WEIRDLAND: Marilyn Monroe: 65th Anniversary of "Bus Stop"

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Marilyn Monroe: 65th Anniversary of "Bus Stop"

Picture Marilyn Monroe and you'll see platinum blonde hair, bright red lipstick, and a white dress fluttering over a subway grate. But right after immortalizing exactly that image in 1955's The Seven Year Itch, Monroe reinvented herself. Under her own company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, and with a new studio contract under her belt, Marilyn Monroe delivered what remains one of her best performances in Bus Stop. Marilyn Monroe makes it worth remembering on the 65th anniversary of its premiere: August 31, 1956. The film, penned by The Seven Year Itch co-writer George Axelrod and directed by Joshua Logan, is based on a William Inge play. It follows Beau Decker (Don Murray), a bad mannered and rambunctious cowboy who's never left his ranch before. He sets out by bus from Montana to Arizona in the hopes of winning a rodeo – and bagging himself a woman. 

When he sees Monroe's Chérie performing at a bar, he's immediately smitten, and decides they'll be married the very next day. No matter how often Chérie turns him down or tries to escape, Beau won't be deterred, and she is eventually won over at the film's titular bus stop on their way back to Montana. Despite branching out into other genres earlier in her career, playing the femme fatale in 1953's Niagara and appearing in noirs The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Don't Bother to Knock (1952), 20th Century Fox was determined to keep her pigeonholed in the airy, comedic roles she was so adept at playing. This didn't work for Monroe, who was intent on being taken seriously as an actor. Her contract at Fox had her underpaid, with no say in what she appeared in. She refused to film the comedy The Girl in the Pink Tights, so Fox suspended her. A resolution seemed to have been reached when Monroe agreed to play a supporting role in 1954's There’s No Business Like Show Business and star in Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch (complete with a hefty bonus) – but the battle was far from over. Monroe made her commitment to changing her image clear. She ditched her acting coach and took up classes at the prestigious NYC Actors Studio. She would not appear in Fox's next choice for her, a comedy called How to Be Very, Very Popular. 

Eventually, Monroe proved to be too big a star to lose, and she got a new contract with Fox at the end of '55. It was a huge win, paying far better and giving her more control over her career, including approval over directors and her films' subjects. MMP's first picture would be Bus Stop, and before cameras rolled, its leading lady put the final stamp on her transformation with a legal name change from Norma Jeane Mortenson to Marilyn Monroe.  If Bus Stop had starred anyone else, it's doubtful the film would stand the test of time. Monroe disappears into her role, with her signature blonde hair dyed a darker shade, her famous low, breathy voice exchanged for a high-pitched Ozark accent, her skin tone made chalky with makeup (Chérie works nights and hardly sees the sun), her singing warbly, and her dancing awkward – just contrast her faltering performance of the film's "That Old Black Magic" with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' knockout "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Monroe even found her own bedraggled costume, turning down one she thought looked too polished, and putting her own holes into her fishnets. Behind the scenes, she worked busily with her acting coach Paula Strasberg to perfect her performance, painstakingly going over every line of every scene. 

The hard work paid off. Director Joshua Logan, who before the cameras rolled protested that "Marilyn can’t act!", was entirely won over, going so far as to call her "one of the great talents of all time." The New York Time's review mirrored his about-face: "Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress in Bus Stop. She and the picture are swell! This piece of professional information may seem both implausible and absurd to those who have gauged the lady's talents by her performances in such films as Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and even The Seven Year Itch." By modern standards, Chérie's storyline is entirely misogynistic. It's disturbing to watch her give in to Beau's advances because he's the first person to accept her history with other men (apparently, it "averages out" because he has never had a girlfriend). Beau's "I like you the way you are, so what do I care how you got that way" would be sweet if not for all the time he's spent harassing – and literally abducting – Chérie, his inability to even pronounce her name right, and the fact that her transgression in his eyes is having been with other men. "That's the sweetest, tenderest thing anyone's ever said to me," Chérie replies.

That doesn't mean that Chérie is a character undeserving of Monroe's talents, though. There's something tragic in her speech on the bus about wanting whoever she marries to have "some real regard for me," as well as her dreams of making it to Hollywood when her talents aren't quite up to scratch. There is a meta tongue-in-cheek moment in which Chérie talks about her big plan to make it to Hollywood where “you get treated with a little respect.” It’s an overt dig at Zanuck and 20th Century Fox (which Marilyn famously called 19th Century Fox for its backward treatment of female stars). And one imagines that’s what the ingenue version of Marilyn might have initially thought with her grand plans to become a star. Except, unlike Chérie, she already grew up right next to Hollywood, her own mother a film cutter at RKO. Don Murray (Marilyn's co-star) was nominated to Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Source:

James DiEugenio: Concerning Marilyn Monroe, there is no evidence of her closeness to the Mafia, or RFK. And there is no evidence of her doing a tell all on the Kennedy brothers. And if you read Donald McGovern's current article, she was not murdered. The pills were ingested, not injected. And what Mark Shaw does to try and get RFK into Brentwood was exposed by McGovern as nothing but photographic trickery. I say that because it is difficult to imagine that a lawyer/author could be that stupid. Also, there were many people who were not invited to her last rites proceeding, as Joe DiMaggio only invited 26. A lot of cheap hucksters have created a lot of smoke and mirrors out of a lot of nothing in order to create what, in reality, is a wild and lurid fantasy which libels Marilyn Monroe, RFK and JFK. Marilyn was not a Mob moll and she was not some kind of intel asset, or being tossed around by, of all people, RFK--who Hoover could not find anything on, even though he had agents following him around. What is incredible to me is that some people in the JFK critical community have actually take this rubbish seriously as Paul Hoch.

But the diary tale is actually worse than all the above. Because it turned out that Marilyn did have a diary. It was recovered in one of her storage boxes years after a dispute was resolved over her estate. It was nothing like Lionel Grandison, Robert Slatzer, or Jeanne Carmen said it was. The bulk of her estate was given over to the Strasberg family, since Monroe greatly appreciated what her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, had done for her. Those notebooks were compiled in a book called Fragments in 2010. There is no mention of Giancana, Roselli, Hoover, or Tony Accardo. Frank Sinatra is not in there and neither is Castro. Nothing about any romance with the Kennedy brothers or her desire to be First Lady. The only mention of the Kennedys was in notes she made for an interview, in which she said she admired them, as she did Eleanor Roosevelt, because they represented hope for young people. Grandison then surpassed himself. Not only did he find the diary, but there was also a publicity release in her purse. The release said that there would be a press conference at the LA Press Club. Marilyn would answer questions based upon her Diary of Secrets. I am not kidding. That is what it said and McGovern reproduces it in his book. Of course, no one ever saw it except Lionel Grandison. One wonders, since there was no such Diary of Secrets, what was the conference going to be about? Her failed marriages? Her thoughts on her acting career? Because, as one can see, that is what she wrote about in her diary, her real one, not the Slatzerian creation. Source:

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