction, the closing act of the president’s celebration, invited by Kennedy himself. She didn’t need tickets.  She WAS the ticket. If desperation came, it sure wasn’t that night.

Still and all, people will believe anything. And why not? The woman has been dead 51 years. Those who adore her now weren’t even born when she died.  Hell, their parents weren’t even alive!”

My thoughts on this: firstly, Liz is absolutely right to be sceptical about anyone claiming to be a ‘close friend’ of Marilyn, especially if they haven’t been heard of before. However, it was the Daily Mail, not Marie Irvine, who made this claim.

Secondly, Marilyn did in fact purchase her own ticket for the gala, although I don’t know if she paid for others as well. Of course, this does not mean she was ‘desperate’ to go – this, again, is the reporter’s interpretation (and not Marie Irvine’s.) And the event was a Democratic fundraiser, so it’s not surprising that she paid her own way.

Personally, I don’t find Marie Irvine’s story that hard to believe, although no account should be taken at face value. As I’ve said before, I think the problem lies with the sensationalist way her memories have been presented.

Thanks to Charles Casillo

A Matter of Diction: Bette and Marilyn

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‘All About Eve’ (1950)

At first glance, it’s hard to imagine two stars more different than Marilyn and Bette Davis, although they briefly appeared together in All About Eve. Many on the set found Davis intimidating, and few escaped her catty remarks.

However, as Bette later told a biographer, “I felt a certain envy for what I assumed was Marilyn’s more-than-obvious popularity. Here was a girl who did not know what it was like to be lonely. Then I noticed how shy she was, and I think now that she was as lonely as I was. Lonelier. It was something I felt, a deep well of loneliness she was trying to fill.”

In her latest column for the Chicago Tribune, Liz Smith finds another similarity between MM and Davis – both actresses were, at different points in their careers, known for their ‘mannered’ speech.

'The Letter' (1940)
‘The Letter’ (1940)

“Last weekend I watched two films, one a classic, the other not so much — though it has a cult following. I do mean William Wyler’s The Letter, starring Bette Davis as a woman who murders her lover and River of No Return starring Marilyn Monroe as a tough saloon singer fighting turbulent rapids, Indians and Robert Mitchum. Quality wise there’s no comparison, although River, directed by Otto Preminger, is a great looking movie, with excellent use of early Cinemascope. It’s an entertaining potboiler. The Letter, based on Somerset Maugham’s novel, is one for the ages.

And while you might imagine Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe were as unalike as two actors could be, they shared one quality — an odd manner of speaking. Davis’ clipped tones became famous instantly, and as she grew older, the static quality of her delivery increased, rendering many of her performances artificial. It took a strong director and an inspiring script to wrench Davis out of her habits.

AS for Miss Monroe, shortly after she began working in films, she met a dramatic coach named Natasha Lytess who convinced the insecure Monroe that her diction was ‘sloppy’ and she needed to enunciate more clearly. Well, Monroe, whose diction was just fine actually, did enunciate. Boy, did she en-nu-ci-ate. She came down so hard on her Ds and Ts she all but bit them off. Even she was not entirely comfortable with this, and when given a good script, her speech would relax, no matter what Miss Lytess said. River of No Return was not a script Monroe liked. The result was a performance that varies wildly. It’s fun to see her as a smart-talking, back-talking woman. And when she unbends her diction, she’s earthy and effective — refreshingly strong. But in other scenes, she comes off like a gorgeous Martian, who is just learning our language. It’s a pity, because despite Monroe’s objections, River was a change of pace, and all contract actors did westerns. They just did. (The chief pleasure of ‘RONR’ is the sight of Monroe in her physical prime, athletically running around in skin-tight blue jeans!)

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‘River of No Return’

But unlike Bette, Marilyn’s vocal impairment didn’t last. (Even in The Seven Year Itch, she is merrily relaxed.) After Monroe abandoned Hollywood and her 20th Century Fox contract, she went into the Actors Studio. Lee Strasberg convinced her, first of all, that she was nothing, had accomplished nothing. Only he (and wife Paula) could help her. That she was the biggest female star in the world at that point didn’t impress the Strasbergs. At least that’s what they said. Presto! Out with Natasha — who didn’t go quietly — and in with Paula, who became even more hated on Monroe sets than Lytess. (Natasha at least lectured Marilyn on discipline. The Strasbergs told her only the ‘art’ mattered, and she should take as long as she liked.)

There was little change in the essentials of Marilyn’s acting, except the disappearance of her excruciating diction, although every so often it would pop up on a word or two. Lytess must have used hypnosis on her!”

Liz Smith on ‘Icon: Volume I’

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Glenn Embree, 1962

Liz Smith has recommended the first volume of Gary Vitacco-Robles’ two-part biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, in her latest column for New York Social Diary.

