A Moment with Marilyn – Part 3
“The one thing a person wants most in life is usually something basic that money can’t buy. I’m not the girl next door – I’m not a goody-goody – but I think I’m human. As far as I’m concerned, the happiest time in my life is now. There’s a future, and I can’t wait to get to it. It should be interesting.” – Marilyn Monroe (c.1961-62).1
To complement the Marilyn Monroe exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery, the eight-metre sculpture Forever Marilyn (2011) by American artist Seward Johnson has been installed at nearby Rosalind Park (until 10 July, 2016). Part of Johnson’s Icons Revisited series, the work was based on a photograph taken by Bruno Bernard (aka. Bernard of Hollywood) of Monroe’s famous subway scene from The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955).
Ahead of the film’s New York première a 15.84 metre high cut-out of Monroe using this scene was installed above the awning of Loew’s State Theatre at 1540 Broadway, but Johnson’s work is rather more imposing in its realisation. “In this series [Icons Revisited], I am trying to discover what makes an image stick with us; become something more than its one moment in time. Marilyn has come to represent beauty, and the white dress blowing up around her a type of teasing sensuality”, says Johnson. “I do enjoy sharing, as you say, quintessentially American moments, and Marilyn Monroe is quite that … There is something about her pose; the exuberance for life without inhibition, which does seem quintessentially American, I suppose. The pose expresses an uninhibited sense of her own vibrancy”.
Johnson has built his career around crafting life-affirming works, and views audience engagement as one of his most important and rewarding goals. Whether they be famous figures, his interpretation of iconic photographs and paintings, or scenes from everyday life, Johnson wants to encourage his audience to pause and contemplate. “Generally speaking I am not interested in creating political sculptures, but instead reflecting our shared emotional history. And celebrating the positive aspects of life – drawing attention to them. It’s easy sometimes to forget the simple things that give us pleasure. If we open our eyes, life is marvellous. The human spirit triumphs, if only for moments in a day. I try to have my work call attention to those moments”.
The scale of some of Johnson’s sculptures presents challenges of its own; in terms of design, fabrication, cost, and length of time to complete. “Forever Marilyn took about three years from design to completion. I began by creating Marilyn in life-scale. Then the sculpture was enlarged to the current eight-metre height. In order for her to move around the world, she must be cut up into joining parts. This is a very tricky physical computation which allows her to fit into trucks as well as cargo ships, and is a secure situation once she is bolted together from the inside”, explains Johnson, sounding more like a magician. “As with all of my monumental-scale sculptures the cost is quite hefty and the space that she takes up, both at my studio, and when being shipped in containers across the oceans! I believe it took thirty-three days for her to arrive in Melbourne from the United States, with a stop at the docks in Korea. We have actually never stored Forever Marilyn because usually her dance card is full! She is generally scheduled pretty tightly”.
Johnson also had to grapple with how to realise the movement and lightness of the billowing fabric as it froths around Monroe’s torso. “There is a technical issue here because the skirt itself is so cantilevered out. If the sculpture were made from all one material, such as bronze, she would likely fall over. That is why I had to create – with my engineers – a solution for this, which was to make the full sculpture of her in stainless steel, but make the skirt that juts out in aluminium, which is a lighter-weight material. In terms of making the fabric appear soft and flowing, I’ve had to refine those tricks over the past forty-plus years. The pleats of her skirt really help as well!”, he remarks.
Monroe’s iconic scene served to remind Johnson of an amusing event from his childhood. “I actually came to know of, and appreciate, Marilyn Monroe later on. But I do have a vivid memory of being about age seven and at the World’s Fair in Paris [Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, 1937]. I saw there a set-up whereby these French workmen had made a contraption that – when ladies came by – the air blew their skirts up,” Johnson recalls. “I was struck by the general naughtiness of that. And with Marilyn she was the one bringing forth the good-natured naughtiness. She was presenting the fun – no one was taking it from her or using her. I really wanted to celebrate that aspect of her generosity with this piece, both in the life-size version  and the very big one”.
Johnson, who is now eighty-four, feels no inclination to reduce his workload, or scale back his practice. Indeed, he sounds a touch regretful that he did not accompany his work over for the exhibition. “I just love that Forever Marilyn has made it all the way to Australia, and, in fact, I have not yet myself! She is my ambassador! The exhibition and this sculpture are perfectly suited, so it makes me quite delighted. Our crew of professional installers have been with me for a long while and I trust them implicitly to take care of her ups and downs. It takes three days to install Marilyn,” he enthuses. “It is perfect to have Marilyn installed in Bendigo … I think she looks beautiful next to the fountain there, and I hope that everyone gets out to see her. The location is expansive and allows people to see her from a distance as well as easily come close and actually touch her”.
