Criterion’s ‘Some Like It Hot’ Reviewed

Dennis Seuling has reviewed the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot for The Digital Bits.

“Ms. Monroe is the heart of the film as Sugar, sweet-natured despite having had her share of hard knocks. She trusts Josephine and Daphne, gets a little tipsy, and confides her insecurities to ‘the girls.’ Ms. Monroe plays the role with a natural combination of sex appeal and innocence. Her comic timing is perfect, always aware of where the joke is and hitting the right emphasis effortlessly.

This Blu-ray release, with high definition 1080p resolution, is a new 4K restoration with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. An original 35mm camera negative was the primary source for the restoration with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Visual quality is pristine, in keeping with the Criterion Collection’s high standard for black and white releases. Detail is excellent, particularly in the nighttime car chase early in the film. Clothing patterns, strands of hair, and skin textures in close-ups stand out.

Audio is clean and clear, with dialogue coming through perfectly. In a scene that has Lemmon shaking maracas, Wilder wisely had him shake them between his lines so that the jokes could be heard. Machine gun fire is as impressive as in a modern gangster flick. Ms. Monroe’s songs, ‘Runnin’ Wild’ and ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’, are balanced well and the singer’s sultry voice dominates.

Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary, three behind-the-scenes documentaries, a featurette about Orry-Kelly’s costumes, an appearance by Billy Wilder on The Dick Cavett Show, a conversation between Tony Curtis and critic Leonard Maltin, a French TV interview with Jack Lemmon, a radio interview with Marilyn Monroe, a trailer, and a booklet containing a critical essay.

Marilyn Monroe on the radio – In this 1955 interview with Dave Garroway on Monitor, Ms. Monroe discusses her role as sex symbol and the stereotyped role of the ‘dumb blonde,’ which she believes is a limited view. She discusses her plan to move to New York and her particular fondness for Brooklyn and its atmosphere. Her favorite singers are Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra (noting his new, jazzier style). Her goal is to be a good actress.”

Marilyn Goes Wilder in ‘Some Like It Hot’

If you haven’t seen the new 4K restoration of Some Like It Hot on the big screen, there’s good news: it’s now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection, and with lots of extras too. Sam Wasson wrote ‘Some Like It Hot: How to Have Fun,’ an essay for the special edition, and while I don’t agree with him entirely (I believe Marilyn was a great artist), it’s an insightful piece. “I think it is way past time we celebrated Wilder for his women,” Wasson writes. “Look at the women. They’re Wilder’s heart.”

“More than any other director ever had or ever would, Wilder got Monroe inside and out, what she could do well and what she couldn’t. ‘The charm of her is two left feet,’ he said. ‘Otherwise she may become a slightly inferior Eva Marie Saint.’ Others had made the mistake of taking Monroe for an actress of real range; she wasn’t. Some took her only at face value, but she was, as we all know, something deeper than merely beautiful. Wilder split the difference. He understood that for all her sadness—which Some Like It Hot calls for—Marilyn the performer was a light comedian. Marilyn the woman was a girl …This wholesome innocence, coupled with that figure that suggests not-so-innocent things, let her have her cake and eat it too; it was the paradox that made her a star. ‘How do I know about a man’s needs for a sex symbol?’ she once asked. ‘I’m a girl.’

We know Marilyn is hot, but Wilder saw that she was warm too, and in Some Like It Hot, he permits her coziness to cuddle some clemency into his ruthless good time. She is the heart of the comedy, the only one not playing for laughs (though she gets them), and if you, like me, think she walks away with the picture, it’s because Wilder handed it to her. Rarely does Lemmon or Curtis have the screen to himself; Monroe often does. Her close-ups—a rare occurrence in Wilder country—reveal a girl twinkling with chaste enthusiasms. ‘Good niiiiiight, Sugaarrrr,’ Jerry stage-whispers to her across the train car. She pops her head out of her bunk, and after a vulnerable split second wondering who called to her, she opens into the most playful, the most self-nourished, the most sincere smile I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s not sexy. It’s genuinely happy. ‘Good night, honey!’

And here we are again, back to having a good time. ‘A good time’: not a phrase we readily associate with the famously heartsick Marilyn Monroe. Seeing her so happy must have been fun for Some Like It Hot’s 1959 audiences, but for us, knowing what we know about her depression and self-loathing and death, watching Marilyn truly enjoy herself is, today, the movie’s most painful pleasure. When she calls back, ‘Good night, honey!’ I’m probably not alone in feeling, in addition to delighted, very sad, and not because we lost in Monroe a great artist (she wasn’t), or a great beauty (she was), but because, in Some Like It Hot, it’s clear she was, at times, abundantly capable of enjoying life.”

