‘After the Fall’ in Washington

Arthur Miller’s 1964 play, After the Fall – widely controversial for its unflinching portrait of a self-destructive woman, seemingly based on Marilyn – is being staged at Washington’s Theatre J, through to November 26.

Chris Klimek reviewed the production for the Washington City Paper:

“It’s the character of Maggie, however, who turns the parallels to Miller’s own life up to brazen volume. A husky-voiced bombshell who blossoms into a singing star after Quentin shows her a molecule of kindness, she looks an awful lot like a straw-Marilyn even before she falls under the sway of various seedy agents, managers, shrinks, and soon enough, barbiturates and booze. Gabriela Fernández-Coffey banishes any trace of mimicry or caricature from her performance, making Maggie’s descent into addiction and despair deeply disquieting to witness.”

The Legend and the Tragedy

In her blog at the Jewish Daily Forward, Elisa Strauss responds to a recent New York Times piece, ‘The Marilyn Obsession’ by Austin Considine, on the current boom in nostalgia and ABG’s plans to capitalise on Marilyn’s image.

Interestingly, Strauss also shares with us a poignant anecdote about Monroe’s 1957 trip to Washington with husband Arthur Miller.

Stating that ‘sexy wins over tragedy’, Strauss suggests that Marilyn is being remembered in a superficial way, and that the lessons of her tragic life have still not been learned.

“Monroe’s allure is as powerful as it is ineffable, so much so that even I start to view her sad beginning and even sadder end as something otherworldly rather than gritty and tragic. Her fate easily becomes elevated above cause and effect, and she morphs into a saint of her own circumstances. Or, in short, an icon.

But the problem with this iconic lens on Monroe is that it conveniently blurs the very destructive pressure she felt as the preeminent sex symbol. A relative of mine hosted Monroe in Washington D.C. when she came to the city with then-husband Arthur Miller during his House Unamerican Activities Committee hearing.

Monroe spent a few weeks sleeping on a blue velvet couch in their study, and, as described by my relative, was incredibly insecure about nearly everything. She dreaded leaving the house unless physically immaculate, and she once decided to stay home at the last minute when she realized that there was a hairline chip in her nail polish. In intellectual matters, Monroe deferred to Miller on everything. My relative said Monroe spent the majority of her time reading, mostly self-help books.

Considering all the gains women have made politically, economically and socially since her heyday, this Monroe revival seems anachronistic. Monroe was the ultimate creation of male fantasy, the archetype of the blond bombshell – all bosom, golden curls and kittenish purrs – a fantasy women have since worked hard to deconstruct and redefine. And while the boundaries of what is considered attractive in Hollywood are still fairly narrow, they have still been expanded enough to include a far more diverse bunch than ever before.

Well, I’d like to ask the PR maven what he thinks about glamorizing and marketing the ‘Monroe style’ that she herself found quite destructive. Am I the only one who, when swiping a Marilyn gloss across my lips or stepping into some Marilyn high heels, would think about the ways in which the use of such objects was ultimately an oppressive act for her? That remaining desirable was not effortless for her, but rather all-consuming to the point of obsession?”

While I support Strauss’s feminist perspective, I would also argue that our focus on glamour is not entirely misguided. Marilyn’s unashamed pride in her own sexuality has inspired many women.

Though it may seem that Marilyn fever is everywhere now, in truth it never really went away. Monroe has fascinated us for over sixty years now and probably will for decades, even centuries to come.

Her beauty, intelligence, and yes, her tragedy are all part of the legend and we cannot, and should not, ever try to separate them. Like any woman, Marilyn deserves to be appreciated for all that she was.

A Pair of Marilyn’s White Gloves

Marilyn in London, 1956

In an article marking the 49th anniversary of Marilyn’s death, The Smithsonian reflects on her trademark white gloves (one of the many pairs she owned is now held at Washington’s American History Museum.)

“They connoted a degree of style to the public, and they were as equally important as the gowns she wore. They completed the outfit,” curator Dwight Blocker Bowers says.

“Monroe was often spotted wearing this ladylike accoutrement,” wrote curator David H. Shayt in Smithsonian magazine in 2002. “Suggestive contradiction was the name of the game. Monroe’s gloves, invoking a coquettish nod to modesty, were belied by the plunging neckline.”

Jack Cardiff Documentary in Washington

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff is screening at Washington’s West End Cinema from today through to July 14.

” ‘Cameraman’ should be required viewing for anyone interested in becoming more visually literate in an ever-more-media-drenched age. What’s more, it’s chock-full of yummy anecdotes from Cardiff’s work with such stars as Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, who inscribed a photo to him with the line, ‘Dear Jack, if only I could be the way you created me.’ And if only movies could be the way Cardiff himself made them: drenched in color, spinning with movement and brimming with an intoxicating sense of life.”

Marilyn in Washington

Marilyn and Arthur Miller in Washington, 1957

“I recently traveled to Washington, DC for vacation, and visits to museums, monuments and even walking down the streets of the US capitol provided associations to Marilyn in varying ways. From Abraham Lincoln to Emilio Pucci, Marilyn’s connection to Washington is evident.”

Scott Fortner recounts his trip to Washington and mulls over the city’s long association with Marilyn, from her girlhood admiration for Abraham Lincoln to her controversial friendship with John F. Kennedy.

Marilyn herself visited Washington on at least one occasion, in May of 1957 with her husband, Arthur Miller, who was later convicted for contempt of Congress after refusing to name associates who had been Communist Party members.

Marilyn supported Miller throughout his trial, and the guilty verdict was repealed in 1958.

Vintage newsreel footage