Insignificant Others: Nicolas Roeg and Marilyn

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.”

Marilyn’s Hollywood Haunts Targeted in Ponzi Scheme

Marilyn photographed by Milton Greene at Joe Schenck’s estate in 1953

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.)

Garden view of Marilyn’s final home in Brentwood, Los Angeles

“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.”

Richard Avedon: Waiting for Sugar

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.”


Marilyn and the Hollywood Wolves

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.

Further Reading

Marilyn Warned Joan Collins About the Casting Couch

‘Norma Jean and Marilyn’ Stars Speak Out On Abuse

Marilyn Impersonator Reveals Sexual Harassment

Marilyn at Julien’s: Lights, Camera, Action

Marilyn on the set of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'.
Marilyn hugs a co-worker on the set of ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’

The upcoming Julien’s Auctions sale includes many items related to the making of Marilyn’s movies. An annotated script for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes reveals that Marilyn worked hard on her comedic performance. “Sense the feeling with the body,” she wrote next to one line.


Darryl F. Zanuck may have blamed Marilyn for delays in the River of No Return shoot, 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.



Candid photos from Frieda Hull’s estate show Marilyn filming the iconic ‘subway scene‘ for The Seven Year Itch, while Marilyn’s evening gloves from the ‘Rachmaninov scene‘ are also on offer.


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.”


Marilyn clashed with Sir Laurence Olivier while filming The Prince and the Showgirl, although as this handwritten letter from Olivier indicates, their collaboration began cordially enough.


“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 Bus Stop. 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.”


Although she never won an Oscar, Marilyn joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1959.


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.”

With ‘Let’s Make Love’ director George Cukor, and co-star Yves Montand
Test shots for ‘The Misfits’

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.”

Costume sketch for ‘Something’s Got to Give’ by Bob Mackie

“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.'”

Classic Screwball: ‘Some Like it Hot’


Although made long after the genre’s 1930s heyday, Some Like it Hot is ‘arguably the best screwball comedy ever’, Nathaniel Cerf writes for Movie Fanfare.

“For a great example of nearly every line being a joke and building on the next line: When Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress up as dames to join an all-girl jazz band and avoid the mob in Some Like It Hot (1959), they try to pass themselves off as society girls who attended the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music, a silly-sounding institute they made up on the spot. A few scenes later, Curtis is now dressed as a millionaire trying to win over Marilyn Monroe, who doesn’t recognize him from their band. Monroe’s character tries to impress him by stealing his earlier line about attending the SCM. It is a funny moment topped by Curtis coolly acknowledging, ‘Good school.'”

Marilyn, Tony Curtis and THAT Kiss


In an article for the Huffington Post, Brian Cronin revisits one of the most vicious insults in Hollywood history, asking ‘Did Tony Curtis say that kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler?

“One of the most famous legends about an on-screen kiss is what Tony Curtis supposedly said about kissing Marilyn Monroe when they filmed the classic Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot together in the summer of 1958.

While filming Some Like It Hot, Monroe was habitually late, ruined scenes and was overall an extremely difficult person to be around. Director Billy Wilder did not even invite her to the wrap party for the movie.

When asked what kissing Monroe was like, Curtis reportedly said it was ‘like kissing Hitler.’

The story became an instant Hollywood legend, the sort of thing that would be repeated no matter the veracity.

As to the truth of the quote, Curtis muddied that up when he denied saying it a number of times.

Where it came from was a screening room during the making of Some Like It Hot where most of the crew were watching the dailies of the film. Someone commented that Curtis’ kissing scene with Monroe looked like he was really enjoying himself, so they asked what it was like. Curtis blithely responded that it was like kissing Hitler. It got a big laugh, although it greatly upset Paula Strasberg, who in the room (Strasberg was Monroe’s acting coach, and her confidante – she was on the film as a sort of mini-entourage for Monroe). Monroe was not in the room at the time, but she of course was filled in soon enough by Strasberg. The room was filled with plenty of witnesses to the quote, though.

Soon before his death in 2010, however, Curtis finally admitted to the story, only he argued that it was not serious, he was just trying to get a laugh and to also make fun of the absurdity of the question.”

In his 2009 book, Some Like it Hot: Marilyn, Me and the Movie, Curtis made the bizarre claim that they had an affair. In my review, I explored the many contradictions in Tony’s tales of Marilyn.

“In recent years, Curtis has largely retired from acting. Now 84, he has published an autobiography, American Prince (2008), and regularly appears on television chat shows. Unsurprisingly, he is frequently asked to relate his memories of Some Like It Hot, and Marilyn in particular. Over time a vivid, but contradictory picture of his relationship with Monroe has emerged.

In American Prince, Curtis claimed to have had an affair with Marilyn in 1948, when she was still a struggling actress. Curtis has also stated in some interviews that the affair took place when Marilyn was 19, which would place it three years earlier. However, in 1945, Marilyn was not yet an actress, but a married factory worker and sometime model, still known as Norma Jeane Dougherty (she did not change her name or take up acting until the following year.)

