WEIRDLAND

Saturday, October 01, 2022

"Blonde" by Dominik: A Cynical View of the Hollywood Studio System

Farran Smith Nehme—Some thoughts about Blonde: I relished the aspect-ratio shifts and the switching between black-and-white and color. Our memories of Marilyn have just such shifts, from widescreen Technicolor to intimate black-and-white snapshots, and that’s plenty enough justification. Blonde appears bold and creative after years of mustard-and-beige digital. I do love an iris shot. Other things I liked: Lily Fisher, the exquisite child actress who plays young Norma; a scene between a cop (Michael Drayer) and Julianne Nicholson as Norma’s mentally ill mother; Adrien Brody as Arthur Miller, balancing his empathy towards Marilyn and his bewilderment about his wife's mood changes; Toby Huss as Marilyn’s faithful makeup man Whitey, a warm and unaffected take on a relationship that I think could have been better developed. Now for the bad news. Dominik claims his film isn’t anti-abortion. He says Marilyn is “seeing her own fears and desires projected onto the world around her… and I think sort of this desire to look at Blonde through this Roe v. Wade lens is everybody else doing the same thing. They’ve got a certain agenda where they feel like the freedoms of women are being compromised, and they look at Blonde and they see a demon, but it’s not really about that.” 

No, this will not do. I can’t accept that an artist and a person of intelligence, and I presume Dominik is both those things, makes these scenes and believes we see an anti-abortion message because “it’s difficult for people to be able to hold two things in their mind at once.” I don’t know his personal politics, but I do know what this movie is saying, and it says it throughout. Exhibit A is the reproachful talking fetus, which reminded me of the Doonesbury strip where a 12-minute-old embryo’s final words are reported as “Repeal Roe v. Wade.” That cartoon was one of six that Garry Trudeau drew to mock 1984’s propaganda short The Silent Scream. Incredibly, Blonde goes one better than the short by giving its fetus character—both times from a pregnancy so early it hasn’t changed Marilyn’s waistline yet—a newborn’s sweet little face. Pregnant Marilyn tells her mother she’s so grateful she wasn’t aborted: “You did the right thing.” Fictional letters to Marilyn from the “daddy” who abandoned her are read over the action, and we’re probably meant to think they exist only in Marilyn’s head. Maybe that’s why the letters’ narrator has the same exact accent and intonation as Paul Roebling, the voice of Sullivan Ballou from Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War.  

I’d prefer to think that was some kind of grim joke, but Blonde is anti-joke, in the sense of antimatter or an antihistamine. And there’s more, like Disembodied Daddy Sullivan Ballou talking to Marilyn after a miscarriage, offering philosophical thoughts about “the death of an unborn soul” and how its “innocence is unsullied.” What’s most infuriating is that there’s no solid evidence, save hearsay from friends, that Marilyn Monroe even had an abortion. We do know she had three miscarriages, but I guess losing a wanted baby three times—once to a painful ectopic pregnancy that required emergency surgery—isn’t tragic enough. The script also goes out of its freaky way to connect Marilyn’s single on-screen miscarriage to her prior abortion. Her pregnancy loss comes after a chat with the fetus that could have been scripted by Randall Terry: “You won’t hurt me this time, will you? You won’t do what you did last time?” “I didn’t mean to.” “Yes, you meant to. It was your decision.” Do you got that? It was just her personal decision. 

Sure, Mr. Dominik, anything you’re saying here must all be in my head, just like it was in Marilyn’s. How dare anyone make a big deal out of an everyday reincarnated talking fetus with a grudge? This crap alone put me in a “fuck you” frame of mind. Yeah yeah, Blonde isn’t a biopic, it’s based on a fictionalized novel. Yet it’s still reductive as hell. Marilyn’s psychic pain in Blonde is part daddy issues and maternal abandonment, but to a far greater degree, it’s guilt over having an abortion. Really? My response to Dominik’s response is, either he’s lying, or, more possibly, he’s lying. Just my little old opinion. In Blonde many characters are mean to Marilyn. That includes people who were probably kind to her in real life, such as Charlie “Cass” Chaplin Jr., safely dead at 42 so he can’t see himself jammed into a threesome with Marilyn and Edward G. “Manny” Robinson Jr., who died in 1974 at age 40 due to years of alcoholism. Cass Chaplin Jr and Manny Robinson were deeply troubled guys, but deserving of some sympathy, in my opinion. As conceived by Blonde, both Juniors are affected, sneering gigolos. DiMaggio is shown as a scary abusive husband. How do you explain that Marilyn kept a friendly relationship with DiMaggio throughout her life? It's a mystery for Dominik, I guess.

The actual Cass Chaplin Jr and Edward Manny G Robinson stayed friendly with Marilyn, as did many of her ex-lovers, and they continued to regard her with plenty of affection. But that isn’t a pattern that interests Dominik, any more than he gives a damn about Marilyn’s deep capacity for friendship. It’s a director’s prerogative, even their duty, to jettison or change anything that’s going to qualify what they are trying to say. But this film critic finds it enraging that so many recent sagas of bygone Hollywood turn a decent, even tragic person into a creep because it helps some thesis about how much the studio system sucked. Dominik is far from the only offender; Ryan Murphy, I’m looking at you. I agree with most of reviews that criticize the way the film ignores Monroe’s talent. The only moments when Blonde suggests—quite unintentionally, I believe—that Marilyn Monroe was a unique artist are the Deepfake insertions of Ana de Armas into Marilyn’s movies. Every last one of those scenes proves Monroe had something de Armas can’t actually reproduce. 

De Armas is talented, that’s not the issue. If Monroe’s gifts were easy to replicate, we wouldn’t be obsessed with her sixty years after her death. But Blonde can’t have it both ways, and hammer at how the split between Norma Jeane Baker and Marilyn Monroe is essential to understanding her, then suggest, as it does when Marilyn auditions for Don’t Bother to Knock and performs in Some Like It Hot, that her best work might not have been acting at all. This is a question not of biographical accuracy, but simple consistency. What I haven’t seen discussed as much is the disdain, indeed the contempt that Dominik shows for the entire Hollywood studio system. Nobody’s on the lot to do much of anything except sponge off stars, roughing starlets, and rake in money. Almost nothing they make is worth making for Dominik. Take the scene where Marilyn watches “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” at the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes premiere. In real life, that number was a career peak not only for her, but also for choreographer (and director for the scene) Jack Cole, cinematographer Harry J. Wild, costume designer Travilla, and composer Jule Styne and lyricist Leo Robin. Here, cynically it’s almost blown off as a kitsch joke. 

Or maybe the view of the public is the worst, it’s hard to choose. I became fascinated with the fact that the slavering crowds that surround and oppress Dominik’s Marilyn are all men. By which I mean only men, middle-aged and ugly in their historically correct attire, giving the bizarre impression that 1950s Los Angeles and New York were as gender-segregated as Riyadh. Dominik’s showing what he thinks of the work of Marilyn and the studios—it was pandering to squalid male fantasies. The millions of women who loved Marilyn and sustain her fame to this day, well, for the purposes of Blonde, we don’t exist. Marilyn’s women friends like Shelley Winters, Susan Strasberg and Pat Newcomb, they also don’t exist. Hell, even acting coaches Natasha Lytess and Paula Strasberg don’t exist. Again, this is Dominik’s right as a director, to remove all female support and love from his unidimensional Marilyn character. It’s also a choice that becomes more disturbing the longer the movie goes on. 