The white dress for The Seven Year Itch, was dismissed by its designer William Jack Travilla (1920-90) as “that silly little dress”.2 It visited Melbourne previously as part of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) exhibition Hollywood Costume at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (2013). The dress was formerly in the collection of actress Debbie Reynolds, who owned twelve of Monroe’s studio costumes. Reynolds is regarded as something of a pioneer in saving film memorabilia; she had the foresight and the access to buy many important items from the wardrobe and prop departments when first MGM (1970), and then 20th Century Fox (1971), liquidated their inventories. It was Reynolds’ intention to display her significant collection in a dedicated costume museum, but the project never materialised, and she sold the bulk of her memorabilia in 2011.3
Photographer Sam Shaw had the idea to have Monroe’s character (‘The Girl’) cool herself on an oppressive night by standing over the sub-way grate. This was discussed with producer Charles K. Feldman (1904-68), playwright George Axelrod, Wilder, and Monroe who all agreed it would make for a great scene. The location shoot quickly became unmanageable, however, when some five thousand onlookers, including numerous photographers, converged on the Trans-Lux Theatre on 52nd street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan at 1am (15 September, 1955). They watched well into the morning as Monroe and co-star Tom Ewell (as ‘Richard Sherman’) went through numerous takes of the pavement scene as Monroe struggled with delivering her lines, which were often drowned out by the din.
In the audience was Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida who was in New York promoting a film. Rupert Allen was the press officer for both stars and contrived their meeting inside the Trans-Lux Theatre. “Marilyn seemed to radiate and had a lot of fun filming this sequence under the gaze of thousands of people who idolised her. After filming [Allen] led me to Marilyn, who was still wearing the white pleated dress that has now been rendered immortal. By curious chance I myself was wearing a white dress very similar to hers. She gave me her hand, she smiled from the heart and I returned the favour. We stayed for a long time talking about movies, Hollywood and our dresses. Immediately we felt like two women, not two competing stars”, Lollobrigida told Paris Match nearly fifty years later. “It amazed me because she had no arrogance. She seemed shy in the extreme and spoke in a small voice, muffled and barely perceptible. She made no attempt at all to dazzle or overpower me. When a photographer from [20th Century] Fox tried to take a picture of the two of us, she nodded but begged him to make sure it was OK. We then hugged and promised to meet up with each other very soon”.4
Monroe’s recollection of filming the scene was less fond, as it caused a serious rift in her already faltering marriage to second husband, baseball star Joe DiMaggio (1914-99). A conservative man with traditional views, DiMaggio was unprepared for Monroe’s burgeoning stardom, and incensed by the lecherous attention directed at his wife. “At first, it all was innocent and fun, but when Billy Wilder kept shooting the scene over and over, the crowd of men kept on applauding and shouting, ‘More, more, Marilyn – let’s see more.” Joe became upset, especially when the director’s camera kept coming in, focusing only on my vagina. Luckily I had been wearing two pairs of panties, hoping no pubic hair would show through”, she confided to photojournalist George Barris. “The whistles and yelling from the male audience became too much for my husband. It was like a burlesque show. What was to be a fun scene turned into a sex scene, and Joe, angry as could be, turned to [columnist Walter] Winchell, shouting, ‘I’ve had it!’ And the two men took off”.5
The iconic skirt-blowing scene was later re-shot on a sound-stage back in Hollywood. The repercussions for Monroe were far more serious, “… that dress-flying (or sex) scene was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Joe admitted he still loved me but my being a movie star was too much for him to take any longer. He became impossible to live with. I guess at the time there was nothing to do but get divorced”.6 Nonetheless, DiMaggio dutifully accompanied his estranged wife to the première of The Seven Year Itch (1 June, 1955), and hosted a party for her afterwards, as it was also her birthday. DiMaggio re-entered Monroe’s life as her marriage to Miller was crumbling, and it was rumoured they might remarry. Her central dilemma was one still faced by many ambitious, high-profile and accomplished women today. “I wanted a husband, and my career. I guess no husband wants to live in the shadow of his wife’s fame. [Later] my marriage to Arthur Miller fell apart. No one wants to be known as ‘Mr. Marilyn Monroe’”.7
In the years since the film’s release, the subway scene has been the subject of various tributes and parodies: most recently as part of a series of commercials for ‘Snickers’ bars aired during the American Super Bowl. Simply titled Marilyn (BBDO New York, 2016), the commercial relies on the incongruous casting of actor Willem Dafoe as Monroe. With the tag-line, “America’s original sweetheart isn’t so sweet when she’s hungry”, an increasingly fractious Dafoe/Monroe is handed the chocolate bar by a crew member. “Miss Monroe, eat a ‘Snickers’, you get a little cranky when you’re hungry”, he chides, whereupon Dafoe is transformed back into the beloved star and completes the take. Character actor Eugene Levy plays the production assistant operating the fan under the grate who declares, “This thing will never make the cut … morons”.
Travilla won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Colour) for The Adventures of Don Juan (Vincent Sherman, 1948). He dressed Monroe for eight films at 20th Century Fox, from Don’t Bother To Knock (Roy Baker, 1952) to Bus Stop (Joshua Logan, 1956). She became his muse, and briefly his lover; he was her most trusted costume designer. Ten of Travilla’s ensembles and two of his costume sketches appear as part of Marilyn Monroe at Bendigo Art Gallery (until 10 July, 2016). Another of his ensembles for The Seven Year Itch is included, worn in the mock-commercial for ‘Dazzledent’ toothpaste ‘The Girl’ is seen filming. Sequinned pant suit and matching cloak (1955) is a lavish and rather impractical creation consisting of a deep plum-coloured body with a pink silk corset top extending into a sweeping train.