What Makes ‘Some Like It Hot’ Timeless?

As the new 4K print of Some Like It Hot continues its big-screen run, Paul Whitington ponders its enduring appeal in the Irish Independent.

“I say timeless, but its enduring appeal has sometimes baffled me. After all, it’s set in the 1920s, was made in the late 1950s and its major theme is sexual politics and the illusory nature of love. Nothing dates quite so fast as attitudes to sex, and since the film was made, the western world has hurtled through flower power, the feminist awakening, the sexual revolution, the gay rights movement, same-sex marriage and #MeToo. Taking all that into account, Wilder’s film ought to be an offensive anachronism: so why isn’t it?

Perhaps because it was made not by an Eisenhower-era American, but by a sophisticated Weimar-era Berliner, who wasn’t shocked by much and instinctively felt that, within reason, anything goes. Some Like it Hot was way ahead of its time, and helped sound the death knell of a stifling puritanical movement that had muffled Hollywood’s wilder excesses for several decades.

It also laughed at Hollywood itself, the blindingly glitzy dream machine that had made billions of dollars flogging the fantasy of perfect love. There was nothing perfect about the love stories in Wilder’s film, in which men dressed as women fell in love with women and even other men, none of whom seemed too bothered when they discovered the truth.

Mitzi Gaynor, who’d initially been cast as sultry nightclub singer Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk, was replaced by Marilyn Monroe. Her presence would prove a mixed blessing … For all her neuroses, however, Monroe delivered a brilliant, pitch-perfect portrayal of a vulnerable but lovable young woman. She only made two more movies, and was dead within three years.

What’s so interesting about this film is the deep strain of compassionate realism beneath the music, the comic routines and the jokes. Wilder and Diamond’s story constantly suggests that romantic love depends on illusion. Joe (Curtis) falls for Sugar’s blinding glamour, but she’s a sad and dreamy girl who always picks the wrong guy. And she only falls for him when he pretends to be a super-wealthy oil tycoon.

The producers wanted to tinker with the finished film after it screened poorly for test audiences, but Wilder stood his ground.

‘This is a very funny movie,’ he said, ‘and I believe in it just as it is.'”

Marilyn at the Coronado Museum

Sixty years ago, the ‘Florida’ scenes for Some Like It Hot were filmed on Coronado Island near San Diego, California.

From now until January at the Coronado Museum of Art & History, a new exhibition – Coronado’s Golden Age of Film – explores the resort’s movie connections, hosted by the Coronado Historical Association and with items from Scott Fortner’s Marilyn Monroe Collection as its centerpiece.

“The Marilyn Monroe Collection comprises a lifetime of memories, both Marilyn’s and the collector’s. On loan to the Coronado Historical Association are a selection of Coronado-centric pieces from the collection consisting of items from Marilyn’s personal wardrobe, including a dress she wore off the set during filming of Some Like it Hot, cosmetics, books from her personal library, numerous personal and professional documents, a Marilyn Monroe signed bank check made payable to her acting coach Paula Strasberg, and other items directly from her estate.

Coronado’s film history is rich and vast beginning with a short documentary filmed by the Edison Company, through the golden age of silent film, into Hollywood’s golden age, to today. Visit the Coronado Museum to view some of Coronado’s earliest films, explore Coronado’s Cinema Hall of Fame, and get to know Marilyn Monroe by viewing her clothes, photographs, and papers.”

Marilyn at Julien’s: Hollywood Icons & Idols

A wide range of Marilyn-related items, including her 1956 Thunderbird, will be up for grabs at Julien’s Icons & Idols auction on November 17.  Another high-profile item is the white beaded Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business, purchased at Christie’s in 1995; as yet it’s unclear whether this is the same dress listed at Julien’s in 2016.

Marilyn owned several pairs of checked trousers, wearing them repeatedly throughout her career. This pair, seen in one of her earliest modelling shoots, was purchased from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.

A number of photos owned by Marilyn herself are also on offer, including this picture with US troops, taken on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a set of publicity photos for Love Nest; a photo of Joe DiMaggio in his New York Yankees uniform; and Roy Schatt‘s 1955 photo of Marilyn and Susan Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

A postcard from the Table Rock House in Niagara Falls was signed by Marilyn and her Niagara co-stars, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, in 1952.

