Ranking Marilyn’s 29 Films

Marilyn made 29 films during her 15-year career (excluding the unfinished Something’s Got to Give.) Around half of these were made while she was still a starlet, and her screen-time is often quite limited although she always made the most of her role. In the first of an New York Magazine series profiling classic Hollywood stars, Angelica Jade Bastien has taken on the daunting task of ranking all 29 films from worst to best, with insightful commentary on each one. I don’t agree with all her opinions – for example, I would put The Seven Year Itch (ranked 10th) in my top 5. There’s also a question of whether to judge each movie as a whole, or by Marilyn’s performance – for example , her debut film, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (ranked 24th) is enjoyable fluff, but Marilyn’s role was cut to ribbons. Whereas her next ‘bit part’, in Dangerous Years (ranked just below at 25th) was more enaging. Let’s Make Love (ranked 22nd) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (ranked 15th) are among my least favourite of Marilyn’s major films, but her musical numbers are superb. However, we all have our own preferences and it’s always great to see Marilyn’s true legacy in the spotlight, where it belongs.

“Hollywood has been creating a mythology around blonde bombshells since its beginnings. But no blonde sex symbol has had a deeper and more long-lasting impact on film and American culture than Marilyn Monroe. You probably had an image of Monroe in your mind long before you ever saw her on film. The dumb blonde. The white-hot sex symbol. The foolish girl-woman. The picture of mid-century femininity — wasp-waisted, platinum blonde, and buxom. The tragic victim. These warring images have lasted long after Monroe’s death in 1962 at 36 years old, and they’re easy to twist into caricature. She’s been flattened onto dorm-room posters, mugs, T-shirts, artist renderings. She’s been linked to falsely attributed quotes, conspiracy theories, and lurid rumors. But Monroe was more complex than her legacy suggests, as both an actress and a woman. This ranking of Monroe’s 29 films — based on her performance in each — gives a sense of what a supremely talented comedian and dramatic actress she was, with a keen understanding of the camera that few actors can replicate.”

When Warren (and Natalie) Met Marilyn

Warren Beatty with girlfriend Natalie Wood, circa 1962
Warren Beatty with girlfriend Natalie Wood, circa 1962

Hollywood legend Warren Beatty has given a rare interview to Vanity Fair‘s Sam Kashner, in which he revealed a brief encounter with Marilyn shortly before her death in 1962.

“Peter Lawford had invited him out to his house in Malibu for a night of tacos and poker, and Monroe was there. ‘I hadn’t seen anything that beautiful,’ Beatty recalls. She invited him to take a walk along the beach, which he did. ‘It was more soulful than romantic.’ Back in the house, he played the piano. (He’s a good pianist, by the way, enamored of jazz greats such as Erroll Garner.) Marilyn sat on the edge of the piano in something so clingy that Beatty could tell she wasn’t wearing underwear.

‘How old are you?’ she asked.

‘Twenty-five,’ he answered. ‘And how old are you?’ he asked cheekily.

‘Three. Six,’ she said, as if not wanting to bring the two numbers together. By then, the tacos had arrived, and no one really played poker that night. Warren noticed that Marilyn was already a bit tipsy from champagne, even before the sun had set.

The next day, the producer Walter Mirisch’s brother Harold called. ‘Did you hear?’ he asked. ‘Marilyn Monroe is dead.’ Warren was one of the last people to see Marilyn alive—a story that Beatty tells only reluctantly. He really is one of Hollywood’s most discreet people, in a town and an industry marinated in its own gossip.”

In his 1985 book, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Summers that he had contacted Beatty about the rumour of him meeting Marilyn at Lawford’s home just a few hours before she died. Beatty responded that this was true, but did not wish to speak further at that time.

By his own account, Lawford had invited Marilyn to his home that evening but she declined. It may be true that Beatty met Marilyn not long before she died, as she was a regular guest of Peter Lawford and his wife, Pat. However, it seems unlikely to have occurred on the night of her death.