I’m a little less enamored of de Armas' performance than some other critics, though. The script pushes de Armas into playing the same notes over and over: wistful sadness, fear, insecurity; insecurity, fear, wistful sadness. She does get about seven minutes of screen time being happy with Arthur Miller, and it’s glorious. Then it’s over, and de Armas will mix in notes of drug-addled stupor, which recur until the end. Her Marilyn is obviously the product of intense study and effort. It’s a shame that work was put into a character that’s as repetitive as a music box. Please, I can’t even with the JFK blowjob. I have my limits. I know Norman Mailer is dead, but he has a lot to answer for, as well as a long list of Kennedys' professional haters. You may also have noticed that I haven’t brought up Blonde, the Joyce Carol Oates novel. That’s because I haven’t read it and I don’t intend to. Obviously something disturbing in it spoke to Dominik. I don’t know what that was, and I don't want to guess. As Martin Amis said about Gore Vidal, life is too short. As Vidal said, the saddest words in English are Joyce Carol Oates. On a thematic basis, I don’t get why this film exists. It’s like an artfully shot Billie Holiday movie from someone who’s tone-deaf and believes the Harrison Act was a great idea. Source: selfstyledsiren.substack.com

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

"Blonde" by Dominik, "Blonde" by Oates


Andrew Dominik: I wasn’t that interested in Oates's Blonde when I first read it. But there was a story I was interested in telling, which is about how childhood drama shapes an adult’s perception of the world, and I could sort of see that within Blonde. My original idea was to do that for a serial killer, but when I read Blonde I thought, well, I could do this with an actress and it should be slightly more sympathetic. There’s over a thousand books written about Marilyn, and I haven’t read a thousand, but I’ve read all of the big hits. I’ve read all the biographies of all the other people that were in her life too so I’m aware of what they think happened in most of the situations in her life. 

And I’m aware of how that’s different to the book Blonde. I did all that research and I used very little of it in the movie. Blonde the book was pretty much the bible for the film. I know the ways in which this film is different from what people agree it happened. Not that everyone’s sure. So it’s all fiction anyway, in my opinion. Zanuck [studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck] never liked her, never knew what to do with her, so she very much did self-actualize, which we don’t show in the film. OK, she wrested control away from the men at the studio, because, you know, women are just as powerful as men. But that’s really looking at it through a lens that’s not so interesting to me. I’m not interested in reality, I’m interested in the images. I’m more interested in what her emotional life was like. Marilyn represents a kind of rescue fantasy. And the film is no different. The film is a rescue fantasy. We feel we have a special intimacy with her. That’s the attraction to Marilyn, that feeling that we’re the only ones who understand her. That we could have saved her somehow. And maybe the flipside of that is a punishment fantasy, or a sexual fantasy. But it’s just a movie about Marilyn Monroe. And there are going to be more movies about Marilyn Monroe. Source: deadline.com

There is zero historical evidence of any of these vicious misdeeds we see in Blonde (specially those related to Zanuck's sexual assault, DiMaggio's abuse, or JFK taking sexual advantage of Marilyn Monroe) actually happening, which makes the non-stop grief seem needlessly punishing, both for her and us. Not to mention uncomfortably exploitative. There’s so much anguish, we eventually become numb to it over the nearly three-hour film. We come to know her only as a victim, not a fleshed-out person. Is that take enlightening? Not at all. Entertaining? Not really. Where Dominik struggles with Blonde is the specific dissection of the female mind. While perhaps not purposefully misogynistic, the Freudian nature of Norma Jeane’s desires feels ripped from a film student’s essay. A narrow script and chaotic filmmaking reduce an American Icon to an empty image of darkened glamour. Dominik simply doubles down on his myopic vision of a woman who, perhaps more than we’ll ever know, contained multitudes. Heed the Motion Picture Association’s advice. Most audiences (if they know something about the real Marilyn Monroe) will not enjoy this film, if they make it to the end. Source: www.austinchronicle.com 

"A lush-bodied girl in the prime of her physical beauty. In an ivory georgette crepe sundress with a halter top that gathers her breasts up in soft undulating folds of the fabric. She's standing with bare legs apart on a New York subway grating. Her blond head is thrown rapturously back as an updraft lifts her full, flaring skirt, exposing white cotton panties. The ivory-crepe sundress is floating and filmy as magic. Happiness so acute it was like broken glass in Norma Jeane's mouth. Her waxy-pale skin gave off waves of heat like pavement in summer sun and her eyes!-flirty, slip-sliding and dilated." 

"Norma Jeane stared memorizing what she saw; she was a camera taking snapshots; one day she might be lost and have to find her way back to this place she'd never seen before until this moment, but with Gladys such moments were urgent, highly charged and mysterious, to make your pulse beat hard as with a drug. Familiar, too, was the airless heat of the apartment, for Gladys didn't believe in leaving windows open even a crack while she was away, the pungent odor of coffee grounds, cigarette ashes, scotch, perfume, and that mysterious acrid chemical odor Gladys emitted. Yet these smells were comforting to Norma Jeane for they meant home. There were fields of fire, canyons of fire, fireballs like comets within a few miles of Santa Monica. Sparks, borne by the wind like malicious seeds, erupted into flame in the residential communities of Thousand Oaks, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, and Topanga. Gladys snorted: "Sometimes, Norma Jeane, you sound like such a fool. Like the rest of them." Gladys was committed to the California State Psychiatric Hospital, where her official diagnosis was: "Acute chronic paranoid schizophrenia with alcoholic and drug-induced neurological impairment." 

"Norma Jeane's rage stoked a madness of ambition to revenge herself upon the world by conquering it-however any "world" is "conquered" by an individual who was female, parentless, isolated, and seemingly a solitary insect amid a teeming mass of insects. 'Yet I will make you all love me,' was then Norma Jeane's threat. Norma Jean was recognized now in Hollywood as Marilyn Monroe, she was altogether a new bleached-blonde woman, a successful icon of the American dream." 

"But Marilyn would let pasta boil to a mush if you didn't watch her and she was always dropping things in the kitchen. She couldn't do a risotto, her mind was always drifting off. She tasted something, she didn't know what she was tasting. 'Is it too salty? Does it need salt?' She thought onions and garlic were the same thing! She thought olive oil was the same as melted margarine! She leaved tissues caked with makeup in the bathroom, there were ugly splotches of makeup in the sink, blond hairs in combs and hairbrushes; and scum in the bathtub. God damn. Sometimes she even forgot to flush the toilet. Almost, it seemed it was ordinary life baffled her. And, that wistful little-girl look in her face, "Daddy, how hard it is to figure what people mean when probably they don't mean anything?" Joe would shake his head, not knowing what the hell to say. He'd dated actresses, models and party girls, and he'd have sworn he knew that personality type, but Marilyn was something else. And sometimes she scared Joe to death. Like if an actual doll opened its blue glass eyes and you're expecting baby talk but she says something so weird, and possibly so deep, you can't grasp it."  —"Blonde" (2000) by Joyce Carol Oates.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Marilyn Monroe: American history in miniature

Marilyn Monroe’s final interview is a heartbreaker. Published in Life magazine on August 3, 1962—just a day before the actress died of a barbiturate overdose at age 36—it found Monroe reflecting on her celebrity status, alternatively thoughtful, frank and witty. “When you’re famous you kind of run into human nature in a raw kind of way,” she observed. “It stirs up envy, fame does. People you run into feel that, well, who is she—who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe?” That same question—who was the real Monroe?—has sparked debate among cinema scholars, cultural critics, historians, novelists, filmmakers and the general public for decades. Was “Marilyn,” the personality and persona brought to life by the star’s real self, Norma Jeane Mortenson? Or was she simply a manufactured Hollywood image? Film historian Michelle Vogel, author of Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life, echoes this view. “I don’t think there was a ‘real’ Marilyn Monroe,” says Vogel in an interview. “She was a character and a persona to be played, both on and off the screen. At the heart of it all, Marilyn Monroe was still Norma Jeane. When she acted a part, it was Norma Jeane, playing Marilyn Monroe, playing said role. That's not easy.”

