Marilyn Vs Forever Blonde

Sue Glover’s Marilyn, currently showing at the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre, is described as  ‘a witty take on celebrity and feminism in the 1960s’ in The List. Others, including The Scotsman and STV, praise Frances Thorburn‘s performance as MM, but consider the play itself rather disappointing.

‘In act one we are given brief insights into the more interesting aspects of Monroe’s personality (such as her defence of her husband, Arthur Miller, against McCarthyism), as well as her burgeoning self-doubt and increasing reliance on drugs and alcohol,’ writes Mark Brown in Herald Scotland. ‘In act two, however, the play really comes apart, descending into a stereotypical “catfight” between Signoret and Monroe (caused by the latter’s affair with Montand) which is so blunt and badly written as to be almost an affront to feminism.’

These comments echo our own ES Updates Fan Review by Lorraine. It would seem that the more you know about Marilyn’s real story, the more problematic this play will be. But it all adds to the continuing public interest in Marilyn, and Frances Thorburn deserves our respect for taking on such a challenging role.

By far the most popular MM-related play among fans is Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show, Marilyn: Forever Blonde, which has toured the world to considerable acclaim. Sunny will appear at the Annenberg Theatre, Palm Springs, from March 3-22.

You can read fan reviews of Forever Blonde at MM and the Camera and Loving Marilyn.

‘Monkey Business’ Reappraised

Film critic Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian, thinks Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business (1952), featuring Marilyn as inept secretary Miss Laurel, is an ‘ace ape jape’:

“It is part romp, part druggie-surrealist masterpiece, and a complete joy. ‘Monkey Business’ is undervalued by some, on account of its alleged inferiority to the master’s 30s pictures, and the accident of sharing a title with a film by the Marx Brothers. I can only say that this film whizzes joyfully along with touches of pure genius: at once sublimely innocent and entirely worldly…Dr Fulton drinks [a youth drug]; his short sight is cured and he instantly gets a new youthful haircut, jacket, and snazzy roadster, in which he takes smitten secretary Lois (Marilyn Monroe) for a day’s adventures. (The memory of Grant with his Coke-bottle glasses exchanging dialogue with the entranced Marilyn was revived eight years later by Tony Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot.’)”

Full review at The Guardian

Monkey Business screens tomorrow at 6pm, NFT2,  in London’s BFI Southbank, as part of the ongoing Howard Hawks season. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes follows at 8.30 pm. Marilyn’s two collaborations with Hawks will also feature in a Hawks season at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse Cinema next month.

Marilyn in Glasgow: The Girl, Redrawn

Francis Thorburn talks about the challenge of playing Marilyn at the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow.

‘When Frances Thorburn started rehearsals for the role of Marilyn Monroe in Sue Glover’s new play, ‘Marilyn’, she would occasionally have imaginary conversations with the long-dead star.

“I’m going to do my best to portray you well,” she would tell her.

Thorburn is keen that her portrayal in this play, which takes a snapshot of Monroe’s existence while she was making ‘Let’s Make Love’, does not diminish her subject. “One line I remember her saying in the last interview before she passed away is, ‘Please don’t make me out to be a joke.’ I have taken that to my heart.” Thorburn notes, too, that “Obviously Marilyn wasn’t perfect. She had some behavioural streaks that are hard to understand. But in those later years of her life she was on so many drugs – drugs to keep her awake, drugs to try to make her sleep. And I in my heart feel that she was a good soul. I want to honour that.”

In this new play, Glover takes as her focus the relationship between the actress and the French film star Simone Signoret, formed at a point in Monroe’s life when, as Thorburn points out, Monroe is emotionally “on a precipice”, suffering from insomnia and struggling in her marriage to Arthur Miller.

“I think if you get two icons in a room, or living across a hall, there are going to be [tensions],” Thorburn acknowledges.

