‘Love, Marilyn’ – Worth the Watch?

In 2013, fans anticipated a new kind of Marilyn Monroe documentary. One which was going to promote the private, unknown Monroe.

Fragments’ is the heart and soul of the film, the core in which actors give Marilyn’s personal scribbled notes and poems a voice. Readers include Uma Thurman, Elizabeth Banks, Glenn Close and Viola Davies as Marilyn’s vocalisation, with Adrian Brody, Ben Foster and F. Murray Abraham as those who knew, worked with, loved or wrote about this deep and complex individual. But is it worth watching?

POSITIVES

The proof of Marilyn’s deep-seated insecurity, complex sensitivity and strength can only be witnessed by hearing her talk or reading these private notes – and director Liz Garbus delivers this beautifully.

Despite many people’s beliefs, Marilyn did not keep a diary, but like many of us, when she felt compelled and overwhelmed with emotion, she would scribble profound poetry, personal affirmations and manic notations discussing her fears, dreams, passions and even recipes. What ‘Love, Marilyn’ does is convey these complicated qualities of a famous, stunning movie star that so many believe they know, and spins it on its head. Hearing her pour her heart out demonstrates her immeasurable inner beauty and her humanity.

But not only do we get to have Marilyn’s deepest feelings performed to us against a backdrop of stunning photography and images of her words on paper, but we also get accounts from those who knew her. This provides both what we know about Marilyn. We also receive a darker, deeper side to her. Using taped interviews, as well as biographies and letters from those who knew her best (and those who didn’t know her at all, but we’ll get to that later) we are delivered a second outlook. As Marilyn said to George Barris in 1962, “there are always two sides to every story.”

Of course, we are witnessing the feelings of a woman who wrote many of these notations at times of anguish. Many of us write our thoughts in our darkest moments and not so much during happier times but it is a refreshing perspective to be given. One that promotes a woman wishing to be taken more seriously in her craft but also as a person – a struggle she endured throughout her life.


NEGATIVES

Acting in front of a green screen, trying to emote someone else’s words when you didn’t even know them is no easy task for even the most talented of actors. However, some of the cast come through better than others. The performances at times are “hammy” and over the top, projecting the depiction that Marilyn was nothing but a bit of a drama queen who was miserable 24/7. Understandably the film is wishing to show the “other side” of Marilyn but the victim card feels a little much – quite the opposite of the 2022 documentary ‘Reframed Marilyn Monroe’ which conveys her as a feminist pioneer. Some balance would be nice. In reality, she was both and she was neither.

The biggest bugbear for many Marilyn researchers is the use of Norman Mailer’s biography, who admitted he wrote the book on mostly speculation and for money, creating many conspiracy theories and tarnishing Marilyn’s name as well as many others. He has been repeatedly discredited as a reliable source and yet his words feature heavily throughout.

The second issue for many fans is Sarah Churchwell throwing in the myth that Marilyn needed to sleep her way into roles. This is brought up at the same time as using footage of Ben Lyon exclusively stating she worked tirelessly for her career.

Why did they not quote ‘My Story’ or her conversations with Maurice Zolotow where Marilyn stipulates she wasn’t interested in sleeping with studio heads and directors or producers to get further? Churchwell also brings up the $ 1 million contract with Fox that has never been published and can therefore be discredited as proof of Marilyn being hired by Fox for that amount.

Controversially, George Barris claims Italians are “possessive” and therefore that’s proof that Joe DiMaggio “let her have it” as well as stating Joe wanted her to have lots of “bambinos” despite Marilyn saying herself that she wanted several children with Joe, whereas Joe’s number was a little less dramatic. It is, however, interesting seeing the biases of people who knew Marilyn.


CONCLUSION

Other than the cringeworthy acting in places, a few questionable sources and a couple of errors the documentary is a must-watch. It brings tears to my eyes. The music, the absolutely gorgeous rare footage and the heartbreaking reality that Marilyn, still to this day is treated as a joke. Something she feared immensely despite her continuous struggle to be seen as a talented actress and a decent happy human being.

