There are several Marilyn-related items in the Property From the Collection of Hugh M. Hefner sale, set for auction at Julien’s this Friday (November 30.) A personal copy of Playboy‘s first issue – featuring Marilyn as cover girl and centrefold – is estimated at $3,000 – $5,000. Other lots include the 1974 calendar seen above, a tie-in with Norman Mailer’s Marilyn; several photographic books about Marilyn (by Janice Anderson, George Barris, Bert Stern, Susan Bernard and Anne Verlhac); a box decorated with a painting of Marilyn by Tony Curtis; a Marilyn-themed bowling shirt and tie; prints by Bruno Bernard, Milton Greene and Jack Cardiff; and a rather silly ‘trick photo’ appearing to show Hef checking out Marilyn’s cleavage (though in reality, of course, they never met.)
UPDATE: Hefner’s copy of the first Playboy issue was sold for $31,250.
Britain’s greatest arthouse filmmaker, Nicolas Roeg, has died aged 90. Born in London in 1928, he began his career in 1947 as a humble tea-boy at Marylebone Studios. By the 1960s, he was cinematographer for Lawrence of Arabia, Fahrenheit 451 and Far From the Madding Crowd.
In 1970, Roeg made his directorial debut with Performance, which starred Mick Jagger and has become a cult classic. Roeg followed it with Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth (starring David Bowie), Bad Timing, Eureka, Castaway, Track 29, The Witches, and Cold Heaven. His final film was released in 2007.
Roeg is also known to Monroe fans for Insignificance, the surreal comic fantasy based on Terry Johnson’s play, and starring Roeg’s then-wife, Theresa Russell, as ‘The Actress’, a character based on Marilyn. It is one of the more successful films to feature Marilyn as a character. The story is set on the fateful night in September 1954 when Marilyn filmed her famous ‘skirt-blowing scene’ on a New York subway grate. Other characters included ‘The Professor’ (Albert Einstein), ‘The Ballplayer’ (Marilyn’s soon-to-be ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, played by Gary Busey.) In an ironic twist, ‘The Senator’, based on Joseph McCarthy, was played by Tony Curtis, Marilyn’s co-star in Some Like It Hot.
Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum reviewed Insignificance for the Chicago Reader:
“Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 film adaptation of Terry Johnson’s fanciful, satirical play has many detractors, but approached with the proper spirit, you may find it delightful and thought-provoking. The lead actors are all wonderful, but the key to the conceit involves not what the characters were actually like but their cliched media images, which the film essentially honors and builds upon … But the film is less interested in literal history than in the various fantasies that these figures stimulate in our minds, and Roeg’s scattershot technique mixes the various elements into a very volatile cocktail—sexy, outrageous, and compulsively watchable. It’s a very English view of pop Americana, but an endearing one.”
When Insignificance got the Criterion Collection treatment in 2011, Rosenbaum revisited the movie in an essay, which he has now posted to his blog:
“Insignificance pointedly doesn’t sort out the differences between fact and fancy; it’s more interested in playfully turning all four of its celebrities into metaphysicians of one kind or another … All this sport, to be sure, has specifically English inflections. These crazed American icons are being viewed from an amused and bemused distance, and much of the talk qualifies as fancy mimicry.
‘I didn’t write Insignificancebecause I was interested in Marilyn Monroe,’ [Terry] Johnson avowed in a 1985 interview with Richard Combs for the Monthly Film Bulletin (August 1985). This film occasioned an extensive rewrite and expansion of the original by Johnson, but even then he couldn’t be sure whether or not he’d ever seen The Seven Year Itch … One perk of his lack of interest in Monroe is complicating and confounding the popular notion of her as a dumb blonde — a stereotype that she’d helped to create herself — in order to shape and justify his outlandish plot.
The play stays glued over its two acts to Einstein’s hotel room. The film adds crosscutting and incidental characters … The new locations include not only the Trans-Lux Theater, but also a bar where McCarthy and DiMaggio nurse their separate grudges, and the shop where Monroe buys her demonstration toys. Perhaps the most significant additions are the brief, telegraphic, and sometimes cryptic flashbacks pertaining to the respective youths of Monroe, Einstein, and DiMaggio, and last but not least, the Elephant in the Room, the H-Bomb itself — which one might say puts in a crucial, last-minute appearance as the celebrity to end all celebrities, dwarfing and making irrelevant all of the others.”
