‘Making Montgomery Clift’ in Glasgow

Marilyn with Montgomery Clift at the ‘Misfits’ premiere, 1961

Making Montgomery Clift will have its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, screening at the Everyman on Thursday, February 28, and Friday, March 1, following rave reviews in the US. (As yet, it’s unclear whether Monty’s friendship with Marilyn features in the documentary, but The Misfits was one of his most important films, and likely to be mentioned.)

Thanks to Fraser Penney

“Co-director Robert Clift is the film’s onscreen searcher, heard in incisively written voiceover and seen poring over an astounding, and often poignant, assortment of Clift family memorabilia, items that go well beyond the usual photo albums and home movies … the film unravels the accepted wisdom that Clift’s life was one of inner conflict and painfully guarded truths. In footage of him at leisure, his joy and exuberance light up the screen. He might not have been ‘out’ — who was in those benighted times? — but his intimates testify that he was anything but closeted. By refusing to sign a studio contract, he was not only maintaining his artistic independence but protecting his private life from the kind of show marriage, like Rock Hudson’s, that the Hollywood publicity machine insisted on for gay stars.” – Sherri Linden, Hollywood Reporter 

“That ‘secret’ – that Clift was gay during an impossible era (the 1930s through the 60s) – led many interpreters to conclude that the actor must have led a life riddled with fear and shame. It hardly helped lend nuance to that reading that Clift was a well-known and long-time abuser of pain killers and alcohol, actions which likely sped his death from a heart attack at 45 in 1966 … In fact, the attitudes he and his family held towards his relationships with men were strikingly modern.

[Robert] Clift asserts that the actor’s use of alcohol and prescription drugs stemmed, primarily, from a near-fatal car accident in 1956. He used them to numb his physical pain. The accident changed his appearance, and many biographers assumed Clift felt ruined by it and, so, drank more.

Many of the myths surrounding Clift sprang from two biographies: a salacious one by Robert LaGuardia and another flawed work by Patricia Bosworth, titled A Life. The film-makers interviewed Bosworth extensively for the movie, but they contrast her words with old taped conversations she had with the actor’s brother. He pleaded with her to make changes to her book to correct the mischaracterizations. While she sounds apologetic, the changes were never made.

As to why Bosworth drew on the gay-self-hate narrative, and why that view took hold, the directors blame the homophobia of the time the book was written, in the 1970s. ‘The view then about queer people was that they would be inherently conflicted or tormented about their sexuality,’ said [Hillary] Demmon. ‘If you have a story that tracks along that line, that will feel true to people. Which gives that narrative a lot of traction. Now we’re at a historical point in mainstream queer discourse where that story seems less viable.'” – Jim Farber, The Guardian 

“And an alternative version of Monty, laid out by Making Montgomery Clift: Montgomery Clift was open about his sexuality. He was not ‘tormented’ by it. The man even had a sense of humor! Some of his favorite work came after that crash. Montgomery Clift’s story is not a tragedy of self-loathing, but a tale of a man who refused to be put in a box by the Hollywood system—only to be put into a different sort of box after his death, when he was no longer around to counter the narrative that began to calcify soon after his passing.” – Rebecca Pahle, Film Journal

Marilyn at the Edinburgh Festival

Marilyn is a hot topic in fringe theatre, though the results aren’t always stellar. At this year’s Edinburgh Festival, she’s the subject of two new shows, reviewed by Joyce McMillan for The Scotsman.

The Marilyn Conspiracy has grabbed a few headlines although Marilyn herself isn’t depicted – it’s set in the hours after her death, as some of the main players in her final months respond to the tragedy.

“The play is desperately confusing at first, and urgently needs to use its tableau-like opening moments to let the characters tell us exactly who they are … It’s a measure of the sheer power of the story, though, that the play rivets the attention nonetheless, as the two doctors in the room, and even Marilyn’s furious friend Pat Newcomb, are gradually worn down … “

However, another audience member – MM superfan Lorraine – told me, “The Marilyn Conspiracy had all the bogus theories – the ambulance, Bobby Kennedy, injections, enemas etc … I could hear people laughing a lot at some of the theories talked about … maybe the audience all knew better!” In his review for The Stage Paul Vale agrees, describing the play as a “stifling, under-developed drama that blurs fact and fiction.”

Theatregoers whom (like myself) aren’t enthralled by conspiracy theories may prefer the lighter option…

“JoJo Desmond’s cabaret show The Marilyn Monroe Story is a fragile little piece by comparison, a brief and simply staged hour of songs and biographical narrative tracing Marilyn’s remarkable life, not least through versions of some of her most famous and fabulous costumes. Desmond sings Marilyn’s songs beautifully, in a near-perfect imitation of her breathily gorgeous voice; and she, too, observes the link with the #metoo moment. Her script, though, never soars into anything like the brilliant writing a life like Marilyn’s invites and for all her charm, she is a long way from even beginning to capture the glowing charisma of the woman herself.”