And as Gary revealed on his Facebook page today, the photo above – taken by Glenn Embree during filming of the unfinished Something’s Got to Give – will grace the cover of Volume II, coming this summer.

“No great secrets are unearthed — at this point are there any? — but using most of the reputable material out there, the author presents Monroe’s life in a refreshingly straight-forward manner. This work reminds me of 1968’s sensible, sensitive Norma Jean by Fred Lawrence Guiles (Don’t blame Fred for misspelling her name — blame Elton John.)

Not a lot of over-analysis in Icon but Vitacco-Robles’ points about Marilyn’s bleak childhood and how she could not escape it, are valuable in connecting the dots of her adult actions. She went through life as an open wound, and analysis never helped her.

The author also takes the time to unravel some of the more absurd tales about MM — she was a call girl, she had 12 abortions, she gave up a baby for adoption, etc. Although, 51 years after her death, many of those tales fuel the legend — for better or worse.

This book concludes at the pinnacle of Monroe’s life and career, in the wake of Bus Stop, The Prince and The Showgirl — the latter produced by her own company — and the early months of her marriage to Arthur Miller. It was the point at which it seemed she could indeed have it all. She could not. So it will be interesting to peruse the second volume, especially as it relates to Monroe’s final years.”

Liz Smith on Kazan, Miller, and Marilyn

Photo by Inge Morath
Photo by Inge Morath

Liz Smith, ‘the grande dame of dish’, has shared her thoughts on Elia Kazan’s recently-published letter about Marilyn in her latest syndicated piece – and it’s a doozy. You can read it in full here.

“The cruel irony/P.S. to this is that Kazan, after years of estrangement with Arthur Miller, would collaborate with him again, mounting one of (I think) the worst moments in American theater history — Miller’s play After the Fall. This was Miller’s confession/denunciation of Monroe as a castrating, self-destructive witch, from whom he had to escape. That Monroe was two years dead and unable to defend herself appeared of no interest to her ex-husband or her ex-lover. Miller’s pretense that the ‘Maggie’ of his play was not Monroe — or his version of her — compounded the insult. Marilyn’s good friend, author James Baldwin, walked out of After the Fall, so furious was he over Miller’s characterization of her. (The star, Barbara Loden was costumed, bewigged and given the appropriate Monroe-like gestures, in case anybody didn’t quite get it.)

THOSE who disliked Arthur Miller — and there were many — found some satisfaction in the fact that After the Fall was his last success. He would wallow in epilogue and various variations on Marilyn for the rest of his life.

Miller’s inactivity as a writer — except for his tedious screenplay for The Misfits — was often blamed on Marilyn. He himself said it. But right after the Miller/Monroe divorce, columnist Max Lerner opined that it was less likely that Monroe had constricted Miller, but that he had sought her out precisely because he had run out of material.

Several weeks before her death, an interviewer faced Marilyn with Lerner’s observation. Did she have a comment? She paused, and then said: ‘If I answer, will you promise to repeat my quote in its entirety?’

The writer said yes.

Marilyn replied: ‘No comment.’

This is the only thing Marilyn Monroe ever said criticizing a husband — or anybody else in public life for that matter. She was, as Kazan noted, ‘not vicious.’ And it is an indication of her agony, being blamed for the failures of a man she literally saved; standing with him and risking her own career as he was grilled by The House Un-American Activities Committee, in the matter of his youthful communist flirtations.

Miller and Kazan left that Marilyn out of After the Fall.”

‘Blondes’: A Diamond Musical

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Writing for the Worcester Telegram, the redoubtable Liz Smith makes her case for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as ‘the perfect movie musical’:

“For Monroe onscreen, it solidified her burgeoning stardom in the role of a lifetime, the role indeed she was born to play. But it was seen as lightweight, transitory entertainment. Only one writer, Monroe’s first serious biographer, Maurice Zolotow, assessed the film’s impact correctly: ‘Twenty years from now, the critics of the art-film quarterlies will discover that Blondes was one of the excellent works of its time, for it was completely true to its genre. It crystallized a viewpoint, a style … it will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art and studied by scholars.’ History has sided with Zolotow.

Blondes remains Monroe’s most totally entertaining film — one that is free of the poignant, semi-autobiographical bits that leaked into her later work. It is also the great Jane Russell’s best. And a revelation in terms of director Howard Hawks, not known for his deft hand at musicals.”

Marilyn, Monty and Liz

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Entertainment writer Liz Smith pays tribute to Montgomery Clift in her latest post for New York Social Diary.

“I didn’t know Montgomery Clift but when I was a young movie magazine editor for something called Modern Screen I often begged the editor-in-chief to write about him. I knew he was talented. But the editors stuck with Tony Curtis.

