Pictured here en route to celebrating the centenary of Abraham Lincoln’s historic visit to Bement, Illinois during the summer of 1955, Marilyn makes the front page of today’s Guardian, with an article inside about travelling in style.
“Air travel was nothing if not a photo opportunity for Marilyn Monroe, one of Hollywood’s first jet-setters. A tiny clutch bag suggests a seat in first class (no lugging a jumper and snacks around), while carrying a book about a former president implies an aspirational approach to in-flight entertainment. Ever checked your step-count after a day in the air? You may have crossed oceans, but you’ll walk mere metres – meaning white stilettos aren’t as impractical as they may at first appear.
Style tip: Dress for the flight you want, not the flight you are booked on.”
The Misfits was first released in the UK in June 1961. This rave review from The Guardian, published on July 10 of that year, hails it as a masterpiece. Interestingly though, the same newspaper had published a more ambivalent review just a month before, and was unduly harsh towards Marilyn (see here.) Perhaps the later article was an attempt to rectify an injustice? In that case, history has proved her admirer right. Neither author is named, but could the second take have been influenced by W.J. Weatherby, the Guardian reporter who befriended Marilyn on the set?
“Occasionally a film arrives which gives the cinema a new dimension … It is not going too far to say that The Misfits is in this class. [It] does not rely on a strong story for its effect but instead wins the audience’s attention through the development and interplay of the characters. The main danger was that the film, left to [Arthur] Miller, would have been too literary, but John Huston has grafted on Miller’s prose visual images which give it a deeper significance. When, for instance, Monroe screams her defiance at the corruption of a commercial civilisation, Huston makes her a black dot on a screen dominated by a Nevada desert.
The individual performances are so good that with a thrill of recognition one sees what acting in the cinema can achieve … Miller’s heroine is so obviously based on his former wife – one half expects the cast to blurt out Marilyn for Roslyn every so often – that her performance is difficult to judge. Yet if she is merely playing herself she does it remarkably well.”
The original Guardian review of Some Like It Hot – first published when it was released in the UK exactly fifty- eight years ago, on May 16, 1959 – is reposted today. The unnamed critic describes it as “a funny film with an odd flavour of humour,” reflecting director Billy Wilder’s acerbic style, and how provocative this comedy classic was for its time.
“Mr Wilder, whose films are successful and frequent, may have found that the flouting of our nicer susceptibilities is just what most of us want. Be that as it may, Some Like it Hot is a bit uncomfortable. Not that there is anything downright offensive … it is only that the vulgarity is a bit insistent – and persistent.
The women’s band includes Marilyn Monroe, even sweeter, more pathetic and, possibly, more Monroe-like than ever in her attire … Miss Monroe, as always, is irresistible, even when, as in this instance, she is being ruthlessly presented as a caricature of herself – another example of the Wilder touch.”
An original review of Maurice Zolotow’s 1961 biography of Marilyn – the first detailed study of her life – is republished today in The Guardian, with critic Richard West proving that highbrow condescension is nothing new. (The above dedication was penned by Zolotow for teenage superfan James Haspiel, with Marilyn adding her two cents below.)
“The British intelligentsia are suckers for the Cinderella myth. Show them a pin-up girl turned movie star and they will rush to recognise her as a ‘natural actress,’ ‘a born comedienne,’ or ‘artlessly touching.’ One can think of at least three beautiful women, with no acting capabilities whatsoever, who have been acclaimed as actresses by the serious British critics. The same critics had very probably jeered at these same girls when they were merely ‘sex symbols.'”
As so many outlandish conspiracy theories have arisen in the 53 years after Marilyn’s death, it is instructive to look back at how the tragic event was covered in the days after the news broke. Firstly, an extract from Time magazine’s obituary, which focused on the ill-fated production of Something’s Got to Give, claiming that only a few minutes of usable footage were shot. This myth persisted until 1990, when Marilyn’s impressive, if unfinished work was shown in public for the first time. (Headlined ‘The Only Blonde in World’, Time‘s obit inspired a painting of the same name by British pop artist, Pauline Boty.)
“She had always been late for everything, but her truancy was never heedlessness. Beset by self-doubt and hints of illness, she would stay alone, missing appointments, keeping whole casts waiting in vain. In the past year, her tardiness was measured in weeks instead of hours … She seemed euphonic and cheerful, even while 20th Century-Fox was filing suit against her in hopes of salvaging $750,000 damages from the wreckage of Something’s Got to Give.”
The New York Times noted the gulf between Marilyn’s ‘golden girl’ image and her sad demise, echoing the shock felt by many fans:
“The life of Marilyn Monroe, the golden girl of the movies, ended as it began, in misery and tragedy.
Her death at the age of 36 closed an incredibly glamorous career and capped a series of somber events that began with her birth as an unwanted, illegitimate baby and went on and on, illuminated during the last dozen years by the lightning of fame.
Her public life was in dazzling contrast to her private life.
No sex symbol of the era other than Brigitte Bardot could match her popularity. Toward the end, she also convinced critics and the public that she could act.
During the years of her greatest success, she saw two of her marriages end in divorce. She suffered at least two miscarriages and was never able to have a child. Her emotional insecurity deepened; her many illnesses came upon her more frequently.