In 1962, Beatty was dating actress Natalie Wood, whose biographer Suzanne Finstad gives a similar account of their meeting (including the conversation about age), but stated only that it occurred at some point over the summer, and most significantly, she added that Wood was also present.

UPDATE: An extract from the newly-published book, Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life, is featured in People magazine this week. Taken from a previously unseen essay by Wood herself, it includes her thoughts on Marilyn’s death, and may shed new light on Beatty’s story as well. (A former child actress, Natalie had a featured role in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, the 1947 film in which Marilyn made her screen debut.)

“‘I had known her and seen her days before her death,’ Wood writes. ‘Her beauty, charming wit, and joy of life seemed paradoxical to the tense loneliness which she faced in her life, and was to me, clearly apparent. I realized that her tragedy reminds us all how vulnerable we are, and I chose to try to be stronger.'”

And finally … ‘doyenne of dish’ Liz Smith has also questioned the timing of Beatty’s anecdote, in her latest column for New York Social Diary.

“Beatty places the meeting on the night before her death — or the night of, really. He says he received a call ‘in the morning’ from an agent, telling him Marilyn had died. But the facts say otherwise. MM actually refused an invite from Lawford the Saturday night she died.

It’s most likely that Warren, fiftysomething years on, just forgot the exact evening. It is a very tender and considerate memory, in any case. This gallantry is typical of Warren, whose exes almost always adored him, even as they became his exes.”

 

Marilyn’s ‘Blondes’ Suit, and More, at Bonham’s

10659145_750351251704217_7588656055951611251_nBonham’s will auction Marilyn’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes suit – in which she sang ‘When Love Goes Wrong, Nothing Goes Right’, back in 1953 – at their TCM Presents … Treasures From the Dream Factory sale on November 23. Other MM-related items include her red saloon gown, also designed by Travilla, and worn while singing ‘One Silver Dollar’ in River of No Return (1954); Marilyn’s signed contract for The Asphalt Jungle (1950); Paddy Chayevsky’s annotated early screenplay for The Goddess (1958), a thinly veiled portrait of Marilyn, starring Kim Stanley; and Natalie Wood’s bound screenplay for Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1947), in which Marilyn made her screen debut.

Celebrating #Fox100 With Marilyn

marilyn 63

As part of Twentieth Century-Fox’s centenary celebrations, 100 films will now be released digitally for the first time, including two Marilyn rarities: her first film, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, in which she makes a fleeting appearance; and Marilyn, the 1963 documentary narrated by Rock Hudson, which has never been released on video or DVD. How to Marry a Millionaire will also be available, as well as The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, the 1947  Betty Grable movie in which Marilyn was rumoured to have been an extra (however, this remains unconfirmed as she cannot be seen.)

More information on Fox100 over at Cinematically Insane.

Robert Wagner Remembers Marilyn

Marilyn Monroe During Interview
Marilyn with Robert Wagner, 1954

Actor Robert Wagner is now 84, and still busy – both onscreen, and in print. He began his career at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1950.

On June 14, 1951, Wagner made a screen test alongside one of the studio’s most promising starlets. “I was the guy they always used when the studio was making screen tests of new actresses,” he told author Warren G. Harris in 1988. “And believe me, no job is more dead-end than that. The only interesting thing that came out of it was when they were testing a new kid and asked me to do a couple of scenes with her. Her name was Marilyn Monroe.”

Screen test for 'Let's Make It Legal', 1951
Screen test for ‘Let’s Make It Legal’, 1951

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On the strength of this test – a love scene – Wagner was cast alongside Marilyn in a romantic comedy, Let’s Make It Legal, starring Claudette Colbert. The pair never acted together, but became friends and were often pictured together at Hollywood parties. Wagner, who had affairs with many beautiful actresses, was never romantically involved with MM.

“Nothing happened easily for Marilyn,” he said later. “It took a lot of time and effort to create the image that became so famous.”

In recent years, Wagner has published two books: Pieces of My Heart (2008), an autobiography; and the just-published You Must Remember This, a memoir of Hollywood’s golden age, in which he recalls Marilyn’s tragic death.

