Marilyn and Henry Hathaway

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Director Henry Hathaway, who guided Marilyn through her star-making performance in Niagara, was a movie veteran, perhaps best-known for his action pictures. Although seen as gruff and domineering by some, he proved to be one of Marilyn’s most supportive directors.

Henry Hathaway: The Lives of a Hollywood Director, published later this month, is a new biography by Harold N. Pomainville, and promises to be of interest to MM fans (although rather expensive, in my opinion.) He describes how Hathaway dealt with Marilyn’s interfering coach, Natasha Lytess; and how he persuaded Marilyn to sing along to the record in the ‘Kiss’ scene.

Pomeraine also reveals that Zanuck thwarted Hathaway’s plan to cast Marilyn in Of Human Bondage, and that Hathaway advised her to hire Charles Feldman as her new agent as a defence against the hostile studio head. And it was Hathaway who offered Marilyn the chance to star in a Jean Harlow biopic. She rejected it, partly because she was then in dispute with screenwriter Ben Hecht over a shelved autobiography (published after her death as My Story); but perhaps also because the pressures of Harlow’s life mirrored her own.

“Though Hathaway worked with Marilyn only once,” Pomeraine writes, “he became one of her prime defenders. At a time when the Fox hierarchy, including [Darryl] Zanuck, screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, and director Howard Hawks, regarded Monroe as little more than a passing novelty, Hathaway saw her as a rare and sensitive talent: ‘Marilyn was witty and bright, but timid. She was afraid of people.'”

Marilyn, Sex and Hollywood in the Fifties

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In an excellent article for Film International,  Anthony Uzarowski explores how sexuality was depicted in 1950s cinema – with particular reference to Marilyn, of course!

“Monroe represented pure sexuality, and virtually all the films in which she had a starring role were promoted around her erotic image. Starting in 1953, when she appeared in Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, Monroe was regularly voted top female box office star by the American film distributors. Monroe’s image perfectly suited the notions surrounding sexuality in this period. In the majority of her early films she portrays a good-hearted gold-digger (Gentlemen Prefer BlondesHow to Marry Millionaire) whose ultimate goal is marriage, or a fantasy woman who, while highly sexual, is unthreatening to the moral structure of the nuclear family (The Seven Year Itch). Unlike in the case of the femme fatales of the 1940s, Monroe’s sexuality is not lethal or emasculating, but rather designed to flatter the male ego. Monroe’s 1954 film The Seven Year Itch is possibly the best example of how sexuality and star image were used to attract audiences in the 1950s, both in terms of the film’s narrative structure and the publicity campaign used to promote it.”

Pop Divas Show Love for Marilyn

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Pop diva Gwen Stefani has made no secret of her love for Marilyn, as the artwork for her new single and forthcoming album shows.

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Also this week, singer Lana Del Rey – who has referenced Marilyn several times in her work – appeared at a Los Angeles screening of her new video, ‘Freak’, in an outfit inspired by Marilyn’s Niagara style. (Although the original red/white ensemble – designed by Dorothy Jeakins – didn’t make the final cut, Marilyn wore it in public while filming on location in 1952.)

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And finally, Lady Gaga channeled the bombshell look at last month’s Golden Globe Awards.

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Cartier’s Diamond Homage to Marilyn

Karen-ElsonDiamond manufacturer Cartier has made an enchanting Christmas commercial, featuring a cover version of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl Best Friend’, performed by supermodel Karen Elson, from an arrangement by Jarvis Cocker. Of course, Cartier was referenced in Marilyn’s signature song from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Elson is shown being carried aloft by tuxedoed suitors, in a nod to Jack Cole’s original choreography. It was filmed in Paris, where Blondes is partially set. The neckline of her red dress is similar to Marilyn’s in Niagara, and the scene where her flared skirt billows over a subway grate recalls The Seven Year Itch. You can watch the clip here.

Margaret Atwood’s ‘Marilyn Monroe-Bot’

rare13One of the world’s leading authors, Margaret Atwood, has referenced Marilyn in her latest sci-fi novel, The Heart Goes Last. “Elvis really put it out there,” she told Toronto Metro. “I was also a Marilyn fan. It’s my little homage to the Elvises and the Marilyns.”

Atwood, who is Canadian, begins the chapter entitled ‘Black Suit’ with a reference to MM’s sultry performance in Niagara. In another chapter, ‘Dressups’, a character transforms into a Marilyn-style robot. (A ‘Monroebot’ previously featured in a 2001 episode of the animated series, Futurama.)

