People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.
Billy Wilder from Conversations with Wilder:
She had a kind of elegant vulgarity about her. That, I think, was very important. And she automatically knew where the joke was. She did not discuss it. She came up for the first rehearsal, and she was absolutely perfect, when she remembered the line. She could do a 3-page dialogue scene perfectly, and then get stuck on a line like, “It’s me, Sugar”… But if she showed up, she delivered, and if it took 80 takes, I lived with 80 takes, because the 81st was very good …
She had a feeling for and a fear of the camera. Fright. She was afraid of the camera, and that’s why, I think, she muffed some lines. God knows how often. She also loved the camera. Whatever she did, wherever she stood, there was always that thing that comes through. She was not even aware of it.
If an editor wanted her, he had to agree to her terms. She knew how she wanted to be seen, and if her cooperation was sought, she reserved the right of veto.
She knew she was superlative at creating still pictures and she loved doing it.
She had learned the trick of moving infinitesimally to stay in range, so that the photographer need not refocus but could easily follow movements that were endlessly changing.
At first I thought it was surface technique, but it went beyond technique. It didn’t always work, and sometimes she would tire and it was as though her radar had failed; but when it did work, it was magic. With her it was never a formula; it was her will, her improvisation.
Peter Bogdonavich from Who the Hell’s in It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors:
The fact is that Marilyn was in bad trouble from the day she was born as Norma Jean Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in the city of angels and movies, a poor bastard angel child who rose to be queen of a town and a way of life that nevertheless held her in contempt. That she died a martyr to pictures at the same time as the original studio star system — through which she had risen — finally collapsed and went also to its death seems too obviously symbolic not to note. Indeed, the coincidence of the two passing together is why I chose to end this long book about movie stars with Marilyn Monroe.
What I saw so briefly in my glimpse of Marilyn at the very peak of her stardom (and the start of my career) — that fervent, still remarkably naive look of all-consuming passion for learning about her craft and art — haunts me still. She is the most touching, strangely innocent — despite all the emphasis on sex — sacrifice to the twentieth-century art of cinematic mythology, with real people as gods and goddesses. While Lillian Gish had been film’s first hearth goddess, Marilyn was the last love goddess of the screen, the final Venus or Aphrodite. The minute she was gone, we started to miss her and that sense of loss has grown, never to be replaced. In death, of course, she triumphed at last, her spirit being imperishable, and keenly to be felt in the images she left behind to mark her brief visit among us.
Elia Kazan from Elia Kazan: A Life:
Relieve your mind now of the images you have of this person. When I met her, she was a simple, eager young woman who rode a bike to the classes she was taking, a decent-hearted kid whom Hollywood brought down, legs parted. She had a thin skin and a soul that hungered for acceptance by people she might look up to …
The girl had little education and no knowledge except the knowledge of her own experience; of that she had a great deal, and for an actor, that is the important kind of knowledge. For her, I found, everything was either completely meaningless or completely personal. She had no interest in abstract, formal, or impersonal concepts but was passionately devoted to her own life’s experiences. What she needed above all was to have her sense of worth confirmed. Born out of wedlock, abandoned by her parents, kicked around, scorned by the men she’d been with until Johnny, she wanted more than anything else approval from men she could respect. Comparing her with many of the wives I got to know in that community, I thought her the honest one, them the “chumps”. But there was a fatal contradiction in Marilyn. She deeply wanted reassurance of her worth, yet she respected the men who scorned her, because their estimate of her was her own.
Being a most serious actress is not something God has removed from my destiny as He chooses to destroy my chances of being a mother. Itâs therefore my perogative to make the dream of creative fulfillment come true for me. That is what I believe God is saying to me and is the answer to my prayers.
Well-behaved women rarely make history.
John Strasberg (son of Lee Strasberg, Marilyn’s acting teacher):
I think I was talking about cars to Mother and Father. You know how I loved cars. I’d just come home and it was going to be my eighteenth birthday. I’d wanted to come for that.
Mother and Father hadn’t wanted me to come. “Why don’t you wait till the end of the year?” Well, i’d already been kicked out of college. They didn’t know yet.
When I’d gone off at the airport, I’d turned to Mother and said, “For two cents, I won’t go.” Nobody gave me the two cents, but I’d meant it. What I’d wanted to do was work. I’d wanted to work from the time I was fifteen, and they were always against any effort on my part to be strong or independent. I remember how much I resented it. “You don’t have to work, we’ll take care of everything,” undermining me.
