Marilyn was one of the first female stars to wear denim, both on and offscreen – and it’s a timeless look, as Elle India reports. (Before embracing double denim in The Misfits, Marilyn had sported jeans in Clash By Night and River Of No Return.)
“Denim might be the norm today but back in the 1950s, Hollywood’s favourite bad boy James Dean popularised it in Rebel Without A Cause (1955). He was a young, edgy star and his blue dip-dyed Lee 101 Riders became synonymous with the same characteristics. In some ways Marilyn Monroe was the female equivalent of this sexy, rebellious sentiment—donning a Storm Rider by Lee jacket (which until then had mainly been sported by male celebrities) and a pair of jeans while filming her last cinema outing, The Misfits (1961).”
Marilyn and the making of The Misfits are among the many historical touchstones featured in Big Bang, David Bowman’s posthumously published novel of mid-century America, as John Williams reports for the New York Times. (According to Publisher’s Weekly, Bowman – who died in 2012 – also delved into the origins of The Misfits in 1956, when Arthur Miller and Saul Bellow were waiting out their divorces in Nevada. Events which followed the movie – such as Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy in 1962, and Miller’s depiction of her in the 1964 play, After the Fall – are also mentioned.)
“The novel’s central nervous system is formed around American politics — it ends as well as begins with Kennedy’s death, and spends considerable time on the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Watergate. But J.F.K., Jacqueline Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, Richard Nixon and Ngo Dinh Diem are joined in this story by — among others — Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Dr. Benjamin Spock and his wife, Jane, George Plimpton, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, the literary critic Leslie Fiedler, J. D. Salinger, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Elizabeth Taylor, Raymond Chandler, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Frank Sinatra and Maria Callas.
The events recounted in Big Bang include, but are far from limited to: Mailer stabbing his wife, Burroughs shooting his wife, Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, Khrushchev at Disneyland, the director John Huston making The Misfits, Fidel Castro’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Nixon playing the piano on The Jack Paar Show, the release of the Ford Edsel, Montgomery Clift nearly dying in a car wreck after leaving a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills and, for about the blink of an eye, a young George W. Bush in the car with his mother, Barbara, after she has suffered a miscarriage.”
The Lithuanian-born filmmaker, poet and artist, Jonas Mekas, has died aged 97. During World War II, he was imprisoned for eight months in a German labour camp while trying to flee his home country. In late 1949 he emigrated to the US with his brother, settling in Williamsburg, New York.
Mekas interviewed fellow Brooklynite Arthur Miller in 1954, and in 1958, he began writing a ‘Movie Journal’ column for the Village Voice. He would review The Misfits in 1961, praising Marilyn’s performance highly. He later wrote a rapturous tribute to Marilyn after her death.
In 1964, Mekas launched a campaign against movie censorship. His innovative art films inspired Andy Warhol to make movies. Throughout 2007, Jonas released a film each day on his website. He would continue his ‘online diary’ until his death.
Marilyn is featured again in the latest issue of UK nostalgia magazine Yours Retro, with ‘The Curse of The Misfits’, a two-page article by Hannah Last, included with other pieces about Elvis Presley and his mother, the greatest Hollywood musicals, and cover girl Natalie Wood. (My only criticism of the article is that it repeats the unfounded allegation that Arthur Miller became involved with his third wife, Inge Morath, on the Misfits set. In fact, their relationship began with a chance reunion in New York in 1961.)
Although The Misfits gave us one of Marilyn’s finest performances, it’s hard not to recall it without sadness. This is even more true for fans of Clark Gable, who died on November 16, 1960 (58 years ago this week), having suffered a heart attack two days after filming wrapped.
Gable had been Marilyn’s childhood idol (and an imaginary stand-in for her absent father.) He was probably her favourite leading man, and although her delays on the set often frustrated him, he remained a supportive friend to her throughout.
She was heartbroken by his death, and while some journalists blamed her for it, his widow would invite her to the christening of their only son in April 1961. Here’s a review from fansite Dear Mr. Gable, who are marking the King of Hollywood’s anniversary with Misfits-related posts on their Facebook page.