With the new 4K restoration reaching UK cinemas next week (see here), Joseph Walsh has reviewed Some Like It Hot for Cine-Vue. (In an otherwise excellent piece, Walsh mistakenly claims that Tony Curtis had an affair with Marilyn during filming, ‘according to Hollywood legend.’ As you’ll find out here, that particular legend happened only in Tony’s imagination!)
“‘It’s the story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop’ is just one of the many sublime, double-edged lines that Marilyn Monroe delivers in Billy Wilder’s gender-bending comedySome Like It Hot …The note of that line is pitch perfect, the sensual, iconic actress allowing it to drop off her lips with comic finesse, whilst simultaneously echoing the tragedy of her own life.
As well as gender identity the film is rife with sex. Most famously is Monroe, who poured into the iconic (not to mention revealing) white dress, wins ever man’s heart as she sings I Wanna Be Loved By You, the careful lighting just casting enough shadow to hide her modesty. The gift of this movie lays not just in how entertaining it is, nor the memorable one-liners, but in how Wilder balances light and dark, life with death, love with loneliness, men and women. Some Like It Hot is what all great comedies should aspire to be – both sweet and sour.”
As Some Like It Hot returns to cinemas in a new 4K print, Donald Clarke ponders its lasting appeal in the Irish Times.
“The personnel make their own case. Renowned for wrapping subversive cynicism around the most perfectly calibrated jokes, Wilder remains a holy figure in American cinema … Marilyn Monroe’s complex, troubled energy is undimmed by the passing of the years. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, perky actors at home with Wilder’s misanthropy, throw themselves heartily at unusually demanding roles.
But the untouchable status of Some Like It Hot surely results from something broader and more profound. Like a lot of works that figure in ‘greatest ever’ lists, Wilder’s film sits on the cusp between approaches; it straddles the fence between ideas; it incorporates apparently complementary tones. The viewer can approach from a number of angles.
The story around Some Like It Hot layers the picture with further uncertainties. Monroe, who was to die three years later, was famously hard to work with and required dozens of takes to complete even the simplest scene. None of her later films are free from those whispers of impending doom.
There’s more. Some Like It Hot’s position on those charts confirms its status as a work that belongs to the high arts and to popular culture. One is never in any doubt that one is watching the most gifted American film professionals at the top of their game. It’s a tribute to a glorious machine – the Hollywood studio system – as that machine was spluttering into redundancy.”
Ron Fassler, author of Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, has written an article, ‘A Sprinkling of Sugar‘, about the musical theatre adaptation of Some Like It Hot. Written by Peter Stone, with music by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes composer Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, Sugar was first produced at the Majestic Theatre on West 44th St, NYC, running for 505 performances from 1972-73, and has since become a firm favourite in regional theatre and with amateur dramatics societies everywhere.
“David Merrick, a producer with an enviable track record, as well as a talent for alienating close to everyone he ever came in contact with, was the man behind figuring out a way to bring a musical version of Some Like It Hot to the Broadway stage — and it wasn’t easy …
Merrick optioned Fanfaren de Liebe, the German screenplay upon which Wilder and Diamond based Some Like It Hot. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t allow for Merrick to set the show in the Roaring Twenties, perfect for a musical, as that was an idea of Wilder and Diamond’s … But with Merrick not being the type to give up without a fight, he eventually nabbed the rights from United Artists to use Wilder and Diamond’s screenplay as the source for his musical.
When Sugar opened on Broadway forty-six years ago tonight at the Majestic Theatre, it featured a relative unknown, Elaine Joyce in the title part, the one first created by Marilyn Monroe in the film … Yet the show remained a bit of a disappointment creatively, even though it did good business.
As a teenager, I saw Sugar early in its run, and though intermittently entertaining on its own merits, the show was really all about the comedic skills, dazzling energy and one-of-a-kind charisma of Robert Morse. As Jerry and his female alter-ego, Daphne, Morse was the real deal.
With Some Like It Hot’sstatus as a film classic not only undiminished over the years, but continuing to grow, there have been numerous attempts to revive Sugar’sfortunes, in hopes of it maybe one day finding its way back to Broadway. One was a 1992 London version with British favorite Tommy Steele, and another was a U.S. touring production in 2002 with Tony Curtis, this time in the Joe E. Brown role of Osgood, the randy millionaire.
