If you’re in Amsterdam this Christmas, don’t miss the Happy Birthday Marilyn: 90 Years Ms Monroe exhibit (featuring the Ted Stampfer collection), on display at De Nieuwe Kerk until next February. And from next Thursday (December 22), the city’s EYE Film Institute will be screening seven of Marilyn’s best movies: Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot and The Misfits.
Marilyn Remembered staffer Jackie Craig spotted this beautiful image of Marilyn on Orange St in Glendale, California. It is based on a scene from Niagara (1953).
A new Life magazine special, LIFE Film Noir: 75 Years of the Greatest Crime Films, has just been released, and one of the movies showcased within its pages is Niagara. The text is provided by novelist J.I.Baker, author of The Empty Glass and a previous Life special, The Loves of Marilyn. While his writings on the personal lives of the stars tend to be speculative in the extreme, he’s on firmer ground with the movies they made.
In this short feature, he also quotes another novelist, Megan Abbott, who describes Niagara as “sleazy, gorgeous and mesmerising,” noting that Marilyn “takes full advantage of her character’s complications and desperation.”
“Though sometimes overshadowed by her later turns in musicals, comedies and ‘serious’ dramas,” Baker observes, “MM made an early indelible mark in film noir,” citing her riveting performances in The Asphalt Jungle, Clash by Night and Don’t Bother to Knock. (Incidentally, The Asphalt Jungle is featured in another recent publication on film noir, Mark Vieira’s Into the Dark – although Marilyn is not mentioned specifically there.)
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.'”
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 Blondes, How 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 diva Gwen Stefani has made no secret of her love for Marilyn, as the artwork for her new single and forthcoming album shows.
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.)
And finally, Lady Gaga channeled the bombshell look at last month’s Golden Globe Awards.
Diamond 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.
One 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.”
The 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.”
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.”