“The Misfits is an apt title for this film, not only fitting for its group of wandering cowboys and recent divorcee, but for the cast portraying them: The King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, who at age 59 was in no shape to be playing a 40-something-year-old cowboy in the hot Nevada desert. In fact, he failed his first physical for production insurance. After giving up alcohol temporarily and crash dieting to lose 35 lbs, he passed. And celebrated with whiskey and a steak.
Clark is paired as the unlikely romantic interest for the 34 year old Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was in a dark place at the time … This film to me is just sad. I wonder if I would feel the same way if it wasn’t Clark’s swan song and if he didn’t look so terrible in it. I’m not sure though; it’s just a bleak film. The screenplay is very poetic, full of perfectly executed prose that at times seems overdone … It’s unfortunate for us all that we never got to see Marilyn attempt to play such a dramatic role again.
His wife Kay recalled: ‘Most of The Misfits was shot on a blistering hot dry lake bed 50 miles from Reno. The thermometer generally registered 135 degrees by mid-afternoon. Many members of the cast and crew became ill. But Clark outrode and outwalked men half his age.He did take after strenuous take roping a wild stallion singlehanded … Clark explained they had filmed a scene in which he was dragged on a rope behind a truck going 30 miles an hour. I was appalled. “Why are you doing those scenes?” I asked. “You’ve got a stunt man who’s supposed to do them.” Clark confessed that he’d found the waiting so demoralizing he’d volunteered to do the scenes just to keep occupied.’
On November 4, 1960, production wrapped on the film as the final scene was shot: Clark and Marilyn, alone in the car, surrounded by darkness.
‘How do you find your way back in the dark?’ she asks.
‘Just head for that big star straight on. The highway’s under it, it’ll take us right home,’ he says.
Those were the final words either of them would utter onscreen. There were no end credits, no ‘The End’ on the screen; it just faded to black. You can’t get more poetic than that.”
A retrospective for ‘Merilin Monro’ is currently ongoing at the Budo Tomovic Centre in the city of Podgorica, Montenegro, with free screenings of Bus Stop and The Misfits tonight and tomorrow in the DODEST Hall from 8 pm.
The town of Dayton, Nevada is rightly proud of its connections to Marilyn and The Misfits, as Carson Now reports. On Wednesday, November 14, Laura Tennant of the Historical Society of Dayton Valley will give a presentation on the movie which was partly filmed on the streets of Dayton and the Stagecoach Flats in the summer of 1960. There will also be a photo display. This free event is at the Dayton Valley Community Center at 170 Pike Street, Old Town Dayton, beginning at 7 p.m. with refreshments. and the presentation starts at 7:30 p.m.
A wide range of Marilyn-related items, including her 1956 Thunderbird, will be up for grabs at Julien’s Icons & Idols auction on November 17. Another high-profile item is the white beaded Travilla gown worn by Marilyn when she sang ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’ in There’s No Business Like Show Business, purchased at Christie’s in 1995; as yet it’s unclear whether this is the same dress listed at Julien’s in 2016.
Marilyn owned several pairs of checked trousers, wearing them repeatedly throughout her career. This pair, seen in one of her earliest modelling shoots, was purchased from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.
A number of photos owned by Marilyn herself are also on offer, including this picture with US troops, taken on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; a set of publicity photos for Love Nest; a photo of Joe DiMaggio in his New York Yankees uniform; and Roy Schatt‘s 1955 photo of Marilyn and Susan Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
A postcard from the Table Rock House in Niagara Falls was signed by Marilyn and her Niagara co-stars, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, in 1952.
This publicity shot from River of No Return is inscribed, ‘To Alan, alas Alfred! It’s a pleasure to work with you – love & kisses Marilyn Monroe.’
A set of bloomers worn by Marilyn in River of No Return (as seen in this rare transparency) is going up for bids.
Among the mementoes from Marilyn’s 1954 trip to Japan and Korea are two fans and an army sewing kit.
Also among Marilyn’s personal property is this ad for There’s No Business Like Show Business, torn from the December 24, 1954 issue of Variety.