‘Love, Marilyn’ renders Marilyn somewhat of a self-absorbed personality, which she likely was, but it also gives her some dimension that many may not have recognised in her previously.

Download here

The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe by the Coward Andrew Dominik

Note from Laura: As I have been torn between giving Blonde (2022) a watch, going back and forth between whether I want to subject myself to a film which depicts Marilyn in what is set to be an exploitative and dehumanising way, I asked a friend and fellow Marilyn fan, April Chambers, to discuss her thoughts immediately after watching it. Enjoy!


When brute force meets the life force, it is the former that has to yield.
– Alexander Walker, Stardom, pg. 311

By April Chambers@classichollywoodwomen

Trigger warning: Sexual abuse and sex acts

In 1970, Alexander Walker wrote Stardom as a way for people to understand why we follow celebrities. Unlike other books in the genre that tend to focus on Monroe, Walker dedicates a single paragraph to her—likely due to the time the book was written—to discuss how she played off Gable in The Misfits, declaring her full of life compared to Gable’s manufactured masculinity.

Walker likely would have devoted himself to an entirely different set of stars than the ones he chose in 1970, but it gives us a peek into how Marilyn was viewed before the death rumors began to swirl a couple of years later. She was more than a footnote but unworthy of an entire chapter. This isn’t to say she was overlooked or underestimated. Walker’s description of her as the life force that “exists in the moonlight she dances in” shows someone who respects her talents. However, there are days I wish we could go back to when Marilyn was deemed worthy of little more than a paragraph because at least her memory wouldn’t continuously get sullied.

Andrew Dominik did not set out to create a faithful biopic of Marilyn’s life. Although some film critics are labeling Blonde as such, the film is not attempting to portray Marilyn’s life with any semblance of accuracy. Instead, Dominik has set his sights on accurately adapting Oates’ novel, Blonde.

Blonde, written by Joyce Carol Oates, uses Marilyn as a symbol of everything that was wrong in the 50s and the studio system. Women are expected to be weak. They’re expected to be victims. Marilyn is the weakest victim, and her life fits in perfectly as a starting line for the dark, grotesque and macabre worlds that Oates relishes in creating. Dominik seems to fit right in with this world as well, creating a faithful adaptation of Oates’ book. 

As a Marilyn fan, you’ve probably read ten thousand reviews of the film so far. I’m not going to give you a thorough debunking article. If you would like to read a lot of the main misconceptions and lies the film pushed, you can read my debunking tweets here (highlights include: Dominik has her 1958 miscarriage happening in 1957, caused by a fall on the beach when serving a platter of food. He has her landing the role of Miss Caswell because of Darryl Zanuck raping her. He has Whitey injecting her with amphetamines to get her to work.):

Marilyn discussed how she was a mirror for many people, reflecting their lewd thoughts rather than being lewd herself. This film is a giant mirror for all involved, but especially Dominik. He leaves no room for Marilyn to grow, instead relegating her to a box of constant woman-child victimhood. He has Armas speak in the baby doll voice throughout the film, likely to help cover her accent (a plan that succeeds quite well btw, proving the accent discourse wasn’t necessary). He puts her in exploitative situations. He never shows her grit, her meanness. Instead, he declaws the kitten that used ruthlessness and cunning to climb her way to the top and stay there. He makes her a shell of what she actually was. In short, he makes Marilyn a sniveling angel constantly getting tarnished by coming in contact with lecherous mortal men.

What Dominik accomplishes by following that path is put Marilyn’s eccentricities on full display, magnifying them until the real person is lost and a caricature of herself emerges. Yes, contrary to what other reviewers have claimed, Marilyn did call all of her husbands “Daddy.” She did become neurotic, especially in her later life. She was both the victim and the victimizer. But rather than unpack these factual aspects of her personality and treat them with nuance, Dominik chooses to make them her entire personality until the real Marilyn is no longer there.

He also makes some left-field creative decisions. For starters, he perfectly matches a number of her costumes and outfits—and then he puts them in completely different time periods (like her 1962 rose costume for Something’s Got to Give gets portrayed as an item in her personal wardrobe circa 1957). If you’re going to work to the point where you’re matching clothing and hairstyles, why put them in completely wrong time periods?