It is positioned next to one of the extravagant confections Travilla made for Monroe to wear in her previous film There’s No Business Like Show Business (Walter Lang, 1954), for which he was again nominated for the Oscar. Evening gown (1954), features tiny gold stars printed across Dupion silk with a tulle overlay, cut on the bias, and embellished with hand‐sewn tear-shaped crystals. An ombré effect on the ruched bodice ranges from cream to deep blue, terminating in a flamboyant sculptural element. Created with hundreds of starched, hand‐cut tulle petals covered in blue sequins, they follow the bias from just below the hip to the ankles.
The fetching Gold lamé gown (1953), made by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was intended for use in several scenes, but proved too much for the censors. It is seen only briefly from the back when ‘Dorothy Shaw’ (Jane Russell) sees ‘Lorelei Lee’ (Monroe) dancing with ‘Sir Francis Beekman’ (Charles Coburn). As with many productions, multiple copies were made: in this case there were three. One version had a belt and was used only in the production tests; one had a bow at the waist; and one has four small spheres at the waist. It is the latter which is displayed flat in a cabinet, and a replica on a mannequin nearby. The dress was created from one complete circle of a particular type of gold lamé (no longer available) and then sunburst‐pleated; it has two thin, inflexible iron wires in a v‐shape from the waist to the top of the bust, thereby moulding the bodice directly onto Monroe’s body. The fabric is incredibly fragile, and the dress was only intended to be worn for brief periods during filming; it has also been substantially altered over the years.
In 1979, Travilla recounted that, “… she succeeded in driving me absolutely mad over that dress! It was fine for the movie, but for real life it was way too sexy and flashy. Also, it was never completed as it didn’t even have a zipper”.8 For the wardrobe tests and during filming Monroe was sewn into it; she also wore the sphere version for a series of dazzling studio publicity photos. Monroe requested to wear the dress to the 1953 Photoplay awards at the Beverley Hills Hotel where she was to be named the ‘Fastest Rising Star of 1952’. Travilla was aghast, but Monroe went over his head to Darryl F. Zanuck whose instructions were to “unlock the dress and give her what she wants”. Travilla was unimpressed, but conceded, “That was the first and last time I tried to tell Marilyn what to do. She always knew best and when it came to her image she always got her way, with the public and the press”.9 In 1957 Jayne Mansfield (1933-67) wore the gown to the première of The Spirit of St. Louis (Billy Wilder, 1957), for which it had to be altered to contain her more generous bust, with the addition of four small cords to keep it in place.10
The silver lamé Evening gown (1953) was presumably intended by Travilla as a visual counterpoint to the more famous gold version. However, the scenes in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes during which Monroe wore the gown were eventually cut from the final print. Nonetheless, the dress received significant media coverage because Monroe borrowed it from the studio for other occasions, including a Los Angeles Herald-Examiner charity event held at the Shrine Auditorium (4 December, 1953), a benefit for the St. Jude Foundation, and to accept another Photoplay award, both in 1954. Just as gowns were returned to the studio wardrobe department, and sometimes repurposed for other films, stars often borrowed them for publicity pictures, awards shows, premières, and other events where they were expected to look their best.
Monroe’s close friend, the poet and novelist Norman Rosten (1913-95), elaborated, “As a young starlet, Marilyn couldn’t afford changes of clothes to go out on a date or to a dance, but that was never a problem. On call or off salary, the wardrobe department was there to help. Marilyn had the pick of the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department. True, the gowns were dated and mostly ill-fitting at the bosom. That never bothered her, it amused her”.11 An example of this corporate ‘recycling’ is a stunning yellow one-shouldered fringed Evening gown (1952) with elaborate beading by Charles Le Maire (1897-1985). It was originally made for The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Henry King, 1952), and worn by actress Hildegard Knef (1925-2002). It was then used for studio publicity photos of Monroe the following year.
Monroe refused to star in a film version of the Broadway musical The Girl in Pink Tights (1954) for which she was promptly suspended by 20th Century Fox; the film itself was abandoned. While on suspension, Monroe married DiMaggio (14 January, 1954) at San Francisco City Hall, and the widespread media coverage saw them swiftly anointed as America’s new glamour couple. They travelled to Japan ostensibly on their honeymoon, but DiMaggio had promotional commitments to fulfil, holding baseball clinics and coaching local teams. In Tokyo, the DiMaggios attended a cocktail party for high-ranking Army officers, and Monroe was asked if she would visit South Korea to entertain American troops.
A week after their arrival, Monroe flew out to perform at ten military bases (16-19 February). She received a rapturous, and sometimes near-riotous, response from an audience estimated to be over 100,000 servicemen. One of the first items in the Marilyn Monroe exhibition is the beaded aubergine Cocktail dress and matching bolero (1950s) by designer Elgee Bove that she wore to perform on make-shift stages at army bases. As the whirlwind tour was impromptu, the dress is from Monroe’s private wardrobe. She had worn it on numerous previous occasions, including to the Redbook Magazine Awards in 1953 where she was photographed with Dean Martin (1917-95) and Jerry Lewis, AM.
In the midst of Monroe’s triumph in Korea, and the resulting breathless news stories back in America, the hierarchy at 20th Century Fox realised that they had been outmanoeuvred by the star.
