Spanish Novelist Retraces Marilyn’s ‘Nevada Days’

Bernardo Axtaga is a Spanish author whose 2014 novel, Nevada Days – a fictionalised account of his nine-month stay as writer-in-residence at the Centre for Basque Studies – is now available in English, and the early chapters include several references to Marilyn and The Misfits.

She is first mentioned when Axtaga flips through a copy of The Misfits: Story of a Shoot, Sergio Toubania’s monograph of the Magnum photographers who documented the production. “Individually, the photographs were really good,” Axtaga comments, “… but perhaps because the photographs were the work of different photographers, seeing them all together jarred somehow.”

He later visits Pyramid Lake, and is surprised to find no postcards from The Misfits in the gift shop.”There was one, I seemed to remember, that would have been perfect: Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable lying next to each other on the shores of Pyramid Lake. I asked the waitress, but she had never heard of the film. Nor was she interested in Marilyn Monroe.”

The final, extended passage about Marilyn occurs during a long drive, while Axtaga is talking to his wife Angela about Arthur Miller’s stay at Pyramid Lake in 1956, where he wrote the short story that would become The Misfits while waiting out his first divorce, and conducted a long-distance relationship with Marilyn, who was filming Bus Stop. Axtaga imagines Marilyn’s anguished telephone call to Miller from the set, as described in Miller’s autobiography, Timebends.

Axtaga then recalls the famous scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955), where Marilyn’s character, ‘The Girl’, sympathises with the monster in yet another movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon. (This was foreshadowed in an earlier episode, when Axtaga’s young daughter cries at the end of King Kong.)

As the author forms his own impressions of Nevada, Marilyn disappears from the novel. But her ghostly presence reflects how an outsider’s preconceptions about American life  can be shaped by literary and cinematic mythology.

Marilyn’s Lost Song in ‘The Shape of Water’

Diehard Monroe fans have noticed a little-known recording by Marilyn in Guillermo Del Toro’s new film, The Shape of Water. Set in the early 1960s, the film stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a laboratory assistant who develops a close bond with ‘Amphibian Man,’ the mysterious creature being held captive in a tank. This plotline is reminiscent of Creature From the Black Lagoon, the monster movie that Marilyn and Tom Ewell go to see in The Seven Year Itch. Afterward, Marilyn (as ‘The Girl’) famously declares: “He wasn’t really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection, you know? A sense of being loved and needed and wanted.”

According to fans at Marilyn Remembered, her voice can be heard in a song accompanying a scene in The Shape of Water, when Elisa’s friend Giles makes a pass at the waiter in a cafe and is asked to leave.. But while Marilyn’s singing voice may be familiar, the song is not.

‘How Wrong Can I Be’ was a song recorded by Marilyn, probably in the late 1940s (around the time Fred Karger coached her for Ladies of the Chorus), but its existence was not widely known until 1995, when it was listed for sale at Sotheby’s of London. Until now, only a 20-second snippet has been released, which you can listen to here.

Marilyn with Fred Karger (top) circa 1948

Unfortunately, it’s not featured on the soundtrack to The Shape of Water, but we finally have an opportunity to listen. Fraser Penney noticed it in the final credits:

And here’s some background information from a 1995 report in the New York Times.

“‘How Wrong Can I Be,’ recorded on a 12-inch acetate disk, was never released. The anonymous seller, whose father was in the music business, was sorting through a stack of his father’s recordings three years ago and noticed one with a hand-written label that read ‘Fred Karger at the piano, Manny Klein on the trumpet, vocal by Marilyn Monroe.’

The ballad, written by Mr. Karger and Alex Gottlieb, tells a story of sorrow and regret, from the point of view of a woman who has ended a love affair out of misguided jealousy.

The song begins:

‘How wrong can I be,

If my heart says to me

Love like ours never dies.

How wrong can I be,

When it’s sure plain to see

That a heart never lies…'”

Marilyn’s ‘Most Expensive’ Dresses

Over at Beam Fashion, Nadja Beschetnikova looks at the stories behind Marilyn’s three ‘most expensive dresses’ (which sold for the highest prices at auction.)

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

‘Apart from the two side seams, the dress was folded into shape rather like cardboard. Any other girl would have looked like she was wearing cardboard, but on-screen I swear you would have thought Marilyn had on a pale, thin piece of silk. Her body was so fabulous it still came through’ – Travilla

The Seven Year Itch

Travilla called it ‘that silly little dress’. The dress indeed has a simple sewing pattern with a typical silhouette for a cocktail dress, which was in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s. Although the designer never paid much heed to his creation, it’s now one of the most famous dresses of all time.

Happy Birthday Mr President

Jean Louis had originally designed a version of the dress for Marlene Dietrich. Her live performances always had almost a magical effect to the audience thanks in no small part to her fascinating outfits. This backless flesh-colored gown remains an example to emulate for modern celebrities and pioneered the trend for ‘naked’ dresses.”

Marilyn in New York, and an Historic Injustice

Canadian-American musician Meghan Remy aka U.S. Girls is about to release her sixth studio album. In an interview for The Ringer, Meghan takes Lindsay Zoladz on a sightseeing tour of New York, including the subway grate on Lexington and 52nd Street where Marilyn shot an iconic movie scene, while her marriage fell apart.

