Sue Dunkley’s Pop Art Marilyn

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Marilyn inspired many within the Pop Art movement, including Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton and Pauline Boty. Now another British artist of this period has come to light, with a recent exhibition and a profile in The Guardian. Sue Dunkley produced at least two paintings based on photographer John Bryson‘s 1960 cover story for Life magazine, and the private drama that unfolded between the Millers and the Montands during filming of Let’s Make Love.

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“This substantial series of Pop Art paintings on large canvas have recently been rediscovered in Dunkley’s London studio by her daughter and brother. The works in the series were produced between 1968 and 1972, and notably take as their subject the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, the female body, and human relationships, often touched by violence and betrayal. A large number of pastel studies for these works and independent sketches have also been discovered, many of which explore intimacy, sexuality and the role of women in changing eras.

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These works are often populated by numerous faces and figures, sometimes difficult to discern and placed in uneasy dialogue with one another. Dunkley herself often appears in the works, looking on or departing, merging the political and personal in both intimate and yet culturally significant works of art. These early works employ the bold and graphic language of Pop Art, referencing familiar media imagery and fashion photography. Recognisable images such as Ethel Kennedy’s screaming face and outstretched hand following Robert Kennedy’s assassination alongside images of Marylin Monroe recur, as if ghosts on the edge of these significant events and moments in history. Dunkley returned to Monroe often, fascinated by her seemingly irreconcilable sexuality and vulnerability, the impossible expectations placed on her to be both child and sex symbol.”

Why Oscar Snubbed Sugar

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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.

Dick Guttman Remembers Marilyn

dick guttmanVeteran Hollywood publicist Dick Guttman has been interviewed by Susan King for her excellent Classic Hollywood column in the Los Angeles Times.

“Guttman fell into the career by accident when he began an office boy at age 19 at Rogers & Cowan while attending UCLA. The budding journalist had worked at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner as a teenager in a program in which students would write the high school sports page on Saturdays.

But he didn’t have a clue what Rogers & Cowan did or even what publicity was, then ‘one day I made a delivery and Kirk Douglas answered the door. So I started reading the memos I was delivering.’

Guttman soon discovered he had found his calling. ‘I was a journalist,’ he said. ‘And I knew a lot about motion pictures. They were my two passions.’

When he began at the company — Henry Rogers was [Warren] Cowan’s partner in the firm — Rogers and Cowan had ‘more stars than MGM, who had more stars than there are in the heavens,’ recalled Guttman. ‘This was 1954-55, and it was just when the contract system was ending. Everybody was celebrating this — their new freedom and they were going to make their own films. Little did they know it was the end of the golden age.'”

Photo by Bruce Davidson
Photo by Bruce Davidson

In his 2015 memoir, Starflacker: Inside the Golden Age of Hollywood, Guttman recalled meeting Marilyn during filming of Let’s Make Love, while he was representing her co-star, Yves Montand, whose actress wife, Simone Signoret, won an Oscar that year (for Room at the Top.)

“Simone had become a special friend of mine during the Room at the Top campaign. She and Yves, royalty in Europe as actors, as intellects and as bold political activists, arrived in Hollywood as the most doted-upon European artist couple since Olivier and Leigh. They generated constant media attention. So I was obliged to spend a large amount of time at the Montands’ second storey bungalow apartment above the gardens of the Beverly Hills Hotel. When media was in attendance, the door across the landing at the top of the stairs was always closed. But if I was there only to go over photos or to have a discussion, no media, that door would open and Marilyn Monroe would wander in, usually in a thick black bathrobe, beautiful in the absolute absence of make-up and with the soft confusion of unbrushed hair. Apparently, she never had in her and Arthur Miller’s refrigerator whatever she could count on being in Simone and Yves’. As she ate from a bowl of cereal or a small carton of yoghurt, she would wander into their conversation or look at the photos and make pretty good choices. Miller would come in sometimes in slacks and sweater, and they seemed an informal melding of close friends. This is before Simone had to go back to Paris for work there and before Yves and Marilyn would start their work together on their ultimately unsuccessful musical comedy, Let’s Make Love.”

Sue Glover’s ‘Marilyn’: MM Fan Review

Frances Thorburn, 'Marilyn'

Marilyn, a play by Sue Glover about Monroe’s friendship with Simone Signoret during filming of Let’s Make Love, opened last Thursday at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre. ES member Lorraine Trevenna was among the first to see it, and this is her review.

Hollywood, 1960

I was thrilled to learn that a play about Marilyn was coming to Glasgow, nothing Marilyn-related ever happens near me. I heard that the play was to center around Marilyn Monroe and Simone Signoret during 1960 when Marilyn was filming ‘Let’s Make Love.’

It had a cast of 3: Marilyn, Simone and a fictional character Patti, who was Marilyn’s hairdresser. The characters act out the drama in the comfort of their hotel suites at the Beverly Hills Hotel and talk about acting, sleep patterns, men and hair colour.

Marilyn

I knew from the offset that it was a fictional storyline, I just really hoped they were going to portray Marilyn accurately.. but of course, they didn’t. ‘Marilyn Monroe’ was more like ‘Anna Nicole Smith’.. she was loud, crude, brashy and vulgar and quite frankly, psychotic.

I cringed when ‘Marilyn’ was doing a manic rendition of ‘My Heart Belongs To Daddy’ while dry humping a sofa like she was a puppy on heat, or giving a pretend Oscar acceptance speech, going in and out of her stereotyped ‘dumb blonde’  persona, and wiggling around the stage.

One of the ‘highlights’ was when Simone Signoret couldn’t get a bottle of champagne open and Marilyn takes it from her, gets on her knees and puts it between her thighs and says “this should be easy for me to open, girls like I are used to spending a lot of time on their knees…” Need I go on? I’m sure you get the picture.

The Montand Affair

One of the most surprising things was how quickly they brushed over the whole Marilyn/Yves affair. The play was 1hr40…I think it was only mentioned for 5 mins.

Of course, Marilyn again comes off as a nutcase.. screaming and arguing with Simone about how much she loves Yves, while Simone, throughout the whole play, remained dignified and refined.


Verdict

I’m not going to badmouth the actress that played her: after all, she was only acting out the script she was given, but I felt it could have been so much better had the writer actually done her research into what Marilyn was really like.

If I could see past the hideousness that was the portrayal of Marilyn, then I did enjoy the play…as a play…

The stage was set up beautifully and the ending was a fitting tribute. Patti was telling the audience how Simone found out about Marilyn’s death with Marilyn standing behind a dark screen, saying “I’m wonderful, I’m wonderful…” getting more and more faint until the whole stage went black…silence.

I’m really happy I had the opportunity to see this play. I wouldn’t recommend it to a die-hard Marilyn fan, but if you’re a fan of theatre in general, then it’s worth checking out.


Video trailer

‘When Golden Couples Meet’, an article about Marilyn and Simone in The Independent

The Girl, Redrawn

Getting into character: Frances Thorburn as Marilyn

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 soon 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.