This publicity shot from River of No Return is inscribed, ‘To Alan, alas Alfred! It’s a pleasure to work with you – love & kisses Marilyn Monroe.’

A set of bloomers worn by Marilyn in River of No Return (as seen in this rare transparency) is going up for bids.

Marilyn in Korea, 1954

Among the mementoes from Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Japan and Korea are two fans and an army sewing kit.

Also among Marilyn’s personal property is this ad for There’s No Business Like Show Business, torn from the December 24, 1954 issue of Variety.

Marilyn’s hand-written poem inspired by Brooklyn Bridge is also on sale.

Among Marilyn’s assorted correspondence is a latter dated August 22, 1954, from childhood acquaintance Ruth Edens:

“I have long intended to write you this letter because I have particularly wanted to say that when you used to visit me at my Balboa Island cottage, you were a shy and charming child whose appeal, it seems to me, must have reached the hearts of many people. I could never seem to get you to say much to me, but I loved having you come in and I missed your doing so after you’d gone away. I wondered about you many times and was delighted when I discovered you in the films. I hope the stories in the magazines which say you felt yourself unloved throughout your childhood, are merely press-agentry. In any case, I want you to know that I, for one, was truly fond of you and I’m proud of you for having developed enough grit to struggle through to success … I hope you are getting much happiness out of life, little Marian [sic]. I saw so much that was ethereal in you when you were a little girl that I fell sure you are not blind to life’s spiritual side. May all that is good and best come your way!”

Marilyn’s loyalty to the troops who helped to make her a star is attested in this undated letter from Mrs. Josephine Holmes, which came with a sticker marked ‘American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.

“My dear Miss Monroe, I was so happy to hear from Mr. Fisher about your visit to the Veterans Hospital. When I spoke to Mr. Alex David Recreation he said the veterans would be thrilled, probably the best present and tonic for them this holiday and gift giving season. I am sure it will be a wonderful memory for you, knowing you have brought happiness to so many boys, many have no one to visit with them. Thank you, and may God bless you and Mr. Miller for your kindness.”

Marilyn wore this hand-tailored black satin blouse for a 1956 press conference at Los Angeles Airport, as she returned to her hometown after a year’s absence to film Bus Stop. When a female reporter asked, ‘You’re wearing a high-neck dress. … Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’ she replied sweetly, ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.’

Paula Strasberg’s annotated scripts for Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot, Let’s Make Love, and her production notes for The Misfits are available; and a book, Great Stars of the American Stage, inscribed “For Marilyn/With my love and admiration/ Paula S/ May 29-1956” (the same day that Marilyn finished work on Bus Stop. )

Letters from Marilyn’s poet friend, Norman Rosten, are also included (among them a letter warmly praising her work in Some Like It Hot, and a postcard jokingly signed off as T.S. Eliot.)

Among Marilyn’s correspondence with fellow celebrities was a Christmas card from Liberace, and a telephone message left by erstwhile rival, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

File under ‘What Might Have Been’ – two letters from Norman Granz at Verve Records, dated 1957:

“In the September 5, 1957, letter, Granz writes, ‘I’ve been thinking about our album project and I should like to do the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to an album called MARILYN SINGS LOVE SONGS or some such title.’ In the December 30, 1957, letter, he writes, ‘… I wonder too if you are ready to do any recording. I shall be in New York January 20th for about a week and the Oscar Peterson Trio is off at that time, so if you felt up to it perhaps we could do some sides with the Trio during that period.'”

Also in 1957, Marilyn received this charming card from the Monroe Six, a group of dedicated New York teenage fans, mentioning her latest role in The Prince and The Showgirl and husband Arthur Miller’s legal worries:

“Marilyn, We finally got to see ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ and every one of us was so very pleased. We are all popping our shirt and blouse buttons. Now we will be on pins and needles ‘til it is released to the general public. You seemed so relaxed and a tease thru the whole picture and your close ups, well they were the most flawless ever. You should be real pleased with yourself. No need to tell you what we want for you to know now is that we hope everything comes out all right for Mr. Miller and real soon too. Guess what we are working on now. We are trying to scrape up enough money for the necessary amount due on 6 tickets to the premiere and the dinner dance afterwards. Well again we must say how happy we are about T.P.+T.S. and we wanted you to know it. Our best to you.”

