Reframed: Marilyn Monroe Parts 3 & 4 Review

Well, it’s finally over, and I have some thoughts on this one. For those who don’t want to read long-winded paragraphs, the TL;DR version is, I liked it. I didn’t care for it as much as parts 1 & 2; however, I think it brought some interesting talking points for people who might not be into Monroe. Read on to see what it got wrong, right and my general thoughts.

Part 3

Going in, I’m not looking forward to Sarah Churchwell’s commentary. A lot of her claims are simply wrong, such as saying Joe and Marilyn met as a publicity stunt. Given, I understand she’s not really a historian, so I suppose I should cut her some slack; however, as a lit professor, you would hope she would care more about accuracy. I am looking forward to Christina Newland, Michelle Morgan and Angelica Jade Bastien.

Inaccuracies

Marilyn Monroe Productions was sprung on the press with a cocktail party. Everyone was shocked a woman was forming her own production company.

Fact: I have a sneaking suspicion that the doc originally claimed Marilyn was the first woman to start her own production company until the backlash against their tweet based on the language used. While Marilyn’s production company announcement was top secret, the event was extremely well-planned, with the guest list carefully thought out to limit attendance to reporters MMP thought would be sympathetic or supportive. People weren’t shocked that a woman was starting her own production company. The shock lay in a new star with roughly two years of leading-lady stardom starting a production company. Reports were generally positive, but tended to focus on everything but the company:

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Claim: Appearing on Person to Person with Edward Morrow was a power move to stick it to Fox.

Fact: These really over-stated claims pepper the documentary, usually made by Sarah Churchwell, but there’s no real basis for them. With millions tuning into Person to Person, it’s really not surprising that Marilyn went on there to get publicity for herself; however, it’s worth noting she continued to use the baby voice throughout the interview. If Marilyn was using it to distance herself from Fox, it would’ve made more sense to speak in her normal voice to finish off “the new look,” (something Marilyn arguably wouldn’t do until 1962’s Something’s Got to Give). I don’t know the source for her prime motive being sticking it to Fox to show she was in control, hence why I’m rating this one as false.

Claim: Zanuck was a bad, bad man who was keeping Marilyn from her dreams of becoming a serious actress.

Fact: Okay, I really simplified this one, but this is one of those argument that really will not die. At the end of the day, people don’t need to like Zanuck, his behavior towards starlets and his tough as nails attitude towards his stock players; however, Marilyn was still under contract to Fox when she went off to form MMP and had a varied filmography (which I’ve discussed here) before she left. She had campaigned hard for the role of ‘The Girl’ in The Seven Year Itch. Marilyn herself said her prime grievance with Fox was putting her in lackluster films. While I think Marilyn did want to transition to more serious roles, it’s also evident she was happy doing well-written comedies as well. At the end of the day, Zanuck saw where the money was, and he followed that trail. Marilyn herself would learn this with the underperformance of more serious film work like The Prince and the Showgirl and The Misfits. At the end of the day, Marilyn walked out on a contract she was legally obligated to complete. Personally, I think she would’ve done better to wait until her time with Fox was up (more on that later), but it’s not how the cards fell.

Claim: Marilyn Monroe discovered Ella Fitzgerald’s music after moving to NYC in 1955.

Fact: Marilyn had been a fan of Ella since working with Phil Moore in the early 50s.

Claim: Fitgerald and Marilyn were bffs. Marilyn went to the Mocambo for both nights she was there.

Fact: There’s really nothing to support a deep friendship between the two. While I think Fitgerald liked Marilyn, and vice versa, it’s telling that her phone number wasn’t in Marilyn’s last address book. As far as the Mocambo story, it’s false, and you can ready why here.

Claim: Marilyn Monroe’s billboard at the Loew’s Theatre for the SYI was a power move by Zanuck against her wanting to become a serious actress.

See the source image

Fact: Again, there’s no sourcing for this. Marilyn was proud of her work as The Girl, and I personally find it both insulting and disingenuous to act like she was ashamed of the work she did. It got her publicity, and as the queen of publicity, it’s a little odd to claim she wouldn’t have taken at least some pride in knowing her image hung over NYC.

Claim: Bus Stop was her first real dramatic acting role.