Of course, both productions took on a new title: Some Like It Hot.”
Insignificance, the 1985 fantasy imagining a meeting between Marilyn, Einstein and other icons of 1950s America, is ranked sixth among director Nicolas Roeg’s thirteen films, in an article by Shane Scott-Travis for Taste of Cinema.
“These recognizable popular culture figures, in typical Roeg fashion, riff on grandiose ideas and floundering emotions. What begins as trivial digressions gains momentum and significance, buoyed by stellar performances (like Tony Curtis’s Senator McCarthy, witch-hunting endlessly in his mind, or Theresa Russell’s Monroe, who, despite her ditzy dilettante routine can still teach Einstein a thing or two about relativity).
On the surface Insignificance may not be the exacting pedigree of Roeg’s recognized masterpieces, but it’s still a vast, ingenious allegory on fame, life, love, obsession, jealousy, and substantially so much more.”
Mercer Vine, the brokerage firm whose listings included the Holmby Hills estate where Fox mogul Joe Schenck once lived, and Marilyn’s last home in Brentwood, has closed after its financier, Robert H. Shapiro, was recently implicated in a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, as Peter Kiefer writes for the Hollywood Reporter. (Schenck befriended Marilyn in the late 1940s, and she sometimes stayed in his guest cottage. Milton Greene also photographed her in Schenck’s mansion, known today as Owlwood. The article gives no further details on Marilyn’s home at Fifth Helena Drive, which was sold for $7.25 million in 2017.)
“Two years. That’s all it took for luxury brokerage firm Mercer Vine to establish itself as a major player in L.A.’s cutthroat luxury real estate market. Eight-figure listings. Pedigreed listings like Marilyn Monroe’s former home in Brentwood.
Just months after it launched in 2016, Mercer Vine grabbed headlines for representing Shapiro in the $90 million purchase of the Owlwood Estate, a 12,200-square-foot property at 141 South Carolwood Drive, which once was owned by Tony Curtis and later by Sonny and Cher. At the time, it was the second priciest residential sale in L.A. history behind the Playboy Mansion. What was even more astounding was when Shapiro and Mercer Vine relisted Owlwood a mere nine months later for $180 million without having done a single lick of work on the estate.”
Frederick Eberstadt, who was Richard Avedon’s studio manager from 1958-60, shared his memories of the Some Like It Hot photo shoot in Avedon: Something Personal.
“When Dick was doing the publicity photographs for Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis came in carrying the most elaborate camera you ever saw. He said to Dick, ‘You’re the perfect person to show me how to use this thing.’ Dick took one panicked look and said, ‘My studio manager Frank [Eberstadt] will be happy to help you out.’ One of the first things he said to me when I went to work for him was, ‘Don’t bother to learn any technique – you can always hire some guy for a few bucks a week.’ Dick simply did not know how he did what he did. Learning to photograph from him would have been like trying to learn to sing from somebody who has perfect pitch and just can’t help hitting the right note.
At noon on the day he was to shoot Marilyn, a woman with a doughy face and a babushka, who I presumed to be her maid, dropped off some clothes for her at the studio. It turned out to be the star herself – that was what she looked like when she was not in full drag. She was supposed to come back at three, but Dick had booked somebody else in that slot, knowing she most likely wouldn’t show up until six and wouldn’t be ready to work until nine. He told me to stick around, that my job would be to make sure her vodka was diluted enough so she didn’t get too drunk but not so much that she realised it was mostly water.”
Following recent allegations of sexual harassment and assault against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, I’ve been thinking of Marilyn’s own experiences among the Hollywood ‘wolves’. (Incidentally, Weinstein produced the 2011 biopic, My Week With Marilyn.)
‘I met them all,’ Marilyn stated in her 1954 memoir, My Story. ‘Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes – an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.’
My Story was written with Ben Hecht, who may be responsible for some of the more elaborate metaphors, but he insisted it was true to the spirit of what Marilyn told him. It remained unpublished until long after her death, perhaps because it was too controversial.
When British writer W J Weatherby asked her whether the stories about the casting couch were true, Marilyn responded: ‘They can be. You can’t sleep your way into being a star, though. It takes much, much more. But it helps. A lot of actresses get their first chance that way. Most of the men are such horrors, they deserve all they can get out of them!’