Among the lots is assorted correspondence from Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, dated 1958. In that year, Marilyn sent Xenia a check which she used to replace her wallpaper. She regretted being unable to visit Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot, but would write to Arthur Miller on November 22, “I wanted to tell you how much your visit meant to me and how glad I was to see you and my beloved Marilyn being so happy together.”

In April 1959, Marilyn received a letter from attorney John F. Wharton, advising her of several foundations providing assistance to children in need of psychiatric care, including the Anna Freud Foundation, which Marilyn would remember in her will.

This telegram was sent by Marilyn’s father-in-law, Isidore Miller, on her birthday – most likely in 1960, as she was living at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love. She was still a keen reader at the time, as this receipt for a 3-volume Life and Works of Sigmund Freud from Martindale’s bookstore shows.

After Let’s Make Love wrapped, Marilyn sent a telegram to director George Cukor:

“Dear George, I would have called but I didn’t know how to explain to you how I blame myself but never you. If there is [undecipherable due to being crossed out] out of my mind. Please understand. My love to Sash. My next weekend off I will do any painting cleaning brushing you need around the house. I can also dust. Also I am sending you something but it’s late in leaving. I beg you to understand. Dear Evelyn sends her best. We’re both city types. Love, Amanda Marilyn.”

Here she is referencing her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and Amanda Dell, the character she played. “Dearest Marilyn, I have been trying to get you on the telephone so I could tell you how touched I was by your wire and how grateful I am,” Cukor replied. “Am leaving for Europe next Monday but come forrest [sic] fires come anything, I will get you on the telephone.”

There’s also a June 30, 1960 letter from Congressman James Roosevelt (son of FDR), asking Marilyn to appear on a television show about the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research, to be aired in October. Unfortunately, Marilyn was already committed to filming The Misfits, and dealing with the collapse of her marriage to Arthur Miller.

In 1961, movie producer Frank McCarthy praised Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits:

Rather touchingly, Marilyn owned this recording of ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ sung by Adriana Caselotti. The record copyright is from 1961, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was originally released in December 1937, when Marilyn was just eleven years old.

This pen portrait was sketched by George Masters, who became Marilyn’s regular hairdresser in the final years of her life.

On July 5, 1962, Hattie Stephenson – Marilyn’s New York housekeeper – wrote to her in Los Angeles:

 “My Dear Miss Monroe: How are you! Trusting these few lines will find you enjoying your new home. Hoping you have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Fields by now. Found them to be very nice and the childrens [sic] are beautiful. Got along very well with there [sic] language. How is Maff and Mrs. Murray? Miss Monroe, Mrs. Fields left this stole here for you and have been thinking if you would like to have it out there I would mail it to you. Miss Monroe Dear, I asked Mrs. Rosten to speak with you concerning my vacation. I am planning on the last week of July to the 6th of August. I am going to Florida on a meeting tour. Trusting everything will be alright with you. Please keep sweet and keep smiling. You must win. Sincerely, Hattie.”

Hattie is referring to Marilyn’s Mexico friend, Fred Vanderbilt Field, who stayed with his family in Marilyn’s New York apartment that summer. She also alludes to Marilyn’s ongoing battle with her Hollywood studio. Sadly, Hattie never saw Marilyn again, as she died exactly a month later. Interestingly, the final check from Marilyn’s personal checkbook was made out to Hattie on August 3rd.

After Marilyn died, her estate was in litigation for several years. Her mother, Gladys, was a long-term resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, which had agreed to waive her fees until her trust was reopened. In 1965, Gladys would receive hate mail from a certain Mrs. Ruth Tager of the Bronx, criticising her as a ‘hindrance’ due to her unpaid bills. This unwarranted attack on a sick, elderly woman reminds one why Marilyn was so hesitant to talk about her mother in public.

UPDATE: See results here

Sugar Draws Back the Curtain

Today, Some Like It Hot is considered one of the funniest movies ever made. Next week, the new 4K restoration will hit UK cinemas. But what did the critics make of it back in 1959? Sight & Sound magazine looks back at their first review.

“Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot will not appeal to those who find female impersonation unamusing in any circumstances; and certainly, since it also contains two painfully accurate re-creations of gangland slaughter, its opportunities for offence are considerable … Although the comedy never quite shakes off this basic confusion in styles, it comes to life from the start … Marilyn Monroe is charmingly herself, if a little wan, but her role of innocent at large is too peripheral to strike a useful balance with the film’s blacker and more clinical humours.”