Cultural historian Sarah Churchwell, meanwhile, contends in The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe that “Marilyn Monroe is not best understood as only an image, or as an ‘artificial creation of a woman.’ Something that is not natural can still be real: It has been made. One of the questions the stories about Marilyn’s life beg, therefore, is how much any of us is natural, whether any identity is not made.” “In junior high, I was completely movie-struck,” she said in a 1951 interview. “I used to see movies I liked three or four times when I could afford it.” She fantasized that the “King of Hollywood”, Clark Gable, was her missing father, and she aspired to be just like the blonde bombshell Jean Harlow when she grew up. Narratives of Monroe’s life, mostly based on fiction, tend to focus on her trauma at the expense of her hard work and dedication. The myths surrounding her life have obscured what originally helped make her famous: her craft as an actress. Still, Monroe prevailed. Her natural beauty helped her get through the door, but it was her hard work that cemented her rise to superstardom. “She had a drive to better herself by reading books on psychology, philosophy, poetry, art, drama,” says Vogel. “She studied at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York, with Lee Strasberg, because she had the desire to be a drama student, even after she was already a famous Hollywood actress. She was a trailblazer, and in many ways a feminist before the term was really known or understood.” 

In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)—the quintessential Monroe film—she proved herself to be a triple-threat talent, dazzling her audiences with her singing and dancing as much as she made them laugh. “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is one of film’s most famous scenes for good reason: The “Blowtorch Blonde,” as she was dubbed by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, absolutely steals the show. Monroe was notoriously difficult to work with, as she was constantly late to shoots and often flubbed her lines. But she was no diva. “In reality, she had severe stage fright,” says Vogel. “She was a nervous wreck filming scenes, often breaking out into a rash or being physically ill at the thought of performing.” Monroe’s career soared as her romantic life floundered, with two successive husbands failing to understand the woman she wanted to be. Baseball hero Joe DiMaggio balked at the sexuality of his wife’s public image. Playwright Arthur Miller was annoyed by her cult of celebrity. An old journal reveals the depth of Monroe’s grief: “I have always been deeply terrified to really be someone’s wife since I know from life one cannot love another, ever, really.”  “The Hollywood studio system would often create fictitious back-stories and cover-up scandals for their stars, but Marilyn was different,” says Vogel. “She was open and honest about her dysfunctional childhood, so there was a very real, flawed, human element about her that made the public relate and fall in love with her.” Monroe also took steps to fight back against the studio system. 

Forced to take roles she considered beneath her, the actress decided to break her restrictive contract with Fox in 1954 and start her own production company—Marilyn Monroe Productions—on the East Coast. Though Fox tried to blackball Monroe, she emerged victorious, renegotiating a studio contract that afforded her both a higher salary and creative control over her future roles. “She strove for equality and change to the Hollywood system, and she got it,” says Vogel. Monroe biographer Lois Banner perhaps encapsulates the star’s allure best: "In the case of Marilyn, people believe what they want to believe. She lives in the fantasies of the national imagination, enshrined in a story with endless possibilities, plots, characters and events. Marilyn’s life and death have become flexible, plastic representations of a real person. No one can deny the power of her representation: She is the star who has most haunted the American imagination." We should care about Monroe because of how much she cared about us, her audience. Her films enliven her myth but also remind us of the person she was. Yes, her life was a tragedy, but it was also a triumph. She was American history in miniature. Source: www.smithsonianmag.com

Monday, September 26, 2022

Marilyn Monroe: not a suicidal blonde in summer 1962 (Donald Spoto and Ralph Roberts' Mimosa)

In 1993, Donald Spoto wrote his revealing bio of Marilyn Monroe. After reading the likes of Haspiel, Heymann, Margolis, Slatzer, Summers, and Wolfe, picking up Spoto's biography feels like a revelation. Spoto was a very experienced biographer who was not shy about controversy. His biographies of Alfred Hitchcock and Laurence Olivier reveal sides of their personalities that they tried to conceal. Spoto is also quite thorough in obtaining and then pouring over primary sources. Finally, he respects himself and his subject, which allows him to question sources before arriving at a judgment on someone's credibility. This last quality allowed him to arrive at what is the most satisfactory conclusion about the death of Monroe: accidental overdose. 

During the production of Bus Stop, a young publicist named Patricia “Pat” Newcomb was assigned to handle Marilyn’s press and so would enter Marilyn’s inner circle. A few years later Newcomb would become one of the major players in the last months of Marilyn’s life. Newcomb was also known to have a volatile temper—she would slam her office door so hard that a framed picture of Dean Martin would fall off the wall, shattering the glass “every other day.” Rupert Allan, who handled most of Marilyn’s press relations, told biographer Donald Spoto that Pat Newcomb would take phone messages for Marilyn—many from men wanting to meet her. “Pat intercepted Marilyn’s messages,” Rupert Allan asserted that Newcomb went through “a lesbian phase” but also dated men. The head of Marilyn’s public relations firm, Arthur Jacobs, recommended she give Newcomb another try. Newcomb entered Marilyn’s life again, but this time the two would become very close. Rupert Allan and Ralph Roberts (among others) would come to believe that Pat Newcomb became obsessed with Marilyn. “It’s Pat Newcomb who knows more about Marilyn Monroe than anyone else,” Jeanne Martin (Dean Martin’s wife) commented once. Newcomb was at Marilyn’s side at almost every major event in 1961–62, hovering protectively on the sidelines. Some say Newcomb wanted more from Marilyn than she was prepared to give. But—at this stage in her life—Marilyn needed someone who extended complete dedication, unconditional love. This is what Newcomb offered. 

In return—as she did with anyone who was devoted to her—Marilyn made extreme demands. If Marilyn tried to call Newcomb at home and got a busy signal, she would become hysterical. When she finally got through she would scream and yell. Eventually Marilyn had a separate phone line installed in Newcomb’s apartment so she could reach her at all times. As always, Marilyn would do her best to repay Newcomb’s loyalty. After she complained that her car wasn’t working well, Marilyn gave Newcomb a new Thunderbird. And after wearing them a few times, Marilyn gave Pat a valuable pair of emerald earrings Frank Sinatra had given her. But after Marilyn’s death, Newcomb seemed to want to distance herself from their intensely personal and multilayered relationship. Michael Selsman, who also worked with Newcomb at the Arthur P. Jacobs agency, claims that there was a lot of talk about a possible lesbian relationship between Marilyn and Pat Newcomb—and it wasn’t only coming from the show-business community. 

The rumors spread among people in Marilyn’s circle “who knew her and worked with her.” Susan Strasberg pointed out that “the adrenaline rush that came from Marilyn’s involvement with Pat Newcomb became somewhat sexualized.” Marilyn began discussing Newcomb in her sessions with Dr. Greenson, with homosexuality a major concern. “She could not bear the slightest hint of anything homosexual,” Greenson wrote. “She had an outright phobia of homosexuality and yet unwittingly fell into situations which had homosexual coloring, which she then recognized and projected onto the other, who then became her enemy.” In his correspondence Greenson gave an example of Marilyn’s relationship with a girlfriend named “Pat,” who had put a blond streak in her hair, close to Marilyn’s color. Marilyn interpreted Newcomb’s emulation as an attempt to “take possession of her,” feeling that identification meant “homosexual possessiveness.” Newcomb’s perceived passionate feelings threatened her. But—with everything in her life becoming more confusing and unclear—she pressed ahead with the relationship. “She could be very touching,” Newcomb recalled. “I always felt a kind of watching out for her. But deep down at the core she was really strong. And you’d forget it because she seemed so vulnerable.” Sometimes Marilyn’s suppressed angst surfaced, and she would say something “quite cruel,” Newcomb revealed. “She could be quite mean.” Newcomb declined all offers to publish a memoir of her time with Marilyn. This may seem an odd stance for a woman whose entire career has been devoted to maintaining the public image of Marilyn Monroe. She only gave interviews to Donald Spoto, Anthony Summers, Lois Banner and Gary Vitacco-Robles. 