Naturally the studio tried to make her out to be an ungrateful spoilt child, but the charge did not stick. For one thing, the public knew that it was not the studio who had made Marilyn a star but they … Her singing, or sometimes her mere presence in a plunging cocktail dress in the freezing cold, drew frantic cheers from the happy GIs. How could the studio claim that she was difficult and hope to find sympathy when she was giving herself so freely and generously? No, the public knew that 20th Century Fox was the big bad wolf.12
If she had been in any doubt as to her popularity before, Monroe returned in triumph from Korea knowing the extent of ‘Monroemania’, and keenly aware of the impact her films had achieved in international markets. “I never felt like a star before in my heart. It was so wonderful to look down and see a fellow smiling at me”, she said of the experience.13 Rather than risk looking decidedly vindictive towards Monroe, the studio knew they needed to compromise. She only agreed to join the ensemble cast of the lacklustre Show Business after negotiating a pay rise, and receiving an assurance from Fox executives that she would be given The Seven Year Itch as her next project.
Australian Orry-(George) Kelly (1897-1964) would win the last of his three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design for Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959). Originally from Kiama, New South Wales, Kelly had aspirations to become an actor, but after travelling to New York he found employment as an illustrator and designing bespoke accessories. His murals and trompe l’œil paintings started appearing in clubs, speakeasies, and fashionable private homes. Kelly also found success as a stage designer before moving to Hollywood in 1932. There, he established himself as a costume designer for Warner Bros. until he was drafted in 1944. During that time he dressed many of the great female stars of the period, including Olivia de Havilland, Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, and particularly Bette Davis. Kelly worked with Davis on forty-two films: a decade after his death she reminisced, “Warner Bros., for me, without Orry-Kelly was as if I had lost my right arm. His contribution to my career was an enormous one. He never featured his clothes to such a degree that the performance was overshadowed.” 14
As a freelance designer, Kelly worked for most of the major studios in a career that spanned over thirty years and encompassed over 300 credits, from So Big! (William A. Wellman, 1932) to Irma la Douche (Billy Wilder, 1963). Kelly was the subject of the documentary Women He’s Undressed (Gillian Armstrong, 2015), which coincided with the publication of his long-lost memoir Women I’ve Undressed, and the exhibition Orry-Kelly: Dressing Hollywood at ACMI (2015). Kelly had actually lobbied for the job on Some Like It Hot, “armed with a dozen lifelike sketches of Marilyn Monroe in the 1928 period, I descended on the wily Puck-faced Billy Wilder”, he admitted.15 Perhaps taking a sly swipe at Travilla, Kelly wrote, “I had long admired Miss Monroe’s lovely face, her acting – but never her clothes”. He was pragmatic about his task, “I had been warned about Marilyn Monroe. She was difficult, she was always late, she was this and that. I have always felt if you give a star what is most becoming, even though the style may be new or foreign to her, with tact you can usually win out. Tact, that nice clean little four-letter word. What an important part it plays in the life of a dress designer”.16
Unfortunately, Kelly and Monroe had little rapport, and he found himself caught up in the turgid atmosphere of exasperation and spite that enveloped the troubled production.
At first I was fascinated with this girl, dusted with more stardust than anyone of her type since Jean Harlow. It’s strange how the camera changes a person; I’d always thought her to be small, but in real life she was what you call a big girl – big in more places than one. In fact, I was shocked when I first met her, and so was the press, because they all mentioned her added avoirdupois.
Even though she was playing a tarty part, I had no intention of dressing her in the usual Hollywood conception of that role … I explained to her about the great [French designer] Madeline Vionnet [1876-1975], my mentor, whose geometric bias cut allowed every line of the body to move. How much more flattering this slight ease is than the awful over-fitted look that made the average screen sex-pot look like a stuffed sausage. Miss Monroe was all in accord.17
But not for long. Actors Tony Curtis (1925-2010) as ‘Joe/Josephine’ and Jack Lemmon (1925-2001) as ‘Jerry/Daphne’ play two Chicago musicians who inadvertently witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. They disguise themselves as women and join the all-female band the Society Syncopators to evade the mafia gangster ‘Spats Colombo’ (George Raft, 1901-80). The two travel on a train to Florida with the rest of the troupe, including singer and ukulele-player ‘Sugar Kane Kowalczyk’ (Monroe). Kelly faced the unusual challenge of how to costume two cross-dressing actors, a taboo topic in film at that time. Kelly had used satin-back crêpe for Monroe’s dresses to even out how her figure would look in comparison with the two men. His attention to detail brought him into conflict with the insecure actress who worried that Sugar was merely a foil, and fretted that she was being upstaged by Curtis and Lemmon. As Kelly noted, “There was tension during the many fittings. Depending on her mood she was nice, not so nice, nasty”.18 Curtis describes one such incident,
Then Orry-Kelly went to Marilyn’s trailer. She was waiting … When Orry-Kelly went in, she stood up. She was wearing a white blouse, panties, and three-inch heels. Orry-Kelly said hello, and then he took measurements here and there: 37, 24. When he had his tape measure across her hips, he kind of chuckled, “Tony has a better-looking ass than you do”. Marilyn turned around, opened her blouse, and said, “He doesn’t have tits like these”.