I went on to know more about Clift because my straight brother, Bobby, worked as a waiter in a gay cafe on Christopher Street. He often served Clift and always told me after about how unhappy he seemed. “He gave big tips!” said Bobby, who even then had a live-and-let-live attitude.

I finally saw Montgomery Clift in person, with Marilyn Monroe, at the New York premiere of The Misfits. They sat right in front of me, enjoying each other like real friends. I was mostly stunned by how gorgeous she looked in a black fox fur. It was a privilege to see them even once.

As you know, Elizabeth Taylor, too, loved Monty and took a lot of care of him through their experiences on A Place in The Sun, Raintree County (she saved his life after his terrible car accident) and Suddenly Last Summer. Elizabeth also put up the insurance money for Monty to co-star with her in Reflections In a Golden Eye. But he died just before production began. Marlon Brando, in all his mannered glory, took the role.)

However, after working with Monroe in The Misfits Monty declared, ‘I would rather work with Marilyn than any other actress.'”

Charles Casillo: ‘The Marilyn Diaries’

Casillo Marilyn Diaries

First published in 1999, Charles Casillo’s novel, The Marilyn Diaries, has been reissued in paperback and ebook formats.

 

Including new material, The Marilyn Diaries has received a ringing endorsement from the legendary entertainment columnist (and Marilyn expert), Liz Smith:

“Casillo, who also wrote an acclaimed biography about City of Night author John Rechy, published the first edition of The Marilyn Diaries before there was such a glut of ‘novels based on’ MM. And though it is fiction, this book sticks close to the facts of her last months (and the never proven rumors of Kennedy affairs.) More interesting, it sounds like Monroe. If she had kept a diary, it might have read like Casillo’s fiction. (The real-life Monroe was once asked in an interview if she kept a diary? She said: ‘Not really. Sometimes I would write things down, but then … I’d tear them up!’)

The Marilyn Diaries really hits paydirt when Casillo’s ‘Marilyn’ considers the trajectory of her career … ruminates bitterly on her marriage to Arthur Miller … and pragmatically recalls her long struggle to the top. There are some entertainingly fanciful episodes  a ladies room brawl with Elizabeth Taylor, a clandestine luncheon with Jackie Kennedy but the essential honesty and vulnerability of our heroine is never lost. Just as she never lost those qualities in her real life.” New York Social Diary

First edition, 1999
First edition, 1999

Liz Smith on ‘Love, Marilyn’

Amy Greene with Liz Garbus, by Matt Carr

Columnist Liz Smith has reviewed Love, Marilyn for the Huffington Post.

“It is the female stars Ms. Garbus lured that lift the film…the women who recite Marilyn’s own words–alternately scattered, precise, desperate, hopeful. There’s not a false note anywhere. Every woman seems deeply affected. As Garbus said, ‘Marilyn speaks to every woman’s inner self–love, family, the desire for perfection, satisfaction in her work. And the fears that she cannot ‘have it all.'”

Smith has also interviewed Amy Greene, widow of photographer Milton Greene, who helped Marilyn establish her own production company.

“Amy is much as she was more than 50 years ago–highly attractive, chic, acerbic. She was fond of Marilyn, but it is a fondness devoid of sentimentality. ‘She wanted to be a movie star. A sex-symbol. She loved it. And she also wanted to be a great actress. She never saw why she couldn’t be both! And she sat in on every meeting. She knew what was going on, all the time.'”

 

 

Liz Smith Remembers Marilyn

 Veteran entertainment writer Liz Smith, who often mentions Marilyn, recalls her brief encounter with MM in today’s Huffington Post.

“I am forever writing here about Marilyn. And people often ask me when and if I met her and was I a good friend? I have already written that we were not friends and never actually met. My vast information about Marilyn springs from my long friendship with her great (and last) press agent Pat Newcomb, from the late PR insiders Lois Smith, and John Springer and from speaking privately with Frank Sinatra, Dean and Jeannie Martin, Pat Lawford , Tita Cahn, Tony Curtis, etc. Marilyn knew a lot of people and I knew those people. And they were all obsessed by her. Lois Smith once told me: ‘I never felt that way about another star ever I worked with. She made you want to protect her from anything hurtful.’ Sinatra would have married her, if Joe DiMaggio hadn’t been around.

But I have often recounted barely recovering, as a fan, back in early 1961, from seeing her smothered in a black sable wrap, very glamorous, very beautiful, very blond, attending the New York premiere of The Misfits in NYC. She was with Montgomery Clift. (The Arthur Miller marriage had already collapsed.) They sat down in front of my aisle and I observed them throughout the film, cuddling, giggling and being very happy in the manner of real pals. So here’s a photo that very night. And I had never seen it before. Perhaps it is one of the few nights in the lives of these two talented stars when they were truly happy. (At least in each other’s company.) Marilyn famously disliked the film and her character, which was based so much on her. Both of them were to die only too young, but they were even then, already legends.”