“Marilyn’s vocabulary included words I’d never ever heard of, and she wielded them like a sailor with no embarrassment,” Susan Strasberg once said. “She had quite a temper when she lost control.” On Friday afternoon, August 3, 1962, Marilyn filled two prescriptions at a pharmacy on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. One was for Phenergan, a drug used to treat allergies, and the other for Nembutal. Greenson and Engelberg had been weaning Marilyn off of Nembutal for weeks, substituting the milder drug chloral hydrate. Marilyn would take that with a glass of milk before bed. That evening Pat Newcomb had dinner with Marilyn in a Santa Monica French restaurant. When talking to Donald Spoto she said, “Afterwards we came back to the house. We just sat around—” Then Newcomb indicated the journalist’s tape recorder, stating, “I want to shut this off.” On Saturday, August 4, 1962, Mrs. Murray found Marilyn quiet and contemplative. She had tentative plans of going to Peter Lawford’s house for dinner in the evening. Legend has come down through the years that Marilyn’s foul mood toward Newcomb was because she had been able to sleep for twelve hours straight while Marilyn slept very little. However, there was something else going on that Pat Newcomb has been silent about for decades. In December 1961 Marilyn's psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson labeled her a 'borderline paranoid schizophrenic' in a letter sent to Anna Freud. Rather than work in a vacuum, Dr. Greenson obtained a second opinion by consulting psychologist Dr. Milton Wexler. After taking a doctorate at Columbia University, studying under Theodor Reik, a disciple of Freud, he became one of the country’s first nonphysicians to set up in practice as a psychoanalyst. Also a member of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society, Dr. Wexler would go on to become a pioneer in the study and treatment of Huntington’s disease, forming the Hereditary Disease Foundation. Wexler also felt strongly that Marilyn Monroe suffered at least from borderline paranoid schizophrenia after sitting in on three sessions with her at Dr. Greenson’s home. “Yes, I treated her,” he said in 1999. 

“I will say that I agreed with Dr. Greenson that she presented borderline symptoms of the disease that had run in her family. I found her to be very proactive in wanting to treat those borderline symptoms, as well. One misconception about her treatment is that it was Dr. Greenson’s idea that she move in with his family. She never moved in with the Greensons. Instead, it was my suggestion that she spend as much time there as possible in order to create the environment that she lacked as a child. That was my theory at the time and Dr. Greenson agreed.” From the first day they worked together in private sessions in the Strasberg apartment at 225 West Eighty-sixth Street that spring of 1955, Lee Strasberg gave Marilyn the strongest paternal-professional guidance of her life—a kind of total psychological mentorship that soon provoked the resentment of both Milton Greene and Arthur Miller. Strasberg fully encouraged Marilyn’s resentment of the movie industry in general and Fox in particular, for he believed their abuse of good actors and writers was standard operating procedure. This disaffection was based on his own experience, for in 1945 that studio had denied him the opportunity to direct Somewhere in the Night, which he had co-written with Joseph L. Mankiewicz. On June 6, 1962, Sidney Guilaroff, a good friend of Marilyn, came to visit her to Fifth Helena but he was brusquely turned away by Greenson, “I went to see her,” Guilaroff recalled, “but Greenson kept me out. He kept a lot of people from her.” She had suffered a fall while she was taking a shower and  for over a week, she was virtually recluse at home until her bruises healed and was forced to decline social invitations she might otherwise have attended. Among these was an invitation from Pat and Peter Lawford, who were to be guests of honor at the home of Robert and Ethel Kennedy in Virginia. Her telegram of regret to the Kennedys, dated June 13, linked her struggle with Fox to the famous “Freedom Riders” fighting on behalf of civil rights for minorities.

According to Ralph Roberts, a very close friend of Marilyn, she decided on her own to reject her biological father's wishes to meet her. One afternoon, after returning from Greenson's therapy, the phone rang, recalled Roberts, and he heard Marilyn say loudly: “Tell him he can contact me through my lawyer, Mickey Rudin.” A shudder racked his body when Marilyn confessed to him: “That was the daughter, the legitimate daughter of my father. She wanted me to talk with him. He’s in the hospital and wants to talk with me. I knew his name a long time ago. In 1952, when I finally was signed with Fox and knew that there was some kind of security ahead, I took a train to the city he lived. I walked into the office, and told the secretary my name, and would like to see him. I heard him tell her, ‘Tell her she can contact me through my lawyer.’ I turned around, left, and that statement ended that.” Ralph Roberts heartily agreed that Marilyn was in very good spirits during the summer of 1962, despite of her troubles with Fox studio. 

“She was really taking control of her life and asserting herself that summer,” Roberts said, sentiments echoed by Rupert Allan and Susan Strasberg, among others. Roberts recalled that during the last months of her life, Marilyn was more optimistic than she had been. She nurtured a close friendship with Wally Cox and renewed one with Wally’s friend Marlon Brando. “And she saw,” Roberts added, “that Greenson was severing all her close relationships, one by one. He had tried to cut me and the Strasbergs and Joe out of her life—and now Marilyn said he thought it would be better if she dismissed Pat Newcomb, too. By the end of July, Marilyn realized that if she was going to have any friends left, any life of her own at all, she might have to disconnect from Greenson.” “Marilyn just couldn’t stand her living there anymore,” said Pat Newcomb of housekeeper Eunice Murray. “The truth is that Marilyn at last felt in control of things, and so she fired Mrs. Murray. It was over.” Her last day of work for Murray would be Saturday, August 4. This was only the beginning of Marilyn’s healthy self-assertion, but the real challenge still lay ahead—confronting Greenson with her new autonomy. 

Now Ralph Greenson was himself retreating into a psychoneurotic fear of abandonment and rejection, precisely the mental attitudes Marilyn was learning to put behind her. In mid-afternoon, Jule Styne, who was looking forward to composing her songs for I Love Louisa, telephoned from New York with another idea. He proposed to Marilyn a film musical version of Betty Smith’s novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which had been a successful Fox film in 1945. To this idea she responded enthusiastically and added that since she was coming to New York the following week, they could meet in his office. Thus an appointment was fixed for the following Thursday, August 9, at half past two: “She was very excited about the idea,” recalled Jule Styne, “and she would have been wonderful in it. We spoke of Frank Sinatra for the other leading role.” A few minutes after eight on the morning of Saturday, August 4, Eunice Murray arrived at Fifth Helena for her last day of work, which was to include supervision of the garden plantings. The theory of suicide by deliberate Nembutal overdose would have been an action entirely inconsistent with everything in Marilyn Monroe’s life at the time—especially after the call to Marilyn from Joe DiMaggio, Jr., as reported by him and by both Murray and Greenson.

In the unlikely scenario she had suddenly decided to commit suicide, she would have taken a large dose at one time (not a quantity of capsules throughout the day). The barbiturates would have reached a toxic level rapidly, and she would have died. But in that case, there would almost certainly be a residue of pills in the stomach: “Forty or fifty pills simply are not going to dissolve so quickly in the stomach,” as Dr. Arnold Abrams reported. “The odds that she took pills and died from them are astronomically unlikely.” The possibility of barbiturate injection must also be rejected. A dose large enough to be lethal, injected intramuscularly or intravenously, would have resulted in an instantaneous death and a much higher level of barbiturate in the blood. And because the level of chloral hydrate was twice that of the Nembutal (which had accumulated in the liver, having been ingested gradually over many hours), it is clear that the chloral hydrate was administered after the Nembutal pills had been taken. In his haste that last evening, Dr. Greenson perhaps overlooked one crucial factor, the adverse interaction of the two drugs. Chloral hydrate interferes with the body’s production of enzymes that metabolize Nembutal. It was the chloral hydrate that pushed Marilyn over the edge. 