… She kind of wore out her welcome with Orry-Kelly. After he’d gotten the gowns made, not only for Marilyn, but also for me and Jack, they were rolled to the stage on racks so that we could shoot wardrobe tests. Well, Marilyn was walking by the racks and she got curious. A little while later, Jack came to my dressing room. He looked upset. “Tony”, he said. “You’re not gonna believe this”, “What?”, “Marilyn took my dress”, “Whaddya mean she took your dress?”, “She stole it. The black one Orry-Kelly made for me. She saw it on the rack and said to the wardrobe mistress, ‘Ooh, this looks nice. Let me try it on, huh?’ And she decided she had to have it. Orry-Kelly came screaming to me. ‘She took your dress! The bitch has pinched your dress!’ And they’re going to let her get away with it!” 19
Kelly was unimpressed by Monroe’s attention-seeking antics; her rudeness and disrespect rankled. He had dressed many a temperamental actress in his career, many of whom Kelly clearly regarded as superior to Monroe. Following a dispute over demands made by Jane Wyman (1917-2007) on The Doughgirls (James V. Kern, 1944), Kelly was summoned to see studio head Jack Warner. “I think the story had gotten around Hollywood that I was a fighting dressmaker. While I have little muscle, an Aussie can kick like a mule”, he quipped.20 The wardrobe comparison tests for the lead actors in drag, and Monroe, seemed to agitate her. When she was admonished by Wilder for being three hours late to the set, Monroe tried to blame Kelly.
She flushed immediately. Temper, not temperament, took over. She pointed her finger at me and started babbling, ‘He said boys’ arses are smaller than girls’ arses and he said that Tony Curtis’ arse was smaller than mine, and I told that one’ – pointing at me – ‘that some people like girls’ arses and some people like -’ I didn’t let her get any further with her bad taste, bad language and bad act. I hadn’t been on the boards myself for nothing. I could be just as cornball as she. I went into my act. ‘Just a moment, Miss Monroe’, I asked, ‘are you pointing at me? As a child my mother told me one never points except at French pastry’… The lesson on pointing over, I took up the subject of bottoms. I told her the only interest I had in that department was in trying to make her overly large one more attractive.21
Kelly designed two sheer cocktail dresses that relied on heavy outline embroidery, which created the illusion that Monroe was only partially clothed. One was worn for the performance of “I’m Through with Love” atop a piano. As author David Chierichetti relates, “Made of nude soufflé draped on the bias to lift her breasts and push her tummy in, and covered with jet and crystal beads, it was so slightly beaded over her breasts that her nipples were not covered and Billy Wilder had to light her with a single spot that left that area strategically in darkness. Marilyn Monroe wanted to make her other clothes more revealing, but Kelly argued it was wrong for the character. ‘Sugar Kane is the kind of girl who will go so far and no further’”, he pronounced.22 Featuring black beaded appliqués of butterflies on the skirt, and one on the right shoulder, the dress was later worn by actress Barbara Nichols (1928-76) to play entertainer and night-club impresario Mary ‘Texas’ Guinan (1884-1933) in The George Raft Story (Joseph M. Newman, 1961). This would have pleased Kelly who knew Guinan in New York where he created the scenery and costumes for her stage show Padlocks of 1927.23
The English former banker and music promoter David Gainsborough-Roberts has assembled the largest privately owned collection of Monroe costumes and clothing in the world: nearly sixty pieces. He started collecting Monroe memorabilia in 1988, and nominates the black Orry-Kelly dress as his favourite item. “I am a born collector and have always been interested in Hollywood movie stars, the most iconic of them all being Marilyn. So it is only natural that she was at the top of my list and has remained there for more than thirty years”, Gainsborough-Roberts explains. “She has all the ingredients that make a superstar; glamour, sex appeal, gorgeous looks, tragedy, and sadly a premature death”. He has decided to auction his collection in November this year, “It’s time to share it with the world, and what better time than in Marilyn’s 90th birthday year. [But] I will always keep a very special place [in my heart] for Marilyn”.24 Highlights from the Gainsborough-Roberts collection are included in the touring exhibition Marilyn Monroe: The Legacy of A Legend, currently at the Museum of Style Icons (MOSI) in County Kildare, Éire (until 25 July, 2016).
Kelly’s other nude soufflé dress from the film appeared in the ACMI showing of Hollywood Costume, but is more advantageously displayed in the round at Bendigo Art Gallery. In cappuccino shades, with silver and white sequins and beaded floral appliqués, it features a red beaded heart-shaped cut‐out over the left buttock, resembling a tattoo. Monroe wears this Cocktail dress (1959) to perform “I Wanna Be Loved By You” with the Society Syncopators, and for a scene afterwards on the (borrowed) yacht of the (fictitious) millionaire ‘Mr. Shell Oil, Jr.’, a persona Joe adopts in order to woo Sugar. In these scenes the dress is accessorised with a White stole (1959) of goose down. Many years later, Curtis could still remember the impact the dress made, “This was the first time I saw Marilyn wearing the white beaded gown that Orry-Kelly had designed for her. One word: wow”.25
The doleful atmosphere and ill-feeling that had so marred the production of The Prince and the Showgirl (Lord Laurence Olivier, 1957), became even more pronounced during Some Like It Hot. Monroe’s volatile, drug-addled and overwrought behaviour, her chronic lateness, and inability to concentrate alienated her co-stars. Wilder and Monroe, whose relationship during The Seven Year Itch had been cordial enough, entered into a war of attrition as he grappled with the exigencies of a film that was fast hurtling over budget owing to the numerous delays and lost shooting time caused by Monroe’s personal turmoil. Production had commenced without a completed script as Wilder, and co-writer I.A.L. ‘Izzy’ Diamond (1920-88), had yet to resolve certain plot-points, including the ending. The filming delays ate into their time to review footage and assess whether scenes needed to be adjusted, or re-written; this freewheeling approach to the script did not suit Monroe, who struggled with her lines at the best of times.
