Marilyn Night on Sky Arts

Gemma Arterton in ‘It’s Me, Sugar’

Stock up on champagne and potato chips: It’s Me, Sugar, opening a new season of Urban Myths on UK TV’s Sky Arts tonight at 9pm, is part of a full evening’s programming dedicated to Marilyn, preceded by the 2011 documentary, Discovering Film: Marilyn Monroe (aka Stars of the Silver Screen), at 8 pm; and followed by Some Like It Hot at 9 pm; and two more documentaries, Billy Wilder: Nobody’s Perfect (2016) at 12:15 am, and We Remember Marilyn (1996) at 1:15 am. (Now, where’s that bourbon?)

When Sugar Came to Broadway

Elaine Joyce (Sugar) with ‘Josephine’ (Tony Roberts) and ‘Daphne’ (Robert Morse)

Ron Fassler, author of Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, has written an article, ‘A Sprinkling of Sugar‘, about the musical theatre adaptation of Some Like It Hot. Written by Peter Stone, with music by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes composer Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, Sugar was first produced at the Majestic Theatre on West 44th St, NYC, running for 505 performances from 1972-73, and has since become a firm favourite in regional theatre and with amateur dramatics societies everywhere.

Elaine Joyce as ‘Sugar’, with Tony Roberts as Joe

“David Merrick, a producer with an enviable track record, as well as a talent for alienating close to everyone he ever came in contact with, was the man behind figuring out a way to bring a musical version of Some Like It Hot to the Broadway stage — and it wasn’t easy …

Merrick optioned Fanfaren de Liebe, the German screenplay upon which Wilder and Diamond based Some Like It Hot. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t allow for Merrick to set the show in the Roaring Twenties, perfect for a musical, as that was an idea of Wilder and Diamond’s … But with Merrick not being the type to give up without a fight, he eventually nabbed the rights from United Artists to use Wilder and Diamond’s screenplay as the source for his musical.

When Sugar opened on Broadway forty-six years ago tonight at the Majestic Theatre, it featured a relative unknown, Elaine Joyce in the title part, the one first created by Marilyn Monroe in the film … Yet the show remained a bit of a disappointment creatively, even though it did good business.

As a teenager, I saw Sugar early in its run, and though intermittently entertaining on its own merits, the show was really all about the comedic skills, dazzling energy and one-of-a-kind charisma of Robert Morse. As Jerry and his female alter-ego, Daphne, Morse was the real deal.

Sugar’s impromptu pyjama party with Daphne (Robert Morse)

With Some Like It Hot’s status as a film classic not only undiminished over the years, but continuing to grow, there have been numerous attempts to revive Sugar’s fortunes, in hopes of it maybe one day finding its way back to Broadway. One was a 1992 London version with British favorite Tommy Steele, and another was a U.S. touring production in 2002 with Tony Curtis, this time in the Joe E. Brown role of Osgood, the randy millionaire.

Of course, both productions took on a new title: Some Like It Hot.”

Thanks to Jackie at Marilyn Remembered

Gemma Arterton on Playing Marilyn

Gemma Arterton has spoken with The Times about her role as Marilyn in It’s Me, Sugar, which opens the new season Sky Arts’ Urban Myths in the UK next Thursday (see trailer here.) While I don’t agree with all of Arterton’s comments – MM was not, as she claims, ‘the epitome of the casting couch’ – she does at least seem genuinely sympathetic to Marilyn’s experiences of harassment and sexism, and sensitive to the factors underlying her ‘difficult’ behaviour. (Interestingly, Arthur Miller is played by Dougray Scott, who took the same role in My Week With Marilyn.)

Thanks to Fraser Penney

“Gemma Arterton is screaming at the top of her voice. ‘F*** you!’ she roars. We’re alone in an empty changing room in a small production studio 17 miles south of London and the 32-year-old star of Tamara Drewe is tapping into her inner Marilyn Monroe. Almost unrecognisable in platinum-blond wig, blood-red lipstick and marble-white make-up, she is in between takes and casually unleashing her version of the screen legend, a volatile concoction of aching vulnerability mixed with furious hair-trigger passions.

The swearing, for instance, is delivered with jump-out-of-your-seat urgency, in the midst of an explanatory monologue about Monroe’s mid-sentence mood swings. ‘She goes from [whimpering], Oh my God, love me! straight into the opposite,’ says Arterton, before swearing, chuckling and then adding: ‘Everything I’ve read about Marilyn points to how unpredictable she was. She could change just like that. People would be afraid to knock on her door and to ask her to come out on set. Whereas I think most people think of her [adopts archetypal Monroe squeak] like a wet blanket.’

‘Marilyn used her vulnerable side to get what she wanted and to manipulate people,’ says Arterton, on a break from filming a stingingly satirical scene in which Monroe and Strasberg discuss her ‘motivation’ for opening a door (Strasberg asks Monroe if her character eats cheese and Monroe replies: ‘Only on Fridays — she gets paid on Thursdays!’). ‘That was a powerful tool that she had, to make everyone feel sorry for her. But in that power she was in control. There’s a bit in our film where they’re 37 takes in and Wilder says, “Don’t worry about it!” And she says, “Don’t worry about what?” And she actually said that! So she’s very tongue-in-cheek. She knows what she’s doing. But she plays the childlike thing. It’s part of her act.’

The film’s writer, David Cummings (a regular collaborator with Paul Whitehouse on Nurse and Happiness), adds later that ‘Marilyn said in interviews, “Sex is fine, but I don’t actually want to be objectified.” So she hired Paula Strasberg and married America’s leading playwright … Every message she gave off was, “I’m more than this sexy moron!” And I tried to put that in the script.’