Marilyn Gets the Sweet End of the Lollipop

Billy Wilder directs Marilyn and Tony Curtis in’Some Like It Hot’

With the new 4K restoration reaching UK cinemas next week (see here), Joseph Walsh has reviewed Some Like It Hot for Cine-Vue. (In an otherwise excellent piece, Walsh mistakenly claims that Tony Curtis had an affair with Marilyn during filming, ‘according to Hollywood legend.’ As you’ll find out here, that particular legend happened only in Tony’s imagination!)

“‘It’s the story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop’ is just one of the many sublime, double-edged lines that Marilyn Monroe delivers in Billy Wilder’s gender-bending comedy Some Like It Hot …The note of that line is pitch perfect, the sensual, iconic actress allowing it to drop off her lips with comic finesse, whilst simultaneously echoing the tragedy of her own life.

As well as gender identity the film is rife with sex. Most famously is Monroe, who poured into the iconic (not to mention revealing) white dress, wins ever man’s heart as she sings I Wanna Be Loved By You, the careful lighting just casting enough shadow to hide her modesty. The gift of this movie lays not just in how entertaining it is, nor the memorable one-liners, but in how Wilder balances light and dark, life with death, love with loneliness, men and women. Some Like It Hot is what all great comedies should aspire to be – both sweet and sour.”

Why Marilyn’s Comedy Classic Never Grows Old

As Some Like It Hot returns to cinemas in a new 4K print, Donald Clarke ponders its lasting appeal in the Irish Times.

“The personnel make their own case. Renowned for wrapping subversive cynicism around the most perfectly calibrated jokes, Wilder remains a holy figure in American cinema … Marilyn Monroe’s complex, troubled energy is undimmed by the passing of the years. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, perky actors at home with Wilder’s misanthropy, throw themselves heartily at unusually demanding roles.

But the untouchable status of Some Like It Hot surely results from something broader and more profound. Like a lot of works that figure in ‘greatest ever’ lists, Wilder’s film sits on the cusp between approaches; it straddles the fence between ideas; it incorporates apparently complementary tones. The viewer can approach from a number of angles.

The story around Some Like It Hot layers the picture with further uncertainties. Monroe, who was to die three years later, was famously hard to work with and required dozens of takes to complete even the simplest scene. None of her later films are free from those whispers of impending doom.

There’s more. Some Like It Hot’s position on those charts confirms its status as a work that belongs to the high arts and to popular culture. One is never in any doubt that one is watching the most gifted American film professionals at the top of their game. It’s a tribute to a glorious machine – the Hollywood studio system – as that machine was spluttering into redundancy.”

Marilyn and Judy Holliday Double Bill

Among the upcoming screenings of the newly restored Some Like It Hot is an intriguing double bill. At 1:30 pm on December 16, the 1959 classic will be screened at London’s Regent Street Cinema, followed by It Should Happen To You (1954) at 3:50 pm. Not only does Jack Lemmon appear in both films, but It Should Happen To You also stars Judy Holliday, the blonde star who, alongside Marilyn, was one of the leading comediennes of the era.

The film was directed by George Cukor, who later worked with Marilyn in Let’s Make Love and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give. Judy stars as an out-of-work actress whose life is transformed when she rents a billboard to advertise herself. In his first major film role Lemmon plays a photographer, while Peter Lawford – another figure from Marilyn’s life –   is cast as a rather caddish businessman.

A native New Yorker, Judy Holliday became a star on Broadway with her role as Billie Dawn, a gangster’s moll who falls in love with a straight-laced journalist hired to educate her, in Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday. Kanin later said that a young Marilyn had auditioned for the big-screen adaptation, but the role was ultimately reprised by Judy.

The two actresses – who both battled ‘dumb blonde’ typecasting, finally met in 1956, as Martha Weinman Lear revealed in a 1988 article for Fame magazine. (Sadly, Judy Holliday’s career would also be cut short when she died, aged 44, of breast cancer in 1965.)

“Thirty blocks downtown, a billboard dominated Times Square. This was in 1956, a cave age, but you remember that billboard. Even if you weren’t born yet you remember that billboard: Marilyn Monroe, starring in The Seven Year Itch, loomed twenty feet tall … in what was, and remains, one of the most powerful images ever to come out of movie advertising.

A few blocks east, more peekaboo: Judy Holliday, the Funny Girl of her day, was transforming herself nightly into just that paper doll, and packing them into the Blue Angel supper club with her impersonation — never mind the makeup, it was an act of brains and will, and it was brilliant — of Marilyn Monroe.