Among Marilyn’s assorted correspondence is a latter dated August 22, 1954, from childhood acquaintance Ruth Edens:
“I have long intended to write you this letter because I have particularly wanted to say that when you used to visit me at my Balboa Island cottage, you were a shy and charming child whose appeal, it seems to me, must have reached the hearts of many people. I could never seem to get you to say much to me, but I loved having you come in and I missed your doing so after you’d gone away. I wondered about you many times and was delighted when I discovered you in the films. I hope the stories in the magazines which say you felt yourself unloved throughout your childhood, are merely press-agentry. In any case, I want you to know that I, for one, was truly fond of you and I’m proud of you for having developed enough grit to struggle through to success … I hope you are getting much happiness out of life, little Marian [sic]. I saw so much that was ethereal in you when you were a little girl that I fell sure you are not blind to life’s spiritual side. May all that is good and best come your way!”
Marilyn’s loyalty to the troops who helped to make her a star is attested in this undated letter from Mrs. Josephine Holmes, which came with a sticker marked ‘American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.‘
“My dear Miss Monroe, I was so happy to hear from Mr. Fisher about your visit to the Veterans Hospital. When I spoke to Mr. Alex David Recreation he said the veterans would be thrilled, probably the best present and tonic for them this holiday and gift giving season. I am sure it will be a wonderful memory for you, knowing you have brought happiness to so many boys, many have no one to visit with them. Thank you, and may God bless you and Mr. Miller for your kindness.”
Marilyn wore this hand-tailored black satin blouse for a 1956 press conference at Los Angeles Airport, as she returned to her hometown after a year’s absence to film Bus Stop. When a female reporter asked, ‘You’re wearing a high-neck dress. … Is this a new Marilyn? A new style?’ she replied sweetly, ‘No, I’m the same person, but it’s a different suit.’
Letters from Marilyn’s poet friend, Norman Rosten, are also included (among them a letter warmly praising her work in Some Like It Hot, and a postcard jokingly signed off as T.S. Eliot.)
Among Marilyn’s correspondence with fellow celebrities was a Christmas card from Liberace, and a telephone message left by erstwhile rival, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
File under ‘What Might Have Been’ – two letters from Norman Granz at Verve Records, dated 1957:
“In the September 5, 1957, letter, Granz writes, ‘I’ve been thinking about our album project and I should like to do the kind of tunes that would lend themselves to an album called MARILYN SINGS LOVE SONGS or some such title.’ In the December 30, 1957, letter, he writes, ‘… I wonder too if you are ready to do any recording. I shall be in New York January 20th for about a week and the Oscar Peterson Trio is off at that time, so if you felt up to it perhaps we could do some sides with the Trio during that period.'”
Also in 1957, Marilyn received this charming card from the Monroe Six, a group of dedicated New York teenage fans, mentioning her latest role in The Prince and The Showgirl and husband Arthur Miller’s legal worries:
“Marilyn, We finally got to see ‘Prince and the Showgirl’ and every one of us was so very pleased. We are all popping our shirt and blouse buttons. Now we will be on pins and needles ‘til it is released to the general public. You seemed so relaxed and a tease thru the whole picture and your close ups, well they were the most flawless ever. You should be real pleased with yourself. No need to tell you what we want for you to know now is that we hope everything comes out all right for Mr. Miller and real soon too. Guess what we are working on now. We are trying to scrape up enough money for the necessary amount due on 6 tickets to the premiere and the dinner dance afterwards. Well again we must say how happy we are about T.P.+T.S. and we wanted you to know it. Our best to you.”
Among the lots is assorted correspondence from Xenia Chekhov, widow of Marilyn’s acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, dated 1958. In that year, Marilyn sent Xenia a check which she used to replace her wallpaper. She regretted being unable to visit Marilyn on the set of Some Like It Hot, but would write to Arthur Miller on November 22, “I wanted to tell you how much your visit meant to me and how glad I was to see you and my beloved Marilyn being so happy together.”
In April 1959, Marilyn received a letter from attorney John F. Wharton, advising her of several foundations providing assistance to children in need of psychiatric care, including the Anna Freud Foundation, which Marilyn would remember in her will.
This telegram was sent by Marilyn’s father-in-law, Isidore Miller, on her birthday – most likely in 1960, as she was living at the Beverly Hills Hotel during filming of Let’s Make Love. She was still a keen reader at the time, as this receipt for a 3-volume Life and Works of Sigmund Freud from Martindale’s bookstore shows.