“And also Simone is coming to Hollywood, so she’s coming to Marilyn’s domain. Meanwhile, Marilyn definitely wants to be the artist and taken seriously and talk about politics, which is what Simone is wonderful at.” Signoret was, she says, “phenomenal really: artistically, politically. And she was a beauty but she wasn’t about beauty. She hated that people would be wowed when she came in the room, so she dressed like a male.”

It is two days before she is to have her hair bleached the silvery blonde of Monroe’s and, in person, there is very little of “The Girl” about Thorburn. This is not surprising, given that she is a 21st-century woman living in a post-feminist world.

Thorburn is also a stage actor, not a film icon, working more in the chameleon-like tradition of deftly sliding between different roles. Her hair is the natural brunette that it has been all her life, her make-up subtle, her Glaswegian lilt only occasionally punctured by an energised girlish squeal. She is, she says, fascinated to discover how the colour-switch might change her. “Apparently, I have virgin hair,” she says, “which means it will be much easier to bleach. Will it alter how I perceive myself? I might have more kick, I might have more wiggle, I don’t know. Or I might be a little more introverted, more, ‘Don’t look at me’.”

When I call her several days later, post-transformation, it seems her feeling is very much the latter. Every time she passes the mirror she gets a flicker of shock, particularly since the blonde is so much whiter than what she expected. She is uncomfortable, too, out on the streets, “because I’m not very exhibitionist and people faintly turn their head”. But then, she points out, even Monroe didn’t always like to play Marilyn. “She knew how to turn it on or off, and she was able to get away with not being noticed.”

The problem for any actor playing Monroe therefore becomes clear. There is little footage that documents this “real” Marilyn, little to go on other than the interviews she performed towards the end of her life. In that sense, Thorburn has a certain freedom to improvise. “I don’t think there is any film of her real, which means I have to invent that, and that’s exciting as well because it means you have to bring your own self to it.”

She is keen not to “dishonour Marilyn”, while at the same time she is aware that the audience will be looking to see “a mixture of a real woman and the facade that she put on”. She points out that Signoret, in her autobiography, notes that in the whole of those months living alongside Monroe, she only saw her be “Marilyn” twice. Signoret also summed up Monroe’s predicament well: “Hordes of young girls never copied my hairdos or the way I talk or the way I dress. I have, therefore, never had to go through the stress of perpetuating an image that’s often the equivalent of one particular song that forever freezes a precise moment of one’s youth.” ‘

Read the interview in full at Herald Scotland

Marilyn and Simone

Dramatist Sue Glover talks to The List about her new play, Marilyn. Exploring the unusual friendship between Monroe and Simone Signoret (and the love affair that tore them apart), Marilyn opens at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, on February 17.

“They are as different as they are similar. I think Marilyn certainly envied a lot about Simone; how cultured she was, her vast circle of friends, her self-assurance and the fact she was a mother. She would have wanted all of that. Simone may also have been envious of Marilyn. Simone was only five years older than Marilyn but she was approaching middle-age and may have felt insecure and jealous of a younger woman. Interestingly they were both very independent but also both enthralled by their men. They both needed to be married and both of them endured a lot because of that.”

“Marilyn had lost a child during the filming of ‘Some Like It Hot’ the previous year. The marriage to Arthur Miller was ending and her unreliability at the time was notorious. I think this was the beginning of her losing it in all senses of the phrase. I also think in a way Signoret never recovered from what happened that summer. It was a huge moment in their lives.”

Marilyn and Simone in Scotland

Bruce Davidson, 1960

While filming Let’s Make Love in 1960, Marilyn Monroe lived with husband Arthur Miller in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Monroe’s co-star, Yves Montand, stayed next door with his wife, the French actress Simone Signoret.

The Millers and the Montands were good friends, but their lives were shattered when Marilyn and Yves had a very public affair.

But Signoret never blamed Marilyn for the ensuing scandal, and the dynamic between these two women is now the subject of a play, Marilyn, by Scottish dramatist Sue Glover, to be performed at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, next February, and at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, in March.

“Nobody ever said Lady Macbeth was a brunette…

Holding a mirror up to the notion of stardom, the myth of the blonde bombshell and the pressure of fame, Marilyn offers a glimpse into the private life of one of popular culture’s most iconic women.