It was my first job, at Collier’s magazine, doing my own impersonation — eager researcher playing cool reporter — and yearning for some epiphanic professional moment. It came…

Leonard Lyons, gossip columnist for the old New York Post, was strolling down Fifth Avenue with Holliday one day, or so he reported, and they ran into Monroe. Reality and illusion head-to-head; how avidly the two must have eyed each other! Introductions were made. Someone said, ‘we ought to get together,’ and the women arranged to have tea at Judy’s apartment in the Dakota, Collier’s to record the event for some ravenous posterity. I was sent to take notes.

The photographer Howell Conant, was all set up in the living room. The appointed hour came, and no Marilyn. A half hour later, no Marilyn. Judy grew tenser. Finally, after an hour, a person arrived, and it appeared that this person was Marilyn Monroe.

Time has done nothing to dim the details: She wore a black cotton shirt, sleeveless, a brown cotton skirt and flats. There was a big grease stain on the front of the skirt. The belly protruded. The legs were covered with bumps and scabs, which she kept scratching. The platinum hair showed dark at the roots and, when she raised her arm, I saw a luxuriant dark undergrowth. This was before political statements; we were all shaving our armpits. She looked…tatty, a bit. Only the voice was unmistakable, pure sigh (was it afraid to be heard or demanding that we lean in to listen? I have never been sure). Only the skin, which was truly luminescent, would have stopped you in the street.

‘We were getting worried about you!’ Judy cried. Her voice shook, I think with wrath.

‘I’ve got mosquito bites,’ the goddess whispered, and bent to scratch yet again. And though the sequitur escaped me, I instantly and utterly forgave her for being late.

She wanted to makeup her face. Then the two of them thought that it might be fun for Judy to put on her Marilyn face first, while Marilyn watched in the mirror. They began, and it was impossible. Marilyn guided graciously, with soft breathy urgings: ‘Mm, make the eyebrow a little pointier … Yes, that’s right …’ But Judy couldn’t do it. She did it every night, but here, now, in the presence of the real thing…who did not herself look much like the real thing, which gave rise to problems of philosophic scope, because who or where was the real thing? Was it here, in this sweetly scruffy presence, or was this a mere mortal metaphor for the real thing, which was up there on the billboard?

‘Well, uh…’ Marilyn began, and giggled, craning her own head back gingerly, as though trying to ease a stiff neck. And that was when I finally saw, quick study that I was, that both women had the same problem: They were both straining to impersonate Marilyn Monroe.

So they tried it the other way. Marilyn would make up first. ‘Oh, I look awful,’ she said, but in the mirror she took on authority. She set to work with that total Teutonic dispassion of models, a touch of shadow here, a dab of highlight there, an extravagance of mascara, an artful swirling of hair around the roots. I waited, wild with curiosity — Judy too — for the transmutational touch, peekaboo! But Monroe was doing no magic tricks; she was simply spiffing up what she had, as we all do.

And then came this remarkable moment. The child, Jonathan, appeared in the doorway. Judy bent to him and took his hand. ‘Jonathan,’ she said, ‘do you remember that lady we saw in the movie, Marilyn Monroe?’ The cherub nodded. ‘You want to meet her?’ Again he nodded, wide-eyed. ‘Jonathan,’ she said, and her hand swept across the room — flourish of trumpets, roll of drums — ‘this is Marilyn Monroe.’

Marilyn was standing. She had just hitched up her skirt to pull down the blouse from underneath. She looked at the little boy, and he at her, and in that instant it happened. She metamorphosed … And the head tilted easily back, the eyelids closed down, she licked her lips, became that myth and smiled full into the child’s face and sighed, ‘Hi-iiii.’

Conant shot hundreds of exposures that afternoon; not a single one of Marilyn was bad, and most were splendid. Ultimately, what one saw in the room did not matter. Her face, as they say of certain faces — as they first said of Valentino’s face — made love to the camera.

The pictures were never published because Collier’s, soon after, went out of business. The one shown here was taken as a souvenir for me, and I have never looked at it without remembering that moment of her transmutation, and wondering: What on earth she thought she was doing? And it must be that she simply had not thought at all, but had simply heard the bell and gone on automatic. If it was male it was her audience, her element, and she would play to it. This is a gift. It is not necessarily a gift that makes good actors, but it almost invariably makes great performers.”