Why Oscar Snubbed Sugar

1f7d

As another Oscar night looms, the Huffington Post notes that comedies have traditionally been overlooked. Some Like it Hot won just one in 1960 –  Best Costume Design ( for Orry-Kelly.)

The classic comedy lost out in five other categories (including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.) While Marilyn would win a Golden Globe for her role as Sugar, she was not nominated for an Oscar that year, and never would be.

Marilyn had previously been snubbed by the Academy in 1957, when her acclaimed performance in Bus Stop failed to gain a nomination, but her co-star, newcomer Don Murray, did.  She believed this was a deliberate punishment for her victorious battle with Twentieth Century Fox, and perhaps also for marrying Arthur Miller during his stand-off with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Simone Signoret, who won the coveted Best Actress award for Room at the Top, was then Marilyn’s neighbour at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Her husband, Yves Montand, was filming Let’s Make Love with Marilyn, and they would later have an affair.

As Hollywood’s leading sex symbol, whose niche was in comedy, Marilyn did not fit the profile of an Oscar winner. Her breakthrough dramatic role, in The Misfits (1961), would also be ignored.

Although she had top billing for Some Like it Hot, her screen-time was relatively short. If only she had been eligible for the Best Supporting Actress category, she might have pipped her pal Shelley Winters (who won for The Diary of Anne Frank) to the post.

‘Marilyn: The Quest For An Oscar’

Turiello Oscar

As this year’s awards season gets underway, many MM fans will bemoan the fact that she never won, or was even nominated for an Oscar. Of course, there will always be sceptics who believe she was more of a star than an actress. However, when we consider how many acclaimed films she appeared in, and how even her lesser works remain hugely popular, that opinion doesn’t hold much water.

Of the hundreds of books devoted to Marilyn, only a few have focused exclusively on her work in movies. Carl Rollyson’s pioneering biography, Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress is perhaps the cream of the crop, with honourable mention for Richard Buskin’s Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Crown’s Marilyn at 20th Century Fox, and Cindy de La Hoz’s Platinum Fox, although these books are more visually based.

Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar is the latest book to join this small pantheon. Author James Turiello has previously published a similar book about Errol Flynn, and is working on a third volume about James Dean. Turiello concentrates solely on Marilyn’s career, arguing that her unique beauty and charisma made her a kind of female counterpart to Flynn, whose acting credits were also overlooked by the Academy.

In agreement with most critics, Turiello singles out The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve among Marilyn’s best early films. He also praises her first starring role in Ladies of the Chorus, a B-movie musical that would otherwise have been forgotten. But to my surprise, he virtually ignores her performances in Clash By Night and Don’t Bother to Knock. Her comedic turn in Monkey Business and even her brief cameo in O’Henry’s Full House also deserve further attention.

1953 was the year when Marilyn became an international star, with a string of hit movies (Niaqara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire.) Turiello recalls his own experience of first seeing Marilyn on the big screen in two 1954 movies, River of No Return and There’s No Business Like Show Business. Although these are generally considered inferior vehicles, Turiello notes how Marilyn made the most of mediocre material, using her star quality to overcome other limitations.

The Seven Year Itch (1955) was, Turiello argues, Marilyn’s first Oscar-worthy role. He analyses this film in depth, and her brilliant later roles in Bus Stop, The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like it Hot and The Misfits, skipping over the less feted Let’s Make Love and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give.

Naturally, there are a few minor factual errors. As an author myself, I understand how difficult it is to get everything right – especially with a subject as fabled as MM. But I was a little disappointed to find some quotations commonly misattributed to Marilyn in a chapter devoted to her famous witticisms. In a chapter dedicated to trivia, Turiello also claims that she had an IQ of 168. While Marilyn was certainly an intelligent woman, there is no evidence that she ever took this test.

Of course, Marilyn is not the only performer neglected by the Academy. Turiello devotes a chapter to other talents who lost out. However, she is easily one of the most prominent names on that list. Turiello suggests that she should be given a posthumous Lifetime Achievement award. While many fans will agree, the Academy has never awarded a lifetime honour posthumously.

Marilyn: The Quest For An Oscar includes black-and-white photos on almost every page, and makes for a pleasant, undemanding read. Whether or not the Academy takes note, fans will certainly appreciate Turiello’s heartfelt crusade to champion Marilyn’s extraordinary achievements in cinema.

Oscar Tribute to ‘Some Like it Hot’

11796261_10206313735337748_344999573259010543_nMarilyn may never have won an Oscar, but the Academy is paying tribute to her most enduringly popular film, Some Like it Hot, with a dedicated page on their website, including costume sketches, script pages, and this previously unpublished photo of Marilyn on Coronado Beach with director Billy Wilder.

In related news, the inaugural Coronado Island Film Festival will be held in January 2016, with a panel of judges headed by Leonard Maltin, reports the San Diego Union Tribune.

Multiple Marilyns Open the Oscars

11001900_954897761202125_6167165588800926476_n crop

Multiple Marilyns graced the open ceremony of this year’s Oscars. In presenter Neil Patrick Harris’s musical tribute to Hollywood, Marilyn was mentioned in the same breath as Charlie Chaplin, another true immortal who never won an Oscar (except for a Lifetime Achievement award.)