She was, after all, the most famous movie star in the world, so Dr. Ralph Greenson could never tell the truth of his mistakes and malpractice. And herein lies the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Something brave, new and mature was emerging inside her those last months, as every interview, personal interaction and performance witnesses. Marilyn Monroe was finally taking control of her life, as those closest to her testified; she was in some inchoate way banishing the crippling ghosts that had so long surrounded her. —Sources: "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography" (2012) by Donald Spoto and "Mimosa: Memories of Marilyn" (2021) by Ralph Roberts

Saturday, September 24, 2022

"Blonde": a dismal and dreary viewing experience

Writing for TIME, Stephanie Zacharek criticises the one-dimensional ‘victimhood’ of Marilyn Monroe (as seen lately in Blonde), and with reference Don’t Bother to Knock, How to Marry a Millionaire, Bus Stop, and Some Like It Hot, argues that Marilyn was a ‘brilliant actor’ who made even her most stereotypical roles believable and sympathetic; and whose life was defined by hard-won agency, although overshadowed by her tragic death. “Even though we’ve had 60 years to figure out how we feel about Marilyn Monroe, no one really knows what to do with her. We know all about the sadness of her life, to the extent that her name has become a synonym for emotional fragility, a vessel we can fill with our own fears about loneliness and self-doubt. We love Marilyn so much—as a symbol, as a bottomless well that will take as much pity as we can pour into it—that collectively we seem to have lost sight of one of the central truths of her being: she was a phenomenally intelligent and gifted actor, a woman whose natural charm and devotion to her craft resulted in work so delightful, and sometimes so emotionally raw, that it’s worthy of any modern actor’s envy… Actors are always more than the sum of their parts, and Marilyn Monroe especially, as both a performer and a persona, is too complex to be reduced to some parts in the first place. 

Her performances are a major component of her story, and the one that’s most often neglected. In the 1950s, once Hollywood had figured out the secret to her bankability, she played so many sex-symbol roles that it’s tempting to lump them together, but even if Marilyn herself longed to play roles that would challenge her in different ways, she made each of these performances distinctive; there’s nothing rote or perfunctory about any of them, largely thanks to the pin-dot precision of her comic timing. Marilyn knew her power over men, over her audience, and she worked it on-screen, though never in a way that was cheap or calculating. Perhaps that’s why women love her as much as men do—she glowed with a spectacular and special feminine magic that has always felt generous rather than competitive. Everyone who has tried to learn about Marilyn—to understand her painful and lonely childhood, to come to terms with the depression and anxiety that dogged her, to reckon with the fiery intelligence that so many people around her, particularly men, preferred not to recognise—comes away with a sense of her deep fragility. But is it possible that, without ever acknowledging as much, we stress Marilyn’s fragility almost as a way of making her sexuality, and her own sexual appetites, more manageable? As if to assuage some shame we might feel about her sexuality and desirability? Marilyn fought her own shame all her life, but one fact that Blonde fails to stress—it would muddy the film’s victimisation narrative too much—is that Marilyn, though tragically insecure, she knew how to avoid being used, and railed against it. Those of us who love Marilyn yearn to protect her, even beyond the grave.” 

Writing for BBC Culture, Anna Bogutskaya asks: why do biopics always get Marilyn so wrong? “‘Please don’t make me into a joke,’ Marilyn said, to interviewer Richard Meryman near the end of her life. But Hollywood’s cruel joke has been to turn her into a trainwreck, reducing her legacy to a series of messy love affairs, daddy issues and addictions. Documentaries and TV biopics have tried to explain her many times over, but they always come back to the same narrative – that of a victim, a tragic beauty. Is there really nothing else worth saying about Marilyn and her cinematic legacy? Marilyn Monroe’s mystery is not that of her ascent, but of the extreme contradictions of her life. She was a generational talent, a movie star with undeniable charisma, charm, fantastic comedic timing and an aggressive earnestness about her that was as disarming as it was captivating. Watching her on screen, even today, is to fall under the spell of cinema. Meanwhile, the contrast between her carefree on-screen persona and her supposedly tortured off-screen existence has become the alluring core of her narrative: the woman-girl, the success-tragedy, the self-loathing-beauty. Her untimely death remains a favourite for conspiracy theories that most often include the Kennedys and the mob, and which Blonde, both book and film, indulge in. ‘People find it hard to reconcile that someone can be so exceptional and meet such a banal end,’ said Dr Lucy Bolton, a reader in film studies at Queen Mary University of London.

But why the endless drive to tear her down, to reduce her to a sad cautionary tale? ‘There is something in the most puritanical part of our nature that says, these Hollywood people, they have so much and they deserve it so little,’ the writer and film critic Farran Smith Nehme tells BBC Culture – and so because Marilyn was the biggest star of them all, it’s as if she deserves these, in Nehme’s words, ‘relentlessly downbeat interpretations of her life.’ In the wave of TV Marilyn biopics of the 1990s, Marilyn is presented at best as a hot mess and, at worst, as a wanton floozy. Every single biopic made of her life zeroes in on the tension between Norma Jean Baker and Marilyn Monroe, the woman and the movie star. It’s an incredible challenge for any actress, no matter how talented, to play Marilyn Monroe, because they’re not only playing the person, but an idea of a person that’s been manipulated and perverted over the years. ‘The biopics and impersonations of her have done more damage to her than the tragedy itself,’ Bolton says. The challenge for any biopic, Bolton continues, is ‘to convince us Marilyn is a real person, because she’s so reduced to a caricature so very often’. Most of the actresses who have portrayed her, from Poppy Montgomery to Ana de Armas, have focused on the little-girl-lost narrative. Nehme says she would love to see an actress get past ‘the clichés and the mannerisms, the tricksy things that so many people imitating her go for. There’s no way in hell Marilyn Monroe was like that when she was enjoying her life.’

Very few of the films that purport to tell us ‘what really happened’ actually focus on the fact that made Marilyn so successful: her dedication to her craft. ‘If you are born with what the world calls sex-appeal, you can either let it wreck you or use it to advantage in the tough show business struggle. It isn’t always easy to pick the right route,’ Marilyn said to the Chicago Tribune in 1952. The same year, one of her most enduring performances, that of endearing gold-digger Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes would cement her in the dumb blonde persona that Marilyn found so frustrating and limiting. “She’s conflated with Lorelei Lee,’ thinks Bolton. "The biopics choose to disempower her further by forgetting about the middle part of the story, the part where she became an extremely successful, highly-paid actress, who challenged Fox for underpaying her, and founded her own production company with Milton Greene." ‘I’m not sure if people perceive her as an actress at all’, says Nehme, while pointing out that if you look at the actual work, ‘you start to see how unique and how intelligent her choices are, to make it as funny as possible.’

The only exception, perhaps, is My Week With Marilyn (2011), a light-touch take on the troubled making of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), told from the perspective of real-life, love-struck set assistant Colin Clark, on whose memoirs the film is based. With Marilyn played by Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams, the film is very much a part of the ‘Marilyn and me’ sub-genre of books and films… However, this is the only example that even tries to recreate Marilyn’s charm, not just her fickle and unreliable on-set antics. Williams captures Marilyn’s sensuality without leaning into the sex-pot persona. There are hints at her duality, but it focuses on the work and the drive, as well as the crippling insecurity that somehow Marilyn found a way to transform into moments of pure comedic gold. There is hope, though. Nehme believes there’s a generational shift that is inspiring a reappraisal of Marilyn Monroe: ‘As film critics have been getting younger, they’ve been going back to the work. They’re very interested in the role she played in creating her own persona.’ Her image may be universally familiar now, but discovering Marilyn’s performances is always a revelation for many. Her feline femininity in Niagara, her coy clumsiness in The Prince and the Showgirl, and her adroit delivery of all-timer quips in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Marilyn’s awareness of how she was perceived imbues every performance and informs every choice. While it might not capture Marilyn’s star power, the best thing that Blonde can do for her is inspire more people to watch her actual work.” Source: themarilynreport.com