Here’s a sneak preview of The Heart Goes Last, which first appeared as an online serial…

“Black flatters me, thinks Charmaine, checking herself in the powder room mirror. Aurora had known where to take her shopping, and though black has never been her colour, Charmaine’s not negative about the results. The black suit, the black hat, the blond hair – it’s like a white chocolate truffle with dark chocolate truffles all around it; or like, who was that? Marilyn Monroe in Niagara, in the scene right before she gets strangled, with the white scarf she never should have worn, because women in danger of being strangled should avoid any fashion accessories that tie around the neck. They’ve shown that movie a bunch of times on Positron TV and Charmaine watched it every time. Sex in the movies used to be so much more sexy than it became after you could actually have sex in the movies. It was languorous and melting, with sighing and surrender and half-closed eyes. Not just a lot of bouncy athletics.

Of course, she thinks, Marilyn’s mouth was fuller than her own, and you could use very thick red lipstick back then. Does she herself have that innocence, that surprised look? Oh! Goodness me! Big doll eyes. Not that Marilyn’s innocence was much in evidence in Niagara. But it was, later.”

Naked Truths: Drake, Rushdie and Marilyn

10373848_1451182991791300_5610828183029719260_nThe award-winning novelist, Salman Rushdie, has praised the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake in a video for Pitchfork, noting an allusion to one of Marilyn’s most famous quotes in ‘What’s My Name‘, Drake’s 2010 duet with pop star Rihanna.

“He also complements Drake on a subtle Marilyn Monroe reference in the What’s My Name line ‘Okay, away we go/Only thing we have on is the radio’. As he explains, ‘She [Monroe] posed in the nude and she was asked if she had nothing on, and she said ‘I have the radio on’.”

As Stacy Eubank reveals in her excellent book, Holding a Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, Marilyn’s remark was first reported by gossip columnist Erskine Johnson in August 1952, while she was filming Niagara on location in Canada. Marilyn’s candid humour won over the public, though her detractors questioned whether the quote was really her own.

In 1955, Roy Craft – Marilyn’s publicist at Twentieth Century-Fox – dispelled the rumour, telling the Saturday Evening Post‘s Pete Martin, “To give it a light touch, when she was asked, ‘Didn’t you have anything on at all when you were posing for that picture?’ we were supposed to have told her to say, ‘I had the radio on.’ I’m sorry to disagree with the majority, but she made up those cracks herself.”

Photographer Tom Kelley – who shot the nude calendar in 1949 – told Maurice Zolotow in 1955, “It wasn’t the radio. It was a phonograph. I had Artie Shaw’s record of ‘Begin the Beguine’ playing. I find ‘Begin the Beguine’ helps to create vibrations.’

In a 1956 interview with Milton Shulman, Marilyn herself explained, “It was a large press conference, and some very fierce woman journalist – I think she was Canadian – stood up and said: ‘do you mean to tell us you didn’t have anything on when you posed for that nude picture?’ Suddenly, an old nightclub joke popped into my head. ‘Oh, no,’ I said. ‘I had the radio on.’ I just changed the words around a bit, but I thought everybody knew it.”

‘Niagara’: Marilyn’s Turning Point

Although Marilyn had played leads before (most notably Don’t Bother to Knock), Niagara was her first true star vehicle. Writing for the Niagara Gazette, B.B. Singer looks back at the making of the movie, and the turbulent natural backdrop which seemed to mirror Marilyn’s tempestuous life.

“At the time she came to do location shots (June ‘52) for that movie, Monroe was already used to being hounded by paparazzi; but in a way, Niagara and her stay in this region was the last of her time before the complete onslaught of overwhelming stardom (followed, as the film was, by popular Monroe vehicles like How to Marry a Millionaire and The Seven Year Itch).

The girl first known in Southern California as Norma Jean had married very young to one Jim Dougherty, and it hadn’t lasted. Now as she labored in Niagara under Henry Hathaway’s patient, marvelous direction, she had a new boyfriend some around here still recall from his ball-playing heyday as ‘the Yankee Clipper.’

Newly retired, the celebrated Dimadge came up for some of the shooting, and he and Monroe got out to pretty Niagara County countryside to eat at restaurants like Schimschack’s. Monroe saw the requisite Falls sites, too, and no snob, got along well with extras, chambermaids, and the like.

However, the movie’s Niagara-like storminess would increasingly become her own, as the much-dissected relationship with DiMaggio became a marriage in 1954, one plagued by his silent fits, controlling jealousy (especially when she wore certain attire), and distrust of her friends, agents, fans, and not least, the paparazzi.

Niagara? A good film, and a luffing of sails for Monroe, granting her some transient happiness, that is, before her own personal craft began teetering (as happens to the film’s co-stars Joseph Cotten and Jean Peters) toward the mighty, remorseless cataracts!