Wilder and Axelrod had been forced by the Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code) to remove whole sections from the shooting script for The Seven Year Itch, and trim scenes deemed too suggestive. The content of Some Like It Hot was just as potentially controversial; subverting fixed gender roles, and explicitly linking rigid ideas of masculinity with violence. The writing team were concerned as to how the film would be received, and needed to convey the film’s premise deftly. “Billy was on the set every day from seven thirty in the morning to seven thirty at night, and Izzy was there, too, from this point on they were writing in the evening”, Curtis recalled. “There was a reason: the newness of what we were doing. It was unchartered territory. An entire picture with guys in drag. The writing had to be flexible, adaptable. The project would be evolving as we filmed it, so Billy and Izzy needed evening sessions to work things out”.26
Kelly gives another example of the on-set difficulties,
I was to have one more example of her tantrums. In the train sequence she was to wear a black chiffon undergarment. Miss Monroe insisted on wearing nothing under the chiffon… When Billy Wilder tested her on the step ladder her turned to me: ‘Are you kidding? We’ll never get that past the censors’.
I added more lace where it was needed and sent the teddies to her dressing room. Then she sent for me. I got it again, only this time she went into a rage. Her lovely blush pink blued. For once I didn’t open my mouth – she didn’t give me a chance with her blankety blank blanks. I had hit her most vulnerable spot. For the first time I realised this thirty-three year-old woman was a complete exhibitionist.27
There is a scene on the beach outside the Hotel del Coronado between Sugar and Daphne that could have been scripted by Kelly himself. “There’s one thing I envy you for”, says Sugar. “What’s that?”, asks Daphne. “You’re so flat-chested. Clothes hang better on you than they do on me”.
As one of Hollywood’s great auteurs, Wilder could be sardonic and demanding, but he did not lack for perception, and realised what Monroe could bring to the film. His forbearance was further tested by the ubiquitous presence on set of Paula Strasberg, which seemed to do little to ameliorate Monroe’s incapacitating anxiety. Curtis sympathised with Wilder’s position,
He’d put Paula in her place. And it stopped her cold … Billy had fixed her. Can you blame him? He’d co-written the script. He was the director, not some poseur. He’d staked his turf. After that, Marilyn decided it made more sense to play by his rules. And Paula stayed out of his way. Billy Wilder was not someone to trifle with. He was brilliant, and he had the ego to go with it. Unlike a lot of artists, he was also a businessman. He knew which end was up.28
By the eleventh week of production Wilder was suffering from crippling back pain and had to be medicated; by the fourteenth week it was stress-related nausea. One scene, where Monroe has to rifle through a drawer and deliver the line, “Where’s that Bourbon?”, infamously took eighty-one takes.29 “Our nice sane budget was going up like a rocket. Our cast relations were a shambles. I was on the verge of a breakdown. She was no longer just difficult. She was impossible”, bemoaned Wilder.30
The marital dynamic between Monroe and Arthur Miller was disintegrating, and his intermittent presence on set did little to settle her. Wilder later asserted, “There were days I could have strangled Marilyn. There were wonderful days too, when we all knew she was brilliant. But with Arthur Miller it all seemed sour. In meeting him, I at last met someone who resented Marilyn more than I did”.31 Curtis and Monroe had met in 1950 on the Universal lot when they were both contract players working their way up in the studio system. He was adamant they had a brief affair at that time, although Monroe denied it.32 As if to further complicate matters, Curtis claimed they rekindled the relationship in the sixth week of shooting Some Like It Hot, at Monroe’s invitation.33 Monroe had struggled with her fertility for many years, enduring three successive miscarriages (1956-58), but she conceived again late in the production. Curtis lost his temper with Monroe on take thirty-eight of one of the yacht scenes, which escalated into a shoving match with Miller. The parties retreated to their respective dressing rooms, and publicist Arthur P. Jacobs was sent to mediate. According to Curtis, when he went to apologise Miller confronted him about the recent assignation with Monroe, who then shocked Curtis, and further angered Miller, by suggesting that Curtis might be the father.34
The filming ended amidst tit-for-tat barbs traded in the media. By mid-December, 1958 Monroe had miscarried, leading to a series of accusatory telegrams between Miller and Wilder. Despite Monroe’s dire medical history, drug dependence, alcohol abuse, insomnia, and depression, it was Wilder whom Miller chose to blame for ‘overworking’ his wife, despite some eighteen lost days of filming.35 It was a bitter irony that the film, widely regarded as one of the greatest comedies ever made, had turned into an ordeal for the major players through some seventy-three days of shooting. Some Like It Hot benefitted from the steady hand and experience of editor Arthur P. Schmidt (1912-65) for its coherence, as he struggled to find useable takes and piece together material from Monroe’s inconsistent performance, which adversely affected continuity. Nonetheless, the film won three Golden Globe Awards in the Comedy or Musical category; Best Motion Picture, Best Actor (Lemmon), and Monroe for Best Actress. Nonetheless, she was disappointed to once again be snubbed at the Academy Awards, where the film received six nominations.