Blonde
consists mainly of ugly, abusive scenes one after another, so I had to keep reminding myself, “This is fiction, and most of these terrible things really didn’t really happen to Marilyn Monroe. They are figments of Oates and Dominik's disturbed imagination.” It left me to wonder, “why would anyone make up and spread these types of violent, warped, heinous details?” I hoped the movie version couldn’t possibly sink to such depths, especially with the radiant Ana De Armas in the title role. But about ten minutes in, I found I was being painfully delusional. We see Marilyn as no more than a tragic victim, with not even a hint of  strength, intelligence, or joy. In the beginning we see her mother trying to drown her in a bathtub, before she’s unceremoniously dropped off at an orphanage. Then it’s a fast forward to pin-up girl, followed by her grueling climb to super stardom, via exploitation, abuse, drug addiction, and an abortion, the latter  shown via an awkward womb camera angle. Maybe it’s a wise choice to present it as an artistic vision of a fever dream, perhaps a nightmare. This way, hopefully viewers will realize it’s an interpretation, a prevarication, rather than a factual biopic. In the end, I find it both disturbing and unfair that both author Joyce Carol Oates and director Andrew Dominik chose to reduce Marilyn Monroe to little more than a tragic victim. I bet nobody wants to be defined by the fabricated worst parts of her life, and less than most Marilyn. 

And after watching the loopy “Blonde,” some viewers might argue that this movie takes the streamer to a new low. Sadly, Dominik’s adaptation isn’t as cagey as Oates's novel. Where Oates channels the actress and iconic sex-symbol climbing inside her mind in a sometimes-unmoored stream of consciousness, Dominik uses his camera to leer at the Monroe body—the result is cinematic masturbation of the highest order. It’s hard on the eyes. And the sound design is assaultive. And while de Armas fits the role's physicality, her lightly detectible accent strikes an odd tone for the Marilyn we know. Dominik’s adaptation is an indulgent meander. He approaches Monroe as a platform for nausea, wallowing in everything sad and depressing about her life without giving viewers any of the magic, love or happiness that Oates was able to subtly weave into her itchy fiction. The craving for a child was a theme that Oates explored but not to the exclusion of other parts of Norma Jeane’s life. Oates was more sensitive to the exploitation that marked the time and the Monroe alter ego. Dominik’s film is so morbidly focused on her abortion that it makes the story unnecessarily unpleasant. All this wastes de Armas, who could have brought more dimension to the character if given the opportunity. Instead of giving us enough of the authentic Norma Jeane side of the protagonist, Dominik leaves his talented actress in Monroe mode almost exclusively. We get it, Monroe was a tragic icon, but Norma Jeane was more than just a sad sack. Even Oates knew that all too well; But Dominik didn’t. Blonde is a dismal and dreary viewing experience. It seems filmed through the same kind of hallucinatory nightmare lens as Requiem for a Dream. Source: times-herald.com

In the fall of 1953, just before one of his performances, during his second week as Hal in Picnic, Paul Newman was alerted by Joshua Logan that both Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe were in the audience. "I wasn't so afraid of Marilyn, but of Sinatra. For some reason, I thought he'd make fun of me. I knew he hated Method actors like Brando." Sinatra congratulated Paul on his performance. "You're great, kid," Sinatra told him. "Originally Logan wanted Brando for the part. That jerk would have fucked it up big time." Paul accepted their invitation for an apres-theater dinner. Every head in the restaurant turned to watch Marilyn slither across the restaurant floor while Newman and Sinatra were virtually ignored. Newman deciphered the real purpose of the visit. Marilyn was lobbying for the role of Madge in the movie version of Picnic. "Janice Rule would be okay," Marilyn said, "but she's got no sex appeal." Newman said that being in the presence of two fabled stars was going to his head even more than the wine. 

Paul Newman was crushed when he learned Logan had cast Don Murray for the role of Bo in Bus Stop, but he tried to be gracious about his loss. Newman admitted to Kim Stanley: "I'm horribly disappointed. But Marilyn is such big box office, and she is right for the role. You and I have seen her act at the studio. We know how good she is. None of us believe that she's the lightweight her fans think of her." Much in the same way the arrival of a train-hopping drifter shook up the small-town residents in William Inge’s Picnic, the emotional (and sexual) disruption instigated by the intrusion of Lila Green—a peroxided, emotionally-wounded, aging starlet with a squalid past and a childlike disposition—into the Baird household is the source of The Stripper’s central conflict. The film was provisionally called Celebration, and then originally titled Woman of Summer, was released in the US on 19 June 1963 as The Stripper. It was released as Woman of Summer in the UK. 

Marilyn Monroe was set to play Lila Green but she died during production and was replaced by Joanne Woodward. The original New York production of William Inge's play A Loss of Roses had opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theater on 28 November 1959. 20th Century Fox directive, Buddy Adler, purchased the rights to A Loss of Roses for a whopping $400,000 before it even opened on Broadway. As Adler told columnist Louella Parsons: “Yes, we paid a big price, but Inge writes only hits. He wrote 'Bus Stop,' 'Picnic,' and 'Dark at the Top of the Stairs.'” The Stripper's sole Oscar nomination was for the costume designs of William Travilla (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Valley of the Dolls). In school it was revealed that Joanne Woodward had a high I.Q. of 135, and she excelled in her grades. Life seemed so happy in the Woodward household that Joanne was devastated when her parents got divorced. Returning to Greenville, South Carolina, she appeared in a local production of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie-ironically, the same play in which Paul Newman had appeared during his own school years in Ohio. In 1987, Joanne would star in a film version of that same play, directed by none other than Paul himself. —Paul Newman: A Life (2009) by Lawrence J. Quirk 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Two very different blondes: Marilyn Monroe and Joanne Woodward


If your stance is, rightly, that Marilyn Monroe was a kind of genius, an actress for whom the status of sex symbol comes with an asterisk, because she was not helplessly beholden to her iconic image—not the fatuous, buxom blonde that many mistook her to be—but rather an extremely savvy engineer of her own persona, a whip-smart, and self-aware talent for whom the culture’s low expectations proved an opportunity for success; if it’s your belief that this is the truth of Marilyn Monroe’s appeal and the essence of her timelessness, then Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, will not be the movie for you. 

To start, this isn’t so much a movie about Marilyn Monroe. Andrew Dominik’s fictionalized biopic is a relentless pseudo-psychoanalysis that wallows in the screen icon's suffering and ignores her true genius. Blonde and its flaws are already being diagnosed with a handful of compatible but unflattering descriptors (pretentious, misogynistic, masochistic, and ludicrous). More than any of that, this movie is psychoanalytic in excess. From first to last, Blonde tries to draw linear pathways from its heroine’s behavior (and by association the mask-like, glamorous persona she creates) to her experiences, like some cursed psychological map. Monroe’s charisma as a screen presence remains mesmerizing, even for the people still discovering her today, because of its mystery, its contours that feel impossible to properly trace. Nothing about Marilyn Monroe in Blonde, by contrast, is mysterious or mesmerizing. Everything is contingent and predictable. Dominik’s script is more interested in the more incisive question of whether these men would know how to love Marilyn selflessly. It seems it's unknown for Dominik that selfishness is not automatically contrary to love; that’s what can make love so real and difficult. Admittedly, a honest filmmaker would probably find it wise to avoid Oates’ novel altogether, because the novel itself is so histerically reductive. The scandalous, the sensational, are Oates' tools since she can use our helpless fascination against us, by inspiring true repulsion, much like a trickster who’d warned us to be careful what we wish for. Blonde tries to deny who Marilyn Monroe really was, punishing her to punish all of us. The math does not check out, and it shows. Source: rollingstone.com 