My biggest grievance for the film, however, is having everyone call her Norma Jeane. Although there are a few instances of people using that name well after she was Marilyn Monroe, this idea of Norma Jeane and Marilyn Monroe being two different people is such an overused trope in both films and books. Norma Jeane and Marilyn Monroe were the same person, at least in private. This idea that people just kind of discarded their pasts after changing their names is a popular idea in fan discourse, but it completely flattens the subject into a before and after, allowing people to place their own thoughts onto how one or the other was the “better” time in the person’s life.

Now, onto the elephant in the room: the NC-17 stuff. There are hundreds of reviews at this point going into detail about rape scenes and vaginal shots. Pretty much anything you’ve read is all here in graphic detail (although some of it was a little sensationalistic in how it was described). The most graphic scene is the JFK blowjob which has him laying in bed on the phone, wearing a back brace and begins with him forcing her to give him a hand job. While she’s pumping away, and then giving him a forced POV blowjob, he’s getting lectured on sexually assaulting three girls while watching fireworks explode on tv as he explodes himself. It’s gross and unnecessary, but it’s really just a great metaphor for the film’s reliance on falsehoods.

On the plus side, the film is beautifully shot and Ana de Armas does a good job with a weak script. I don’t think I would ever say she looked like Marilyn, but she does capture some part of her personality. Little touches like shaking the hands when warming up for a scene and that wide-eyed wonder look are perfectly emulated by Armas.

Overall, I don’t think the film deserves the attention it received. It’s not a great representation of anything, even when looking at it as a symbolic representation of the 50s and the studio system rather than a biopic. It’s just exploitative nothingness that relies on tits and ass to generate publicity instead of a well-written script. The recreations are interesting, but really not worth watching a nearly three-hour film for. In short, the movie has pushed itself into our consciousness with brute force, but Marilyn’s life force will make it yield.

Marilyn Monroe Books You NEED

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of Marilyn Monroe books published covering an array of topics. Her life, her death, movies, relationships and more. Of course, some are more reliable than others and the one question I am often asked is which book is the best. I have read only a handful of these books but I have it on good authority that these books are worthwhile. A quick thanks to my fantastic Marilyn buddies who have been fans for decades and recommended most of these to me!

Admittedly, there is no one book that is 100% perfect. Some facts, dates, names, and places can get muddled, and it’s usually simple human error or lack of resources (which I will go into shortly) which can prevent a book from being the Ultimate Marilyn Monroe Bible. But honestly, these little errors are nothing compared to the colossal amount of books entirely based on the testimony of frauds and fakers.

There are a few things I consider when purchasing a Marilyn book:

  • When was it written? As time has gone on there has been more access to reliable research therefore it’s easier to fact check. A book written in 1996 for example will be different to a book from 2022 as we now know a lot more information and have access to more data. That’s not to say the older books aren’t as good!
  • Who and what are the sources? I often check the sources at the back of the book. If there are only a few sources or they repeatedly contain the names of certain people, I tend to avoid that particular biography. Obviously, a bit trickier when buying online.
  • What are the reviews from fellow researchers like? I often ask some of my Marilyn pals their opinions on books I am considering purchasing as many of them read a lot more than I do.
  • The number of errors… If a book makes many mistakes on things which can easily be fact checked, I tend to avoid it.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

This post contains Affiliate Links.

Below are the books I recommend for any Marilyn fan. Some are more detailed than others, but all are well researched or come from the author’s personal experiences. Again, there’s always the possibility of a few errors but these are the most accurate titles (IMO). Click on the images to purchase!

Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed by Michelle Morgan

This is a wonderfully comprehensive guide to Marilyn’s life with no sensationalism or conspiracy. Sticking to the facts with sources, just how I like it! This biography is succinct, to the point and well-written. Michelle’s writing style makes Marilyn’s life easy to follow and is perfect for any Marilyn fan, new or old.

Icon: The Life, Times, and Films of Marilyn Monroe 1 & 2 by Gary Vitacco-Robles

If you want a much more in-depth biography these two are it. Gary delves into not just the facts of Marilyn’s life but also her films, her psyche and discusses the myths that surround many of the events in her life. Highly detailed and very heavy!

