Conversations With Marilyn’s Leading Men

Marilyn with Joseph Cotten during filming of Niagara

Among the many luminaries featured in James Bawden and Ron Miller’s book, Conversations With Classic Film Stars, are Joseph Cotten, who played Marilyn’s murderous spouse in Niagara; and Rory Calhoun, her roguish husband in River Of No Return; and Cary Grant, the unwitting object of her desire in Monkey Business.

Thanks to Gia at Immortal Marilyn

“I never met a girl as introverted as Marilyn. The whole fame explosion had just set in and whenever we filmed on location at Niagara Falls, great crowds gathered to see her. She couldn’t cope, retreated into her shell.

Director Henry Hathaway was a tough taskmaster at the best of times. He got so exasperated with Marilyn and her Russian acting coach [Natasha Lytess], he finally banned the woman from the set. I tried to keep her distracted. At night there’d always a party in my hotel suite, but she’d look in, say hi, and then go off with her instructress. We’d wait hours for her to show up. Hathaway started shooting rehearsals as backup and found she was less mannered there and actually used some of the footage.

I asked her about the nude photograph and she said, dead serious, ‘But I had the radio on.’ I’m glad I knew her before the troubles enveloped and destroyed her. I want to remember that superb girlish laughter when I told her an off-colour joke. One day Hathaway shouts at her and she yelled back, ‘After paying for my own wardrobe, my coach, my assistant, and God knows who else I barely have enough left over to pay my shrink!’ And the crowd watching applauded her!”

Joseph Cotten

“She was a phenomenon that I doubt like hell this town will see the likes of ever again. There have been a lot of people trying to copy her one way or another – and to me, they’re third-stringers.”

Rory Calhoun

“Howard Hawks says it’s wonderful we knew and worked with Marilyn before she got difficult. Because she was so winning and adorable in Monkey Business. When I drink that youth serum and am acting like a teenager, Marilyn really got into it. I’m diving off the high board and she’s giggling and waving me on. Years later she asked me to co-star in something called The Billionaire. It was a comedy and she said her husband Arthur Miller was reworking it. Arthur Miller a comedy writer? I ran away and so did Greg Peck, and the completed film, Let’s Make Love, showed she’d become all blurry and distant. It was sad.”

Cary Grant

‘Monkey Business’ at the BFI

The 1952 screwball comedy, Monkey Business, will be screened at London’s BFI Southbank in September as part of a Cary Grant retrospective, and is also The Times’ classic film of the week, as reviewed by Larushka Ivan-Zadeh.

“Grant basically retreads the stiff academic he played in Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby as Dr Fulton, a nutty professor in bottle-end spectacles who is striving to create an elixir of eternal youth. Then one day, a lab chimpanzee breaks out of his cage and, unbeknown to Fulton, beats him to it. When the chimp’s formula ends up in the water supply, Fulton unwittingly drinks it and regresses to his teenage self: losing the specs and whisking his sexy young secretary (rising star Marilyn Monroe, then dubbed the ‘cheesecake queen’ of Hollywood by Hedda Hopper) off to a rollerskating rink. 

The high-concept, chimp-led shenanigans are a tad contrived — though special mention to an excellent simian performance. But this joyful concoction of golden Hollywood greats still fizzes with sublime moments of comedy — not least the scenes between an adoring Monroe and the speccy Grant that were parodied seven years later, by Tony Curtis, in Some Like It Hot. “

Marilyn: The Pretty Funny Girl

In a blog post for the 25 Years Later site, J.C. Hotchkiss looks back at Marilyn’s comedic roles in Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot.

“The ‘dumb blonde’ has more depth than you would first think. As someone who has played this ingénue of a character, the ‘ditzy’ blonde needs to know herself. She needs to know the jokes but is NOT the joke. She needs to command the scene, but not be so childlike that the audience stops rooting for her and gets annoyed with her immaturity. Marilyn navigated this fine line throughout her career …

Marilyn fought for a long time to be taken seriously in the acting arena in which she desperately wanted to excel and to be a true actress, not just a pretty face.  I believe all these performance showcase that brilliance … To me, she was more than just a beauty. In fact, the internal struggles she was fighting throughout her life made these performances even that much more poignant …

Marilyn was a trendsetter without even trying to be. She just wanted to make people happy, sometimes at the detriment of her own well-being. At least we have her bright smile and contagious laughter on celluloid whenever we need to laugh and remember just how funny and beautiful she was; to remind us of who Marilyn Monroe was and the legacy she wanted us to remember. “

Wednesdays With Marilyn in Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Cultural Centre is hosting a summer season of Marilyn’s movies each Wednesday at 7 pm, with Niagara on July 10; followed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on July 17, How to Marry a Millionaire on July 24, and Some Like It Hot on July 31. On Wednesdays at 7 through August, catch The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Let’s Make Love and Monkey Business. And finally, the retrospective winds up in September with Don’t Bother to Knock and The Misfits.

Thanks to Eric at Marilyn Remembered

Marilyn, Ben Hecht and ‘My Story’

Born in 1893 to Belarusian Jewish immigrants, Ben Hecht became a noted Chicago reporter and novelist before scoring his first Broadway hit with The Front Page (1928.) He later became one of Hollywood’s greatest (and most prolific) screenwriters. This month, two new biographies of Hecht will be published.

The first, Adina Hoffman’s Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures, is part of a ‘Jewish Lives’ series from Yale University Press. In it, Hoffman explains how Hecht came to be the ghostwriter for Marilyn’s 1954 memoir, My Story. (Julian Gorbach’s The Notorious Ben Hecht will be published at the end of March.)