Fifty years later, Curtis’ feelings about Monroe remained unresolved,
She was constantly being pushed or pulled by somebody. She wasn’t strong enough to stand alone. After a childhood without a mother or a father, how could she? Marilyn was not unintelligent. She was bright, perceptive, and insightful- but only about other people. When it came to herself, or to issues relating to herself, she didn’t have a clue. She needed constant reassurance.
She had a lot of guys scratching at her, trying to use her. She was the most important star in movies, but she didn’t really understand that. She had so much power. She could have used it in so many ways, become so great. She was hated by a lot of people, certainly by the press…what they resented was her power… if only she’d used her power to bolster her self-confidence. But she didn’t. Even as she was turning in this miraculous performance, she was losing her sense of self. And things started to go wrong.36
Curtis was correct in recognising that Monroe seemed to rely on a changing cast of surrogates throughout her life, echoing the patchwork of relationships from her childhood. The influence wielded by Lee and Paula Strasberg loomed large in Monroe’s later years. Many people associated with Monroe thought that her dependence on them was counter-productive, destructive even. Wilder contended, “I’m not convinced Marilyn needed training. God gave her everything. Before going to the Actor’s Studio she was like a tightrope walker who doesn’t know there was a pit she could fall into. After the Strasbergs got to her, she thought of nothing but the pit”.37 Curtis was aware of the industry speculation about the Strasbergs during Some Like It Hot,
I heard that Strasberg was exploiting Marilyn. She was desperate to get out of the dumb blonde mould. Strasberg played on her desperation, telling her no one understood how intelligent she was. But he did. Oh, yeah. And it cost her. She became dependent on him and his wife, Paula. They were the ones who told her she had to see a psychiatrist – and they supplied the psychiatrist. Miller despised them, but he put up with them. In his own way he was manipulating Marilyn, too … She was spending a fortune on psychiatrists and underwriting Lee Strasberg’s entire operation.38
Monroe was fired from her final film Something’s Got To Give (George Cukor, 1962) by 20th Century Fox in early June, 1962. Monroe left her representatives to negotiate her way out of the set-back, while she mounted a positive media campaign in major magazines. Photographer Bert Stern (1929-2013) conducted three photo sessions with Monroe between 23 June and 12 July, 1962 intended for American Vogue. As these studio portraits took place only six weeks before Monroe’s death, they became known as The Last Sitting, two frames from which appear at Bendigo. The semi-nude colour images of Monroe toying with chiffon scarves, a feather boa, and a bead necklace, contrasted with the more austere black-and-white ‘high fashion’ shots of her wearing a black velvet dress. In these images, as with George Barris’ shots taken at Santa Monica beach during this time, there is a new element of refinement and simplicity in Monroe’s relationship to the camera, an almost eerie knowingness. As Jeannie Sakol observed,
In the last weeks of her life, she never looked more exquisitely, ethereally beautiful- almost other-worldly, as if the transition from life had subtly begun. The contours of her face were delicately honed, her body slim and lean in a last-stand contradiction of nature. … Photographs of her in 1962 were shot in colour but she is shades of pale, her skin like ivory satin, as if her life blood were slowly drying up, leaving behind an eggshell façade doomed to crack.39
Following Monroe’s divorce from Miller in 1961, her new lawyer Aaron Frosch, drew up a revised will in which Monroe left the bulk of her estate to Lee Strasberg. Frosch was also Paula Strasberg’s lawyer; the suggestion that he colluded with the Strasbergs to obtain this bequest has persisted in the years since Monroe’s death.40 Inez Melson acted as Monroe’s business manager, and also assumed responsibility for the ongoing care of Gladys Mortensen, Monroe’s mentally ill mother. Melson had been recommended to Monroe by DiMaggio: she believed undue pressure had been placed on Monroe to comply with the terms of the document. “From the signing of this will until her death, Marilyn complained about it to anyone who would listen, and she had an appointment with Milton Rudin [a Hollywood lawyer who acted as Monroe’s agent] to change it the Monday after she died. Did she want to remove Lee Strasberg as her major beneficiary? Was the problem the bequest to [Dr.] Marianne Kris [her psychiatrist], who committed her to a New York mental hospital several weeks after the will was signed? Exactly why Marilyn disliked the will so much is unknown”.41
Sidney Skolsky (1905-83), the influential columnist and Monroe’s close friend, spoke to her during the morning of the day she died (4 August, 1962). According to his daughter Steffi Sidney-Splaver (1935-2010), who was privy to many private matters Skolsky discussed with Monroe, the matter of the will came up during their conversation; Monroe said she intended to remove Strasberg as the beneficiary.42 In spite of her apparent change of mind, the will she ostensibly objected to was still in place. Most of Monroe’s possessions went to Strasberg, on the understanding that he would distribute her personal effects, “among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted”.43 What became of Monroe’s chattels is a story of intrigue, duplicity and avarice worthy of its own screenplay. In death, as in life, the urge to control and dominate Monroe proved just as strong.