Once again, Lorraine’s view was quite different to McMillan’s. “On the whole,” she says, “the show was well-researched and the costumes and mannerisms and performances of songs were spot on … the voice was accurate and she had some beautiful costumes (including a ‘Heat Wave’ replica outfit!), and you could tell that she had studied every single movement that Marilyn does in each of the musical performances.”

Where Marilyn is concerned, a diehard fan can be more perceptive than most theatre critics. Lorraine will be posting her full review of both shows soon on the Marilyn Remembered blog.

‘Not-So-Dizzy’ Marilyn in the Weekly News

Marilyn is a favourite cover girl at Scotland’s Weekly News. Inside the latest edition, there’s a double-page spread with author Michelle Morgan talking about her new book, The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist. The Weekly News is available from selected newsagents across the UK, and the second part of the interview will be published in next week’s issue.

Finding Marilyn at the Bus Stop

Marilyn never visited Glasgow, although her ancestors are rumoured to have hailed from Scotland. However, as Ken Smith records in his diary for the Herald, several would-be Monroes have passed through the bus stops of Castlemilk…

“OUR bus stories brought back memories for entertainer Andy Cameron who was a bus conductor in the early 60s. Says Andy: ‘When passengers had no money for their fare they could ask for a Pink Slip on which they wrote their names and addresses so that they could go to the Bath Street office and pay it later.’

‘What always surprised me was the number of famous people who lived in Castlemilk and were skint – Rock Hudson, Perry Como, Willie Henderson, Paddy Crerand, Harold Wilson, Marilyn Monroe – they were all on my bus and signed a Pink Slip.'”

Searching for Marilyn’s Scottish Roots

Marilyn by Sam Shaw, 1957

The search for Marilyn’s Scottish ancestors, first reported here, is still in progress, as Steven McKenzie writes for BBC News.

“The actress’s mother, Gladys Pearl Monroe, had ancestral links to Scotland, according to Clan Munro USA. It believes that an ancestor of Monroe, an alternative spelling of the Scottish surname Munro, was a Highlander banished to America in the 1650s.

Free DNA tests are available, but there has been a lower uptake than expected. The association’s genealogy committee said it was ‘surprised’ more Scots had not taken up the offer of the free test kits, but remains hopeful they will be forthcoming.

The society has already successfully tracked down and tested a living descendant of Monroe’s great grandfather. The results were compared to the others in its Munro DNA Project, a database of hundreds of samples provided by Munros living all over the world whose family trees have been studied.

The project includes the descendants of Munros from Easter Ross in the Highlands, also the fifth US president James Monroe and Scots soldiers who were imprisoned and then banished to the American colonies after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Worcester was the last battle of the English Civil Wars and involved thousands of Scots combatants.

The association said the YDNA test already done had shown that the Hollywood actress was a descendant of one of those soldiers, said to be a Highlander whose family came from Aldie, near Tain, in the Munro clan’s Easter Ross stronghold.”

Marilyn Double Bill In Glasgow

Marilyn will be honoured with an unusual double bill on Friday May 5 at the Britannia  Panoptica Hall in Glasgow. Starting at 7:30 pm, one of her most obscure films, 1951’s Hometown Story (in which she appears only  briefly, but makes a strong impression) will be followed by The Legend of Marilyn Monroe (1966), one of the first (and best) documentaries made about her  – and all for just £5, so don’t miss out!

Publishing News: Marilyn’s Lost Photos, and More

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Limited Runs have produced a book based on their touring exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, featuring 21 images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder. Only 125 copies have been made, priced at $95. Hopefully it will be a high-quality product, but it still seems rather expensive for such a slim volume.

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One of Marilyn’s best biographers and a friend of this blog, Michelle Morgan has recently published two new books via Lulu. The Marilyn Journal is the first in an anthology series, compiling newsletters of the UK Marilyn Lives Society, founded by Michelle in 1991. A Girl Called Pearl is a charming children’s novel – not about Marilyn as such, but it is set in the Los Angeles of her childhood, so it does have some interesting parallels, and would be a great Christmas gift for readers young and old (also available via Kindle.)

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Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, an 82-page catalogue (in French) accompanying the current exhibition at Aix-en-Provence, is available from Amazon UK for £8.44.

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Photo by Fraser Penney

In the November 19 issue of Scotland’s Weekly News (with Donny Osmond on the cover), Craig Campbell picks his Top 10 MM movies. Click the photo above to read the article in full.

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Finally, Marilyn’s love of Chanel No. 5 is featured in an article about favourite perfumes in Issue 3 of UK nostalgia mag Yours Retro.