‘Why Do We Still Love Marilyn?’

This is the question posed by Lena Corner in today’s Independent, with a byline stating that ‘if she were alive today, the actress would be just another druggie starlet.’ (Needless to say, I strongly disagree…)

“Our enduring obsession with Monroe owes much to the fact that she was working in an older, gentler world in an era before the media made it its business to get its nose into everything. Unlike Lohan and other stars of today, who we get to see snorting coke, sporting alcohol-monitoring tags and wearing no knickers, we never witnessed anything like that with Monroe.

Recreating Monroe’s mix of wide-eyed innocence, overt sexiness and the frisson of danger and power that comes from being associated with the mafia and the Kennedys is nigh on impossible. Celebrities these days only seem interested in having access to Premier League footballers which isn’t nearly so interesting.”

Corner quotes film critic David Thomson:

“Monroe wasn’t a serious actress. There are stories that she wanted to play amazing parts and that Lee Strasberg (the method acting coach) thought she was a great actress. I don’t believe it. I don’t think she could really carry more than a line or two at a time.”

However, even Thomson – despite his low opinion of Monroe’s talent – has to concede that she is an enduring icon…

“Our obsession isn’t going to stop for a long time yet. These days we don’t believe in stars in the same sort of way. We are much too cynical. Celebrity has taken over from stardom and celebrities have a built in self-destruction factor which means they’re always going to implode or burn up. There is no one remotely close to Monroe and I don’t think there ever will be.”

Writing in the Vancouver Sun, Shelley Fralic argues that, contrary to received wisdom, Marilyn was a woman of substance…

“Have we really developed a celebrity culture so thin on the ground that it no longer requires its icons to have real talent, but instead slavishly worships and rewards those who bring nothing more to the table than bouts of bad behaviour or a bodacious booty?

But, hey, what about Marilyn Monroe, you say?

Didn’t we worship her as nothing more than the original blond bombshell?

Well, if you have to ask, then you’ve never seen Monroe’s achingly intimate and vulnerable performance in The Misfits.

Kim Kardashian does nothing, and for that she is famous.

We have surely gone insane.”

‘Maf the Dog’ at Bridport Literary Festival

“Movie icon Marilyn Monroe had a life that could only happen in Hollywood and had it all played out in the tabloids. As part of the Bridport Literary Festival, Andrew O’Hagan will be talking about Marilyn’s story, but with a twist. In November 1960 Frank Sinatra gave her a dog called Maf, and Maf the dog became a star in his own right. Marilyn died in 1962 and Maf was by her side throughout the last two years of her life. Andrew O’Hagan chronicles the time shared by the star and her devoted pooch, bringing a unique look at a life you might think you know. The talk takes place at Bridport Arts Centre on Saturday, November 6th at 4pm and tickets cost £8. Following the talk, there will be a screening introduced by O’Hagan of The Misfits – a film directed by John Huston and a script by Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller, which won great critical acclaim and proved to be the last film Marilyn made.”

View From Publishing

Read my review of Andrew O’Hagan’s delightful comic novel, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

The Yin and Yang of Marilyn

Marilyn by Ed Feingersh, 1955

“The dark side of Marilyn is not exactly a revelation. What does come as more of a surprise is the joyous, functioning Monroe that also leaps out of these pages. She is an avid student with a keen intellectual appetite, taking diligent notes on Renaissance art. She is an excellent reader of scripts, with an intuitive feel for where the focus of a narrative should be. Regarding The Misfits, she writes: ‘I feel the camera has got/ to look though Gay’s/ eyes whenever he is in a/scene and even when is/ not there still has to be a sense of/ him.’ And, contrary to all the rumors of her ditzy sloppiness, she turns out to be quite the occasional Hausfrau, taking down recipes in great detail and organizing a dinner party down to the guest towels.”