Although Hecht was not an observant Jew, he became involved with the Zionist group Irgun during World War II. After the war ended, he openly supported the Jewish insurgency in Palestine, and in a 1947 open letter, he praised underground violence against the British.

A year later, the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association announced a ban on all films connected to Hecht. Filmmakers became reluctant to work with Hecht and thus jeopardize the lucrative UK market, and he was forced to take salary cuts and adopt pseudonyms until the boycott was lifted in 1952.

According to Hecht, Darryl F. Zanuck was “the only studio head who would hire me and use my name … [and he] got into a peck of trouble doing it.” As Adina Hoffman reveals in her book, Hecht worked with two longtime collaborators, writer Charles Lederer and director Howard Hawks, on a 1952 screwball comedy starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe. Originally titled Darling, I Am Growing Younger, it was later renamed Monkey Business.

In early 1954, Hecht spent five days in a San Francisco hotel interviewing Marilyn, whom he called ‘La Belle Bumps and Tears’. (His secretary Nanette Barber fondly recalled the sessions in a 2012 interview, posted here.) To Ken McCormick, the Doubleday editor who commissioned the project, he described the experience as “the longest series of log jams I’ve ever run into.” Hecht had back taxes to pay, and needed the money.

At first, he said, Marilyn was “100% clinging and co-operative”; but after her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, “the picture changed.” At DiMaggio’s behest, Marilyn’s lawyer demanded far tighter control. When the marriage collapsed months later, a devastated Marilyn refused to mention the divorce in the book.

Calling the situation “critical,” McCormick proposed “shift[ing] this all over into the third person and do[ing] a Ben Hecht biography of Marilyn Monroe … It seems to us that this would give you an elegant chance to write one hell of a book about Hollywood.” According to Hoffman, Hecht preferred to remain anonymous. Meanwhile, his shady agent Jacques Chambrun secretly sold the manuscript to a British tabloid. It was then serialised with neither Hecht’s nor Marilyn’s permission, landing the writer in legal trouble.

The book, My Story, wouldn’t be published until 1974, when both writer and subject were deceased. It was only in 2000 that Hecht was acknowledged publicly as the author. In a recent essay for Affidavit, Audrey Wollen wrote, “Hecht’s version of Monroe’s life set a cultural precedent for every future biography.” You can read more about its backstory here.

Marilyn Shakes a Leg in ‘Monkey Business’

Over at the Culled Culture blog,  Genna Rivieccio takes another look at Monkey Business.

“The 1952 vehicle that helped further establish Marilyn Monroe as a comically innocent sex symbol, Monkey Business, is an exploration of this very notion–that were the ‘old’ and ‘aged’ to lose some of their inhibitions as they were able to at the peak of their hormonal teen years, then they might just get a chance to finally do things right with their lives–at least sexually … The staidness of the adult mind, so bristled by sex more than excited by it as it was in adolescence, is manifested most clearly when Lois shows off her ‘stockings’ (filled by the signature Monroe leg) to Barnaby, who invented the no-snag fabric for them. He stares at it with not a lustful thought in his mind, examining it as a work of art for its practical, not biological purposes.”

‘Hollywood Revisited’ in Palm Springs

The movie costume collection of Marilyn Remembered president Greg Schreiner – around 500 garments in total, including this red dress originally designed by Oleg Cassini and worn by his former wife, Gene Tierney, in On the Riviera (1951) , and by Marilyn a year later in promotional shots and at the premiere of Monkey Business – returns to the spotlight in Hollywood Revisited, a musical extravaganza at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs on February 22, the Desert Sun reports.

“‘It began with Marilyn,’ Schreiner beams. ‘She was always my No. 1 star.’ In those early days of collecting, he says he could fetch a vintage garb from $200 to $500. ‘It was one of the first times [auction houses] had done something like it; nobody had thought the costumes would ever be worth anything.’ As prices for movie costumes shot north over the years, especially Monroe-related items, Schreiner fell deeper in love with collecting all kinds of movie wardrobe items.

In 1987, Schreiner formalized the genesis for what is now Hollywood Revisited in a very small way — in nursing and retirement homes. Things snowballed after that. This year, Schreiner has shows booked in major theatrical houses around the country — from West Palm Beach and Santa Monica to Chicago. He is now heralded for being one of the most well-known collectors of classic movie costumes worn by Monroe, Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Katherine Hepburn, Mae West, Judy Garland, and countless others. In fact, 30 of Schreiner’s costumes are on display in the Hollywood Museum.”

UPDATE: Hollywood Revisited will be staged again at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, Los Angeles on Match 26, to benefit the Musical Theatre Guild’s extensive youth outreach programs.

Remembering Marilyn’s Movie Triumphs

Marilyn in ‘Some Like It Hot ‘ (1959)

Over at The Wrap, Rosemary Rossi picks ten movie clips showcasing  Marilyn in her prime, with praise from leading critics.

“It has been observed that no matter how a scene was lighted, Monroe had the quality of drawing all the light to herself. In her brief scenes here, surrounded by actors much more experienced, she is all we can look at.” – Roger Ebert on ‘All About Eve’

“The reality was that she was a great, natural comedienne. She took superficial, cut-out roles and elevated them to whole new levels.” – Peter Bogdanovich on ‘Monkey Business’

“Monroe’s inflections and expressions have a deliciously clever and sharply experienced irony” – Richard Brody on ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’

“So arresting is Monroe’s presence that when she’s not on-screen, we wait impatiently, wondering, Where have you gone, Mrs. DiMaggio?” – Melissa Anderson on ‘The Seven Year Itch’

“Monroe steals it, as she walked away with every movie she was in. It is an act of the will to watch anyone else while she is on the screen.” – Roger Ebert on ‘Some Like It Hot’