After Let’s Make Love wrapped, Marilyn sent a telegram to director George Cukor:
“Dear George, I would have called but I didn’t know how to explain to you how I blame myself but never you. If there is [undecipherable due to being crossed out] out of my mind. Please understand. My love to Sash. My next weekend off I will do any painting cleaning brushing you need around the house. I can also dust. Also I am sending you something but it’s late in leaving. I beg you to understand. Dear Evelyn sends her best. We’re both city types. Love, Amanda Marilyn.”
Here she is referencing her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and Amanda Dell, the character she played. “Dearest Marilyn, I have been trying to get you on the telephone so I could tell you how touched I was by your wire and how grateful I am,” Cukor replied. “Am leaving for Europe next Monday but come forrest [sic] fires come anything, I will get you on the telephone.”
There’s also a June 30, 1960 letter from Congressman James Roosevelt (son of FDR), asking Marilyn to appear on a television show about the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research, to be aired in October. Unfortunately, Marilyn was already committed to filming The Misfits, and dealing with the collapse of her marriage to Arthur Miller.
In 1961, movie producer Frank McCarthy praised Marilyn’s performance in The Misfits:
Rather touchingly, Marilyn owned this recording of ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come,’ sung by Adriana Caselotti. The record copyright is from 1961, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was originally released in December 1937, when Marilyn was just eleven years old.
This pen portrait was sketched by George Masters, who became Marilyn’s regular hairdresser in the final years of her life.
On July 5, 1962, Hattie Stephenson – Marilyn’s New York housekeeper – wrote to her in Los Angeles:
“My Dear Miss Monroe: How are you! Trusting these few lines will find you enjoying your new home. Hoping you have heard from Mr. and Mrs. Fields by now. Found them to be very nice and the childrens [sic] are beautiful. Got along very well with there [sic] language. How is Maff and Mrs. Murray? Miss Monroe, Mrs. Fields left this stole here for you and have been thinking if you would like to have it out there I would mail it to you. Miss Monroe Dear, I asked Mrs. Rosten to speak with you concerning my vacation. I am planning on the last week of July to the 6th of August. I am going to Florida on a meeting tour. Trusting everything will be alright with you. Please keep sweet and keep smiling. You must win. Sincerely, Hattie.”
Hattie is referring to Marilyn’s Mexico friend, Fred Vanderbilt Field, who stayed with his family in Marilyn’s New York apartment that summer. She also alludes to Marilyn’s ongoing battle with her Hollywood studio. Sadly, Hattie never saw Marilyn again, as she died exactly a month later. Interestingly, the final check from Marilyn’s personal checkbook was made out to Hattie on August 3rd.
After Marilyn died, her estate was in litigation for several years. Her mother, Gladys, was a long-term resident of Rockhaven Sanitarium, which had agreed to waive her fees until her trust was reopened. In 1965, Gladys would receive hate mail from a certain Mrs. Ruth Tager of the Bronx, criticising her as a ‘hindrance’ due to her unpaid bills. This unwarranted attack on a sick, elderly woman reminds one why Marilyn was so hesitant to talk about her mother in public.
Reviews are in for Annie Ryan’s recent production of The Misfits at the Dublin Theatre Festival. It’s unclear as yet whether a full run will follow, so watch this space!
“Roslyn (Aobhínn McGinnity), first played by Monroe, is stronger, more worldly, and more sardonic than the original, and, crucially, she is a brunette, instantly drawing a distinction with Monroe … The play suffers from the same problems Miller’s original novella and screenplay did; it is an awkward narrative that constantly changes tone, and is eventually unclear in what it wanted to say. This production, though, one of the most anticipated of the Dublin Theatre Festival, does not disappoint.” – Ciarán Leinster, Reviews Hub
“If there appears to be a lack of nuance in the characters, it’s one that has been forced on them by their circumstances. It’s a strength of Miller’s writing that he is still able to reveal a humanity in the characters … Aoibhinn McGinnity’s Roslyn and Úna Kavanagh’s Isabelle hold the keys, even if in the latter case it’s just the key to the bar, both just as much misfits to the power dynamic of a very male-centred world.” -Noel Megahey, The Digital Fix
“Stage-plays migrate into movies frequently, often with great success; the traffic is lighter in the other direction. Some of the technical challenges are here very well met by movement director Justine Cooper; the lassoing of the mustang is effective, complete with the character of Isabelle embodying the struggling horse.
