Terry Johnson’s Marilyn: From ‘Prism’ to ‘Insignificance’

Robert Lindsay as Jack Cardiff in ‘Prism’

Prism, Terry Johnson’s new play at the Hampstead Theatre about the twilight years of Marilyn’s favourite cameraman Jack Cardiff, is enjoying  positive reviews. Elsewhere in London, Johnson’s most famous work – Insignificance – will be revived next month at the Arcola Theatre, with his daughter, Alice Bailey-Johnson, playing the Monroe-inspired leading lady.

Poster art for ‘Insignificance’

“Gorgeous photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich hang around the garage, and an expensive camera is held up on a stand. There’s a problem though; the device doesn’t work, as it’s missing a vital component, the prism. The prism is a miracle of light, and an object that splits this light into a rainbow of three colours, creating a Technicolor fantasy.

Written and directed by Terry Johnson, the play cleverly weaves together two time periods: the Fifties and present day. Despite not much happening in terms of dramatic action, the text is full of light-hearted motifs and one-liners, keeping the audience engaged. However, Prism also packs a real punch, as it deals with an illness currently effecting a lot of people: dementia.

Suffering from the disease, Jack doesn’t know who he is or who his family are. His son Mason (Barnaby Kay), has requested he write a memoir, however Jack only seems to remember the past without its glory. Riddled with anxiety over the task, he is supported by a carer (Rebecca Night). As Jack, Robert Lindsay gives a masterclass in stage acting. The comedy lands at all the right points and his full embodiment of every Cardiff trait is surreal to watch.” – Alistair Wilkinson, Broadway World

“Cardiff’s memories of his famous subjects – Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart on The African Queen, Marilyn Monroe accompanied by her husband Arthur Miller on The Prince and the Showgirl – glimmer in the air … There’s strong support too from Claire Skinner who gets to impersonate Katharine Hepburn, and from Rebecca Night who is transformed from carer into Monroe and Lauren Bacall. But it’s Lindsay’s night.” – Sarah Crompton, What’s On Stage

“Lucy (Rebecca Night), who’s been hired as Jack’s carer and typist, doesn’t have much of a clue about how to fulfil either role, though she does eventually prove to have a kind of natural empathy for him … Night is also reborn as a shimmering, statuesque Marilyn Monroe, to re-enact an earlier scene she shared with Cardiff as Lucy when the ailing cinematographer imagined her as the Blonde Bombshell on his own casting couch. Barnaby doubles as Monroe’s affronted husband Arthur Miller.” – Adam Sweeting, The Arts Desk

“When Robert Lindsay’s concertedly serene, quietly agitated Jack holds up the refractive optical marvel that was a key component of his adventures in colour – ‘God’s eye’ – it’s hard not to feel a frisson of wonder. Our response to the way the domestic scene that greets him in his converted, memorabilia-crammed Buckinghamshire garage is twisted by his diseased mind into memories of yore is more complex, however. Johnson invites some hesitant laughter as Cardiff talks funny, imagines his local boozer has gone missing and fleetingly confuses his carer with Monroe and his son with Arthur Miller, reliving old conversations. Yet the piece is suffused with real pain, the family torn between despair and indulgence.” – Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph

“The problem is that because Cardiff worked so much with the famous, the play doesn’t inspire the immediate empathy of a work like Florian Zeller’s The Father, with its more mundane hero. If it finally touches our hearts, it is because it reveals the cost to those close to Cardiff of his final decline and because of its recognition that no life achieves a perfect narrative arc, and is instead more akin to shooting a film than watching one.

Lindsay is amazing to watch. He evokes the casual charm that made Cardiff magnetic to the women he worked with as well as the professional obsessiveness that led him to experiment with prisms and seek to reproduce the textures of a Vermeer or Renoir on screen. Above all, Lindsay’s performance has a humanity that suggests Cardiff’s cinematic memories are accompanied by a spasmodic grasp of reality.