This conversation also remained private during her lifetime. Sadly, Marilyn has been retrospectively punished for her outspokenness, with tales of her supposed promiscuity circulating to this day. Even film critic Mick LaSalle, who once defended her against lurid allegations by Tony Curtis, wrote this week, ‘Ever hear of Marilyn Monroe? Of course you have. Well, she said no to very few people.’
Her relationship with agent Johnny Hyde is well-known, and some believe her friendship with movie mogul Joe Schenck was more than platonic. But the rumours of her being a glorified call-girl are utterly baseless. Several men who dated Marilyn remember her being so cautious that she wouldn’t kiss them goodnight.
Perhaps one of the most important stories relating to Marilyn and the Hollywood ‘wolves’ is her refusal to spend a weekend alone with Columbia boss Harry Cohn on his yacht while she was under contract to him in 1948. He was furious, and quickly fired her. The story is almost identical to some of the allegations being made today.
Among the many stories making the rounds lately comes from actress Gretchen Mol, who was rumoured to have been promoted by Weinstein in exchange for sexual favours. In fact, she has never been alone with him, and yet this false rumour has unjustly tarnished her reputation.
Her story reminded me a lot of Marilyn, who has been endlessly ‘slut-shamed’ simply for being honest and open about her sexuality. In January 1953, she approved a story for Motion Picture magazine which is illuminating about the harassment she experienced – I have posted it below, courtesy of the Everlasting Star boards (please click on the files below to enlarge.)
What strikes me as sad is that she almost seemed to accept it as an occupational hazard. Let’s hope that the buck won’t stop with Mr Weinstein, and that real changes will be made. Sexual exploitation is not unique to Hollywood, and until people stop blaming the victims, predators will continue to thrive.
Darryl F. Zanuck may have blamed Marilyn for delays in the River of No Returnshoot, but co-star Robert Mitchum did not, writing on this letter, “Dig!!! Marilyn – my girl is your girl, and my girl is you. Ever – Bob.”
After a bitter legal battle with Twentieth Century Fox, Marilyn returned triumphantly to Hollywood in 1956, armed with a list of approved directors.
Her first project under the new, improved contract was Bus Stop. Several lots of annotated script sides are up for bids this week.
“This is the first film Monroe made after beginning to study at the Actors Studio in New York City with Lee Strasberg, and the notations in these script sides demonstrate her method. Some of the notes are sense memories, like the following notation written after the line ‘I can’t look’: ‘Effective memory (use Lester – hurt on lawn),’ most likely referencing Monroe’s childhood playmate Lester Bolender, who was in the same foster home with Monroe. Another note adds ‘(almost to myself)’ before a line to inform her delivery or ‘Scarfe [sic] around my arms) Embarrassed.'”
Arthur O’Connell, who played Virgil in the movie, sent Marilyn his best wishes after she was hospitalised with pneumonia.
“A collection of Marilyn Monroe envelopes, messages and notes, including a florist’s enclosure card with envelope addressed to Monroe and a message that reads ‘To make up for the ones you didn’t recall receiving at the hospital. Please stay well so we won’t go through this again’, signed by ‘Arthur O’Connell – Virgil Blessing.’ Also included are five handwritten notes in an unknown hand that reference Clifton Webb, Lew Wasserman and Paula Strasberg.”
“The letter is dated simply June 9, and it accompanied the latest version of the script for The Prince and the Showgirl. Olivier discusses Monroe’s dialogue and that he has ‘written some extra dialogue and a direction or two.’ He reports on where they are in the script writing process and that they have cut the script down from ‘well over 3 hours’ to 2 1/2, to 2 hours 10 minutes. He continues about the scenes that were and were not cut, including ‘The Duke of Strelitz is, I think essential, as otherwise they will be saying what’s the matter with them – why the heck can’t they get married, particularly in view of Grace Kelly and all that, and our only answer to that question must be Yes but look at the poor Windsors do you see?’
On an amusing note, Olivier mentions, ‘By the way Lady Maidenhead has degenerated to Lady Swingdale because I am assured the Hayes Office will not believe there is also a place in England of that name.’ He closes ‘I just called up Vivien at the theatre … and she said to be sure to give you her love. So here it is and mine too. Longing to welcome you here. Ever, Larry.'”