Indeed, a prerequisite for Arterton’s role as ‘the blonde bombshell’, she says, was an assurance that, in the era of Harvey Weinstein, Me Too and Time’s Up, this would be a different, more engaged Monroe. ‘When I read the script I loved it, but the Weinstein stuff was happening at the same time and I really had to think twice about it,’ says Arterton. ‘Because this is a funny script about a woman who has been abused … So we talked about it and we made sure that we were all aware of that.’

I don’t think that it was fun at times to be inside Marilyn’s head,’ says Arterton …’But at other times it must’ve been great. Joe DiMaggio, her second husband, once said, “It’s a nightmare being married to a lightbulb.” She gave off this glow. Some depressive people are like that. There’s the dark, but also the light. And I hope that’s what we showed.'”

Carol Richards: Singing With the Stars

Carol Richards (1922-2007) was an American singer who also dubbed many stars in classic Hollywood films. She began her career at a radio station in Indianapolis. After winning a Bob Hope talent contest, she moved to Hollywood and appeared in many television shows. Best-known for her duet with Bing Crosby, ‘Silver Bells’, she was also a vocal double for actresses Vera Ellen in Call Me Madam, and Cyd Charisse in Silk Stockings, among others.

Marilyn rehearsing a number for ‘Some Like It Hot’

Interviewed for SeaCoastOnline, Carol’s grandson, Michael Scharff, claims she also worked with Marilyn:

“Richards was hired to dub for Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, but instead convinced Monroe to do her own songs, and trained her to ‘act the song,’ Scharff says.

The lesson shared with Monroe informs his own work as a singer and vocal teacher, ‘acting as singing,’ he says. ‘I say every song is a monologue set to rhythm with melody. It’s a singer’s job to interpret those lines. It comes right from my grandmother.'”

Personally, I find it unlikely that Marilyn ever seriously considered being dubbed. She had already proved herself in several musicals, released hit records and performed live. Marilyn also worked closely with the Matty Malneck Orchestra for Some Like It Hot. Furthermore, the film is not among Carol’s credits.

However, Some Like It Hot was Marilyn’s first movie in two years, so she have needed to brush up her vocal skills; and with the possible exception of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her songs as Sugar Kane are probably the most ‘in character’. So while unconfirmed, it’s possible that Carol did help to coach her for the role.

Marilyn, Billy and the Fabulous Fifties

As part of an ongoing series for The Guardian, Wendy Ide names the 1950s as her favourite decade in film.

“Marilyn Monroe was the blond bombshell of choice – although for a while it looked as though Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday) might be a contender – and became a global icon. Hers was a career that played out almost entirely during the 50s. A supporting role in All About Eve led to a studio contract and a star-making double whammy of Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Highlights of her decade, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot, saw her teamed with director Billy Wilder …”

And over at Film School Rejects, Will DiGravio argues that the comedy classic, alongside other greats like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Hawks’ Rio Bravo, makes 1959 the best year in movies.

“Today, it seems as though many know Monroe only for her beauty, not as the greatest comedic actress of all time. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are hilarious in the film as two musicians pretending to be women in order to play with a female band in Florida and escape the Chicago mob after they witness a murder. Yet, their performances pale in comparison to Monroe’s, whose comedic timing and delivery is so effortless it is easy to under-appreciate her brilliance.”

Billy Wilder Seminar in Michigan

The films of Billy Wilder were the subject of a day-long seminar at Hillsdale College in Michigan last week, as reported in the Hillsdale Daily News.

“The final seminar focused on the life and legacy of Director Billy Wilder, 1906-2002. Addressing a gathering of students and community guests were editor Anthony Slide; film producer and author Alain Silver; author Daniel M. Kimmel; film critic Leonard Maltin; and faculty members Daniel B. Coupland, James M. Brandon, Justin A. Jackson and Paul Moreno.

Speaking on another aspect of Wilder’s genius on March 20 was Daniel M. Kimmel, film critic and author of I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind the Scenes of the Great Romantic Comedies. Kimmel spoke on the comedies of Wilder, especially the hit film Some Like It Hot.

Kimmel said that, while this comedy was certainly one of Wilder’s best films, Wilder’s greatest achievement was the variety of his works: ‘What is fascinating about Wilder to me is that he excelled at both comedy and drama,’ said Kimmel. ‘One will find instances of his sardonic humor in all of his films.’

Kimmel noted how disguise, a major theme in many Wilder themes, is particularly used in Some Like It Hot as a tool for character development. ‘Both Jerry and Joe get to explore other aspects of their personalities, indeed the opposite of who they ordinarily are by donning drag,’ Kimmel said. ‘When they finally revert to their male identities at the end of the film, they are different people as a result.'”

‘It’s Me, Sugar’ Previewed on Youtube

A preview clip of the new short film, It’s Me, Sugar, set during production of Some Like It Hot and starring Gemma Arterton as Marilyn, is now on Youtube. Heading the new season of Urban Myths on the UK satellite television channel, Sky Arts, It’s Me, Sugar will be broadcast on April 12. If you’re in the UK but not a Sky subscriber, Sky Arts is also available on the Now TV streaming service.

The series has a somewhat checkered history: the last season included an episode featuring actor Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, which was pulled after accusations of whitewashing. Further episodes will cover a wide range of celebrity subjects. ranging from the disappearance of Agatha Christie to the Live Aid concert in 1985.

At first glance, It’s Me, Sugar seems to perpetuate the myth of Marilyn as a dumb blonde, playing an even dumber blonde. It will be interesting to see if it covers the theory proposed by author Donald Wolfe, who witnessed her playing the scene, that Marilyn ‘played dumb’ and blew her lines on purpose, to wear down director Billy Wilder into letting her play it her way.