1960. Marilyn Monroe is staying in the Beverly Hills Hotel with her husband, Arthur Miller, while preparing to film Let’s Make Love.

In the apartment opposite, the great French actress Simone Signoret waits for her husband Yves Montand, to return from the studio.

Both successful actresses in their own right, the women form an uneasy friendship under the watchful eye of Patti, hairdresser to the stars. But it will become a friendship that will test their deepest beliefs and will threaten to destroy them both.

This new play by Sue Glover, best known for the Scottish classic Bondagers, is an intimate portrait of the life of one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic film stars.”

After Bonnie Greer’s Marilyn and Ella, Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show Marilyn: Forever Blonde, and with a new movie, My Week With Marilyn, now in the works, using episodes of Monroe’s life as a basis for drama is currently more popular than ever.

As with all MM-related fiction, the quality of this play will depend on the depth of Glover’s research and sensitivity towards the subject, and the subtlety of its production.

To get a flavour of Glover’s Marilyn, read an interview with director Howard Miller in the Herald Scotland today.

A Poem for Marilyn, by Edwin Morgan

A 1968 work by the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan, who died earlier this year.

The Death of Marilyn Monroe

What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?

Crumpled orphan, nembutal bed,

white hearse, Los Angeles,

DiMaggio! Los Angeles! Miller! Los Angeles! America!

That Death should seem the only protector –

That all arms should have faded, and the great cameras and lights

become an inquisition and a torment –

That the many acquaintances, the autograph-hunters, the

inflexible directors, the drive-in admirers should become

a blur of incomprehension and pain –

That lonely Uncertainty should limp up, grinning, with

bewildering barbiturates, and watch her undress and lie

down and in her anguish

call for him! call for him to strengthen her with what could

only dissolve her! A method

of dying, we are shaken, we see it. Strasberg!

Los Angeles! Olivier! Los Angeles! Others die

and yet by this death we are a little shaken, we feel it,

America.

Let no one say communication is a cantword.

They had to lift her hand from the bedside telephone.

But what she had not been able to say

perhaps she had said. ‘All I had was my life.

I have no regrets, because if I made

any mistakes, I was responsible.

There is now – and there is the future.

What has happened is behind. So

it follows you around? So what?’ – This

to a friend, ten days before.

And so she was responsible.

And if she was not responsible, not wholly responsible, Los Angeles?

Los Angeles? Will it follow you around? Will the slow

white hearse of the child of America follow you around?

‘An Actress Prepares’ in Edinburgh

Irina Diva in ‘An Actress Prepares’

“Empire film magazine crowned Marilyn Monroe the ‘Sexiest Female Movie Star of all Time’, while People magazine voted her the ‘Sexiest Woman of the Century’. But what was beyond the public image and the pretty face? Now the life and thoughts of the troubled screen goddess is coming to Edinburgh in An Actress Prepares, a surprising and revealing adaptation of Marilyn Monroe’s last ever interview, for the first time ever making its appearance on stage.”

On 17th August 1962 LIFE magazine published “Last Talk with a Lonely Girl”.  36 years old, divorced for the third time and now living alone, frustrated by Hollywood and tired of the label ‘sex symbol’, the final years of her life were marked by illness, personal problems, and a reputation for being unreliable and difficult to work with.  In An Actress Prepares, Marilyn reflects on her silver screen persona and exaltation to one of the most celebrated idols of her time, while freely admitting to never knowing happiness. Candid and contemplative, and with her untimely death shortly after, this was to become her ultimate interview.”

Bulgarian actress Irina Diva plays Marilyn in An Actress Prepares (a pun on Monroe’s dramatic bible, An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski) at the Edinburgh Fringe until this Saturday, August 21.

Venue:  Zoo Roxy – The Warren, 2 Roxburgh Place (venue 115)

Time:  22.00 (22.45)

Dates:  15th – 21st August 2010

Tickets:  £8.00

Box Office: 0131 662 689