Fact: This one is a bit more of a difference in opinion, but I really think Marilyn fans put a lot more stock in Bus Stop than it deserves. In my mind, a great drama withstands the test of time, and if Marilyn wasn’t in Bus Stop, I think it would be little more than a footnote in Fox’s history. Her performance isn’t particularly wonderful or mind-blowing. It’s really just kind of there. I understand she put a lot of thought into it, but it really isn’t that great when you look at stronger dramatic performance she gave in The Misfits and Don’t Bother to Knock. Regardless of my feelings, she had completed several dramatic roles before Bus Stop. The one thing I will say that I agree with on the film is Jeanine Basinger’s comment that it’s more realistic than her previous work.

Claim: Marilyn convinced Arthur Miller not to name names during his HUAC testimony. Miller used Marilyn to get himself cleared.

Fact: Miller wasn’t going to name names, regardless of his relationship with Marilyn. While she may have strengthened his resolve, to act like she had any real say in his testimony is unsourced and disingenuous. As far as using Marilyn to clear his name, Miller was found guilty by the HUAC committee. They’d known one another since 1950, when he seriously debated leaving his wife, Mary, for Marilyn. The narrative that he used her is trite, boring and overused rubbish.

Claim: Marilyn was in a decade long fight with Fox to become a dramatic actress.

Fact: Again, Marilyn had a relatively even output of dramatic and comedic roles. Regardless, her fight with Fox lasted two years, not a decade.

Claim: Lawrence Olivier was a bad, bad man who was mean to Marilyn.

Fact: Again, over-simplifying, but Olivier’s behavior came from a place of exasperation and dealing with the unknown. While I can’t say I agree with how he treated Marilyn, I also can’t say I agree with how she acted on set. Instead of painting Olivier as villain, it would be nice to see a documentary acknowledge that their working styles were different, and they butted heads because of it.

Right on the Money

The Shaw girls make an appearance which is great. Underrepresented in the Monroe mythos, the Shaw girls knew Marilyn for years and were complimentary about her. I do wish more of their interviews had been included, but it is what it is.

Discussing the impact of The Actor’s Studio on the craft and Lee’s methods was interesting. I do wish they would’ve covered it in a little more detail, but just like with my last review, I am assuming time constraints and framing prevented that.

Talking about how Marilyn was most likely dating Arthur Miller when she appeared on Joe DiMaggio’s arm at the SYI premiere was a surprising but nice fact to acknowledge. Far too often, the DiMaggio/Monroe relationship gets paraded around as proof of true love, so it’s nice to see something acknowledging Miller. They also didn’t hide that he was very much married during the early part of their relationship which is, again, a breath of fresh air.

Pointing out that The Prince and the Showgirl was MMP’s first film was a breath of fresh air. There’s nothing to support Bus Stop getting produced by her, although it’s likely her salary was run through MMP for the film (I discuss more about running salaries through production companies here).

I really enjoyed watching Amy Greene’s appearance on here for the most part. I think her commentary about Milton and her needing to move on with their lives after Marilyn ousted Milton from MMP was poignant and right on the money.

Conclusion

It’s a solid, if not always accurate retelling of Monroe’s life. Sarah Churchwell is irritating and gets things wrong often, which is depressing being they have an excellent cast. Not focusing on Michelle Morgan for Monroe’s time in England is a wasted opportunity. I understand they wanted a full-female cast of talking heads, and I would have liked to see someone like Shar Daws replace Churchwell.

Part 4

Not going to lie, this is the one I’m really not looking forward to. Marilyn’s last years are always dramatic, and I don’t think I can handle listening to Churchwell come up with something else.

Inaccuracies

Claim: Marilyn’s acting style in Some Like It Hot is unparalleled and great. Her behavior was villainized because she was a woman.

Fact: Look, at the end of the day, Marilyn was horrible on the Some Like It Hot set. People can spin it any way they want, but she was rude and inconsiderate to the cast and crew. From not showing up to intentionally messing up scenes to get a retake, her poor behavior would annoy anyone. That’s not to say one shouldn’t take her addictions and mental illness into account; however, to act like she faced criticism strictly because she’s female is disingenuous.

Claim: No one on the set of Some Like It Hot knew she was pregnant.

Fact: Marilyn had a very obvious baby belly and was wearing maternity clothes during the last few weeks of filming. At an estimated four months along, Marilyn would’ve been in her last trimester. You can see pictures of a visibly pregnant Monroe here.

Claim: Something’s Got to Give was her first mature role.

