Hollywood’s voiceover artists are featured in the May issue of Yours Retro, including Marni Nixon who helped Marilyn hit the high notes on ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ in the soprano introduction and again near the end. For the most part, though, the voice you’ll hear on that classic track from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is Marilyn’s.
Jasmine Chiswell, a Scottish film producer and vintage style influencer, is living the dream of many a Monroe fan – she has moved into the Castilian Drive address in Los Angeles which Marilyn rented for six months in 1952 as a hideaway for herself and Joe DiMaggio. As the Daily Record reports, Jasmine frequently posts video tours from home. Although she’s described in the article as a Monroe impersonator, Jasmine is also inspired by other bombshells (like Betty Grable, Marilyn’s co-star in How to Marry a Millionaire.) You can read more about the house here, and follow Jasmine here.
First published in 1969, Fred Lawrence Guiles’ Norma Jean was one of the earliest Monroe biographies. Drawing on interviews with figures close to Marilyn, it remains highly influential. In 1986, Guiles published a revised version, Legend. This included speculation on her relationship with Bobby Kennedy, previously referred to as ‘The Easterner’.
In 1993 Guiles published a third edition, reverting to Norma Jean and closer to his original manuscript. Oddly, he retained the standard spelling of ‘Norma Jean’ rather than the name she was born with and used for many years (Norma Jeane) in all three editions, which in retrospect seems as glaring an omission as Kennedy’s name. Guiles died in 2000, aged 79.
Norma Jean was Guiles’ first book, and is being reissued in May by Turner Publishing in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats. It’s not clear if the photo sections are reproduced. While it’s good to see this classic biography back in print, the prior editions are still widely available from used bookstores. This is, however, the first time Norma Jean has been published digitally, although the price on Amazon is currently quite high.
Predictably, the media has focused on the book’s more sensational (and contentious) aspects. In an excerpt published this weekend, the Daily Beast highlights Guiles’ claim that Marilyn may have had an abortion at the Cedars of Lebanon hospital under an alias on July 20, 1962, two weeks before her death. This allegation came from a press aide (probably Michael Selsman, who wasn’t her publicist but worked for the same firm and has repeated the claim elsewhere.)
However, abortion was still illegal at the time under most circumstances, so it was unlikely to have occurred at Cedars of Lebanon. If indeed she was there at all, it’s more likely that Marilyn had surgery to alleviate symptoms of endometriosis, having undergone similar operations in 1954 and ’59. Furthermore, her autopsy report states that Marilyn wasn’t pregnant when she died. Any signs of a recent abortion would surely have been noted there.
With cinemas currently closed, there’s a shortage of current movie news. In a blatant attempt to fill the gap, an article rehashing conspiracy theories about Marilyn’s death has been posted on the Film Daily blog. But its credibility is blown by the inclusion of a photo of President John F. Kennedy with another blonde actress and singer, Dorothy Provine – in costume for her TV series, The Roaring 20s, which ran from 1960-62.
A quick internet search indicates this isn’t the first time Dorothy has been mistaken for Marilyn, despite there being little resemblance beyond their hair colour. But the Divine Marilyn blog correctly identified Dorothy back in 2015, with a post showing photos of President Kennedy meeting famous women of the era. For an informed read on Marilyn’s tragic death, try David Marshall’s The DD Group or Donald McGovern’s Murder Orthodoxies.
Actress Shirley Knight has died aged 83, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Born in Kansas, she wanted to be an opera singer but caught the acting bug after director Joshua Logan came to her hometown and hired Shirley and her family as extras on his movie, Picnic (1955), and allowed her to watch Kim Novak and William Holden at work.
Shirley’s first big break was on Broadway in 1960, when Elia Kazan directed her in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. In 1962, she starred opposite Paul Newman in Sweet Bird of Youth, the big-screen adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play, winning a Best Supporting Actress nomination and becoming one of Williams’ favourite actresses. Then in 1964, she asked to be released from her Warner Brothers contract and moved to New York, where she joined the Actors’ Studio.
Alternating work in the theatre with film roles, Shirley appeared in The Group (1966), Petulia (1968), and The Rain People (1969), which director Francis Ford Coppola wrote for her. After a ten-year marriage to actor Gene Lersson, she married the English writer John Hopkins in 1969, dividing her time between America and the UK.
In 1976, she won a Tony award for her role as Carla, a failed Marilyn Monroe wannabe, in Robert Patrick’s play, Kennedy’s Children, which centred on a group of disillusioned activists meeting in a bar. She reprised the role in a 1982 TV movie of the same name, co-starring Jane Alexander, Lindsay Crouse and Brad Dourif.
Despite turning down the role of Sue-Ellen Ewing in Dallas, Shirley later won three Emmys for her television work, appearing in shows like NYPD Blue, Thirtysomething and Desperate Housewives. Her later films included As Good As It Gets (1997), and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009), written and directed by Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur Miller.
In recent years, Shirley was working on a memoir, and enjoyed caring for her rescue dog. She died of natural causes on April 22, 2020 at her daughter’s home in Texas. Due to public restrictions over coronavirus, her memorial service will be held in 2021.
In their new book, Cinema ’62, Stephen Farber and Michael McClellan make the case for 1962 as an all-time great year in film – citing The Miracle Worker, To Kill a Mockingbird, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane among its finest releases. While Marilyn’s abandoned last movie wouldn’t make the grade, the authors have referenced another prestigious title from 1962 first offered to her. (In John Huston’s Freud, starring Montgomery Clift, her role was played by newcomer Suzannah York – more details here.)
