When Marilyn Broke the Silence

In the wake of recent revelations about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood, Marilyn has often been mentioned in discussions about the ‘casting couch’. Unfortunately, much of this coverage has been inaccurate, depicting Marilyn as either a passive victim or somehow complicit.

A new article by Sean Braswell for OZY takes a different perspective, praising Marilyn as ‘Hollywood’s first big silence-breaker.’ Braswell cites the story of Marilyn turning down a pass from Columbia boss Harry Cohn, as well as her 1953 piece for Motion Picture magazine, ‘Wolves I Have Known.’

“In the years after her death, Monroe’s biographers, largely men, tended to ignore the star’s silence-breaking role, preferring to focus instead on the more salacious details of her personal life and the rumors that she slept her way to the top. Nor did Monroe, while she was alive, think of herself as a social reformer or a trailblazer for women’s rights. As the singer Ella Fitzgerald, a good friend of Monroe’s, once reflected about the screen legend: ‘She was an unusual woman — a little ahead of her times, and she didn’t know it.'”

Braswell also refers to authors Michelle Morgan and Sarah Churchwell, both of whom have done excellent work in recent years to address the sexist presumptions of earlier biographers. ‘Marilyn was really one of the first big stars to speak out about what we would now call sexual harassment,’ says Churchwell. ‘She was talking about a culture in which women were unsafe [and] her whole point was to say this happens over and over and over.’

Unfortunately, Braswell is on shakier ground when he uses ‘off the record’ quotes. For example, he quotes her saying in an interview before her death, ‘When I started modeling, [sex] was like part of the job … and if you didn’t go along, there were twenty-five girls who would.’ Braswell also states that Marilyn wrote ‘You know that when a producer calls an actress into his office to discuss a script, that isn’t all he has in mind. I’ve slept with producers. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t,’ in her 1954 memoir, My Story – but that line doesn’t appear in any version of the text.

In fact, both quotes are taken from an alleged conversation with writer Jaik Rosenstein, published in Anthony Summers’ 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.  Summers claims that Marilyn had known Rosenstein for years, and she trusted him not to write about it at the time. Whether or not Rosenstein is a reliable source, it should be made clear that Marilyn did not say them for publication.

Billy Wilder, Marilyn and ‘that Bourbon’

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In an article for Fredericksburg.com, Gary Olsen repeats an oft-told tale about Billy Wilder’s on-set travails with Marilyn:

“Film director Billy Wilder was tearing out what little hair he had on his head while filming a scene in Some Like It Hot. His ire was directed toward Marilyn Monroe, who was botching her lines as she was looking for a bottle of bourbon in a bureau.

He decided to tape her written line inside the drawer. On the next take, she opened the wrong drawer. Finally, he papered every drawer with the line, so it wouldn’t matter which one she opened. Eighty-three takes later, she nailed the line: ‘Where’s that bourbon?’

Wilder’s adventures with Monroe’s work habits during the film’s production are legendary…But Monroe’s performance in the 1958 film is cited as the best in her career. Wilder was astonished at what he saw live, versus what he witnessed viewing the rushes on the screen. ‘[Monroe’s performance] looks like nothing on the set,’ said Wilder, ‘and then when it goes on the screen, it all comes out in neon light. It’s fantastic how celluloid loves Monroe. Just incredible.'”

Like so many of Wilder’s anecdotes, this story – and in particular, the exact number of takes Marilyn allegedly required – has grown over time. However, there is no question that Billy found her difficult to work with, although the results were always stellar.

With Marilyn out of the picture for so long, she was never really able to tell her side of the story. In Volume II of Icon: The Life, Times and Films of MM, author Gary Vitacco-Robles reviewed the episode in detail – drawing a more complex picture of their fraught collaboration than has hitherto been noted.

“Biographer Sarah Churchwell observes that the scene was filmed with Marilyn’s back to the camera, enabling her to easily dub the line in post-production. Wilder’s demand for repeated takes suggests an overt power struggle between director and star. Donald H. Wolfe theorises that Marilyn staged the repeated takes in order to control the interpretation of her character and as a way to defy Wilder’s direction. She would deliver an incorrect line in the manner Wilder instructed for a series of takes (‘Where’s the whiskey?’ ‘Where’s the bottle?’) and purposefully wear down her director. In later takes, she would deliver the line verbatim to the script in the manner in which she believed fit her characterisation. Donald H. Wolfe observed: ‘She knew she was right and believed that a star of her stature had the prerogative of playing the scene the way she felt it.’ It was a battle of the wills but in the end, Marilyn won.”