“It’s odd how your mind associates certain people with certain events. In August 1962 I was in Montecatini, Italy, the same time as Sheilah Graham [the Hollywood gossip columnist.] I was on the terrace of my hotel when she leaned out a window and yelled, ‘Marilyn Monroe died! Marilyn Monroe died!,’ to the world at large, in exactly the same way she would have announced that her building was on fire. That was how I found out that the girl I had worked with twelve years earlier, and who had since become a legend in a way nobody could have foretold, was gone.”

Marilyn with Sheilah Graham, 1953
Marilyn with Sheilah Graham, 1953

Wagner is no stranger to tragedy. His wife, Natalie Wood, drowned in 1981 during a yachting trip. Her death, like Marilyn’s, is the subject of endless speculation.

Natalie was the child star of Marilyn’s first film, Scudda Hoo, Scudda Hay! She admired Marilyn, and spoke with her at a party weeks before her death.

With Natalie Wood
With Natalie Wood

Natalie married Robert in 1957 and they divorced five years later, but were remarried in 1972. There are shades here of Marilyn’s relationship with Joe DiMaggio, who had grown close to her again in the years before her death.

Dr Thomas Noguchi, so-called ‘Coroner to the Stars’, performed autopsies on both women. He was demoted in 1982, after speaking too freely in the media about the case, and in that year’s reopened investigation of Monroe’s death. His career has since recovered, however.

Wagner featured on Photoplay cover with MM, 1954
Wagner featured on Photoplay cover with MM, 1954

In Pieces of My Heart, Wagner criticised Noguchi:

“Noguchi was a camera-hog who felt he had to stoke the publicity fire in order to maintain the level of attention he’d gotten used to. Noguchi particularly enraged Frank Sinatra, who knew the truth and, in any case, would never have allowed anyone who harmed Natalie to survive.”

Natalie’s case would also be reopened in 2011, when the captain of the boat claimed that a fight with Wagner had led to her drowning. The official cause of death was later amended from accidental drowning to ‘drowning and other undetermined factors.’ Wagner was ruled out as a suspect.

In You Must Remember This, he speculates on the proliferation of conspiracy theories in the internet age:

“Intellectually, I understand the perception that the rich and privileged are invincible. That’s why some people need to believe, for example, that Marilyn Monroe was murdered by the Kennedys…The randomness of life and death can be terrifying, so a certain kind of person seizes on minor discrepancies of memory or the garbled recollections of marginal personalities to cast doubt on a reality they don’t want to acknowledge.”

‘Strictly For Kicks’ at Bonham’s

Rare photographs of Marilyn Monroe in a 1948 stage show, Strictly For Kicks, will be sold in a Bonham’s and Butterfield auction of entertainment memorabilia, to be held in Los Angeles next month.

This colour photo from the previous year shows Marilyn in the same floral bikini and platform sandals – she wore them in her first movie, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1947)

In 1948, Marilyn signed a 6-month contract with Columbia. However, she had previously worked at Twentieth Century Fox, and in March she appeared in a studio talent showcase at the Fox Studio Club Little Theater. An outside arena was built instead of using the stage on the lot, as studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck would be attending.

Marilyn appeared in two brief scenes, and the script included directions such as ‘Miss Monroe butts onto the stage…’

Marilyn appears to be wearing a costume from Ladies of the Chorus, which she filmed at Columbia in April.

'Ladies of the Chorus'

In these pictures Marilyn wears a light-coloured dress, which could be the dress which she would wear in Love Happy (1949.)

Other items on offer at Bonhams’ include contractual papers for Bus Stop; a signed photo; personally-owned scripts for Let’s Make Love and Something’s Got to Give; a handwritten note by Marilyn, reminding herself to call poet Carl Sandburg; a mortgage agreement signed by Monroe and third husband Arthur Miller; a receipt for a gas payment, dated to Marilyn’s last birthday; and some airline tickets.

More details at Faded Tribune and Jezebel

Thanks to Megan at Everlasting Star