Marilyn had many advisors on this film, including husband Arthur Miller who made suggestions to improve the script.
“Some of your dialogue is stiff. Also some expressions are too British. If you want me to, I can go through the script and make the changes – – in New York. I think the part – on one reading, is really the Best one … especially with you playing it. You are the one who makes everything change, you are the driving force … The basic problem is to define for yourself the degree of the girl’s naivete. (It could become too cute, or simply too designing.) It seems to me, at least, that they have not balanced things in Olivier’s favor. … It ought to be fun to do after BusStop. From your – (and my) – viewpoint, it will help in a small but important way to establish your ability to play characters of intelligence and cultivation. … Your loving Papa – (who has to rush now to make the plane – see you soon! – free!) – Art.”
Marilyn had strong opinions about the casting of Some Like It Hot. In the minutes from a business meeting at her New York apartment, it is noted that “MCA on the Coast has told [Billy] Wilder that there are ‘legal technicalities holding up her decision’ so as not to offend Wilder. Actually, she is waiting for [Frank] Sinatra to enter the picture. She still doesn’t like [Tony] Curtis but [Lew] Wasserman doesn’t know anybody else.”
This short note penned by Marilyn is thought to be a response to Tony Curtis’ notorious remark that kissing her was “like kissing Hitler.”
Novelist Truman Capote wanted Marilyn to star as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, her own advisors deemed George Axelrod’s watered-down adaptation unworthy of her talents. The film was a huge hit for Audrey Hepburn, but Capote hated it.
“A clean copy of the screenplay for Breakfast at Tiffany’s written by George Axelrod and dated July 9, 1959. Monroe was considering the part, and she sought the opinions of her professional team including the Strasbergs, her husband, and management team. The script is accompanied by a single-page, typed ‘report’ dated September 23, 1959, which also has the name ‘Parone’ typed to the left of the date. Literary luminary Edward Parone was at the time running Monroe’s production company and most likely is the one who wrote this single-page, scathing review of the script, leading with the simple sentence, ‘I think not.’ It goes on to criticize the screenplay, determining, ‘I can see Marilyn playing a part like Holly and even giving this present one all the elan it badly needs, but I don’t feel she should play it: it lacks insight and warmth and reality and importance.’ It has been long reported that Monroe declined the part upon the advice of Lee Strasberg, but this document provides further evidence that other people in her inner circle advised her not to take the role. Together with a four-page shooting schedule for November 4, 1960, for the film.”
Marilyn was generous to her co-stars in Let’s Make Love, giving a framed cartoon to Wilfrid Hyde-White on his birthday, and an engraved silver cigarette box to Frankie Vaughan. She also asked her friend, New York Times editor Lester Markel, to write a profile of her leading man, Yves Montand. “He’s not only a fine actor, a wonderful singer and dancer with charm,” she wrote, “but next to you one of the most attractive men.”
A handwritten note by Paula Strasberg reveals how she and Marilyn worked together on her role in The Misfits. “searching and yearning/ standing alone/ mood – I’m free – but freedom leaves emptiness./ Rosylin [sic] – flower opens bees buzz around/ R is quiet – the others buzz around.”
In 1962, Marilyn began work on what would be her final (and incomplete) movie, Something’s Got to Give. This telegram from screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, who was later replaced, hints at the trouble that lay ahead.
“The telegram from Johnson reads ‘In Revised script you are child of nature so you can misbehave as much as you please love – Nunnally.’ Monroe has quickly written a note in pencil for reply reading ‘Where is that script – is the child of nature due on the set – Hurry Love & Kisses M.M.’ ‘Love and Kisses’ is repeated, and additional illegible notations have been crossed out.”
“Raw footage of Monroe performing with the children in Something’s Got to Give exists, and Monroe’s notations are evident in the footage. The top of the page reads ‘Real Thought/ Mental Relaxation/ substitute children – B & J if necessary/ feeling – place the pain where it is not in the brow.’ B & J likely refers to Arthur Miller’s children Bobby and Jane. Another notation next to one of Monroe’s lines of dialogue reads simply ‘Mona Lisa’, which does in fact mirror the expression she uses when delivering this line. Even the exaggerated ‘Ahhhhh—‘ that Monroe does at the beginning of each take in the raw footage is written on the page in her hand, reading in full, ‘Ahhh–Look for the light.'”