Claire Skinner shifting between Cardiff’s wife and his idealised Katharine Hepburn, Rebecca Night as the carer who becomes his memorialised Marilyn Monroe and Barnaby Kay as the son who turns into Humphrey Bogart and Arthur Miller, also show the pangs of becoming part of someone else’s disordered dreams.” – Michael Billington, The Guardian

“The structure is artful. Rebecca Night reappears as a lustrous Marilyn Monroe, in order to re-enact, word for world, an earlier scene with Jack in which he’d confused his carer, Lucy, with the screen goddess, draped on his casting couch. (Kay is a pompously affronted Arthur Miller). These lapses between precarious present and distorted past take us into the jungle of Jack’s ailing mind, while the doubling and tripling bring home the ache of being mistaken for one of the luminaries in his thronging cinematic memory-bank.” – Paul Taylor, The Independent

Yours Retro: Marilyn in the UK

Yours Retro is a great read for lovers of all things vintage, and after several prior appearances, Marilyn finally graces the cover of the latest issue, available now in UK newsagents and via Newsstand. ‘When Marilyn Met Larry ‘, a four-page article by biographer Michelle Morgan, focuses on Marilyn’s time in England filming The Prince and the Showgirl, and there are also pieces of related interest about Cyd Charisse, Picturegoer magazine, and Hollywood censorship. If you collect magazines featuring MM, this is a must-have. (Yours Retro has recently been launched in Australia; however, it is several issues behind, so the UK version is your best bet.)

Will Marilyn Be the End of May?

On the eve of the UK general election, a stencil painting of Prime Minister Theresa May wearing her favourite leopard-skin stilettos, in a recreation of Marilyn’s ‘subway scene’ from The Seven Year Itch (originally photographed by Sam Shaw) signed by street artist ‘Loretto’, has appeared in London’s West End, reports Fitzrovia News.

The merging of Marilyn, an icon of youth and beauty,  with a right-wing politician is either comical or grotesque, depending on your perspective. However, comparisons of this kind are nothing new, especially in the art world. Photographer Philippe Halsman started the trend with ‘Marilyn Mao‘, blending his own 1952 portrait of MM – her first Life magazine cover – with the head and shoulders  of the Chinese premier, Mao Tse-tung.

Perhaps it’s the rumoured affair with President Kennedy that triggered this strange phenomenon, or just that Marilyn’s own cultural reach rivals that of our world leaders. For me, these images evoke the contrast between her radiant humanity, and the dangerous aura of those who wield power.

Marilyn Jumps for Magnum

Philippe Halsman’s joyous 1959 portrait of Marilyn – part of his ‘Jump’ series – is one of seventy images chosen to represent Magnum Photos on its 70th anniversary in an exhibition in the  pedestrian tunnel at King’s Cross in London for a month from May 15, reports The Guardian.

2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

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In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

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In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

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Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

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In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

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In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

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June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

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In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

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August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

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In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

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In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

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In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

05E065FF-9E98-4677-8946-85623619BBF3-2686-0000014DE181D724_tmpFinally, in December the EYE Film Institute began a Marilyn movie season in Amsterdam. The Asphalt Jungle was released on Blu-Ray by Criterion. And actresses Zsa Zsa Gabor and Debbie Reynolds both passed away.

Publicist Shares Tales of Marilyn

Marilyn arrives in London, 1956
Marilyn arrives in London, 1956

Charles Foster, a former Hollywood publicist, has just published his memoir, CBC reports. Mr Foster claims to have accompanied Marilyn to England in 1956, for the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl. I must confess to not having heard of him before, but as Marilyn’s own publicist, Arthur P. Jacobs, also came to England with her, perhaps Mr Foster was working for him in some capacity.

From Old Hollywood to New Brunswick: Memories of a Wonderful Life includes a chapter entitled ‘Smuggling Marilyn Into London’.  This is rather curious, as Marilyn actually arrived in London amid a blaze of publicity, and immediately embarked on a series of press conferences.

Foster’s memories of Marilyn are frankly, a little hard to believe, and seem remarkably similar to My Week With Marilyn author Colin Clark (whose lively account has also been disputed. )They include plenty of star temperament, not to mention some minor nudity with just a dash of Chanel No. 5. But Foster goes one better than Clark with the allegation that he introduced Marilyn to John F. Kennedy.

The proof is in the pudding as they say, so if you’ve read Mr Foster’s book, don’t hesitate to comment!

Gainsborough-Roberts Collection in London

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Marilyn Monroe: The Legacy of a Legend, an exhibition of the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, opened at London’s Design Centre last week. Fellow collector Scott Fortner attended the launch, alongside impersonator Suzie Kennedy and actress Linda Gray (aka Sue-Ellen Ewing from TV’s Dallas.)

Photo by Scott Fortner

In an article for the Telegraph, Bethan Holt discussed the ‘lipstick, diamonds and cigarettes’ among Marilyn’s personal effects, while Ben Miller looks at the ‘vulnerability and humanity’ revealed by her drawings and notes in his review for Culture24.