The footage of Marilyn is lifted (of course) from her celebrated performance of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. You can watch the opening ceremony in full on the Oscars website (US only) or Youtube; and the Marilyn segment is here.

Marilyn in 1961: An Oscar-Worthy Misfit

At the 'Misfits' premiere, 1961
At the ‘Misfits’ premiere, 1961

“The sexpot goes serious, and the serious actresses go sexpot…it’s a weird year in 1961!”

Over at his Who Should Have Won the Oscars? blog, Robert James looks at the Best Actress category for 1961, noting that the nominations included two stars hitherto more celebrated for their beauty than acting – Audrey Hepburn (for Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and Sophia Loren, who won for Two Women. While I believe Sophia was a worthy winner, I agree that Marilyn should also have been nominated for her great performance in The Misfits. (She is also noted as deserving of a nomination for Some Like it Hot at the previous year’s Oscar ceremony, and I would argue that her earlier performance in Bus Stop should also have been recognised.)

‘Oscar-Worthy’ Marilyn as Sugar

tumblr_mv2girCyeg1r19moio1_500

“Hey, Garbo never won, either. Monroe was never even nominated.” – Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

With awards season underway, Entertainment Weekly has named the 51 Greatest Performances Overlooked by Oscar – with Marilyn’s unforgettable turn as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot ranked fifth. (She did, however, win a Golden Globe for her role.)

“This film picked up several nominations for the men involved in making it, but there was no love for its lead actress that year—or any year. Maybe she was already too big a movie star. Maybe that blinded the Academy to a performance that was arguably the strongest ever from one of the 20th century’s most iconic stars. Monroe never got quite enough respect when she was alive, but there’s a reason she endures as a legend. Her ukulele-strumming Sugar Kane Kowalczyk almost tempts Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon out of the feminine disguises they’ve donned to hide from the mob. Sugar captures the allure and effervescence of a sex symbol while showcasing the warmth and soulfulness of the woman beneath. How much of that is thanks to the actress herself, and how much is her acting? That’s why it’s a great performance—almost as good as Norma Jean’s portrayal of Marilyn Monroe herself.” —Anthony Breznican

The Guardian‘s Paul Howlett also nominates Some Like it Hot among 10 Films that Kids Will Love – and So Will You…

“It must be said that Curtis looks quite the part as Josephine, Lemmon less so as Daphne; though putting both in close proximity to 50s sex goddess Marilyn Monroe as the vulnerable singer Sugar Kane is a comic gift that keeps giving, with the lovestruck Joe and Jerry permanently on the verge of being discovered, permanently on the verge of revealing their true selves, as it were, to Sugar.

In the hands of director Billy Wilder, this is actually a sophisticated sex comedy with uncomfortable hints of voyeurism, but much of that will sail straight over younger heads, leaving plenty of innocent, laugh-out-loud gender-swap farce…’Nobody’s perfect’ is Osgood’s legendary last line, but this fizzy, scintillating film is pretty close to it.”

‘Love, Marilyn’ in London

Photo by Milton Greene. 1953

Liz Garbus’s documentary, Love, Marilyn, will receive its UK premiere in London’s Leicester Square on October 14 (with another screening a day later), as part of the BFI London Film Festival. Tickets can be booked from September 24.

Love, Marilyn was reviewed by Scott Feinberg of the Hollywood Reporter yesterday, and he thinks it might be worthy of an Oscar nomination.

“One never knows what the Academy’s documentary branch will nominate for the best documentary under its bizarre system. But, as someone who is a passionate student of film history and knows a fair bit about Monroe, having interviewed many people who worked with her — among them Jane Russell (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Eli Wallach (The Misfits), Don Murray (Bus Stop), Nehemiah Persoff (Some Like It Hot), and Celeste Holm (All About Eve) — you can take my word for it: Love, Marilyn made me appreciate the tragedy of her death more than anything else I’ve ever come across, and it deserves to be seen and recognized.”

31 Days of Oscar

The New York Post reports on 31 Days of Oscar, TCM’s countdown to this year’s Academy Awards by screening a special program of classic movies – including Some Like it Hot (February 1st) and Let’s Make Love, which though not one of Marilyn’s more successful films, earned Oscar nominations for its impressive soundtrack; BAFTA nominations for director George Cukor and Yves Montand; and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical/Comedy.

Oscar Hopes for Williams, Branagh

Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are both Oscar nominees for their roles in My Week With Marilyn:

Actress In a Leading Role

  • Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
  • Viola Davis, The Help
  • Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
  • Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Actor In a Supporting Role
  • Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
  • Jonah Hill, Moneyball
  • Nick Nolte, Warrior
  • Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  • Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close


Best Actress Rewind: 1961

Over at PopMatters, Matt Mazur casts an eye at 1961’s Oscar nominees, and argues that Marilyn should have been on the list: ‘Marilyn Monroe’s final, haunting dramatic turn in John Huston’s The Misfits is a subtle marvel.’

1961’s winner was Sophia Loren, for Two Women. Mazur has previously contended that Marilyn merited a nomination for Some Like it Hot (1959), and also Kim Stanley for her MM-inspired role in 1958’s The Goddess.

Whenever Mazur gets around to 1956, I hope he’ll mention Marilyn’s extraordinary performance in Bus Stop. Not only should she have been nominated that year, I think she deserved to win outright.