My Story by Marilyn Monroe and Ben Hecht

Ghostwritten by Ben Hecht, this is Marilyn’s story all the way up to 1954. I read this in one night! It’s a small but lovely book detailing, in Marilyn’s own words, her childhood and rise to fame. It genuinely feels as if she is talking to you.

The book wasn’t published until a decade after Marilyn’s death and I’m sure she would’ve had so much more to tell. It’s such a shame we didn’t get the other eight years of her life in this autobiography.

Fragments by Marilyn Monroe

Is there anything more honest than handwritten notes? Some people feel this book is intrusive of Marilyn’s privacy because of the personal content. However, if diaries, journals, letters and notes have taught us anything over history, it’s that these documents provide us with a deeper understanding of people’s mindsets. That’s what Fragments does. It allows us to perceive a more private and “real” side to Marilyn.

My Sister Marilyn by Berniece and Mona Rae Miracle

With the help of her daughter, Mona Rae, Berniece Miracle wrote about the relationship she shared with her half-sister. For years she kept her silence but decided she wanted to share this personal account. This is a side to Marilyn we don’t get to see often and provides a glimpse of what life was like for the sisters who lived in very different worlds. The book DOES have a few errors and mix-ups, but that doesn’t take away from the bond Marilyn and Bernierce shared.

Mimosa by Ralph Roberts

Like My Sister Marilyn, this book encapsulates a personal relationship with Marilyn but this time it’s from her friend and masseuse, Ralph Roberts. Ralph found it hard getting his memories of his time with Marilyn published because his tale wasn’t sensational but to me, there’s nothing more sensational than hearing personal accounts of people’s time with Marilyn.

When Marilyn Met The Queen by Michelle Morgan

You can read my review here.

Honourable Mentions

‘When Marilyn Met The Queen’ Review

After many painstaking years, hard work and dedication, Michelle Morgan’s latest masterpiece on Marilyn Monroe does not disappoint. 

When Marilyn Met The Queen is everything My Week With Marilyn should have been but instead of fluff and fiction, we are given facts about Marilyn’s life in England in 1956 whilst filming The Sleeping Prince (aka The Prince and the Showgirl).

Personally, this is the first time I have experienced an account of Marilyn’s life (albeit only four months of it) in such a detailed, well-researched way. A beautifully written timeline of Marilyn’s stay in England is recorded superbly, disallowing any possibility of mysterious week-long affairs. Ahem.

Hearing about Marilyn’s days on (and off) set, at Parkside as well as in and around London made me feel closer to her. I learnt so many new interesting facts and anecdotes that in all honesty I never wanted the book to end. Normally a slow reader anyway, I felt like I would probably finish the book in a day. But I took the time I needed to absorb these events. I wanted to envision every moment.

I am glad she was adored by the British although I do wish that people had remained the stereotype that kept themselves to themselves a bit more. That way Marilyn would’ve been able to explore the UK a bit more, creating some happy memories before returning to New York.

It is very common for books to make you feel like you’re reading cold hard facts about someone’s life, forgetting that the subject once lived a complicated and meaningful life. That their life is not just some timeline. There are even books that create an over-the-top melodrama full of conspiracy and falsehoods hardly letting you believe the people were ever real.

But not When Marilyn Met the Queen.

I felt a real human connection to Marilyn in this book. As if she wasn’t just a Hollywood icon anymore, but a living, breathing person and I am understanding her as a human being as well as an actress and celebrity. Of course, I do anyway. I don’t see her as anything more or less than a human being. But WMMTQ helps portray this.

This biography, although a detailed timeline of events, had moments where I was taken back to my days working in London, just 1 mile from The Savoy. I used to walk past the hotel and look at the windows and attempt to work out where Marilyn had waved to fans, picturing what it must have been like to see her, glowing and greeting her adoring British public. Or when I would go into Foyles and think about how much Marilyn loved the bookstore. A small thing but these accounts took me back to my happy Marilyn moments, and that warms my heart a great deal. Now, I have even more I can connect with, even if it’s just going through Egham, seeing Windsor or even a picture of the Queen. There’s nothing I love more than finding connections to Marilyn in the simplest things. And because of this book, I don’t have to fly to LA or New York for those moments.