All five performances are first-rate, each actor taking plenty of risks. This is a thoroughly enjoyable dramatic probe into what’s biting the American male; it ends on a profound and optimistic note.” – Irish Independent
“While Roslyn stirs their passions, she is not the flaky sex object that a visibly unhappy Marilyn Monroe played in her final movie. She instead becomes the means of exposing the men’s rootlessness, insecurity and uncertain sense of self. Miller may have seen himself as a misfit in the sense of being a political malcontent, but Ryan’s version reminds us that at the heart of the story is a wider crisis in masculinity.” – Michael Billington, The Guardian
A stage adaptation of The Misfits is set to open at the Dublin Theatre Festival on September 27. Ahead of the premiere, Donald Clarke surveys the production for the Irish Times. As the photos indicate, the cast and crew are not going to replicate the 1961 movie (Aoibhinn McGinnity, who will play Roslyn Tabor, hasn’t seen it.) This is probably a wise decision as the original is so iconic – however, director Annie Ryan has much to say about it, and Marilyn’s performance.
“The picture has an awkward position in film history. It is remembered for a famously disordered production … Most poignantly, the last scene in The Misfits, showing Monroe and Gable sharing the front seat of a truck, stands as a farewell to both those imperishable stars.
Elements of the picture deserve celebration … Monroe really does make something of a dramatic role. Working with Paula Strasberg, one of the era’s great acting coaches, she managed to excise almost all traces of the breathy comic persona that helped her to superstardom.
‘The work in it,’ Ryan sighs. ‘You can really feel Paula Strasberg right behind the camera. She is going for a moment-to-moment method acting truth, but what I see there is the effort in every scene. I watch it thinking: that poor woman. From an acting perspective, it is absolute torture.’
The Misfits is something different. Even before we sit down, Ryan, her Chicagoan accent still largely intact, is giving out about the way Thelma Ritter is underused and about how uncomfortable she is with Miller’s attempts to ‘save’ Marilyn through art.
‘This isn’t a great film. It’s a really flawed film,’ she says. ‘I came upon it because it’s in his collected plays. My impulse came before the 2016 election. There isn’t a strong narrative, but there could be something to it. And it only has five people. I can’t afford a bigger cast than that unless I partner with a bigger company. Part of my thinking was: Can this work?’
She mentions the 2016 US presidential election. Obviously, all American art is now about Donald Trump. You can’t get away from him. The Misfits finds Monroe’s Roslyn, in Reno for a divorce, meeting three very different, but equally damaged, hunks of cowboy masculinity and then following them as they hunt mustangs in the nearby desert. Over 50 years ago, these characters were already complaining that the world had passed them by.
‘I suspect 60 or 70 per cent of those going in won’t have seen the film,’ Ryan says. ‘But they’ll know the iconography. They’ll have seen the photographs. Everyone knows about The Misfits even if they haven’t seen it. The image of the expanse. The image of Marilyn in the hat and the shirt. They are famous images. You have to accept they are in the room.’
It helps that Ryan is not working from the original script. Her production of The Misfits is officially an adaptation of a novella that Miller published to tie in with the release of the film.
‘That’s what I have the rights to cut,’ she says. ‘It’s very hard to get the rights to a film because the film company owns the rights.’
‘I think Miller did [Marilyn] a disservice by writing a version of herself,’ Ryan says. ‘He did this as a gift. But there’s no mask. She has an innocence. She has a compassion for all living things, which comes from Marilyn. She has an incredibly dysfunctional family background, which comes from Marilyn. Men are falling over each other to be next to her. There is a lot of language in the text about “the golden girl” arriving. No actor can play themselves. Most actors can’t face speaking in public, They just can’t bear it.’
Echoes of the #MeToo movement creep into The Misfits. The production will have much to do with how men interact with (and sometimes ignore) women in social engagements. Marilyn Monroe suffered more from those abuses than most. You see it in her films. You read about it in her life.
‘We see how she has become expert at saying “no” in a really nice way,’ Ryan says of Roslyn. ‘We have all been there to some degree. What would it be like to imagine that character now without sexing her up?’
Some reclaiming and revaluating is in order.
‘I feel that we are doing this for Marilyn’s ghost in some way.'”