As much of the world faces lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, millions are turning to movies for solace. One of the most frequent suggestions is Some Like It Hot: in the last week alone, Vulture’s film critic Angelica Jade Bastien has sung its praises, while The Medium‘s May Alsaigh focused on Marilyn’s role as Sugar Kane among the most iconic female characters. Monroe fans may wish more attention was paid to her many other great performances; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is also a comic masterpiece, for example. However, few stars of Hollywood’s golden age enjoy such posthumous acclaim, and with its inclusive message (‘Nobody’s perfect!’), Some Like It Hot has a timeless appeal.
“The time has never been wrong for this delirious screwball romp but seldom has it been more right. When it airs on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EDT, we, as a nation, would do well to huddle around Wilder’s warm fire with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe.”
Marilyn is featured in Christian Blauvelt’s new guidebook with a difference, Cinematic Cities: New York – The Big Apple on the Big Screen. Published by TCM, the book features the subway grate on 52nd and Lexington where Marilyn filmed her iconic ‘skirt-blowing scene’ for The Seven Year Itch in 1954. The exclusive Sutton Place South apartment building where she resides in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) is also mentioned, although the exterior is only briefly seen and the movie was actually shot in Hollywood.
Of course, Marilyn would rent her own apartment at Sutton Place South for several months in 1956, until her marriage to Arthur Miller. Another cast member, William Powell, also had a prior cinematic link to Sutton Place, as footage from his 1936 comedy classic My Man Godfrey suggests the mansion where he works as a butler was also in the area (as it has a stunning view of the nearby Queensboro Bridge.)
A treasure trove of correspondence to Marilyn will be auctioned today at Bonham’s in New York, as part of TCM’s Dark Side of Hollywood sale. Among the lots are an autographed napkin; notes to herself, jotted on the back of envelopes; letters from her mother Gladys, and members of Norma Jeane’s extended family, including Grace Goddard and Ana Lower; key figures in Marilyn’s later life, such as Joe Schenck and Elia Kazan; and other lesser-known acquaintances. Here are some of the highlights:
“San Jose, on ‘International Correspondence Schools’ letterhead and plain stationery. Norma Jeane was 12 years old when she received these letters from relatives of her guardian, Grace Goddard, and Grace’s aunt, Ana Lower. Though not related to her, they address themselves as Uncle Art and Aunt Allis, and in their separate letters to the child, they seem to know her well, calling her ‘Little Sweetheart’ and writing, ‘We all send love to our little girl.’ They often refer to their dog, Trinket, whom one may assume was adored by Norma Jeane, who had a soft spot for animals all her life. Despite the many difficulties Norma Jeane had to face as a foster child, it does seem that there were many caring people in her life, as Uncle Art writes, ‘I am sure you are happy because everyone there loves you, and wants you to be happy.'”
“In her first letter of 1942, Lower responds to 15-year-old Norma Jeane’s questions about her shyness: ‘Be your own sweet self and in time as you have more experience, you’ll be able to talk when you want to, and people will really pay attention to what you say because it will be something worthwhile.’ By 1946, Norma Jeane was obtaining a divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty (whom Lower adored) and was having financial difficulty. She had borrowed money from Lower, who was also allowing Norma Jeane’s mother, Gladys Baker, to live with her at the time. Her letter expresses disappointment in Norma Jeane’s decisions, quoting the Bible and giving advice. She also mentions that Gladys has been fired from her job at Griffith Park because she was ‘too melancholy to be around the patients.’ Lower gently but firmly warns Norma Jeane, ‘Well, precious, you may feel I am being severe, but it is not so meant. I love you dearly and you must not feel hurt because of this letter.'”
“Lower was extremely close to Dougherty, and in her letter, she expresses her concern about his joining up and what it means for Norma Jeane’s future. ‘Her welfare of course is uppermost in your thoughts. She is young and really needs to finish her education.’ Her love for the girl reveals itself often: ‘Norma is such a sweet dear girl. Everyone loves her.’ She also expresses gratitude for his caring ways: ‘I am grateful for your kindness to Norma and know she loves you as dearly as you do her.'”
“In 1945, Gladys went to Portland to attempt to live on her own with the help of her aunt, Dora. She had been living in institutions for 9 years, and the hope was that she would be able to care for herself. She writes of her transition: ‘I’ve only been here a few days [and] I am just getting acclimated to it. I’m taking it easy for a while.’ Gladys’ letter to Norma Jeane is surprisingly lucid and sweet. She is happy that Norma Jeane is married and hopes to meet her husband, James Dougherty (who was in the Merchant Marine at the time). She writes, ‘Seems only yesterday that you were just a wee tott [sic] & now you are married. I know you are very happy & perhaps some time soon I’ll see you.’ Norma Jeane was elated and eventually went to visit her with photographer Andre de Dienes. After leaving Portland, Gladys returned to Los Angeles and lived with Norma Jeane briefly but was ultimately forced to return to institutional life.”
