Marilyn at Julien’s: Lights, Camera, Action

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.”

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.'”

Talk About Marilyn at the BBC

Marilyn chats with Dame Edith Sitwell in Hollywood, 1953

Talk at the BBC is a compilation show featuring clips from vintage interviews with Robert Mitchum, Jayne Mansfield and more. Of particular interest to Monroe fans will be the clips where poet Edith Sitwell (pictured here with Marilyn during a trip to Hollywood in 1953) and Wilfrid Hyde-White (who appeared in MM’s penultimate film, Let’s Make Love) both sharing fond memories of her.

For those unable to view the footage, ES member timetravelangel has made a transcription:

Face to Face (BBC, 1959)

Now I want to change the subject and ask you about something quite different because there is one episode in your career which has puzzled people. Why did you decide some years ago to go to Hollywood and work in the Hollywood machine?

Edith Sitwell: 
Well, I was not working in poetry at that moment and I needed to earn money.

Did Hollywood either succeed in or seek to lower your standards?

Edith Sitwell:
Oh, not for a moment.

How did you ward them off because they have after all corrupted a great many?

Edith Sitwell:
I didn’t have to. I only saw people who, whose behaviour was impeccable, who were highly educated and the sort of people I would know in England.

Is the story of your, er, affection for, or whatever it was, Marilyn Monroe just a press story or is it true? Did it really happen?

Edith Sitwell:
Well, I’ll tell you what happened exactly. You see, she was brought to see me in Hollywood and I thought her a very nice gal. I thought that she had been disgracefully treated, most unchivalrously treated. If people have never been poor, perhaps they don’t know what it is like to be hungry. That girl allowed a calendar to be made of her, you see. Well there have been nude, er…


Edith Sitwell:
…Models before now. It means nothing against a person’s moral character at all. This poor girl was absolutely persecuted by people. I mean, she has, or had an unfortunate attraction for an extremely unpleasant kind of man- whom she avoided assiduously. I have seen her do that when she was brought to see me, I really did, you see. I mean, she behaved like a lady.

And has she shown pleasure and, and gratitude if you like, for the kindness which you showed to her?

Edith Sitwell:
Well, indeed, yes! When she and her husband, for whom I have a very great admiration,came to London they were asked whom they wanted to see. And I was one of the first people whom they wanted to see. And they came. But of course we couldn’t talk because every kind of person was just hanging about outside and interfering and all the rest of it, you know and going and telling lies afterwards. But I saw her again alone in New York and we had a most delightful talk and I hope that one day I shall see them alone again.

Do you in fact find it very easy to make close personal friendships or do they come hard?

Edith Sitwell:
Yes. When I die, I will be able to say that I think that I’ve had- that I’ve given more devotion and had more devotion than most people I know.

* * *

Unknown show before a studio audience (BBC, 1969)

To transfer for one second to an actress now unfortunately no longer with us, but one of my idols forever, Marilyn Monroe. You worked with her once?

Wilfred Hyde-White:
Ah, yes, the most wonderful, darling, genuine eccentric you could ever possibly meet. She was a wonderful, wonderful woman and a very, very great artist. I adored her. Marvellous woman.

The legend is still with us, isn’t it?

Wilfred Hyde-White:
Yes well of course, there will never be anyone else like her. She was most extraordinary because – I’d admired her, of course, just like you and everyone else – but when I went to work with her I wondered how much was her and how much was direction. And one hundred per cent was her. And George Cukor who was a very, very bright, clever director, with a particular reputation for handling leading ladies, he of course let her do it entirely her own way. Marvellous woman! She was not a very regular attendant.

You mean she was late?

Wilfred Hyde-White:
She used to sometimes be a fortnight late, yes.

[Audience laughter]