Patricia Bosworth Remembers Marilyn

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Patricia Bosworth has written acclaimed biographies of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda. A lifelong member of the Actors Studio, she also wrote ‘The Mentor and the Movie Star‘, a 2003 article about Marilyn and the Strasbergs for Vanity Fair, and appeared in the 2006 PBS documentary, Marilyn Monroe: Still Life.

In her new memoir, The Men In My Life: Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan, Bosworth recalls her acting days. In an extract published by Lithub, she describes an encounter with Marilyn.

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“I slid into the backseat, where I found Marilyn Monroe huddled in a corner dreamily puffing on a cigarette. Her bleached blond hair was tousled; she seemed to be wearing no makeup. I noticed there was dirt under her fingernails, but I couldn’t stop looking at her. We were about to pull away from the curb when a voice cried out, ‘Hey Lee, goin’ my way?’ and Harry Belafonte hopped in beside me. We drove uptown in silence.

I knew Marilyn was aware I was looking at her. She was used to being looked at, and she wasn’t self-conscious. She had a mysterious indefinable quality that made her a star and separated her from everyone else. At the moment she appeared to be floating in another world as she puffed delicately on her cigarette and blew the smoke softly out of her mouth. The newspapers were full of stories about her—how she’d left Hollywood and come to New York to be a ‘serious actress,’ how Lee was coaching her at his apartment and letting her observe sessions at the Studio.”

Elsewhere, Bosworth confirms that Tennessee Williams had wanted Marilyn to star in Baby Doll (but Gore Vidal thought she was too old.) Bosworth knew many key figures in Marilyn’s life, including Elia Kazan, Lee and Susan Strasberg – who found her father’s ‘obsession’ with Marilyn disturbing.

As Bosworth admits, Marilyn was part of Lee’s inner circle from which she felt excluded. She was also intimidated by Marilyn’s fame, which nonetheless kept the Actors Studio in the headlines. Lee Strasberg often seemed cold and domineering, but Bosworth considered him ‘a great teacher.’

Bosworth, unlike Marilyn, was born into a life of privilege, and forged a stage career as well as starring alongside Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story. However, her impeccable connections couldn’t save her from family tragedy (her brother and father both committed suicide), and an abusive marriage.

The 1950s, as Bosworth observes, was a staid, even repressive decade – but the creativity and rebellion of the 60s was already fermenting. She talks about the impact of the anti-communist witch-hunts, both on the artistic community and her own family, and the rampant sexism she constantly endured.

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Elizabeth Winder will focus on Marilyn’s New York period directly in her forthcoming book, Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy, but Patricia Bosworth’s account comes from her own experience. For anyone interested in learning more about the bohemian world that women like Bosworth – and Marilyn – helped to define, The Men In My Life is essential reading.

Marilyn at Julien’s: Notes On Acting

Marilyn on the set for 'Let's Make Love' (Frieda Hull Collection)
Marilyn on the set of ‘Let’s Make Love’ (1960)

Among the many revelations to be found in the new Julien’s catalogue are a series of notes made by Marilyn on her work at the Actors Studio, where she once played Blanche DuBois in a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A black board notebook with red spine containing lined notebook paper with notes in Monroe’s hand. A very large letter ‘M’ is drawn inside the front and back covers. There are multiple notes written in another hand on the first page of the book, but the next page contains notes in Monroe’s hand in pencil with ideas for a ‘Street Car Scene’ reading in part, ‘begin with ? (1st grade happening Mexican boy accuses me of hurting him – having to stay after school it was nite [sic] outside – have place – concern because of Stan K. accusations plus – getting dress for Mitch trying to look nice especially since what Stan K. has said.’ The note also suggests she hum ‘Whispering while you hover near me,’ which is a song standard found in her notebook of standards in the following lot, only the lyric is ‘Whispering while you cuddle near me.’ The front and back of the last page of the book contain notes from acting class, including ‘during exercise – lee said let the body hang’; ‘2 exercises at one time/ cold & Touch/ one might not be enough for what’s needed’; and ‘sense of oneself/ first thing a child (human being) is aware of (making a circle) touching ones foot knowing himself is separate from the rest of the world,’ among others.”

Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)
Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)

Marilyn also studied the role of Lorna Moon in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, writing her lines twice to memorise them.

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Also on offer is an undated note which reads in part, “keeping all of the changes of pantomime & grimaces etc inside, then it forces the eyes – it all comes through the eyes”; and “Constantly practicing that letting go/ in which you don’t do in life which isn’t necessary or something/ feeling how it feels and practicing that/your spirit speaks.”