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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‘Max Factor Can’t Claim Credit for Marilyn’

Photo by Ed Cronenwerth, 1948
Photo by Ed Cronenwerth, 1948

Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, has written an excellent article for The Guardian about Max Factor’s upcoming ad campaign featuring Marilyn, and their rather spurious claim to have ‘created’ and ‘transformed’ her.

“If Max Factor wants to emphasise history it should start by paying a little more attention to it. Monroe had her first – tiny – film role in 1947; she did not have her first starring role until 1952. Throughout the 1940s, she was still ‘mousey’ Norma Jeane. For my book on Monroe, I read every major biography then published, as well as many ancillary accounts – about 300 books in all. Not one reported that Max Factor suggested the aspiring starlet should bleach her hair. I don’t think any of them mentioned Max Factor at all. Instead, nearly all credit a woman named Emmeline Snively, the head of Monroe’s first modelling agency, with whom she signed in 1945.

Marilyn Monroe was not created by Max Factor – or by her studio head, Darryl F Zanuck (who hated her); or by her agent, Johnny Hyde, who paid for her to have minor plastic surgery (to the tip of her nose and her jawline) and got her first big roles; or by any of her directors, or husbands, or any other of a legion of men, and a handful of women, who have tried to claim the credit, now including Max Factor’s heirs. She was not created by makeup, in any sense: cosmetics were not sufficient to create Marilyn Monroe, and neither were other people. Emmeline Snively herself said that what distinguished the girl she knew was how hard she worked: ‘She wanted to learn, wanted to be somebody, more than anybody I ever saw before in my life.’

Everyone from Elton John to Joyce Carol Oates (who should know better) has trotted out this tenacious, tiresome story: ‘ordinary’ Norma Jeane was changed by someone else into the glamorous movie star Marilyn Monroe. But Norma Jeane Baker, as she was known in childhood (Mortenson was the name on her birth certificate, but she never knew her father), was always an extremely beautiful girl.

No doubt Marilyn attended the Max Factor beauty salon near Hollywood Boulevard in the 1940s, along with hundreds of other young starlets. I have no reason to disbelieve that she may have worked with Max Factor Jr himself in the 1950s, once she was famous. But no one except Marilyn Monroe created Marilyn Monroe, and in 2015 it’s past time for us to give credit to the woman who earned it.”

Garbus, Churchwell on ‘Love, Marilyn’

Sarah Churchwell praises ‘Love, Marilyn’ on Twitter

Sarah Churchwell – author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, whom also appears (as herself) in Love, Marilyn – praised the new documentary on her Twitter account last night.

Meanwhile, Liz Garbus, director of Love, Marilyn – screened at the London Film Festival last weekend – has spoken about MM to FemaleFirst.

“Marilyn created a figure of female sexuality and femininity at a time in the U.S. of great repression…I think it is naive or simplistic to say that Marilyn was an early feminist but what she did do was discuss sexuality.

The approach that I took in the film was to get a cast of actresses but none of them were playing Marilyn what they doing was using their experiences as actresses today to bring to life Marilyn’s experiences. They had insights into them that even I, who had read the documents twenty times didn’t.

Stylistically it is very different to anything that I have done before and I haven’t seen a film like it. I felt that I was doing something that was risky as I had a whole bunch of different actors reading fragments of thoughts and ideas.

You had to edit them to become cohesive and yet still relish their fragmented nature as they are not meant to be a narrative – they were meant to illuminate moments in time and brief thoughts; some of them fleeting.

So I had to respect that and then provide the viewer with a cohesive narrative and that was a balancing act.

[MM] created a new type of American figure and that was quite brilliant. Maybe some of it was instinctive but you don’t create that by accident…In the movie we show a lot of her press conferences and you see the way that she talks to the press – she is so clever and she handles the press so well.”

 

Variety Reviews ‘Love, Marilyn’

Variety has reviewed Love, Marilyn, giving us a fuller picture of the cast and materials. (David Strathairn as Arthur Miller is surely inspired casting!)

“With: F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Banks, Adrien Brody, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Hope Davis, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Ben Foster, Paul Giamatti, Jack Huston, Stephen Lang, Lindsay Lohan, Janet McTeer, Jeremy Piven, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Marisa Tomei, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Lois Banner, George Barris, Patricia Bosworth, Sarah Churchwell, Amy Greene, Molly Haskell, Jay Kanter, Richard Meryman, Thomas Schatz, Donald Spoto.