Yes, in her case, eddying down toward a last cinematic enterprise beside an aging, doomed Gable, released in ‘61 and appropriately titled The Misfits. And then her tragic, early demise the very next year. Meanwhile, the pitiless Falls kept on tumbling, remaining the most enduring star.”

Marilyn at the BFI: Full Schedule Announced

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Flyer shared by Valerie

The full programme for the BFI’s June season of MM films is now online, with tickets available now for members, or from May 12 for non-members. All of Marilyn’s films from 1952-62 are included (apart from O. Henry’s Full House), with multiple showings of The Misfits as part of its nationwide reissue, and a new print of Niagara. This retrospective includes two other events: ‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?‘ on June 3rd, featuring authors Jacqueline Rose and Bonnie Greer; and a Marilyn Monroe Study Day on June 27, with guests including Sarah Churchwell. You can view the digital guide for June here.

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Marilyn in June at the BFI

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Details of the British Film Institute’s June retrospective (at London Southbank) have been posted on their blog, naming 12 of the 15 Marilyn movies to be screened – and giving us a sneak preview of the season’s poster. (Interestingly, the BFI have partnered with Stylist, the free women’s magazine who have picked Marilyn as their cover girl on more than one occasion.)

Jonathan Santlofer: The Garmento and Marilyn

Photo by Sam Shaw, 1957
Photo by Sam Shaw, 1957

In a forthcoming anthology, Dark City Lights: New York Stories, author and artist Jonathan Santlofer has contributed a short story, ‘The Garmento and the Movie Star’, imagining a twelve year-old boy’s bittersweet encounter with Marilyn.

One summer, the boy was working as an errand boy for his father, who owned a company on Seventh Avenue – at the heart of New York’s garment district – where top designers made and sold their cocktail dresses. In Santlofer’s story, Marilyn visits the shop one day:

“Her expression changed often but in slow motion: happy to sad to mad to determined or lost. A couple of times she turned to me and asked my opinion about a dress and I always said she looked beautiful.

‘Really?’ she’d say, as if no one had ever said that to her before and I’d bob my head up and down like a puppy and say ‘Really‘, and she’d throw me a smile like a bunch of wild flowers tossed into the air.

A couple of times she called my father over and cupped his ear and whispered like a child would, and when I think about it now that’s exactly how she seemed: childlike.

At one point she sagged onto the couch beside me in a half-unzipped dress and sipped champagne and asked me more questions – if I liked school, if I had siblings, if I liked to read (I could not come up with a single title, not even one of my Hardy Boys books or Classic Comics), so I turned it around and asked her, ‘What’s your favorite movie you ever made?’ and she thought for a while before saying ‘Bus Stop, because…Cherie was a…real girl, you know, sad but…trying to be happy’, her pale face inches from mine, and I said, ‘Oh you were great in that’, though I hadn’t seen it and again she said ‘Really?‘ as if my opinion mattered, and I said, ‘Yes!’ and she smiled and asked me if I got along with my sister and I said ‘sort of’, and I asked her if she had any kids and she blinked and pulled back as if slapped and her eyes welled up with tears and in a quivering whisper said ‘I…have not been…lucky,’ and my father cut in and said ‘Kids? Who needs kids? Brats, all of ’em!’ and swatted me a little too hard on the thigh and forced a laugh, then quickly fetched a new dress. Marilyn dashed behind the screen looking as though she might shatter to pieces but emerged in less than a minute in a white satin dress with a tight bodice and the same less trim along the bottom, all smiles and absolutely radiant, the movie star, Marilyn Monroe.”

Marilyn in 'Niagara' - sketch by Jonathan Santlofer
Marilyn in ‘Niagara’ – sketch by Jonathan Santlofer

In a blog entry posted on July 2014, Santlofer mentioned seeing Marilyn on the big screen. Maybe that experience inspired his story?

“Film Forum is having a ‘Femmes Noir’ festival, all the great films. The other night Joyce Carol Oates her husband Charlie Gross, Megan Abbott and  NY Times humorist, Joyce Wadler and I, all went to see Niagara. I had never seen it on the big screen, always thought it was a sloppy B movie only worth seeing for the luscious 25-year-old Marilyn, but it’s better than that. Joseph Cotten plays the tortured husband well and Jean Peters is really pretty and the color is fantastically lurid. It’s true one misses Marilyn when she’s not on the screen but she’s kind of acting in her own film anyway. The first scene of Marilyn/Rose in bed and obviously nude, is a showstopper, and that face, dewy and open despite the heavy makeup, was made for the screen.”