Celebrating Marilyn’s Dramatic Chops

Although better-known for her high-glam comedies, Marilyn shone in dramatic roles when the opportunity arose. Over at NCN, The Misfits represents 1961 in an article listing the Best Western Films from the Year You Were Born, while at Classic Movie Hub, Gary Vitacco Robles continues his series on Marilyn’s movies with a look at Don’t Bother to Knock (you can read his take on Niagara here.)

“Four years before she set foot into the Actors Studio, Marilyn gives a Method Acting performance, beginning with her entrance. Nell enters the hotel’s revolving door in a simple cotton dress, low heels, a black sweater, and a beret. From behind, we see her outfit is wrinkled as if she had been sitting on the subway for a long time … Nell’s backstory is cloaked, and Monroe builds the character through use of her body in a manner studied with [Michael] Chekhov. She moves with hesitancy and scans her environment in a way that suggests she has not been in public for a long time.

According to [co-star] Anne Bancroft, Marilyn disagreed with both [director] Roy Ward Baker and acting coach Natasha Lytess on how to play the final climatic scene, ignoring their advice. ‘The talent inside that girl was unquestionable,’ Bancroft told John Gilmore. ‘She did it her way and this got right inside me, actually floored me emotionally.’

Nell Forbes is a fragmented personality with a blank expression. Sadness, fear, and rage register in Monroe’s face with credibility. She fluctuates from an introverted waif to someone who seems ruthless, even dangerous. Having worked with Chekhov, Monroe learned to delve deep into her own reservoir of painful memories and accessed her own natural talent for portraying vulnerability and madness. Employing Chekhov’s technique of physicality, she frequently held her waist as if the character were preventing herself from succumbing to madness. Perhaps Monroe’s mother, Gladys, served as inspiration. Gladys was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and institutionalized for long periods of time.

Monroe gives a stunning, riveting performance as a damaged woman, and suggests an alternative path her career might have taken if her physical beauty had not dictated the roles Fox gave her. Indeed, her comic performances were gems, which ultimately led to her legendary status, but what heights might she have achieved had she been allowed to experiment with more dramatic roles earlier in her career? Sadly, the film is rarely emphasized as a part of her body of work.

Arguably, Monroe effectively channeled her mentally ill mother and gives a believable performance as a vaguely written character in a script without any description of her personality. Monroe later told friend Hedda Rosten that Don’t Bother to Knock was one of her favorite films and considered Nell her strongest performance.”

Star-Spotting in Durango, 1950

Marilyn on location for ‘A Ticket to Tomahawk’, 1949

It’s well-known in Durango, Colorado, that the then up-and-coming actress, Marilyn Monroe, visited the town in 1949 to film a small role in the comedy Western, A Ticket to Tomahawk. But did you know that MM returned a year later, during filming of another Western, Across The Wide Missouri, starring none other than her idol, Clark Gable?

Interestingly, Across the Wide Missouri was released in November 1951, on the same week as another early Monroe film, Let’s Make it Legal.

A relaxed moment off the set

Mickey Hogan, now 82, remembers meeting the hopeful starlet in today’s Durango Herald:

“So, what was she doing in Durango in 1950? She has no credited role in Across the Wide Missouri. She could have been trying to land a role, or trying to catch someone’s attention. Clark Gable was among her favorite actors – maybe she was observing.

‘As I remember, she liked Durango and had a great time here (during Ticket to Tomahawk) and wanted to come back,’ Hogan said.

A major battle scene between the mountain men and the Native Americans was shot by Andrews Lake near the top of Molas Pass. That’s where he became acquainted with Monroe.

The topsoil around Andrews is a spongy peat moss that is flammable, Hogan said. Most everyone on the crew and the hordes of spectators were smokers, creating a potential fire danger. Hogan traveled on a horse with a fire extinguisher, putting out any smoldering spots in the peat moss.

Monroe asked if she could join Hogan on his rounds, and she was set up with a horse and fire extinguisher of her own.

‘People got bored to death,’ Hogan explained. ‘And that’s where Marilyn got involved with me and putting fires out. She didn’t have anything to do. … She just enjoyed riding and doing something. It wasn’t any other reason she had.’

She joined him two or three times, and that was it: Hogan’s brush with Marilyn Monroe. He assumes she was just building her career and thought that people involved with the movie could help.

‘That’s just a guess on my part,’ Hogan said, ‘but I’m pretty sure it’s true.’

He also remembers Monroe visiting Hogan’s Store, and his father, Charles Hogan, waiting on her.

‘My dad was very attentive on providing her with (jeans) to try on,’ Hogan chuckled. ‘I never will forget that. I just laughed at my dad.'”