In her last interview, published in the Aug. 3 issue of Life magazine, she told Richard Meryman, an associate editor: ‘I was never used to being happy, so that wasn’t something I ever took for granted.’
Considering her background, this was a statement of exquisite restraint.”
Writing for The National, Lincoln Kerstein – co-founder of the New York Ballet – praised Marilyn’s comedic gifts and unabashed sexuality:
“Marilyn Monroe was supposed to be the Sex Goddess, but somehow no one, including, or indeed first of all, herself, ever believed it. Rather, she was a comedienne impersonating the American idea of the Sex Goddess … When people paid their forty millions to see Monroe, it was for an aesthetic performance, not a simple provocation. And she, perhaps even consciously, exemplified a philosophy which had come to her pragmatically, and which a lot of American women don’t like very much—a philosophy at once hedonistic, full of uncommon common sense, and, even to some intellectuals, deeply disturbing. Her performances indicated that while sex is certainly fun, and often funny, it is only one of many games … Marilyn Monroe’s life was not a waste. She gave delight. She was a criterion of the comic in a rather sad world. Her films will continue to give delight, and it is blasphemy to say she had no use. Her example, our waste of her, has the use of a redemption in artists yet untrained and unborn.”
The Los Angeles Times gave a detailed report about Marilyn’s final days, and the still-disputed circumstances of her death, under the headline ‘Marilyn Monroe Dies; Pills Blamed’…
“Two motion pictures executives were bidding for her services at the time of her death. One of them was reportedly J. Lee Thompson, director of the film The Guns of Navarone, who planned to meet with her Tuesday.
Producer Sam Spiegel also wanted her to star in a picture for him, it was reported.
Miss Monroe had received an offer of $55,00 a week to star in a night club appearance in Las Vegas recently, but she turned it down.
Further evidence that her career was on the upswing was indicated by a typewritten message on a table in her home.
It was from a representation of Anita Loos, creator of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and said:
‘Dear Miss Monroe: On behalf of Anita Loos, now in Europe, we would like to know if you would be interested star role new musical based on French play Gogo. Book by Anita Loos, lyrics by Gladys Shelley and enchanting music by Claude Leville. Can send you script and music if you express interest. (signed) Natalia Danesi Murray.'”
Finally, The Guardian‘s W.J. Weatherby published a personal tribute to Marilyn (click to enlarge.) He would later write a book about their friendship, Conversations With Marilyn.
“To say that Marilyn Monroe was a charming, shrewd, and pathetic woman of a tragic integrity will sound as preposterous to the outsider as William Empson’s Freudian analysis of Alice in Wonderland. It is nevertheless true. We restrict the word ‘integrity’ to people, either simple or complex, who have a strong sense of righteousness or, if they are public men, of self-righteousness. Yet it surely means no more than what it says: wholeness, being free to be spontaneous, without wreck of consistency or moral appearances. It can be true of forlorn and bewildered people, as of the disciplined and solemn.
In this sense, Marilyn Monroe was all of a piece. She was confused, pathologically shy, a straw on the ocean of her compulsions (to pout, to crack wise, to love a stranger, to be six hours late, or lock herself in a room). She was a sweet and humorous person increasingly terrified by the huge stereotype of herself she saw plastered all around her. The exploitation of this pneumatic, mocking, liquid-lipped goddess gave the world a simple picture of the Lorelei. She was about as much of a Lorelei as Bridget, the housemaid.
This orphan of the rootless City of the Angels at last could feel no other identity than the one she saw in the mirror: a baffled, honest girl forever haunted by the nightmare of herself, 60 feet tall and naked before a howling mob. She could never learn to acquire the lacquered shell of the prima donna or the armour of sophistication. So in the end she sought the ultimate oblivion, of which her chronic latecomings and desperate retreats to her room were token suicides.”
From ‘Marilyn Is Dead‘, an obituary by Alastair Cooke (first published in The Guardian on August 6th, 1962)
Some Like it Hot comes third in The Guardian‘s Top 25 Comedies, beaten by (ahem) Borat, and Annie Hall.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, film critic Barry Paris, who co-authored Tony Curtis’s first autobiography, celebrates Marilyn’s sizzling screen career ahead of the Life as a Legend exhibit and movie season at the Andy Warhol Museum.
“It took a smart cookie to play the ultimate dumb blonde — and become the pop culture’s most fragile, enduring icon in the process. Marilyn Monroe’s spectacular beauty and sexuality stoked America’s collective imagination, captivating and defining her era.
Chief among the MM pix, of course, is Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic, pretty unanimously considered the all-time best movie comedy. Tony Curtis, in and out of drag, falls hopelessly in love with her, and so do we. In Sugar Kane (nee Sugar Kowalczyk), we get her euphoric screen presence at its best, secretly battling her offscreen demons at their worst.
Hollywood’s most alluring sex goddess was also its most dysfunctional actress. All the good, bad and ugly aspects of working with Marilyn — more precisely, of Marilyn working — would converge during the making of Some Like It Hot…
…On the other hand, Mr. Wilder shrugged, ‘My Aunt Minnie would always be punctual on the set, never hold up production, and know her lines forwards and backwards — but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie?'”