Sunny Thompson on ‘Becoming Marilyn’

Becoming Marilyn Monroe, the new documentary about Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show (Marilyn: Forever Blonde), is set to have its world premiere at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs on April 10. Sunny recently spoke about her long-running stage role with Bruce Fessier of the Desert Sun.

“Why is Marilyn still fascinating more than 55 years after her death?

I think it has a lot to do with her softness. You can see it in her eyes in all of her photos … I have met young girls who came to the play and said they were big Marilyn fans and yet they had never seen a movie with Marilyn in it.  Only her photos! They had fallen in love with an image.

After 10 years, what did you learn that was most interesting about her?

Maybe how absolutely terrified she was facing the press and yet how charming and witty she was at answering their questions, like coming up with something engagingly clever.

Have you learned to turn the Marilyn character on and off the way Marilyn did?

Funny you mention that because I think I might have an inkling as to how Marilyn must have felt around people. She couldn’t really just be herself … People come up to me and say ‘You play Marilyn Monroe?’ And if I just say yes, they are disappointed. But if I light up and sparkle a bit, and give them a little Marilyn look, then they go away happy.

How would you describe Marilyn’s state of mind on the last day of her life? 

I lived that day on stage hundreds of times and I always felt Marilyn was feeling unloved and disillusioned. I play her reliving her life before an audience and deathly afraid that when her looks go and her body goes she will be nothing! I want to believe she didn’t purposely take her own life.”

‘Becoming Marilyn Monroe’ in Palm Springs

Of all the Marilyn-inspired plays staged in recent years, Marilyn: Forever Blonde – a one-woman show starring Sunny Thompson – is perhaps the only one to win the hearts of fans as well as critical acclaim. And now Becoming Marilyn Monroe, Tammy Plimmer’s new hour-long documentary about the making of a star tribute, will have its premiere on April 10 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, as part of the American Documentary Film Festival.

“In 1952, a 10-year-old boy falls in love with a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a magazine. 47 years later he marries her. This improbable true story of a successful producer of musical revues who discovers a young girl from a small town in Northern Minnesota, marries her, and makes her the star of his one-woman theatrical tribute to Hollywood’s most famous star, Marilyn Monroe. This results in an award-winning, critically-acclaimed theatrical play with music, Marilyn Forever Blonde.”

Doris Roberts 1925-2016

DorisRoberts

Actress Doris Roberts – perhaps best-known for her role as Marie Barone in the TV sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond – has died in Los Angeles, aged 90.

Born in St Louis, Missouri, Roberts was raised in the Bronx, New York. She began her acting career in the 1950s, appearing on stage and screen.  ‘I was a member of the Actors Studio,’ she said in 2009, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. ‘Marilyn Monroe used to come to class. Martin Balsam was there. Anne Bancroft was there. Geraldine Page.’

Monroe, she said, would sit in the class led by the legendary Lee Strasberg ‘in a coat, with her collar up and a scarf over her head. She would get up and do a scene and she was wonderful. She was a scared little bird.’

‘I used to sit near Marilyn Monroe in the Actor’s Studio,’ Roberts was quoted as saying in a 2003 interview for A&U magazine. ‘I didn’t know who she was then. She’d get dressed up in those [sexy] dresses because that was her identity. Sad. Those cameras wouldn’t leave her alone. She didn’t know where to hide.’

By the 1980s, Roberts  was a respected character actress, and was cast as Mildred Krebs in the popular TV detective series, Remington Steele. In recent years, she was spotted at a number of Marilyn-related events, including a Los Angeles performance of Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show, Marilyn: Forever Blonde in 2012, and at the opening of the Hollywood Museum’s summer exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: Missing Moments in 2015.

‘Is Marilyn Meant for the Stage?’

Alyson Reed in ‘Marilyn: An American Fable’ (1983)

I’ve said before that there are so many plays about Marilyn being produced lately that it’s hard to keep track of them all – and frankly, most of them are best forgotten. Marilyn: Forever Blonde, the long-running, one-woman show starring Sunny Thompson, has bucked the trend and become a firm fan favourite. And back in 1983, British actress Stephanie Lawrence gained critical acclaim for her role in Marilyn! The Musical, although the show was panned.

So is Marilyn’s life the stuff that great plays are made of? ‘I think the best way to present Marilyn Monroe’s life is on the stage rather than in a movie,’ says MM biographer Carl Rollyson. ‘Why? Because in this case the right actress can project an image of Marilyn Monroe that is not dependent on camera closeups which keep reminding us the actress is not Marilyn Monroe. In the theatre so much can be done when the audience is not right smack up against the actors.’

As the makers of TV’s Smash try to bring their Marilyn-inspired musical, Bombshell, to Broadway, author Mark Robinson looks back at another ill-fated 1983 production, Marilyn: An American Fable, in an article for Playbill.

“It was never a bad idea to tell Monroe’s story through the conventions of musical theatre. It simply needed to be done in a way that served to honor the icon and the human being behind it. Bombshell, or at least the TV show that was the genesis of its creation, is already a hit and continues to be a subject of intrigue for those who want to see how a mythical fairytale about the creation of a Broadway musical concludes. It’s the inevitable payoff for two season’s worth of devoted viewership. With a strong book, the right casting and a production that delivers all the splash and flash worthy of Marilyn Monroe, all of the other ingredients are in place for a quality musical. This is not Marilyn: An American Fable, where very few things came together to transport us into this Hollywood legend’s life. All signs point to a ‘happy ever after’ for Bombshell.”

Lankershim’s Monroe Theatre

Westside Today reports on the opening of the Monroe Forum Theatre, a second stage at the El Portal movie theatre, which is located directly behind Lankershim Elementary School, once attended by Norma Jeane.

The inaugural performance was Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show, Marilyn: Forever Blonde, on the 50th anniversary of MM’s death.

“A little known fact is that the former Norma Jeane Baker, soon to become Marilyn Monroe, attended 6th grade from 1937-1938 at Lankershim Elementary School directly behind the then famous movie palace El Portal Theatre, where she often attended matinees with her guardian. The new Monroe Forum Theatre has been outfitted with a lipstick red love seat and collector’s item of seldom-seen black and white photos of Ms. Monroe. A lovely ribbon cutting ceremony took place attended by many celebrities and a few former friends of Marilyn.

After that was an amazing one woman show performance of Marilyn: Forever Blonde starring Sunny Thompson. Guests included Don Murray (Oscar-nominated for his role in Bus Stop opposite Marilyn Monroe), Stanley Rubin- Producer of River Of No Return, Renee Taylor- friend of Marilyn’s who took acting classes with her, legendary stage and film actor Theodore Bikel, Councilman Tom La Bonge, and Joe Razo- Principal of Lankershim Elementary School which is still there!”

‘Forever Blonde’ in Hollywood

Sunny Thompson’s acclaimed one-woman show, Marilyn: Forever Blonde, will be performed at North Hollywood’s El Porto Theatre on August 2nd-5th, marking the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s death.

Elisa Jordan reports for the Examiner:

“The parking lot for the El Portal is the same lot used during the day by Lankershim Elementary School where Norma Jeane Baker attended sixth grade in 1937.

In conjunction with the Immortal Marilyn fan club, a special performance of Marilyn: Forever Blonde is planned on Saturday, August 4, for fans visiting Los Angeles during the memorial week.”

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.