Blonde does not see Marilyn Monroe's joy, it does not see her humour, it does not see her artistry, it does not see her humanity. It uses her as a vessel to comment on consumerism and the darkness at the heart of the Hollywood machine. It claims to be feminist, yet is so so deeply steeped in misogyny. In watching Monroe’s films, you can see an intelligence, a bravery, and a spark that Andrew Dominik’s script and direction never allows Ana De Armas’s performance to even come close to approaching. Blonde wants you to believe that it’s bringing an internal depth to Monroe, as if her performances didn’t already have ten times as much complexity as whatever the hell this movie is trying to do. Marilyn Monroe was not just one of the greatest film comediennes, but also one of its greatest dramatic performers. Dominik seems to resent Monroe's capacity for comedy and interrupts some famous scenes from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot with her sudden meltdowns. It's quite safe to think Marilyn would respond to Dominik's revisionist nightmare with something like Boop-boop-a-doop.” Source: filmsflicker.com

Joanne Woodward in the film Rachel, Rachel (1969) where she gave a fascinating performance, expanding the cliché of the old maid to incorporate a wistful lyricism, intelligence and wit. She was Oscar-nominated but that year the Academy gave an unprecedented tie to Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand. Woodward had already won the Best Actress Oscar for The Three Faces of Eve (1957), which was a triumph of Method technique, but with Rachel, Rachel she achieved real depth. Woodward's greatest strengths as a performer were her pragmatism and likability. Pauline Kael wrote that Woodward had a trouper quality: she was an actress with solidity, great audience rapport and a wide streak of humor about herself. Woodward’s expression of anger was nearly always funny, as in her comedies with Paul Newman—Rally ’Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) and A New Kind of Love (1963). 

Her attempts at sexpot roles, like The Stripper (1963), were more problematic since she was not the Marilyn Monroe type at all. Woodward’s training with the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio had her perceived as a Method actress. In her book The Treatment of Women in the Movies (1987), Molly Haskell describes Woodward as one of the serious artist-actresses in film, comparing her to Geraldine Page, Anne Bancroft, Julie Harris, Kim Stanley and Shelley Winters. These actresses emerged in the Hollywood studio system, but were not movie stars in living Technicolor like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner or Grace Kelly. 

Haskell seemed to have a point about Woodward, since in the black-and-white The Three Faces of Eve she didn’t give a typical movie-star performance. Her Method origins were also evident in her actor mannerisms, though she used them in real life when interviewed as well. Fox had reportedly had trouble with the film version of The Three Faces of Eve, which was first called The Woman with Three Lives. One problem was casting, since it was hard to find an actress capable of playing the title character who suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder. In 1956, writer-director Nunnally Johnson offered the part to Lana Turner, Olivia de Havilland, Doris Day, Jean Simmons and Carroll Baker, who all declined. Johnson suggested Marilyn Monroe, whom he knew after he had produced and written the screenplay for Fox’s romantic comedy How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).

Marilyn was making Bus Stop at the time, and when Johnson asked her about the part, the actress told him that she didn’t feel capable of assuming three personalities at once. June Allyson said that she was offered it but her husband, Dick Powell, talked her out of it, thinking her miscast for the role. The June 29, 1956, New York Times reported that Susan Hayward was negotiating with Johnson for the role, though another source claims that he went to Hayward after Judy Garland. Johnson had talked to Garland and had decided she would be perfect after she had proven her dramatic skills in the Warner Bros. musical romance A Star Is Born (1954). He sent Garland the script in Las Vegas where she was then performing at the New Frontier Hotel. Garland didn’t quite understand the script, feeling it came across more as a domestic comedy than a dramatic piece. Another source had Paul Newman visiting Judy Garland in her Hollywood home, where he was introduced to Johnson as he was leaving. There Garland showed Newman the script because she wanted him to play her husband. 

Newman borrowed the script to show it to Woodward, who was then attached to The Wayward Bus. Rather he wanted Gore Vidal to read it, partly to have the husband part beefed up, so that Newman could take these revisions to the director if he was offered it. Vidal believed the part could be a good star vehicle for Woodward. She was shown the script, though she believed Fox would want Susan Hayward. Garland changed her mind about the film and got cold feet. Woodward supposedly told Newman she feared she had all of Eve’s characteristics but playing her could tip her over the deep edge. The role terrified her because she identified so strongly with Eve. Newman thought that the way was clear for Woodward but Johnson sent the script to Jennifer Jones. Fortunately, she declined the part. Johnson had apparently seen Woodward in a Dick Powell television drama and had been impressed. He said when he finished the screenplay for the film, Johnson had her in the back of his mind. But despite Johnson and Buddy Adler being interested, apparently the people in Fox’s New York office still believed that they needed a star. Woodward said she only got the part because Fox couldn’t get any of the actresses they really wanted. 

The Long, Hot Summer had a screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., and it was based on three Faulkner works: the 1931 novella Spotted Horses, the 1939 short story “Barn Burning” and the 1940 novel The Hamlet. The director was Martin Ritt. Filming took place on the Fox studio backlot and it was completed on November 21 with a final sequence shot on December 6. The story centered on alleged barn burner and farmer Ben Quick (Paul Newman), who arrives in the town of Frenchmen’s Bend, Mississippi, and ingratiates himself with the Varners family. Second billed after Newman, Joanne Woodward played 23-year-old Clara Varner, the schoolteacher daughter of farmer Will Varner (Orson Welles). Her shoulder-length blonde hair was made by Helen Turpin and mostly worn tied back with bangs. Her clothes by Adele Palmer favor pastel colors with matching hair ribbons. Woodward’s scenes with Newman are brimming with sexual tension all through. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times wrote that Woodward was excellent as Clara Varner. 

While Newman commented that in their scenes together they were fighting each other, Woodward reported that they had a close relationship and got along and that’s what emerged in the film. During production she became pregnant with his child. One observer noted that everybody knew better than to knock on the door of whichever trailer the couple was. Newman supposedly once grabbed the collar of the assistant director and told him 'if the trailer’s rockin, don’t bother knockin’! Another version of this story is that Newman told Ritt, “If my dressing room is rock ’n’ rolling, take the advice of that Marilyn Monroe film, Don’t Bother to Knock.” Ritt had originally wanted to cast Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in the film, so that they would be reuniting after On the Waterfront. But Brando declined and Newman became Ritt’s third choice after Robert Mitchum also turned down the role of Ben Quick. Saint withdrew when she became pregnant and Woodward was cast though there was some resistance from the studio. 

Angela Lansbury, who played Minnie Littlejohn, commented that Newman and Woodward together were a wonderful duo and that’s what made their chemistry so exciting and realistic. They seemed to have such a total understanding of each other that they were able to work in scenes where they were at each other’s throats or falling under each other’s spell. Lansbury also recalled that the couple spent most of their off-camera time alone and away from the other cast members. 

After filming was completed, Woodward and Newman made a trip to Mexico. One source claims this was to allow Newman to arrange a fast divorce, though another says this did not happen until January when he went to Mexico before joining Woodward in Las Vegas. Newman's ex-wife Jackie Witte was given a generous, lifelong financial settlement and agreed the children should live with her. Newman said he felt guilty as hell about leaving his first marriage and family, but without Woodward he would not be happy. They had their wedding at the El Rancho Hotel on January 29, 1958. The tackiness of the locale was said to have fit the couple’s sense of humor. Newman said that after all the anxiety and secrecy surrounding their romance and his divorce, the ability to walk around freely as a man with his wife was intoxicating. 

Back at Chesham Place, Woodward complained of stomach pains so Gore Vidal summoned a doctor, who said that she was having a miscarriage. Taken to St. George’s Hospital, the actress lost their child and remained there to recover from her ordeal. Paul Newman was said to be devastated by the news, and Claire Bloom visited Woodward bringing her flowers. The miscarriage occurred in early March 1958. It was a dark period for the Newmans, since their fights seemed to be more intense during those dark days. Some recriminations, according to close sources, were centered around Woodward's brief fling with Playhouse 90's writer Timmy Everett and Newman's liaison with co-star Lita Milan, both relationships previous to their wedding. 