Tennessee Williams: The Mask of Marilyn

Photo by Frank Powolny
Photo by Frank Powolny

Back in 2012, I posted an extract from Follies of God: The Notebooks, a collection of unpublished writings by playwright Tennessee Williams. Entitled ‘Marilyn Monroe Got What She Wanted,’ the entry was rather unkind. I was disappointed that Williams, who wrote so well about troubled characters and was himself a deeply conflicted man, showed so little compassion for Marilyn.

I was pleased to discover another, more insightful piece by Williams, posted yesterday by editor James Grissom on the Follies of God blog. ‘On the Masks We Wear‘ looks at the gulf between outward appearance and the inner self, using Marilyn as an example.

“Marilyn [Monroe], to use one example, had a literal mask. A lot of people do. Their armor is beauty or strength. Hers was beauty–an almost supernal, lunar beauty. And it took hours–if not days–to create, to manufacture, to maintain. Creams and lotions and unguents and powders and sticks and colorful oils–and then you had Marilyn, the one we all wanted and felt we needed. And she had an identity. An identity of creamy skin and vulnerability. She could face the world with some degree of comfort.”

 

Tennessee Williams on Marilyn

Follies of God: The Notebooks is a forthcoming book by James Grissom about playwright Tennessee Williams. Extracts from the book have been posted on Grissom’s blog.

The book includes a short essay entitled ‘Marilyn Monroe Got What She Wanted.’ Considering that Williams was a fragile, troubled, though gifted man, his opinion of Marilyn is surprisingly uncharitable.

“It’s fine to cry for Marilyn Monroe. I did, and I still do. She was tragic, but she was also lucky. There are beautiful, sad, dumb girls all over the world who endure worse than she did, but they never get to live on the screen or bathe in perfume or populate the dreams of people who love beauty or who love pain or who wonder what it must be like to possess such sexual power.

Let her go. Look at the beauty, but move on. There is nothing else there. A pretty visage with a sad story. Marilyn always said she wanted to be noticed, she wanted to be loved, and she wanted to be left alone and feel safe.
I think Marilyn Monroe got what she wanted.”
Perhaps Williams was referring to the legend that has grown since her death, rather than Marilyn herself. He met Marilyn several times and had wanted her to play the lead in Baby Doll (1956.)Or maybe he was simply jealous that Marilyn died with her youth and beauty still intact, rather than facing the slow, painful decline he suffered.

Fonda Flattered by MM Comparison

Screen legend Jane Fonda – who has spoken before of her admiration for Marilyn, whom she met a few times – was interviewed by another MM fan, Liz Smith, recently.

“WE HAD fun talking about some of Jane’s earlier films…Jane thinks Barefoot in the Park holds up well. And she was astonished when I mentioned that in Period of Adjustment she had reminded me of Marilyn Monroe, in Bus Stop. Jane said, ‘Really? Wow. Any comparison to Marilyn is a compliment. Did you know that was
Tennessee Williams’ only comedy?’ I replied: ‘Well, his only intentional comedy. We all remember The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. (The play became the movie Boom!) Jane and I had a big laugh over that.” – Huffington Post

Marilyn was friendly with Tennessee Williams, who called her a ‘golden girl’. And the formidable movie critic Pauline Kael, though not a fan of MM, also thought she would have suited Fonda’s role in Period of Adjustment.

Marilyn and John Strasberg

 

Marilyn drives the black Thunderbird she later gave to John Strasberg

John Strasberg, son of Lee and Paula, will be familiar to MM fans as the lonely teenager to whom she gave her black Thunderbird. John’s sister, actress Susan Strasberg, published a family memoir, Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends, in 1992.

John went on to become a teacher of acting, developing the ‘Organic Creative Process’, distinct from his father’s Method. His 1997 book on acting, Accidentally on Purpose, is also the title of a documentary.

Actress and writer Sheila O’Malley remembers attending a workshop taught by John on her blog, and also posts a chapter from his book where he recalls a lesson with Marilyn at the Actors’ Studio, working on a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“Marilyn and I rehearsed in the tentative fashion that is common when actors are exploring a new world. We did a lot of anxious searching in one another’s eyes. This longing for eye-contact is one of the things I remember most about her, as she trembled with the desperate hunger of a child for life, comfort, love. Beneath whatever mask I was presenting to the world, I trembled in the same way, but no one ever saw it, not even me.”

Read John Strasberg’s account in full here