Curtis’s latest memoir, Some Like It Hot: Me, Marilyn and the Movie (2009) dates their alleged romance at 1950, by which time Marilyn was no longer a ‘nobody’, but after key roles in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, on the brink of stardom. Curtis was then a bit-player at Universal Pictures, on Hollywood’s ‘Poverty Row’. (He too would soon find fame in 1952’s Son of Ali Baba, shortly after marrying actress Janet Leigh, and Curtis later won praise for his performances in two 1957 films, Sweet Smell Of Success and The Defiant Ones.)

There is no record of an affair with Curtis in the many biographies of Monroe. All that is certain is that they did meet at least once in 1951, when they and several other young hopefuls were photographed together for a Life magazine feature, entitled ‘Stars of Tomorrow’.

In his autobiography, Curtis claimed that his supposed affair with Monroe was rekindled on the set of Some Like It Hot. All the more peculiar, then, that he should compare the experience to kissing Hitler. Now, in Some Like It Hot: Me, Marilyn and the Movie, Curtis makes an additional claim – that Marilyn became pregnant with his child during filming.

Curtis details a one-night stand with Marilyn early on in the shoot, and later, a confrontation with Monroe’s husband, Arthur Miller, where she implied that Tony was the father of her unborn baby. (Curtis’s wife, Janet Leigh, was also then expecting their second child, daughter Jamie Lee Curtis.)

In December 1958, shortly after Some Like It Hot wrapped, Marilyn suffered a miscarriage. Her pregnancy had lasted at least three months. Curtis has never before claimed that he might have fathered her child until Some Like It Hot: Me, Marilyn and the Movie was published earlier this year – even 2008’s American Prince, which covers Curtis’s relationship with Marilyn in detail, omits this scenario.

‘Tony Curtis’ new book…’ observed Mick LaSalle, ‘underscores one of the unsung advantages of longevity: If you live long enough, you can claim to have had sex with any of your contemporaries, so long as they’re not around to deny it.’”

Marilyn, Nic Roeg and ‘Insignificance’

Theresa Russell as 'The Actress' in 'Insignifance' (1985)
Theresa Russell as ‘The Actress’ in “Insignificance” (1985)

Insignificance is a 1985 movie directed by Nicolas Roeg, based on Terry Johnson’s play which imagines a mythic encounter between four iconic figures – based on Joe DiMaggio, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, and Senator Joe McCarthy (played by Tony Curtis) – and set in a New York hotel room, on the fateful night in September 1954 when Marilyn filmed the ‘subway scene’ for The Seven Year Itch.

Roeg, a British director born in 1928 (just two years after MM), has enjoyed cult success with films including PerformanceThe Man Who Fell to Earth and The Witches, and is the subject of new documentary, Nicolas Roeg: It’s About Time, to be broadcast on BBC4 on Sunday, June 28, at 10pm.

"Insignificance" director Nicolas Roeg
“Insignificance” director Nicolas Roeg

Bernard Rose has recalled his own collaboration with Roeg on Insignificance in a new interview with Sight & Sound magazine.

“The first thing I did professionally with Nic was make this music video for Roy Orbison’s ‘Wild Hearts Run Out of Time’ for Insignificance. I went to Nashville to shoot some stuff with Orbison. Then it was going to be cut into footage from Insignificance, which is what we did. I had to match the camera style Peter Hannan had used in Insignificance, which was very interesting: I was tracking on something and then suddenly zooming in on somebody’s drink. The cameraman at the time turned to me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ The moment he said that, I thought, ‘I’ve got Nic’s style.’ Not that I make any great claims for that video, but you can see that it was quite intricate to make the camera style run from one element to the other without seeming to jar.”

Joe Franklin 1926-2015

franklin joe

Joe Franklin, who co-authored the first American biography of Marilyn in 1953, has died aged 88, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Born less than two months before Marilyn, his childhood friend was Bernard Schwartz (better known as Tony Curtis.) He began his radio career as a teenager, and is credited as a pioneer of the television talk show. The Joe Franklin Show ran for 42 years – a decade longer than Johnny Carson’s.

The Marilyn Monroe Story: The Intimate Inside Story of Hollywood’s Hottest Glamour Girl was co-written with Laurie Palmer. For two weeks in late 1953, Franklin worked on the book with Marilyn herself. However, the project was vetoed by Twentieth Century-Fox, and Franklin completed it without Marilyn’s further involvement. (In 1954, Marilyn would co-write her own memoir with Ben Hecht. Apart from an unauthorised serialisation, My Story would not be published until long after her death.)


Nonetheless, The Marilyn Monroe Story has become a highly valuable collector’s item, largely because it was published during her lifetime. It was reissued in paperback in 2012.

In his own memoir, Up Late with Joe Franklin, he appeared to have claimed a ‘brief, intimate encounter’ with Marilyn, but in a 2011 interview for the Emmys website, he set the record straight.

‘It’s not true,’ he explained. ‘They touched up the book to say that…We got friendly, but we never had anything intimate.’

Thanks to Emma Downing Warren