So I was talking about cars, no one was listening, and Marilyn was there and out of the blue said, “Why don’t you take my car, Johnny?”
I thought I hadn’t heard her right, and I said, “What?” She had remembered the summer before, in California, I’d had that Chevy I’d rented. God, I loved that car, a ’57 Bel Air silver Chevy, and she had the Thunderbird.
She continued, “I’ve got the Ford Mustang the corporation gave me, and Arthur and I have a car. That one’s just sitting in the garage, we don’t use it.”
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe she meant it.
Mother and Father were horrified; they didn’t like it at all. I don’t know if it felt like too much to give me or if they were worried about my driving in my state of mind, but they objected strenuously. “He’s too young. Maybe later, Marilyn. You don’t have to. It’s impossible, he can’t afford it, it could be dangerous.”
Marilyn just said, “Well, don’t worry about any of that, it’s in the corporation’s name, so I’ll take care of the insurance.”
I’ll never forget that … There were so few, so very few people who were generous like that. Especially to me, who couldn’t do anything for her.
I think that car saved my life.
I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her time. And she didn’t know it.
I never knew what Marilyn was going to do, how she was going to play a scene. I had to talk her out of it, or I had to underline it and say, “That’s very good” or “Do it this way.” But I never knew anybody who … except for a dress that blows up and she’s standing there … I don’t know why she became so popular. I never knew. She was really kind of … She was a star. Every time you saw her, she was something. Even when she was angry, it was just a remarkable person. A remarkable person, and in spades when she was on the screen. She was much better on the screen than not on the screen.
Some people have been unkind. If I say I want to grow as an actress, they look at my figure. If I say I want to develop, to learn my craft, they laugh. Somehow they don’t expect me to be serious about my work.
It’s very difficult to talk seriously about Monroe, because she was so glitzy, you know. She escaped the seriousness somehow; she changed the subject. Except that she was very tough to work with. But what you had, by hook or crook, once you saw it on the screen, it was just amazing. Amazing, the radiation that came out. And she was, believe it or not, an excellent dialogue actress. She knew where the laugh was. She knew.
For breakfast, I have two raw beaten eggs in a glass of hot milk. I never eat dessert. My nail polish is transparent. I never wear stockings or underclothes because I think it is important to breathe freely. I wash my hair everyday and I am always brushing it. Every morning I walk across my apartment rolling an empty soda bottle between my ankles, in order to preserve my balance.
Monroe’s recipe for stuffing
If you’ve seen “The Misfits,” and if you haven’t you really must, you’ll know what a hoot this scene is. It’s the drink in her hand, staying steady, that is so funny. Or, ONE of the things about this scene that is so funny.
I never knew anyone who even came close to Marilyn in natural ability to use both photographer and still camera. She was special in this, and for me there has been no one like her before or after. She has remained the measuring rod by which I have — unconsciously — judged other subjects.
It’s not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on.
Ernest Cunningham (photographer):
I worked with Marilyn Monroe. A rather dull person. But when I said “Now!” she lit up. Suddenly, something unbelievable came across. The minute she heard the click of the camera, she was down again. It was over. I said, “What is it between you and the camera that doesn’t show at any other time?” She said, “It’s like being screwed by a thousand guys and you can’t get pregnant.”
More than forty years have passed since Marilyn’s mysterious death, but her legend and persona have survived. This is all the more remarkable because she actually made very few films, and even fewer that were any good. But there was a reality to her artifice — she believed in the characters she played, even if they were inherently unbelievable. “Everything she did,” [Arthur] Miller said to me, “she played realistically. I don’t think she knew any other way to play anything — only to tell you the truth. She was always psychologically committed to that person as a person, no matter what the hell it was, rather than a stock figure. Because the parts she got could easily have been stock figures, which had no other dimension. But she wouldn’t have known how to do that. In other words, she did not have the usual technique for doing something as a stock figure … She was even that way when [director] John Huston used her the first time [in a memorable walk-on bit] in The Asphalt Jungle .”
