When film director Billy Wilder was asked about his working relationship with the notoriously unstable Marilyn Monroe, he replied: “I have an Aunt Ida who lives in Vienna. She’s on time for everything. Her memory is good, so she could learn lines. But I would never think of casting her in a movie. Who would pay a dollar to see my Aunt Ida? Marilyn was a complicated woman…but there was only one Marilyn Monroe.”
Although he described Monroe’s erratic behavior as a “nightmare,” Wilder felt that her camera presence was undeniably unique. “No matter how much you suffered, when you saw the rushes — you cannot see it with the naked eye on the set — it was just like night and day. It looks like nothing, and then when it goes on the screen, it all comes out in neon lights. It’s fantastic how celluloid loved Monroe.”
Wilder directed her in “The Seven Year Itch” and “Some Like It Hot” before throwing in the towel. “Hot” particularly tested Wilder’s patience. In addition to the wasted hours which accumulated because Monroe would not leave her dressing quarters (either paralyzed by stage fright and/or drug use), her memory problems with even simple lines became overwhelmingly vexatious. There was one scene where she had a short sentence — “it’s me, Sugar” — that required eighty three takes because she continually reversed the words. Wilder declared that his doctor and his psychiatrist told him he was too old and too rich to work with Monroe again.
Howard Hawks was another legendary director who was driven to distraction by Monroe’s chronic problems. But, like Wilder, he recognized the magic on film.
“When you said, ‘all right, camera,’ something happened, she became attractive to millions of people, the camera liked her,” Hawks remarked.
The comments of these two esteemed directors, professionals who did a great deal to further Monroe’s career, reflected the Faustian bargain Hollywood had with the epochal star.
In today’s adjusted figures, Monroe’s films grossed well over two billion dollars. Her name on the bill guaranteed public attention, even if the product was malodorous. The American Film Institute named her the sixth greatest female screen legend ever.
The anniversary of her death, August 4, 1962 at the age of 36, always prompts media attention and this year is no different.
Most stories resurrect the curious circumstances of her passing –although deputy coroner Thomas Noguchi ruled it a probable suicide, many have suspected murder. A follow up investigation in 1982 concluded that there was no foul play — but speculation continues and is not likely to diminish.
Another story about Monroe’s passing which is regularly revivified in the media concerns the final film she made, “The Misfits.” Directed by John Huston, the moviemaker probably most sympathetic to Monroe’s chaotic approach to work, “Misfits” was a troubled shoot from the start — filmed in one hundred degree temperatures in Nevada in 1960, the off stage drama included much heavy drinking, prescription drug abuse, Monroe’s failing marriage to writer Arthur Miller and pressure from the studio because of soaring budget issues.
But it is the spell of death, multiple deaths all at fairly young ages, that is most remembered about “Misfits.” Clark Gable (age 59) was gone less than two weeks after the conclusion of filming, western star turned politician, Rex Bell (age 58), was taken eight months later, and Monroe gone a month after that — Montgomery Clift continued to live for five more years, but his last words were “absolutely not,” when asked if he wanted to watch a late night rerun of “Misfits.” He was only 45.
Abe.com, one of the best websites dedicated to antiquarian book sales, recently posted a story about a little known aspect of Monroe’s character that has nothing to do with her movie career or the controversies surrounding her death. She was apparently an avid reader — at the time of her passing, she had a book collection that numbered more than 400 titles.
And the books in her possession were not in keeping with her movie persona. These are some heavy duty works that would challenge the average reader.
Authors represented included Albert Camus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Bernard Malamud and Sigmund Freud.
Throughout her life, Monroe would pose for pictures reading an intellectual book — it was generally assumed that these photos were composed for satiric purposes. Her personal library suggests otherwise.
The Abe.com story provides contact information for the Pinup Book Club, a community dedicated to reading the books Monroe owned.
Although she had a short life and, comparatively speaking, a short film career, Marilyn Monroe’s bumpy legacy endures. She is entombed in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles; her crypt is among the most visited in the cemetery.
RIP, Marilyn Monroe.