Fact: Honestly, I don’t know what this means, especially being Bus Stop was getting welcomed as the best dramatic performance of all time on the last episode. It wasn’t the first time Marilyn played a mother either. All I can think of is that they meant someone old enough to have small children?

Claim: Fox paid Marilyn 1/10 of Liz Taylor’s salary for Cleopatra.

Fact: This is true, but it’s important to remember that Liz freelanced and could demand whatever she wanted. Because Marilyn had chosen to stay chained to Fox (people forget her new contract only required a handful of films), she couldn’t make the same salary demands. This is part of the reason I feel the formation of MMP was too much too soon for her.

Claim: Cleopatra and Something’s Got to Give were the only films being made by Fox.

Fact: Fox did not take on new projects; however, they needed to finish a multitude of projects to get back in the black. While most of these films were simply distribution deals, some were made with help from Fox’s dwindling funds. Films made during this low period that Fox (at least partially) financed include The Firebrand, Five Weeks in a Balloon and Gigot (although, it’s worth noting Gigot was filmed entirely in France, although I know some sources claim parts were filmed on the Fox lot). Five Weeks and SGTG would’ve had some cross-over with one another. This also isn’t taking into consideration projects that were in the early stages of production and got scrapped.

Claim(s): Diahann Carroll claims a sexual relationship between JFK and Monroe, goes on to say she was late on stage and there were concerns she wouldn’t make the President’s birthday gala.

Fact: There’s no evidence of a sexual affair between JFK and Monroe. If it happened, great, but stories about it fall apart. Marilyn was not late to her performance. The running joke at the event was that Marilyn was late for her performance, but she arrived on time and ready to perform. I know people get up in the air about Peter Lawford saying. “The LATE Marilyn Monroe,” but the running gag elicited a lot of laughs.

Claim: Marilyn sleeping with JFK was a power move, not something a victim would do.

Fact: Again, no evidence of a sexual affair, but it’s asinine to act like sleeping with a married man with two kids was some sort of female empowerment gesture if it was true.

Claim: Marilyn wanted to knock Liz Taylor off magazine covers with nude photos.

Fact: This is one of those things that gets trotted around regularly and has different incarnations. While it’s possible she did make the cover comment, the story usually adds on that Liz couldn’t appear in magazines that ran the photos. Several magazines with the nude photos include Liz stories.

Claim: Marilyn was rehired at $1,000,000 per picture.

Fact: There is no evidence to support Marilyn’s rehiring. According to her attorney, the revised contract was sitting on his desk, and the two of them were going to discuss Fox’s offer on Monday. The signed contract has never come to light, and Fox did not claim she was rehired in press reports from the time. The only people I know who have claimed to see the signed contract are the writers of Marilyn Monroe: The Last Take. Finally, the $1,000,000 is questionable and likely wouldn’t have been granted with Fox’s financial state. Spoto claims Monroe signed a contract for $250,000/picture which seems much more likely; however, again, her final contract still hasn’t been released.

Right on the Money

Joe DiMaggio didn’t get her out of Payne Whitney, so it was nice seeing the program not mention that. While DiMaggio did go down there and demand her release, it was Dr. Marianne Kris who needed to get her out of the hospital.

The doc does show Marilyn rehearing for her performance at Madison Square Garden for the Kennedy birthday celebration. This is a welcome relief from people who act like she showed up drunk and just winged it.

I really enjoyed Amy Greene saying Marilyn’s death was accidental (weird thing to say, I know). Those close to Marilyn, including Arthur Miller, Joe DiMaggio, Pat Newcomb and Evelyn Moriarty, all shared this theory. Marilyn’s pill addiction was well-known amongst those who knew her, and I find it refreshing to see another confidante agree that it was accidental.

Final Conclusion

A decent entry into the Monroe documentary world, Reframed: Marilyn Monroe doesn’t really reframe the actress as much as it takes a less sensational viewpoint. While the documentary plays it safe in a lot of parts, including avoiding discussing Monroe’s affair with Yves Montand, it’s a nice, superficial documentary that’s worth watching. Monroe buffs won’t learn anything new; however, the documentary is sure to be a feel good, if at times frustrating, watch with rare footage and audio clips. My main complaint is the reliance on people who really don’t add to the discourse and the under-utilization of people like Michelle Morgan who could’ve contributed a more factual picture of Monroe as a person.

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