This went for every picture she did in her surprisingly, painfully short career as a star, barely a decade, little more than a dozen pictures. Though she managed to work with quite a number of major directors, it was not necessarily always in their best efforts; but still they were Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks (twice), Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder (twice), George Cukor (twice, if you count her last unfinished one), John Huston (twice), Laurence Olivier, Joshua Logan, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (bit part in 1950’s classic All About Eve). In my conversation with Miller, he said, “I thought she had the potential for being a great performer if she were given the right stuff to do. And if you look at the stuff she did do, it’s amazing that she created any impression at all because most of it was very primitive. And the fact that people remember these parts from these films is amazing … She was comitted to these parts as though they were real people, not cardboard cutouts. Even though the director and author and the rest might have thought they were cutouts and would deal with them that way. The way the two men [Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon] in Some Like It Hot felt with their parts, or George Raft with his part. She was real. And therefore she had the potential of being a great comedienne.” (Norman Mailer, in his book on Monroe — he never met her — wrote that starting with 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she was a great comedienne.)
Marilyn Monroe from The Making of the Misfits:
I’d prefer not to analyze it [acting] … it’s subjective; rather, I want to remain subjective while I’m doing it. Rather than do much talking I’d rather act. When it’s on the screen, that’s when you’ll know who Roslyn [her character in The Misfits] is. I don’t want to water down my own feeling … Goethe says a career is developed in public but talent is developed in private, or silence. It’s true for the actor. To really say what’s in my heart, I’d rather show than to say. Even though I want people to understand, I’d much rather they understand on the screen. If I don’t do that, I’m on the wrong track, or in the wrong profession…. Nobody would have heard of me if it hadn’t been for John Huston. When we started Asphalt Jungle, my first picture, I was very nervous, but John said, ‘Look at Calhern [the late Louis Calhern, a veteran actor], see how he’s shaking. If you’re not nervous, you might as well give up.’ John has meant a great deal in my life. It’s sort of a coincidence to be with him ten years later.
John Strasberg from his sister’s book Marilyn & Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends:
The first time I met her I remember she came out of the living room and Pop said, “This is my son,” and my first impression of her was that she was different from most of the people who came to the house. I’d watch all these people trading their most human qualities, betraying themselves for success at all costs, to become rich and famous, and afterward, when it was too late, they’d realize they had lost the best part of themselves along the way, but she, she was like me. When I looked into her eyes, it was like looking into my own, they were like a child’s eyes. I was still a child. You know how children just look at you. My feeling was she had less ego or was less narcissistic than most of the actors who never really bothered with me. She was just another person to me, another one from that world I felt cut off, excluded, from. She was nicer, real simple, no makeup, and she really looked at me as if she saw me. It wasn’t that I wanted people to look at me, but I knew the difference when she did. I knew everyone said she was the sexiest, most sensual woman in the world. Not to me. I thought there was something wrong with me for not feeling that from her. I’d felt it from other women who came to the house. I was pretty sexually frustrated then. She was so open, so loose, and her sensuality as such was so totally innocent, nothing dirty in it at all, and the first time it was just like talking to an ordinary person, only realer than most who came into the house in those days. She was quiet, too, I remember, like an animal is quiet, and I was like that too, survival tactics. She seemed smart, but not in an educated way, instinctively smart, nobody’s fool.
Couldn’t resist, especially since Bloomsday approaches:
Judging from where she is in the book, she’s in full-on Molly Bloom mode. She would have made a perfect Molly Bloom.
I am a failure as a woman. My men expect so much of me because of the image they have made of me and that I have made of myself, as a sex symbol. Men expect so much and I can’t live up to it. They expect bells to ring and whistles to whistle, but my anatomy’s the same as any other woman’s. I can’t live up to it.
My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn, to change, to improve!
Arthur Miller from Timebends: A Life:
She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensitivity that few retain past early adolescence. Sometimes she seemed to see all men as boys, children with immeidate needs that it was her place in nature to fulfill; meanwhile her adult self stood aside observing the game. Men were their need, imperious and somehow sacred. She might tell about being held down at a party by two of the guests in a rape attempt from which she said she had escaped, but the truth of the account was far less important than its strange remoteness from her personally. And ultimately something nearly godlike would emerge from this depersonalization. She was at this point incapable of condemning or even of judging people who had damaged her, and to be with her was to be accepted, like moving out into a kind of sanctifying light from a life where suspicions was common sense. She had no common sense, but what she did have was something holier, a long-reaching vision of which she herself was only fitfully aware: humans were all need, all wound. What she wanted most was not to be judged but to win recognition from a sentimentally cruel profession, and from men blinded to her humanity by her perfect beauty. She was part queen, part waif, sometimes on her knees before her own body and sometimes despairing because of it — “Oh, there’s lots of beautiful girls,” she would say to some expression of awed amazement, as though her beauty betrayed her quest for a more enduring acceptance.