I digress…

Despite either sitting on my sofa with a coffee with the hard copy of the book or listening to the audiobook whilst doing my chores, I was fully absorbed in an almost day to day account of what life was like for both Marilyn and those who encountered her whist she resided in the UK. I was there, watching. Sometimes I felt like there was a pane of glass between myself and Marilyn, where I was bashing on it, trying to break through so I could give her both a bit of a slap and a hug at the same time.

In addition, what did strike me most, other than the wonderful details and quotes from Marilyn and those who experienced Marilyn Mania in ’56, was how hard things were for all parties. 

Of course, I pity Olivier and what he, the cast and crew endured with Marilyn’s tardiness, absences, constant retakes etc. but my heart truly goes out to Marilyn. 

Not only is she constantly bombarded by fans and the press, but the poor woman seemed to never get a moment alone. Of course, this wasn’t just in 1956. Since she rose to fame she had and still is one of the most recognisable faces in the world. However, this book genuinely made me feel uncomfortable for the way journalists, the public, and how even her entourage treated her. If she wasn’t being pulled left, right and centre by fans, photographers and reporters (both figuratively and literally), she was having her sentences finished for her by those closest to her, being told what to do and not to do.

To me, it’s no wonder Marilyn was late for everything. She probably just wanted some peace and quiet for a couple of hours. Oh, how I wish she had just told everyone where to go so she could deal with things herself… Nonetheless, I feel readers of this wonderful biography will not be disappointed by the quality of writing and attention to detail that Michelle delivers with every piece of work she publishes. 

Although I am yet to read Marilyn In New York, which intends to discuss Marilyn’s life in 1955, I can only hope it lives up to the same expectations that WMMTQ delivered because I need every year of Marilyn’s life to be written in such a way. 

I applaud Michelle, as she doesn’t have time for bias but only for facts and real-life accounts of what occurred from July to November 1956. This is a quality of her writing that made me email her back in 2012, telling her how much I enjoyed Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. A decade on and we are still good friends. Thank you Marilyn for introducing me to so many talented and wonderful people. 

You can purchase When Marilyn Met The Queen by Michelle Morgan here.

Reframed Marilyn Monroe Part III and IV Review and Fact Check

Please read my review on parts I and II here.

PART III

The documentary reconvenes by welcoming “the New Marilyn Monroe” and her venture with Marilyn Monroe Productions, a topic I feel is regularly missed within many documentaries about Marilyn’s life. And it was an IMPORTANT one! This was the year Marilyn had started to feel like she came into her own and it’s gratifying to see this mentioned.

However, with all good things come a few mistakes. Namely, Angelica Jade Bastien, like many others, act that Marilyn’s production company was a shocking ideology in the 1950s. However, it wasn’t. Marilyn was in a long line of female-owned production companies (along with Doris Day and Joan Fontain as well as many others), who in turn probably were more successful in their film making ventures. This isn’t to put Marilyn down but to say women didn’t make their own movies is an insult to the women who did just that. Hardly the feminist message which is trying to be drawn. I don’t think there would’ve been anything wrong to put her next to these talents. It was still a brave thing to do, considering she was still under contract with Fox.

By part 3, I quickly became bored bashing of Daryl Zanuck… Are we still talking about this guy? Yeah, he wasn’t a particularly nice person however, he did get Marilyn her contract and she did work for him. Marilyn had done exceedingly well on the back of these roles, and that is what Zanuck was there to do – create movies that brought profit for the studio. Luckily, I found the exploration of Marilyn’s time in New York comforting and revitalising and it was so lovely to see Sam Shaw’s daughters discuss Marilyn. It’s new for me to actually see them in a documentary as I, and many others, are so used to seeing the same old faces saying the same old things.