“Marilyn Monroe, the greatest star of the 1950s and early 1960s, was known not only for her sensual image and temperamental behaviour on the set. She was also, like many actors of the era, a passionate devotee of psychoanalysis who spent years sampling the wares of a series of fashionable doctors. In 1960 John Huston, who had directed her in one of her best early films, The Asphalt Jungle, and in her latest picture (which would turn out to be her last), The Misfits, offered her a key role in his ambitious tribute to the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Marilyn was intrigued by the opportunity to tackle such a demanding dramatic role, but she ultimately turned it down, partly at the urging of her current analyst, Ralph Greenson, a close friend of Anna Freud, who was vehemently opposed to the idea of a Hollywoood picture about her sainted father’s life. In a letter to Huston dated November 5, 1960, just after The Misfits finished shooting, Marilyn declined the role. ‘I have it on good authority that the Freud family does not approve of anyone making a picture on the life of Freud,’ she wrote, then added that she could not be involved in the project, in part because of ‘my personal regard for his work.'”
Elsewhere in Cinema ’62, the authors discuss Marilyn’s demise and the loss felt within the movie industry and beyond.
“Tragically, Hollywood found its most luminous star permanently dimmed in August 1962 when Marilyn Monroe’s sudden death at the age of thirty-six rocked the movie industry and saddened fans worldwide. Monroe had been fired in June from George Cukor’s presciently titled and unfinished Something’s Got to Give after delaying production with her erratic behaviour. The emerging New Hollywood could no longer indulge its eccentric stars, not even the last great creation of the old studio and star system. Monroe had been the highest-ranked female box office draw three times in the mid-1950s but yielded that spot to Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day by the start of the 1960s, when she dropped out of the poll. However, Monroe would soon be immortalised as a cultural and screen icon, while her passing symbolised both the decline of female stars in the Hollywood firmament and the demise of the classical studio era. Fortunately, thanks to the creative vision of some veteran filmmakers as well as some brand-new voices, the cinema of 1962 remained as vital as ever.”
Film critic Angelica Jade Bastien, a long-time champion of Marilyn (see here) live-tweeted a screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on TCM last night. “What really makes this film for me is the friendship between Dorothy and Lorelei,” she says. “They’re both true broads but very different women – one bawdy and rough hewn on the outside, the other may seem like a dumb blonde but she’s shrewd in her own way.” Read more of Angelica’s tweets here.
After their recent feature on Some Like It Hot (see here), the American Film Institute picks All About Eve for their latest edition of AFI Movie Club, with a video introduction from Sharon Stone and suggestions for debate.
“-How does screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz use a revolving door of narrators throughout the film? What effect does it have in terms of perspective?
-Mankiewicz’s Academy Award®-winning script is known for its razor sharp wit and biting humor. What is your favorite line?
-How is Eve Harrington an unconventional antagonist?
-How does Margo characterize being a woman aging in Hollywood, and what is her internal conflict that she struggles with throughout the film?
-ALL ABOUT EVE is still the only film to ever be Oscar®-nominated for four female performances. Which is your favorite and why?
-What other movies about show business, and Broadway in particular, do you love?
Marilyn graces the cover of US nostalgia mag ReMIND‘s May issue, as part of a feature on Hollywood glamour queens. (The photo was taken in 1953 by Frank Powolny.) She appears in ReMIND quite regularly, with her last full cover back in 2015.
Writing for The Independent, Geoffrey McNab ponders why Arthur Miller’s plays (unlike those of his contemporary, Tennessee Williams) have translated so poorly to the screen. He concedes that The Misfits has stood the test of time – perhaps due to the calibre of its cast, and being written directly for the screen (albeit based on a short story.)
“‘It’s a very mysterious business. It’s very difficult to generalise about the movies. It has a mystical effect on you finally. I can see why people devote their whole lives to fiddling with this [medium],’ the playwright, then at the end of his career, told producer/director Gail Levin when interviewed for her documentary Making The Misfits (2001).
John Huston’s The Misfits (1961), about rodeo riders, ageing cowboys and divorcees adrift in Reno or chasing wild mustangs in the Nevada deserts and mountains, was a famously chequered production. It went over budget and over schedule. Miller had intended it as a valentine to Monroe but, during shooting, their marriage imploded. Her behaviour was erratic and her time-keeping infuriating. This, though, is a heartrending movie in which, against the odds, Gable, Monroe and Clift, alongside a youthful Eli Wallach, give their rawest and most tender performances. It combines an old Hollywood feel with the best of Method acting. It also has an obvious added poignance because Gable and Monroe never completed another film after it.
Ironically, Miller felt that Huston wasn’t making The Misfits cinematic enough. ‘What intrigued me somewhat about life in Nevada was that the people were so little and that the landscape was so enormous. They were practically little dots … they were like specks of dust,’ Miller told Gail Levin. He wanted Huston to give the film an epic quality. Instead, the director did close-up after close-up, concentrating on the inner emotions of his tormented protagonists. Nonetheless, the credits are very revealing. For once, Miller’s name appears as big as those of his stars. He originated the project, found the producer and hired Huston.
At the time of The Misfits’ release, audiences were flummoxed. It wasn’t a typical Monroe or Gable vehicle and nor was it a conventional western. Sixty years on, it stands as the purest and least compromised of any of the films in which Miller was involved.”