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After closing on June 20, the collection will move to the Museum of Style Icons at Newbridge in County Kildare, Ireland, where it will be on display from June 25-July 25.

All photos by Scott Fortner @MarilynMonroeCollection

Gainsborough-Roberts Collection: Tour and Sale

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The collection of David Gainsborough Roberts – one of the world’s largest Marilyn archives, including many of her iconic movie costumes – will be sold in November, Julien’s Auctions has announced.

Although the live auction will be held in Los Angeles, UK fans will be able to see Roberts’ full collection at London’s Design Centre from May 25- June 20. It will then visit the Newbridge Museum of Style Icons in Ireland from June 25-July 25, before crossing the Atlantic on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 in August, with more US exhibition dates to be confirmed.

Fellow collector Scott Fortner has been helping to catalogue the items, and is reporting his findings on the MM Collection blog. And finally, here’s an excerpt from the Julien’s press release.

“Highlights from this historic sale include a sheer black beaded and sequined dress worn by Monroe in her Golden Globe winning role Sugar Kane as she crooned ‘I’m Through With Love’ in the award winning 1959 film Some Like it Hot; an elaborate embellished stage gown worn by Monroe as she sang ‘After You Get What You Want You Don’t Want It’ in the 1954 comedy There’s No Business Like Show Business which was designed by one of Marilyn’s all-time favorite designers, William Travilla; a pink linen halter wiggle dress designed for Monroe by Dorothy Jenkins for the 1953 thriller Niagara; a green satin one-piece with black sequins and gold fringe worn by Monroe as she sang ‘That Old Black Magic’ in the 1956 film Bus Stop; a lilac satin leotard worn by Monroe as Lillian Russell in the 1958 photo series by Richard Avedon and featured in Life magazine in 1958. Additional film pieces offered include costumes from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Let’s Make Love, along with a pair of rhinestone earrings worn by Monroe in How To Marry A Millionaire and a pair of sequin embellished opera gloves from the Rachmaninoff scene of The Seven Year Itch.

Monroe’s personal style is represented by a figure hugging black cocktail dress by Ceil Chapman, a favorite of Monroe; a slender fitting bias cut crepe evening gown worn by Monroe to the 1955 premiere of The Rose Tattoo; an embellished slubbed silk Lanvin gown; and rhinestone jewelry. Personal items include prescription pill bottles, Victoria and Albert museum exhibited high heels, a plastic doll in the likeness of Monroe given as a souvenir at her 34th birthday party; documents and correspondences; household items; and Monroe’s Detroit Free Press New Faces Award from 1952.”

‘Hello Norma Jeane’ in London

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Hello Norma Jeane, Dylan Costello’s comedy about an Essex grandmother who might just be Marilyn Monroe, has opened at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, North London. Here’s what the critics have to say…

Vicki Michelle as 'Lynnie'
Vicki Michelle as ‘Lynnie’

“The cast launch themselves into their characters with enthusiasm … The first half in particular seemed to zing with energy and snappy one-liners that had the audience laughing; the second half seemed to lose a little pace and perhaps needs to be a little tighter in order to maintain focus.” Gay Star News 

“Costello’s play wavers uncertainly between camp comedy and sentimental melodrama before finally settling on the latter, and despite the occasional delightfully bitchy joke, the moments of touching affection between grandmother and grandson are the most satisfying things on offer here.” The Stage 

“Vicki Michelle starts off in hilarious form as the crimplene-clad Lynnie … Her Lynnie is funny, charming, and cheerily blue in her use of language, yet she is also vulnerable and more frail than she wants to admit. .” The Reviews Hub

Farrel Hegarty in 'Hello Norma Jeane'
Farrel Hegarty as an imaginary Marilyn in ‘Hello Norma Jeane’

“It is a credit to the writing that by the end of the second act, I had changed my mind a dozen times as to whether Lynnie was or wasn’t Marilyn. In fact, I have seen the second act twice – and not just because of Peter McPherson’s abs – and come to a different conclusion each time.”London Theatre 1

“Michelle’s performance maintains buoyancy through the second act transition from comedy to reflections on ageing, but there’s some squelchy sentimentality and facile sub-plotting … it’s expanded to a needless two hours 15 when the sweetness of the idea really demands the sharpness of an hour-long version.” The Londonist 

“The plot is intriguing but the acting sometimes falls flat … a warm-hearted and at times very funny play. With more polish it has the potential to go far. It is unpredictable, which is its greatest charm.” The Upcoming