The year before her much-speculated-over death at thirty-six (rumors of presidential involvement, etc.), playwright Clifford Odets told me that she used to come over to his house and talk, but that the only times she seemed to him really comfortable were when she was with his two young children and their large poodle. She relaxed with them, felt no threat. With everyone else, Odets said, she seemed nervous, intimidated, frightened. When I repeated to Miller this remark about her with children and animals, he said, “Well, they didn’t sneer at her.”
Burt Glinn (photographer):
She had no bone structure — the face was a Polish flat plate. Not photogenic in the accepted sense, the features were not memorable or special; what she had was the ability to project.
Marilyn was not interested in costumes. She was not a clotheshorse. You could put anything on her you wanted. If it showed something, then she accepted it. As long as it showed a little something.
Henri Cartier Bresson (photographer):
She’s American and it’s very clear that she is – she’s very good that way – one has to be very local to be universal.
Frank Taylor (producer of The Misfits):
Monty and Marilyn were psychic twins. They were on the same wavelength. They recognized disaster in each other’s faces and giggled about it.
Acting isn’t something you do. Instead of doing it, it occurs. If you’re going to start with logic, you might as well give up. You can have conscious preparation, but you have unconscious results.
To have survived, she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.
I’m not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful.
Marilyn Monroe (this is what she pleaded at the end of the last interview she gave):
What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers.
Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe.
The Death of Marilyn Monroe
By Edwin Morgan
What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?
Crumpled orphan, nembutal bed,
white hearse, Los Angeles,
DiMaggio! Los Angeles! Miller! Los Angeles! America!
That Death should seem the only protector –
That all arms should have faded, and the great cameras and lights
become an inquisition and a torment –
That the many acquaintances, the autograph-hunters, the
inflexible directors, the drive-in admirers should become
a blur of incomprehension and pain –
That lonely Uncertainty should limp up, grinning, with
bewildering barbiturates, and watch her undress and lie
down and in her anguish
call for him! call for him to strengthen her with what could
only dissolve her! A method
of dying, we are shaken, we see it. Strasberg!
Los Angeles! Olivier! Los Angeles! Others die
and yet by this death we are a little shaken, we feel it,
Let no one say communication is a cantword.
They had to lift her hand from the bedside telephone.
But what she had not been able to say
perhaps she had said. ‘All I had was my life.
I have no regrets, because if I made
any mistakes, I was responsible.
There is now – and there is the future.
What has happened is behind. So
it follows you around? So what?’ – This
to a friend, ten days before.
And so she was responsible.
And if she was not responsible, not wholly responsible, Los Angeles?
Los Angeles? Will it follow you around? Will the slow
white hearse of the child of America follow you around?
What is your favorite biography of her?
And thanks for pointing us at Kim’s essay. The hook with Dylan was great (along with everything else).
The last sentence in Elia Kazan’s reminiscence is one of those things you just wish wasn’t true. What a great photo/quote essay!
I don’t have a favorite biography of MM – most of them are bad, or the writer has a “take” that colors the entire thing. She was the ultimate victim! is the usual theme. I think there’s something insidious in that theme. Like: “she was punished for being so sexy” – and people confirm their own beliefs that you shouldn’t “use” yourself that way or you will be made to pay. People like to see MM as a victim.
Like Kim, I don’t see her as a victim at all – or no more or less than the rest of us – I see her as the ultimate survivor. She triumphed! Also, most biographies have no idea how to evaluate her acting – which is a shame – because she’s wonderful. She was so good in the still photographs she put out – so memorable – that there are probably many people who only know her from the still photographs and maybe have seen 1 or 2 of her movies. But she’s so good in Don’t Bother to Knock, Clash By Night – The Asphalt Jungle (she has two scenes, and she KILLS in them). All About Eve, where she is so deliriously funny in her one scene. “But what is the man’s name was ‘butler’?”
People get caught up in the sexuality. They are still blinded by it.
In a way, she is like Sylvia Plath. There has been so much written about her, but so little of it is good. People come blazing in with their “takes” – and so everything Plath does has to dovetail into that “take”. Elvis is another example. So much written about him, by so many people with axes to grind.