“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane Dougherty was establishing residency in Las Vegas in order to divorce her first husband, James Dougherty, who was in the Merchant Marine at the time. She had begun a love affair with photographer Andre de Dienes, one that was much more serious than previously thought. In her letters, Ana Lower, who was the most loving adult figure in Norma Jeane’s life, remarks on the reactions she receives when she shows friends Norma Jeane’s photographs: ‘Everyone thinks your pictures are lovely, and I tell them not half so lovely as you really are.’ As she is traveling during the writing of these letters, Lower describes her experiences, most notably her visit with Norma Jeane’s amour, de Dienes. She found him both lovable and ‘temperamental, as most artists are.’ In her closing paragraph, she writes of Andre: ‘I kissed your sweetheart good-bye and I will love him, too–we joked about my being his mother-in-law. I do hope Jimmie [Norma Jeane’s soon-to-be ex-husband, whom Ana adored] is not too hurt by all this.'”
“Grace reveals that her aunt, Ana Lower, who was also a loving caregiver to Norma Jeane, is too easy on Dougherty: ‘I know what a softie [Aunt Ana] is toward any male, old or young, who makes a fuss over her. As for me, Doc [Grace’s husband], and all the rest of us, we look at situations through eyes of love for you, justice, and repayment for you being such an angel all your life. You deserve more than Jimmy is capable of giving you.’ In closing, she makes a veiled reference to Norma Jeane’s relationship with photographer Andre de Dienes and writes, ‘Of course no one but Doc and me know of your future plans. I am so in hopes you will let your heart rule you this time and not let anything keep you from taking the happiness that is being offered you.'”
“In the summer of 1946, Norma Jeane was residing in Las Vegas to obtain her divorce from her first husband, James Dougherty. During this time, she was ill, experienced financial difficulties, and was having problems with her car. Goddard’s letter is sympathetic: ‘I am heartsick over you,’ but firm when she scolds, ‘I do wish you had listened to Doc [Goddard’s husband] about your car.’ Additional difficulty arose when Dougherty refused to sign the divorce papers once Norma Jeane was in Las Vegas. Goddard gets a final jab at Dougherty in her closing remarks (even though she arranged their marriage) when she writes, ‘I never did think Jim would keep his promise to sign the papers.'”
“Len Cormier was a young Navy pilot who dated Monroe (then Norma Jeane Dougherty) shortly after she divorced her first husband in 1946. They had at least 2 dates: one at Tommy Dorsey’s Casino Gardens in Santa Monica, and one where he took her flying (the only civilian he ever took up in a plane, he later recalled). In his letter from training camp, he writes, ‘I’ll have to admit that I don’t leave your picture out all the time, since nobody would get any work done if it were.’ He relays his experiences with flight operations and traveling, and ends his letter with a thoughtful message to his career-oriented friend: ‘I’ve still got my fingers crossed, hoping that all the breaks in the world come to you.'”
“Comprising a partial Autograph Letter Signed (‘Aunt Ana’), c.1947, to Marilyn Monroe, on plain stationery, discussing Christian Science. Together with 9 holiday cards, including a congratulatory wedding card celebrating her marriage to James Dougherty in which she writes, ‘To my dear / girl and boy / Love / Aunt Ana.'”
“Until these letters, little was known about film star Howard Keel’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe except that they had dated a few times. Keel had originally met Norma Jeane when she was 15 years old, as he relays in his letter: ‘I had quite a liking for you deep down inside but being a ripe old 22 or so I felt I was a little old for you.’ He is thrilled that they have reconnected and has a good laugh at seeing her crowned as ‘The Artichoke Queen’ in a publicity stunt. At some point between letters, the two got together, and Keel expresses his disappointment at not being able to see more of Monroe: ‘When I come home in June we’ll have to have some fun & find out what there is between us.’ Obviously, nothing came of the relationship, but Keel has sweet words about their reunion when he writes, ‘It was wonderful to find you the same sweet person I knew before.'”
“Lower refers to Marilyn (who is now no longer called Norma Jeane, even by her family), as she writes: ‘I am glad the clothes can be used. Marilyn will probably have more later.’ Marilyn often gave her clothes to Berniece when she was finished with them. Lower closes the letter with, ‘All is well with me and with Marilyn’s career.’ Ana Lower would die 4 days after this letter was written.”
“At the time of his letters to Marilyn, she had just signed a 6-month contract with Columbia Pictures, a major breakthrough in her career, which Schenck addresses: ‘I hope you will get your chance at Col and make good.’ Several months later, he writes, ‘Am very pleased to know you have a good part in a picture. Stick to your work and you will make good. Make your career your first consideration.’ Schenck either had a sense of humor or spelling problems, as he incorrectly spells Monroe’s name twice, writing both ‘Maryline’ and ‘Marrylene’ in his salutations!”