Two unearthed boxes of diary entries, letters and whatnot (some of which were published in 2010 as Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe) provide the novelty and appeal to what would otherwise be a standard life-overview. The erstwhile Norma Jean Baker’s awful childhood, her stormy marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, the paralyzing effects of her insecurities on film shoots, her problematic alliance with the Actors Studio, her pill consumption, et al., all constitute familiar terrain that makes Love, Marilyn seem redundant at times.

The first-person testimonies are more interesting, from archival clips of Susan Strasberg, John Huston, Joshua Logan, Jane Russell, Laurence Olivier and others to excerpts from memoirs and other writings by one of her many shrinks (read by F. Murray Abraham), Miller (David Strathairn), and analysts Gloria Steinem (Hope Davis) and Norman Mailer (Ben Foster), among others. Particularly flavorful are Oliver Platt and Paul Giamatti as Billy Wilder and George Cukor, respectively, both recalling their exasperation working with the hypersensitive box office sensation. There are also present-tense interviews with biographers, critics, Actors Studio contemporary Ellen Burstyn, and close non-celebrity friend Amy Greene (who shares some salty thoughts on Marilyn’s husbands).

While there’s no question Garbus has recruited first-rate talent to pay homage here, some of the most impressive names prove heavy-handed or simply miscast in attempting to channel the love goddess’s fragile spirit; moreover, having them act against green-screened archival materials has a tacky, pop-up televisual feel. Probably most effective in their straightforward readings are Jennifer Ehle, who gets a fair amount of screentime, and (perhaps surprisingly) Lindsay Lohan, who does not.

Limiting clips from predictable movie highlights, and skipping over several well-known titles entirely, the pic tries to emphasize lesser-known materials, including numerous candid photos, behind-the-scenes footage, and one uncomfortable live appearance on TV’s Person to Person.”

If Marilyn Had Lived…

The Huffington Post asked John Strasberg, Sarah Churchwell and Joyce Carol Oates what direction Marilyn’s career might have taken if she had lived beyond 1962.

“Back in those days, women, after a certain age, just weren’t cast in movies. Bette Davis was the first one to fight through the prejudice about how women should look in movies and playing leading roles; she had won Academy Awards, but she couldn’t get a job, so she put out ads in Variety and the such. Whether Marilyn could have done that, I don’t know. Certainly there was the possibility of that.” – John Strasberg

“My belief about Marilyn Monroe is that if she had only resisted returning to Hollywood, to make such an egregious movie as Let’s Make Love, but had remained in NYC in association with the Actors Studio, she might well have had a stage career as a serious mature actress; she might even be alive today.” – Joyce Carol Oates

“She had seen women like Betty Grable bow out gracefully, say, ‘I’ve had my time, and now it’s time for something else.’ So I don’t think it was difficult for Marilyn to imagine that.” – Sarah Churchwell

Marilyn’s Will and Her Beneficiaries

Marilyn with poet Norman Rosten and his wife, Hedda, in 1955

NPR takes a look at Marilyn’s will. Made in 1961, it remains controversial, and it’s rumoured that she had wanted to change it in the weeks before her death.

“Monroe grew up in an orphanage and foster homes. She had no relationship with her father, and her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. In her will, the actress set up a trust to care for her mother until she died; left money to her half-sister, who Monroe didn’t even know existed until she was 12; and made bequests to a poet friend and his wife (she loved poetry, and even wrote some herself) and to others she trusted.

According to Anthony Summers, who wrote a best-selling Monroe biography, the people named in her will got to know her as a real person who loved children, animals and cooking.

‘They took Marilyn under their wings,’ he says. ‘They gave her uncomplicated privacy and companionship.’

Monroe also left a bequest to her psychoanalyst, Marianne Kris.

‘She felt that [Kris] was very helpful and sympathetic,’ says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. ‘She found that [Kris] was starting to help her understand what it was that she was going through.’

After Kris died, her portion of the estate was transferred to the Anna Freud Centre in London, which is dedicated to working with children with mental health problems. Churchwell says Monroe would have approved.

‘That would have made her really happy,’ Churchwell says. ‘She did want to do good, and she wanted to feel as if she had accomplished something.’

But Monroe left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. He and his wife, Paula, also one of her acting coaches, were like surrogate parents to Monroe. When Strasberg died in 1982, his second wife, Anna, inherited the Monroe estate and eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a company that specializes in managing the estates of dead celebrities, to license Monroe products. That’s when the actress started making big money.

Several years and a variety of lawsuits later, Strasberg sold what remained of the Monroe estate to a new company, Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, for an estimated $20 to $30 million. Strasberg remains a minority partner in the deal.”