The Newmans attended the Academy Awards ceremony with their friend Joan Collins on March 26, 1958, at the RKO Hollywood Pantages Theater in Hollywood. The television broadcast directed by Alan Handley was on NBC. On the red carpet, Joanne Woodward predicted that Deborah Kerr would win the Best Actress Oscar, and announced that the dress she wore was homemade. The attention the award gave the actress also evinced comment on her marriage, with a comically jealous Joan Crawford saying Newman could have dated some of the biggest names in Hollywood but preferred “this Georgian redneck and her feedsack dress.” It was rumored that Crawford had sent a letter to Newman, inviting him to a dinner date he'd refused. 

In The Fugitive Kind (1960)Woodward hated working with Marlon Brando, resenting his pauses and vagueness, feeling she had nothing to reach out to, and she complained to Sidney Lumet that Brando was a complete blank “regardless of how much money he was hauling in for this turkey.” Woodward stated the only way she would work with Brando again was if he was “in rear projection.” A source claims that the actor somehow mistreated her to get back at Newman who was now considered a greater exponent of the Actors Studio Method than him. To torment both Newmans, Brando spread the rumor that he was shacking up with Woodward during the making of the film. Though it was untrue, Newman knew that Brando had dated Woodward briefly in 1953 and he suspected that Brando had seduced the actress. During production, director Otto Preminger noted that Newman was an oddity in the business because he really loved his wife. Newman was a sex symbol who was off limits to that special breed of Hollywood starlet who circled young men like sharks ready for the kill; apparently, Newman could not be seduced and was devoted to Woodward. 

Woodward was confirmed to be in the United Artists musical romance Paris Blues (1961) and the director was again Martin Ritt. It was shot on location in Paris and at the Studios de Boulogne from October 10 to late December. The screenplay was by Jack Sher, Irene Kamp and Walter Bernstein, adapted by Lulla Adler from the novel by Harold Flender. Trombonist Ram Bowen (Newman) and saxophonist Eddie Cook (Poitier), American ex-pat jazz musicians living in Paris, perform at the Club Prive. They meet and fall in love with two American tourist girls on vacation. Woodward played Lillian “Lilly” Corning, a divorced mother of two. Her hair by Carita is blonde, worn in a short sculptured style with bangs. Her wardrobe includes a black shimmery short-sleeve knee-length dress with a wide coat, and in one scene she wears only a bodice outfit. The film was released on September 27, 1961; although it was not a box office success but its music score was Oscar-nominated.

Marilyn Monroe was also considered for the part of Lilly but declined. During filming, Woodward became pregnant again. She reported that they rented a place in Montmartre. One source claims it was a two-story house, another that it was an apartment that Picasso had once lived in. Sources do agree there was a backyard garden. In her time off, the actress visited museums and looked after Nell. She was also visited by her mother for three weeks. The Newmans grew tired of the French food that Desiree, the studio maid, prepared, so Newman set up a barbecue in their garden. The couple also frequented an American Southern–style restaurant they found just below Place Pigalle. To the Parisians they did not look like movie stars, with Woodward described as looking more like a Kansas housewife. The Newmans toyed with the idea of buying an apartment in Paris and relocating but lost interest. They sailed back to the United States and reportedly lent their support to John F. Kennedy, the Democrat presidential hopeful. The couple also campaigned for Gore Vidal in his unsuccessful run for a Congressional seat in the New York State. 

The Stripper (1963) was a drama shot at 20th Century-Fox. The screenplay was written by Meade Roberts and the director was Franklin Schaffner. Lila Green (Woodward) is a failed Hollywood actress and showgirl in The Great Ronaldo & Madame Olga Magic show, which comes to a small town in Kansas. Her hair by George Masters appears peroxide-blonde and is worn in a straight short bubble style with bangs. Travilla gives Lila an all-white wardrobe, which includes a midriff-baring pants and top outfit, and a jaguar fur jacket. The role sees Woodward participate in a magic act and she does a stripping act singing “Something’s Gotta Give.” Director Schaffner and Travilla protect her from being physically exposed in the stripping scene, as she wears a fishnet and tassel under-costume and balloons strategically placed over her. Pauline Kael wrote that everything Woodward did in The Stripper was worth watching, and gave the Marilyn Monroe–ish role a nervousness that cut through its pathos. In fact, the role of Lila had been originally intended for Monroe. Kim Novak had been announced to replace her before Woodward was cast. 

Her hairstyle recalled the same that Monroe donned for the unfinished Fox comedy Something’s Got to Give, and Woodward also sang the title song of Monroe's last film. Marilyn Monroe’s death on August 3, 1962, oddly contributed to the idea of her ghost hovering over the part played by Woodward. There had been a specific reference to Marilyn that was cut in the film, when Lila was seen walking down the street. Originally an observer asked who Lila was, adding that she looked like Marilyn Monroe, and a bus driver said that it was not her. But the name was changed to Jayne Mansfield and Woodward said it just wasn’t right. Woodward also commented that she had a visual image of Lila as Marilyn but she wasn’t imitating her. Woodward described the film as a mess and was sorry that it was botched. Screenwriter Meade Roberts invented a wonderful prop for her: the teddy bear she held onto. 

There was a vulnerability and resilience in the character that the actress tried to capture in her walk, a combination of a jiggle and a voluptuous swagger. She felt Travilla had designed the wardrobe as an homage to Marilyn Monroe (who was still alive during pre-production). They had a wonderful time rehearsing and the script was charming but the death of Jerry Wald saw Darryl Zanuck, now back as Fox studio head, take over. Zanuck saw a rough cut and threw Schaffner off the film. Zanuck said that Woodward couldn’t sing or dance so he cut almost all of her dancing, which had been choreographed by Alex Romero, though Lila not being able to sing or dance was the point. 

The only place where Woodward was a sex symbol was at home, she said, and she was very lucky that Newman thought her so sexy and alluring. Woodward also said she didn’t worry about other women coming on strong with him because she knew what Newman thought of them. Long-time friend Stewart Stern described the Newmans as the most hand-holding couple he'd ever seen and it was Newman who reached for his wife’s hand more often than her. When Marilyn Monroe was found dead, the Newmans attended a private homage at the Actors Studio held by Lee Strasberg. There was despair in the air, Strasberg recalled. Woodward was glad she "wasn’t grabbed at and mauled" the way she had seen Marilyn Monroe at an Actors Studio premiere for East of Eden (1955). Also there were in its day rumors about Marilyn flirting with Paul Newman during the acting classes at the Studio.

In WUSA (1970), Joanne Woodward played Geraldine Crosby, a former prostitute from West Virginia. A jaded widow, she starts a relationship with Rheinhardt (Paul Newman) who gets a job at the WUSA station. Woodward's hair by Sydney Guilaroff is a soft blonde shade, worn in a straight casual style, and her wardrobe is by Travilla. Woodward also wears a scar on her right cheek, courtesy of makeup by Lynn Reynolds. The role has her use a Southern accent, and she adds to her mannerisms by playing with her hair, though it has context since Geraldine sometimes does so to hide her facial scar. Woodward’s best scene is when Geraldine is imprisoned and the actress has a silent reaction of fear, stopping herself from screaming in hysterics, and pondering how she can kill herself. Satisfied by her enacting of such a difficult role, Woodward also regarded her husband’s performance in WUSA as one of the best of his career. Newman was angry with Paramount and denounced the studio for its interferences in the production of the film. For his part, director Stuart Rosenberg found the Newmans to be virtuosos and observed their different approaches they took to reach an accomplished performance level. —Joanne Woodward: Her Life and Career (2019) by Peter Shelley