“Kazan and Arthur Miller called Monroe ‘Miss Bauer’ based on a prank they played on Columbia boss Harry Cohn in which Monroe posed as a secretary by that name. Two of the Kazan telegrams allude to this pseudonym, with one signed ‘Bauer’ and the other signed simply ‘B.’ Though Monroe had affection for Kazan, she fell hard for Miller and the Kazan relationship fizzled out. From his messages, however, it appears that they were close: ‘Darling Just sit tight where you are and I’ll call for you about nine thirty.'”
“Ross was a writer for Parade magazine whose brother, photographer Ben Ross, had photographed Monroe several times. Sid Ross fell head over heels in love with Monroe, who appears not to have returned his affection (or many of his letters, since his enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope for her convenience is still attached to his letter)! His letters are lyrical, poetic, and beautifully written, and he is clearly besotted: ‘The sheer joy of watching you–as you talk & sometimes crinkle up your brow … the sometimes pain in your voice and glance and gestures … the intensity that stirs not only you, but others.’ In April of 1952, Ross received a ‘Dear John’ letter from Monroe that he declared was ‘a blow. A terrific blow. It made me feel that the end of the world had come for me.’ He is clearly heartbroken and devastated. Interestingly, Ross closes one of his letters, ‘You may never be a “great” actress possibly but you’ll always be a so very beautiful girl…,’ a statement which may have been the very reason Monroe broke things off with Sid Ross.”
“Grace Goddard is clearly at the end of her rope, having spent the last 20 years trying to take care of Baker, and her exhaustion is palpable: ‘I have always loved her and her child, but I have a very bad heart condition brought on by a stroke caused by Gladys in Feb 1950. I have tried too many years to help her and I can no longer have her in my home.'”
UPDATE: Marilyn’s letter from Gladys sold for $2,750; and two letters from Ana (1942-46) sold for $2,500.
US fans, take note: The Asphalt Jungle is on TCM tonight at 5:45 pm (EST.) Over at his 24 Frames blog, John Greco looks back on how the ultimate heist movie broke all the rules of star-making…
“[John] Huston cast the film with an excellent group of actors. For Sterling Hayden, this was his first leading role in a major film. Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe and Jean Hagen were known entities but lacked marquee strength. Marilyn Monroe was still a starlet in what was essentially her first substantial part in a major film. She was not even Huston’s first choice for the role; he originally wanted Lola Albright. Monroe does not have much screen time as the young plaything to the sleazeball lawyer but she manages to make a big impression with her limited exposure, and she looks great.”
Several Marilyn-related items are on offer, including a 1950 memo from Twentieth Century Fox to filmmaker Joseph L. Mankiewicz, confirming her casting as Claudia Caswell in All About Eve; and her contract for Horns of the Devil, a property she purchased in 1954.
There is also a group of rare photographs, including some taken by amateur photographer Janice Sargent at a children’s hospital benefit in 1953, and one photo from the 1962 Golden Globes. Two photos of a visibly pregnant Marilyn with husband Arthur Miller, taken by Sargent during filming of Some Like It Hot in 1958, are also featured.
Another lot contains several photos taken during filming of Bus Stop, and an interesting photo of Marilyn and Arthur visiting Montgomery Clift on the set of his 1958 film, Lonelyhearts. Marilyn was working on Some Like It Hot at the time, also on the Samuel Goldwyn Studio lot.
Marilyn’s blue gabardine suit, designed by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, sold for $425,000 (£282,355) at Bonham’s and TCM’s Treasures From the Dream Factory auction this week – beaten only by Judy Garland’s pinafore from The Wizard of Oz, reports Voice Chronicle. You can read the full results here.
Bonham’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 Factorysale 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.
To all our readers in the US, don’t miss January 3rd‘s episode of The Essentials on Turner Classic Movies (Saturday, at 8pm), when Robert Osborne will introduce a screening of Bus Stop by discussing the 1956 comedy with his celebrity co-host, actress turned director and producer Drew Barrymore.
Drew is a lifelong fan of Marilyn, and even posed as her idol for the cover of John F. Kennedy Jr’s magazine, George, when it launched in 1996. In an article for the TCM website, Roger Fristoe explains what makes Bus Stop a classic:
“Most importantly, Bus Stop marked what is generally considered to be the outstanding performance of a true American icon: Marilyn Monroe…Whatever difficulties in achieving it, her performance shines like a beacon through a film that otherwise may seem a bit dated for modern audiences…Some critics felt that Monroe surpassed Stanley’s highly lauded turn on Broadway.
It’s simply a great performance, one that grows more impressive with repeated viewings. There was no justice in the fact that, while Murray was Oscar-nominated for his one-dimensional, at times almost cartoon-like portrayal, Monroe was not. This was a great disappointment to many including director Logan and Monroe herself.”