Tag Archives: On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront: Marilyn and John Garfield

Three years after their encounter on the set of We Were Strangers (see here), Marilyn and John Garfield were early contenders for the lead roles in On the Waterfront, according to Marilyn’s photographer friend, Sam Shaw, who was then developing it as a screenplay. (Director Elia Kazan denied all of this, but Al Ryelander, then a press agent for Columbia Studios, insisted the story was accurate.)

By 1952, Marilyn’s star was rising –  but Garfield’s career was destroyed, after he refused to ‘name names’ to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and became the most famous victim of the ‘red-baiting’ era. He died of a heart attack months later, aged 37. Author Robert Knott retold the story, which also touches on Marilyn’s relationships with Kazan and future husband Arthur Miller, in He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield (2003.)

On the Waterfront was released to acclaim in 1954, starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. Ironically, the film can be seen as director Elia Kazan’s self-justification for his own decision to name names. One can only imagine how different Marilyn’s subsequent career might have been had she played the role of demure Edie Doyle…

‘On the Waterfront’ (1954)

“Shaw gave Monroe the script while she was in New York to take in the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Monroe read the script and passed it on to her lover, Elia Kazan. Shaw, who called himself a ‘half-assed observer at the Actors Studio,’ had met Kazan on the set of the 1950 film Panic in the Streets. ‘Kazan had heard about my script (before Monroe gave it to him) and wanted to see it,’ Shaw said. ‘I wouldn’t give it to him, because he was involved with Arthur Miller on a similar project, The Hook.’ But after Monroe gave Kazan the script, the director called Shaw. ‘You’ve got an interesting script, but it needs a lot of work,’ he told Shaw. ‘Let Budd Schulberg work on it.’ Shaw, seeing the merit in Kazan’s suggestion, raised $40,000 to pay Schulberg to work on the script. According to Shaw, at this point Jack Cohn turned the script over to Sam Spiegel … Within a year Kazan, Spiegel and Schulberg were preparing the film for Columbia Pictures with Marlon Brando … By that point, neither Shaw nor Garfield were involved in any way.”

Marilyn and James Dean: The Love That Never Was

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Marilyn at the ‘East of Eden’ premiere, 1955

Actor James Dean is the latest subject – or victim – of celebrity biographer Darwin Porter, whose 2012 book, Marilyn at Rainbow’s End, was slated by fans. Co-written with Danforth Prince and due for publication in April, James Dean: Tomorrow Never Comes makes the eye-popping assertion that Dean was embroiled in a sado-masochistic relationship with Marlon Brando. And according to the Daily Mail, ‘Dean supposedly also had a fling with Marilyn Monroe when they spent two weekends a beach house on Fire Island, an idyllic getaway East of New York.’

The Daily Express has more detail, rendered in Porter’s trademark purple prose:

“Amazingly Dean dreamed of marrying Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Dean met Monroe in 1955 and the pair quickly adjourned to a romantic weekend at a beachfront cottage.

‘He was very loving, very romantic,’ Monroe told actress Shelley Winters. ‘I’ve agreed to marry him one day.’ But after several weeks they recognised that marriage would be disastrous.

‘Let’s admit the truth: both of us need babysitters,’ said Dean. Monroe agreed: ‘It wouldn’t work. We’d end up destroying each other.’ However even after they split Monroe remained possessive, berating him about his fling with Taylor.”

Marilyn did, in fact, visit Fire Island on several occasions during 1955, as the Strasbergs owned a holiday home there. Dean was friendly with the Strasbergs due to his association with the Actors Studio. However, no such tryst has ever been mentioned until now. As with the Brando story, it seems unlikely that an encounter between such iconic stars would take so long to be revealed.  (Porter has also claimed that Marilyn had affairs with Elizabeth Taylor and Ronald Reagan in his previous biographies, but once again, there is no solid evidence for this.)

In her 1989 memoir, Shelley Winters recalled seeing a Los Angeles preview of Brando’s film On the Waterfront with Marilyn and James Dean in early 1954. As Marilyn had just married Joe DiMaggio and was spending most of her time in San Francisco while in dispute with Twentieth Century-Fox, this seems questionable. However, Winters did know both Marilyn and Dean quite well, and some fans have suggested that the preview may actually have been Brando’s 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire.

James-Dean-coat

In any case, Winters’ memories did not suggest any intimacy between Marilyn and Dean. She recalled that after the movie, she and Marilyn drove to film director Nick Ray’s bungalow at the Chateau Marmont, and that Dean rode ahead on his motorcycle, ‘playing chicken’ with them – which angered and upset Marilyn.

Needless to say, the quotations attributed to Winters in Porter’s book do not appear in her own memoirs – which make no mention of an affair between Marilyn and Dean. And the quotations attributed to Marilyn do not appear in any other source.

Before his untimely death in September 1955, Dean was said to have been one of several actors considered as a possible co-star for Marilyn in Bus Stop (the part eventually went to newcomer Don Murray.) And director Henry Hathaway had hoped to pair Marilyn and Dean in a remake of Of Human Bondage. The film was later made with Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey.

Although they may have been united in countless tacky Photoshops, the only time Marilyn and Dean were connected publicly was at the 1955 premiere of his film, East of Eden. The event was a benefit for the Actors Studio, and Marilyn served as an ‘usherette’. She was accompanied by Milton Greene, and was later photographed with comedian Milton Berle – but not with James Dean, because he wasn’t there!

World Premiere for Miller’s ‘Hook’

Marilyn poses for photographer Ben Ross, reading a play by Arthur Miller - shortly after their first meeting in 1951
Marilyn poses for photographer Ben Ross, while reading Arthur Miller – shortly after their first meeting in 1951

The Hook, Arthur Miller’s long-buried screenplay about troubled dockers on the New York waterfront – a district still known as Red Hook – is finally being staged at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton (of all places) after more than sixty years on the shelf, Matt Trueman writes in today’s Guardian.

“This is the script – ‘a play for the screen,’ he called it – that indirectly triggers Miller’s summons to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). It sowed the seeds of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his professional split from director Elia Kazan. Without The Hook, he probably wouldn’t have written The Crucible or A View from the Bridge, nor would Kazan have made On the Waterfront. It might be the most influential film never made.

Don’t think staging it is an exercise in theatrical history, though. Sixty-six years on, The Hook is unnervingly prescient. Its focus is the exploited workforce and union corruption in New York’s docks. ‘It talks about the living wage, zero-hours contracts and industrial communities on the brink of enormous change,’ says director James Dacre, adamant that he wouldn’t programme it otherwise. ‘Why here? Why now?'”

This play is of special interest to Marilyn fans, because Miller originally pitched it as a movie to Columbia’s Harry Cohn in 1951, during his first visit to Hollywood with director Elia Kazan. Marilyn, who was then dating Kazan, even accompanied them to a meeting with Cohn, disguised as a secretary.

As noted in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends, Marilyn’s attendance was intended as revenge on the tyrannical Cohn, who had fired her in 1948 after she rejected his sexual advances. Cohn, furious at his humiliation, dismissed The Hook as communist propaganda.

In 1954, Kazan would direct an Oscar-winning film with a very similar theme for Columbia: On the Waterfront. By then, Kazan had appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and named several colleagues as communists, in what many (including Miller) saw as a self-serving bid to save his own career.

In his own testimony before HUAC in 1956, Miller admitted to having attended a few communist meetings many years before, but refused on principle to name others. Marilyn stood by her husband, and he was acquitted in 1958.