I’ll think a bit more about what I have read and get back to you. I like the bits of analysis you find of her in other people’s work – much of which I have quoted here. People who are able to talk about her acting, her struggles/dreams as an actress – and what it was she DID in front of a camera that made her so memorable.
The picture of Monroe in the white princess dress gets me every time. There’s a dream-like quality to it, and an innocence and a beauty that’s haunting. She’s so gorgeous there, but I can see something else happening to her. She looks almost defiant in her sex symbol status. Almost ready to throw it all away. I keep seeing her in class, studying, memorizing, shaking from nerves, taking notes from way in the back. Being a student. And a really good student. And for some reason, it seems to me like that picture is the tip of that move into that Event. She looks like she’s getting ready.
I love that freakin picture.
I love your observation. Yes, you’re right – she looks alert, poised and ready.
Thank you, Sheila. For a long time I have thought of Marilyn and Sylvia Plath as being very similar.
In her journal, Sylvia Plath records an interesting and illuminating dream she had about Marilyn Monroe. I’ll see if I can find the passage.
Plath’s journal entry, Oct. 4 1959:
Marilyn Monroe appeared to me last night in dream as a kind of fairy godmother. An occasion of “chatting” with audience much as the occasion with Eliot will turn out, I suppose. I spoke, almost in tears, of how much she and Arthur Miller meant to us, although they could, of course, not know us at all. She gave me an expert manicure. I had not washed my hair, and asked her about hairdressers, saying no matter where I went, they always imposed a horrid cut on me. She invited me to visit her during the Christmas holidays, promising a new, flowering life.
Yep, eerie connection!
Always learn something new from your posts about movie stars, like the last public words of Marilyn Monroe.
“What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers.
“Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe.”
Beautiful combo of image and text. (Total side note: I have also really enjoyed learning about Bunny Yeager. I was completely ignorant about her career and have found your posts very interesting.)
I completely get what you were saying in response to mutecypher, about so many biographies being ruined by the writer’s bias or need to define her. I have avoided most commentary and work on MM because they often seem so obvious and self-fulfilling.
This quote you posted is amazing. She nailed it on the head.
//”People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.”//
And I often get this sense when looking at work on her. People are constantly trying to limit her and define her, which is an absurd task. She was ______! So dehumanizing. What person is one anything? Ever? This idea she expresses of her being a mirror I believe is truly apt. People react to her, not interact with her, so they see her as static and themselves as dynamic.
But I very much like your presentation here. Multifaceted.
Heather – thanks! She was many many things, and she turned what was used against her (her sexiness) into her greatest asset – it made her a star. She was not an idiot. She consciously turned herself into the ultimate movie goddess. To somehow shoehorn that into exploitation or something – UGH. It is so dismissive of her true GIFTS as a damn near Venus-like figure. Not to mention all of her other qualities as an actress – her comedy, her hilarious line readings, her characterizations.
To see her sexiness as bad, or sexist, or misogynistic – it’s just another label, Puritanical, demeaning. I like Kim’s point about the “male gaze” critique – to label her whole career as her being a victim of the “male gaze” – It’s just horrible, because it dismantles what she accomplished. Also, Marilyn had JUST as many female fans as male, and female fans adored her beauty too. She was one of those rare sex symbols who was equally appealing to both genders.
She’s a mystery, for sure – and I never get sick of her work. If you haven’t seen Don’t Bother to Knock, it’s well worth it!!
And yes: that comment from MM is just amazing. They “white mask themselves” – Burrrn! Sexuality is healthy and we all are sexual beings. Sex is not LEWD. Dirty minds.
And speaking of Bunny Yeager: It would have been interesting if Yeager and MM had collaborated! Seems like a match made in heaven.
A great example of her smarts and honesty: She was starting to rise in the ranks of starlets – fame was starting – when the nude photos came out. It was a “scandal” in the eyes of the studio execs, who insisted on seeing MM as a whore who just got lucky. They tried to force her to apologize for the photos. She refused. She made a statement – along the lines of: “My rent was overdue.” Totally honest.
And the studio was bombarded with letters – from men and women – expressing support for her. Pretty amazing. The love her fans had for her was indestructible.