NEXT ISSUE: Extend your Moment With Marilyn one last time as the story concludes (August 2016)
Marilyn Monroe, Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, Bendigo (VIC), until 10 July 2016 – bendigoartgallery.com.au | Forever Marilyn, Rosalind Park cnr View Street & Pall Mall Bendigo (VIC) until 10 July 2016. Artist site – sewardjohnsonatelier.org | Marilyn Monroe: The Legacy of a Legend, The Museum of Style Icons (MOSI), Newbridge Silverware Visitor Centre, Athgarvan Road Newbridge, County Kildare, Éire – newbridgesilverware.com For touring dates see – juliensauctions.com | The touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating An American Icon, is due to be staged next at The Citadelle Art Foundation (16 September-18 November, 2016), 520 Nelson Avenue, Canadian, Texas, USA – thecitadelle.org | Official web-site of the Estate of Marilyn Monroe – marilynmonroe.com
1 George Barris, Marilyn: Her Life In Her Own Words- Marilyn Monroe’s Revealing Last Words and Photographs, Birch Lane Press, New York, 1995, p.137-38. | 2 Andrew Hansford & Karen Homer, Dressing Marilyn: How A Hollywood Icon Was Styled By William Travilla, Applause Cinema & Cinema Books, Milwaukee, 2011, p.110 | 3 At the time it was sold in three instalments at Profiles In History (18 June & 3 December, 2011, 17-18 May, 2014), Reynolds’ collection included 3,500 costumes, 20,000 original photographs, several thousand original movie posters, original costume sketches and hundreds of props. The white Travilla dress (Lot 354) sold for USD $4.6 million in 2011. Debbie Reynolds, “Actress and Collector”, in Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Ed.), Hollywood Costume, V&A Publishing, London, p.237-240. | 4 Henry-Jean Servat in Paris Match, N° 2779, 29 August, 2002, quoted in Andrew Hansford & Karen Homer, op cit, p.114-15. | 5 George Barris, op cit, p.113. | 6 Ibid, p.114. | 7 Ibid, p.117. | 8 Andrew Hansford & Karen Homer, op cit, p.63. | 9 Ibid. | 10 Christopher Nickens & George Zeno, Marilyn In Fashion: The Enduring Influence of Marilyn Monroe, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2012, p.155. | 11 Sam Shaw & Norman Rosten, Marilyn: Among Friends, Bloomsbury, London, (1987) 1989, p.22. | 12 David Robinson in John Kobal (Ed.), Marilyn Monroe, Hamlyn, London (1974) 1988, p.95. | 13 Christopher Nickens & George Zeno, op cit, p.36. | 14 Whitney Stine & Bette Davis, Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis; With a Running Commentary by Bette Davis, Hawthorn Books, New York, 1974, p.181-82. | 15 Orry George Kelly, Women I’ve Undressed: A Memoir, Ebury Press, North Sydney, 2015, p.400. | 16 Ibid. | 17 Ibid. | 18 Ibid, p.405. | 19 Tony Curtis & Mark A. Vieira, Some Like It Hot: Me, Marilyn and the Movie, Virgin Books, London, 2009, p.68. | 20 Orry George Kelly, op cit, p.268. | 21 Ibid, p.405-06. | 22 David Chierichetti, Hollywood Costume Design, Studio Vista, London, 1976, p.90. & Tony Curtis & Mark A. Vieira, op cit, p.175-76. | 23 Orry George Kelly, op cit, p.95-96. | 24 Donald Liebenson, “There’s Something about Marilyn! Monroe Collection Could Fetch $3 Million at Auction”, Millionaire Corner, 14 June, 2016. [online] | 25 Tony Curtis & Mark A. Vieira, op cit, p.140. | 26 Ibid, p.79-80. | 27 Orry George Kelly, op cit, p.406. Tony Curtis and Billy Wilder were pallbearers at Kelly’s funeral in 1964. | 28 Tony Curtis & Mark A. Vieira, op cit, p.77-78. | 29 Ibid, p.165-67. | 30 Ibid, p.168. | 31 Ibid, p.139-40. | 32 Lois Banner, Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, Bloomsbury, London, 2012, p.326. | 33 Tony Curtis & Mark A. Vieira, op cit, p.36-37, 121-22. | 34 Ibid, p.183-86. |35 Tony Curtis & Mark A. Vieira, op cit, p.204-06 & Lois Banner, op cit, p.329. | 36 Tony Curtis & Mark A. Vieira, op cit, p.39, 122. | 37 Ibid, p.163. | 38 Ibid, p.39, 70. | 39 Joseph Jasgur & Jeannie Sakol, The Birth of Marilyn: The Lost Photographs of Norma Jean By Joseph Jasgur, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1991, p.34. | 40 Lois Banner & Mark Anderson, MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe, Abrams, New York, 2011, p.315-16 & Lois Banner, op cit, p.361. | 41 Lois Banner & Mark Anderson, op cit, p.315. | 42 Lois Banner, op cit, p.410. | 43 Sam Kashner, “The Things She Left Behind”, Vanity Fair [US], October, 2008, p.324.