Daphne Merkin reviews Fragments at the Daily Beast

How Roslyn Saved the Horses

A wonderful article by environmentalist Carly Wilson about Marilyn’s enduring love for animals and nature, and her pioneering role in The Misfits:

“Just as the final horse is roped up and forced to the ground, Roslyn jumps out from the truck and starts screaming in a high pitched panic ‘Murderers! Murderers!’ The men are so shocked by the outpouring of intensity from this very shy and innocent-seeming young woman that they agree to untie and set free the horses. This scene is probably the most effective animal welfare message I have ever witnessed in a motion picture and the fact that it was filmed in 1960, before even the civil rights act had been signed, is incredible and way ahead of it’s time.”

You can watch Roslyn’s speech here

Camel Racing in Virginia City

Rodeo scene, ‘The Misfits’

“These races started in 1960 when the San Francisco Chronicle and the Phoenix Sun challenged each other to a race. The winner was Hollywood director John Huston, who was filming The Misfits nearby. Two stars of the film, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, were among the spectators as camels ran a 100-yard dash through the middle of this Comstock Lode town.” – Wall Street Journal

(I suspect that this event may not have been quite so enjoyable for Marilyn, who like her character, Roslyn, was acutely sensitive to the welfare of animals.)

MM Film Season at Warhol Museum

There could hardly be a more perfect setting for a Marilyn Monroe movie season than the Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. The screenings accompany the Marilyn: Life as a Legend exhibit, which runs from October 23 through to January 2.

Nice to see two of Monroe’s lesser-known films on schedule: Don’t Bother to Knock (a 1952 thriller containing one of Monroe’s most impressive dramatic performances) and River of No Return, a visually arresting Cinemascope western from 1954, with some great musical numbers from Marilyn (though a bit light on realism!)

November 12, 2010

Don’t Bother to Knock(1952) 76 min. Directed by Roy Ward Baker

Niagara (1953) 92 min. Directed by Henry Hathaway

November 19, 2010

River of No Return(1954) 91 min. Directed by Otto Preminger

December 3, 2010

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes(1953) 91 min. Directed by Howard Hawks

How to Marry a Millionaire(1953) 95 min. Directed by Dir. Jean Negulesco

December 10, 2010

Some Like It Hot(1959) 120 min. Directed by Billy Wilder
Pittsburgh author and journalist Barry Paris will introduce the film.

December 17, 2010

The Misfits(1961) 124 min. Directed by John Huston

Elliott Erwitt in London

Marilyn during filming of ‘The Seven Year Itch’, NYC, 1954

“Marilyn Monroe, on the other hand, I was able to take pictures of in an intimate situation rather than a public one. This was in her hotel room in 1956*, when I was covering the film she was making at the time, Some Like It Hot.* She may have been reading a script when I took it. It was just me and her, and she was going about her business. I like the atmosphere, and the fact that it’s a famous person being photographed in an ordinary way. And I found her very sympathetic, I must say. She was nice, smart, kind of amusing, and very approachable. Not a bimbo at all.”

Elliott Erwitt 

*Actually, Erwitt first photographed Marilyn in 1954, while she was filming The Seven Year Itch in Manhattan. They worked together again on The Misfits (1960.)

“Four of Elliott Erwitt’s most iconic images will be presented in the UK for the first time as editioned, large format platinum prints, in an exhibition of fine photographs spanning Erwitt’s distinguished career.”

September 15 – November 30, Magnum Print Room, London

Playing Cowboys and Indians with Marilyn

Marilyn with an unnamed little girl during filming of ‘The Misfits’, 1960

“Toni Westbrook-Van Cleave was only 6 at the time, but she still remembers Marilyn Monroe strapping on a toy gun belt and playing cowboys and Indians with her young brother during a break in filming of The Misfits.

Like other residents of the small northern Nevada town of Dayton, she had no clue of the demons that drove Monroe to be consistently late on the set, causing frustrating delays for director John Huston and co-stars Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.

‘She was gorgeous, very sweet, naive,’ recalled Van Cleave, who was a $10-a-day extra during a rodeo scene. ‘She wasn’t snobby. She seemed real down to earth and friendly.'”

Canadian Press