“The night that iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe was taken—you know the one: stilettos on a subway grate, billowing white dress—Monroe and her husband Joe DiMaggio got into a screaming match. The fight was partially about the photo itself: While shooting The Seven Year Itch, the studio had savvily leaked Monroe’s whereabouts to the press, and by the time Billy Wilder was ready to roll camera on what would become the most notorious scene in the movie, several thousand onlookers had shown up to watch. (They were almost all men, but I hardly need to tell you that.) DiMaggio was there, and he wasn’t too keen on what he took to be his wife’s public exhibitionism. When she showed up to set the next morning, Monroe’s hairdresser applied foundation to hide fresh bruises. She filed for divorce from DiMaggio before The Seven Year Itch wrapped.

‘We’re constantly presented with this smiling Marilyn,’ says Meg Remy, the singer and eccentric creative mastermind behind the band U.S. Girls. ‘But for some reason, when you have all the information, it just feels so heavy.’

I should mention that Remy is speaking into a headset, as she drives a rented, 15-seat van deftly through the streets of Manhattan. In anticipation of the release of U.S. Girls’ new album In a Poem Unlimited—the most ambitious and, as it happens, best album of Remy’s decade-long career—her label suggested a listening party for fans and members of the press. Remy asked around enough to learn what a listening party was, and, ever the DIY-minded eccentric, then decided it just wasn’t her style. What she came up with instead was this: a van tour of ‘sites of injustices in New York City,’ written and narrated by Remy herself, while we listen to the new album in the background.”

When Avedon Met Marilyn…

Richard Avedon’s first collaboration with Marilyn was in September 1954, when she visited New York to film The Seven Year Itch with director Billy Wilder. It may also have been their first meeting, and their warm camaraderie is evident in the resulting photos, taken by Sam Shaw. Earl Steinbicker, who was Avedon’s studio assistant at the time, remembers the shoot in Avedon: Something Personal.

“I met a helluva lot of famous people with Dick … I was there for the first sitting Dick ever did with Marilyn Monroe. The Daily News had sent a photographer to photograph him photographing her. I worked the fan blowing her hair, and at the end of the sitting she came over and said, ‘Wouldn’t you like a picture of me?'”

Marilyn in New York: From Subway Grate to Sutton Place

Over at the Village Voice, Molly Fitzpatrick looks at New York’s many iconic movie locations with blogger Nick Carr (Scouting New York) and Sarah Louise Lilley, a guide for TCM’s On Location tours.

“At times, there was an almost virtual reality–like quality to the experience, when Lilley’s commentary and film clips, cued up to play on overhead monitors when we passed the real-life locations within them, transformed the present-day city seen from the bus windows into a long-lost version of itself … Had Lilley not pointed it out, the subway grate at 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue where Marilyn Monroe famously posed in The Seven Year Itch could have been any one of the city’s thousands and thousands more just like it, unglamorously trod on every day by locals and visitors alike.

Sutton Place, as seen in ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’

Both Lilley and Silverman cited Sutton Place Park as their favorite movie landmark on the tour, a tiny, peaceful lookout onto the East River with a stunning view of the Queensboro Bridge … Sutton Place is the swanky, townhouse-lined neighborhood that lies just south of the bridge. ‘The history of New York and the history of film is beautifully interwoven there,’ Lilley says. In the early-twentieth century, the same stretch of East River waterfront was home to not only luxurious apartments with views to match, but poverty-stricken tenements and the gangs who inhabited them, as depicted onscreen in 1937’s Dead End. By 1953, Sutton Place had become the must-have address for the trio of enterprising husband-seekers — Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall — in How to Marry a Millionaire.”

The interior of the Sutton Place South building was recreated in Hollywood – but Marilyn would rent an apartment there in 1956.

Garry Winogrand’s Marilyn in New Documentary

Garry Winogrand was a LIFE magazine photographer who captured modern America in many unforgettable images. In September 1954, he was also one of the fortunate few to capture Marilyn shooting The Seven Year Itch in New York – both the iconic ‘subway grate’ scene, and the brownstone on East 61st Street where she waved from the window. Winogrand once said of Marilyn that she drew ‘all the available light’ around her.

Now filmmaker Sasha Waters-Freyer has made a documentary, Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable, which will be touring film festivals this year and has also been selected for the PBS American Masters series.

“Artist. Iconoclast. Man of his time.  Garry Winogrand was the epic photographer of 20th century American life.  

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable is the first documentary film on the life and work of acclaimed photographer Garry Winogrand  – the epic storyteller in pictures of America across three turbulent decades.  His artistry encompassed the heartbreak, violence, hope, and turmoil of postwar America, from the frenzy of its urban core to the alienation of its emergent suburbs.

He was born a first generation Hungarian-Jewish American in the Bronx, New York, in 1928, but his story is vital to our time.  If you take pictures of friends, strangers or celebrities, on the street or at a party, you are creating in Winogrand’s artistic legacy – even if you have never published an image in the pages of Life Magazine or hung a print on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art.  His ‘snapshot aesthetic,’ once derided by the critics, is the universal language of contemporary global image making.  When he died suddenly at age 56 in 1984, Winogrand left behind more than 10,000 rolls of film – more than a quarter of a million pictures!  He produced so many unseen images that it has taken until now for the full measure of his artistic legacy to emerge. 

Endorsed by his estate, Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable is the first cinematic survey of that legacy.  The film tells the story of an artist whose rise and fall was – like America’s in the late decades of the 20th century – larger-than-life, full of contradictions and totally unresolved.”

Marilyn Movie Series at Ripley’s Orlando

Wardrobe test for ‘The Seven Year Itch’

Ripley’s Museum in Orlando, Florida is organising several events alongside the current display of Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday’ dress, including a lookalike contest and screenings of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Some Like It Hot and The Seven Year Itch in December – more details here.