For example, I constantly cringe when I hear the story of Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald. Ella was a jazz singer whom Marilyn had loved since taking singing lessons with Phil Moore in the early 1950s. However, it is told as if Marilyn only discovered her music when she lived a free life in New York, representing Marilyn’s life in Los Angeles like some sort of prison. I am grateful to Sarah Churchwell for stating that Mocambo DID have black performers and the reason for her not being wanted at the club was more down to her not being glamourous or “beautiful” enough. However, Marilyn DID NOT go to Mocambo for both shows. The performances were reported and there is nothing that says Marilyn Monroe was ever in attendance.

The idea that Marilyn was best friends with Ella Fitzgerald at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement is mere fantasy. She wasn’t showing her face with Ella as a stand against racism. She just treated Ella like a human being and someone she admired. They knew each other but they weren’t close friends. Marilyn was also friends with Sammy Davis Jr. but that wasn’t considered as being a part of her civil rights advocacy, so why should this? Marilyn was not a racist, nor was she trying to be Rosa Parks. Marilyn discussed civil rights but instead, a new ideology is created to fit this portrayal.

When analysing Bus Stop it’s highlighted that this was her first dramatic role… Ummm? Shall we forget two even better films, Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara? Okay, never mind. It is however fab that they don’t claim Bus Stop to be a Marilyn Monroe Productions film, because it wasn’t, The Prince and the Showgirl was. This leads me onto more male-bashing *yawn*. I’m not the biggest fan of Laurence Olivier or how he acted towards Marilyn but I understand his frustration. BUT he wasn’t the terrible portrait of a man that is painted here, he was just thrown into a new world of directing a film, with an actress who was very hard work. The result was an amazing performance by Marilyn in a very mediocre movie.

Why they didn’t feature Michelle Morgan to discuss more on Marilyn’s time in England and her relationship with Olivier is a mystery to me. They missed a trick here. This is literally her forte. The information we would’ve got would be not only insightful BUT factual.

PART IV

The part we have all been dreading… The last few years of Marilyn’s life are shrouded in a conspiracy so I clenched my teeth and dove into the final years of Marilyn’s life expecting the worst. Luckily, it wasn’t that bad!

From out of nowhere Marilyn’s tale jumps from Some Like It Hot, her miscarriage in 1958 to The Misfits.

Wait… Did they skip a whole section of Marilyn’s life? Where is the discussion of Let’s Make Love? What about her affair with Yves Montand?

Yeah, they did. There is no mention of either at all. Is this a documentary of Marilyn’s life or are we just trying to change Marilyn’s history to preserve this image that Marilyn was perfect when, putting it bluntly, she was far from it? She was a human being who made very human choices and errors. There is nothing wrong with that. So why pretend these qualities didn’t exist?

Thus, we go from 1959 (very briefly) straight to 1961 (again, briefly)

It’s mentioned that Marilyn went to the hospital to seek help due to self-awareness, which I personally would disagree with. Marilyn sought psychoanalysis on the basis of other people’s recommendations (namely to help her with studying at the Actor’s Studio with Lee Strasberg). As with a lot of people in her life, she became reliant on both the Strasbergs and her doctors. Her treatment at Payne Whitney was not sought after in the name of self-awareness. She did it because she trusted her doctor. And her doctor was wrong (my opinion).

As recorded in the documentary she is locked in a cell on a psychiatric ward which, some fans disagree, I don’t think would ever have helped her. Many believe Marilyn would’ve lived should she have stayed there. I believe this did and would have made her anxiety and mental health worse.

Although Joe DiMaggio did not physically release Marilyn, it was because Marilyn was able to get hold of Joe, she was later let go from the facility. It has previously been argued the Strasbergs had been the first people Marilyn had tried to reach for help. A letter to Lee and Paula shows she had already been trying to get the hospital call Dr Kris and Joe. After contacting Joe, that is when Marilyn was released. I know people aren’t a fan of this narrative that he “saved” her but in Marilyn’s eyes, he did but convincing Dr Kris to get Marilyn out of the hospital. But none of this is discussed. Most likely because people are bored of the White Knight story of Joe saving Marilyn. When it’s only partly true. But this documentary has no time for Marilyn to be saved. Instead “Marilyn was a fighter”. Which she was. However, she also needed support, something this programme is refusing to admit.