Sheila, What a fabulous post on MM! Also thanks for Kim Morgan’s. Those pictures of her, (standing by the tree and garbage can and the close ups) are amazing and especially because she wanted them that way. So true what you said in your last comment too, “she was many many things” Yes! I think that’s why her pictures are so fascinating. She was so many things inside! And the fact that she still fascinates us today is incredible. The other word you use too, mysterious. That too, what a mysterious beauty she was! There are pictures of her up in the 42nd st. subway and I stare at them every time I pass through, like I just can’t get enough. In one of them she is every inch a star, in another you can just see that lonely lost kid. Everyone has their favorite MM pictures, I probably love those last pictures of her on the beach the best. But I also stare at the ones of her reading Ulysses. Thanks for not resisting and posting them again! She was always reading!
MM was such a beach bum, I love all the beach pictures too. She just looks so happy frolicking around on the beach.
I love that she is mysterious – you’re right – it’s one of the reasons I go back to her again and again.
And THEN – even better – to pop in one of her movies. Because we get so used to the image, the still images – that it’s sometimes a shock to see her walking, talking, or – in Some Like it Hot – playing a ukelele on a moving train. She’s so FUNNY too – her line readings!!
Have you read Dina Gachman’s comic, “Tribute: Marilyn Monroe,” the one mentioned by Kim? I just finished it, and though there’s nothing “new” in it for me, it was still oddly affecting.
I also purchased Norman Mailer’s “Marilyn” and Anthony Summer’s “Goddess, The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe” today. I figured I should get to know her better, being in love and all. I’m sure that axes will be ground, and in the case of Mr. Mailer, oxen will be gored.
That Jack Garfein interview is wonderful, convincing him that he could hold her hand and not end up in the tabloids. “Jack, I need to be zipped up. Jack, I need to be buttoned.”
// But Elvis and MM truly believed in themselves, in their dream selves.// Exactly.
Mailer’s book is interesting. He can’t help but try to be a white knight to her – all men who loved her did that – and it’s kind of an insane book but it is interesting.
I haven’t read the comic – I will!!
Gloria Steinem’s book is the ultimate “she was the victim of the patriarchy” – so I’d stay away from that one, unless you want to see that thesis put out in clear terms. It’s very reductive. Way more reductive of Marilyn than what she was “made” to do in films, where she (in general) triumphed and survived.
Mailer’s book is interesting because you can see him struggling to understand someone other than himself– rare for him, and I say it as someone who respects his work a great deal.
// because you can see him struggling to understand someone other than himself //
I agree with that totally – it makes his book really interesting and strange (in a good way – or at least a compelling way).
I respect him too.
I’ve just seen “Don’t Bother to Knock” for the first time, and I wanted to thank you for recommending it. Though the situation in the film was so out of control towards the end–Marilyn’s character has a man in the bathroom, a little girl in the bedroom, and has just locked her uncle in the closet and THEN comes a knock on the door!–I enjoyed it, especially because of her performance. Watching the varied emotions and thoughts cross over the face of her character was a bit like watching the weather over the ocean.
Perhaps the most chilling scene was the part where the little girl opens the window and leans out. As a mom, my first thought was–“get her away from there!” But Nell seems like she’s frozen in time, too, and either doesn’t see the danger of leaning out of an 8th story window on your knees, or doesn’t care. Then she put her hand on the girl’s back, and I was terrified. What should be a comforting gesture, or one of affinity, could just as easily become one of violence. Wow.
On a personal note, my eleven year old watched some of this with me, and he asked about how old the movie was. When I told him he said, “that girl (Marilyn) must be a really old lady by now!” And I was suddenly so sad to have to tell him that no, she never got to be an old woman. Never really had that connection with her before, though I’ve seen quite a few of her movies and always appreciated her–though I can’t say I really understand her, either, like mutecypher put it so eloquently. So thanks, too for this article. Reading her own words along with the other opinions was enlightening.
Barb – So glad you saw it! It adds great nuance to the understanding of Marilyn’s career. She really cared about this part. She bought the dress that she wears in the film at the five and dime. She understood this poor girl.
// Then she put her hand on the girl’s back, and I was terrified. What should be a comforting gesture, or one of affinity, could just as easily become one of violence. //
YES. So frightening. I thought Widmark was great too – the moment when he sees her cut wrists and realizes what he is dealing with. A sort of: “Oh, she’s not a sex-bomb, she’s a hurt and frightened soul …” It’s very moving to me. Compassionate.
Did you ever read John Steinbeck’s letter to Marilyn Monroe? Probably, but in case you haven’t, look it up. It’s so good.
oh my God, Jincy, I had never read that – that is fantastic!