Stanley Donen 1924-2019

Filmmaker Stanley Donen has died aged 94. He co-directed and choreographed classic musicals such as On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952) with Gene Kelly, and made three films with Audrey Hepburn. The second of Donen’s five wives, Marion Marshall, had appeared alongside a young Marilyn Monroe in A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950.) He also dated Judy Holliday and Elizabeth Taylor, and is survived by his partner of thirty years, the writer and director Elaine May.

Donen never worked with Marilyn, but in a 1999 interview (posted on the Film Talk website), Donen revealed he had rejected a project which Marilyn later filmed with George Cukor, before choosing Indiscreet, a sophisticated romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, which as columnist Louella Parsons had reported in 1956, was originally slated for Clark Gable and either Marilyn or Jayne Mansfield.

“Norman Krasna gave me a script he had written, which was eventually made with Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand [Let’s Make Love, 1960], but I didn’t like it. He then said, ‘You know, I did a play in New York which was a flop [Kind Sir, directed by Joshua Logan in 1952 and starring Charles Boyer and Mary Martin], but why don’t you read it? Maybe you’ll like it.’ I read it, and I was very impressed. I told him, “God, this would make a wonderful movie.’ ‘You think so? Every studio in town has turned it down,’ he said. ‘You know what, you own it, if you can get it made, I’ll write the screenplay.’ So I got it made, I got Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman and we made Indiscreet [1958]. That was the real beginning of me being a producer, I liked putting it together.”

Robert Wagner: ‘The Marilyn I Knew’

Marilyn films a screen test with Robert Wagner, 1951

One of the last survivors of Hollywood’s golden age, Robert Wagner has written about Marilyn in his memoir, You Must Remember This, as well as providing the introduction to David Wills’ Marilyn – In the Flash. In his latest book, I Loved Her in the Movies: Memories of Hollywood’s Legendary Actresses, Wagner writes about her again, and an excerpt is published on the Town and Country website.

“I have no horror stories to tell. I thought she was a terrific woman and I liked her very much. When I knew her, she was a warm, fun girl. She was obviously nervous about the test we did together, but so was I. In any case, her nervousness didn’t disable her in any way; she performed in a thoroughly professional manner. She behaved the same way in Let’s Make It Legal, the film we later made—nervous, but eager and up to the task.

Years later, Marilyn began dropping by the house where Natalie [Wood] and I lived. Our connection was through Pat Newcomb, her publicist. I had known Pat since our childhood. She had also worked for me and often accompanied Marilyn to our house. I bought a car from Marilyn—a black Cadillac with black leather interior.

Marilyn (at right) with Wagner’s second wife, Marion Marshall (second left) in A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950)

Marilyn had an innately luminous quality that she was quite conscious of—she could turn it on or off at will. The problem was that she didn’t really believe that it was enough. My second wife, Marion [Marshall] knew her quite well; she and Marilyn had modeled together for several years, and were signed by Fox at the same time, where they were known as ‘The Two M’s.’ Marion told stories about how the leading cover girls of that time would show up to audition for modeling jobs. If Marilyn came in to audition, they would all look at each other and shrug. Marilyn was going to get the job, and they all knew it. She had that much connection to the camera.

When Marilyn died, Pat Newcomb was utterly devastated; Marilyn had been like a sister to her, a very close sister, and she took her death as a personal failure. Marilyn’s death has to be considered one of show business’s great tragedies. That sweet, nervous girl I knew when we were both starting out became a legend who has transcended the passing of time, transcended her own premature death.”