Apparently, nothing else happened in Marilyn’s life during 1961 other than her divorce followed by a mental breakdown in February. There is no discussion in her rekindling her friendship with Joe, her trip to Florida, her decision to move back to the West Coast etc.

And here we jump right ahead to 1962. The year of dread. This was the year Marilyn died and so is usually told with a lot of tales of either misery of drug addiction and alcohol or with unending hope that she was happier than ever and going to be a millionaire.

So… We start off with Marilyn buying her home in Brentwood which she supposedly bought alone. Wrong. She was loaned some money by Joe DiMaggio as a deposit which was repaid from Marilyn’s estate when she died.

I’m happy that Michelle Morgan discusses Marilyn’s physical health during the filming of Something’s Got To Give, as I think it’s often overlooked that Marilyn was unable to work because she was sick and not because of her being difficult or her “drug” troubles when making the film. An error that continually crops up in both books and documentaries is that Fox was only making SGTG and Cleopatra. There were several projects which were being completed at the time, so this Liz VS Marilyn narrative is a dull one, especially concerning salaries which is still highly debatable. Although, it. is believed Marilyn was rehired for $1,000,000 the contract has never been released nor any statement made by Fox. I do believe Donald Spoto’s theory however that Marilyn was rehired at $250k for the. start and completion of SGTG and one other picture. This however has never been officially proven.

The discussions about Marilyn’s performance at the JFK Birthday Gala (also a Democratic Party Fundraiser) was planned, rehearsed and had more than just Marilyn Monroe perform there. Many are under the illusion that Marilyn turned up out of the blue and sang. Diahann Carroll states there were concerns of Marilyn even turning up on time hence Peter Lawford announcing “the late Marilyn Monroe.” This was all rehearsed. Marilyn was there, and on time and the lateness gag was connected to Marilyn’s reputation for always being late.

I really, really adored Amy Greene (first time for everything right) for commenting on Marilyn’s death as an accident which is what all facts and evidence point to. For once we aren’t left with the wild tales of a red diary, the CIA, the Mafia, the angry Doctor, the secret ambulances, RFK flying in on a helicopter to come and poison her… No. We are left with the very realistic yet sad truth.

CONCLUSION

Overall, the documentary as a whole is okay. Despite a refreshing attitude to the usual Marilyn Monroe narrative we are told which involves steamy affairs and murder, I do feel this documentary focuses far too much on female empowerment without delving into Marilyn’s life and overall personality.

Reframed’s main focus seems to be that “Marilyn was a victim of men” but with a few powerhouse moves up her sleeve like sleeping with the President… Why is it so hard just show Marilyn for what she was?

Moreover, it bothers me somewhat they didn’t discuss Marilyn’s friendships and relationships in detail. It was as if Marilyn was this independent woman who relied on no one. WRONG. Marilyn relied on a hellova lot of people and had strong connections with many in her life. Yes, she was strong but she also suffered and endured. I think it’s unhealthy to promote Marilyn on the opposite scale. Instead of the poor victim, we are getting a woman who went at it alone, and look what happened? This is not the true story of Marilyn Monroe.

More time should’ve been given to discuss her relationships, her feelings and to humanise Marilyn. Instead, she is once again made into a symbol, but this time, of feminist ideology. I am a feminist myself but this? This was overkill. I felt like nothing can really be taken away regarding Marilyn’s life or her personality. This didn’t perpetuate the idea that I had hoped… That Marilyn was a human being.

Loved:

  • The full female cast;
  • The reencactments;
  • The footage and recordings of Marilyn;
  • Michelle Morgan;
  • Stories that aren’t told as much as they should be and
  • Not focusing on conspiracy theories.

Disliked:

  • Sarah Churchwell waving her hands about whilst getting the simplest bits and pieces wrong;
  • The constant need to bash men who actually really helped Marilyn;
  • Skimming over important details or completly missing chapters in her life;
  • Acting as if Marilyn was independent when she depended on people to the point of desperation;
  • Treating Marilyn as a symbol for the feminist movement;
  • Not mentioning other stars who were also in the same boat as Marilyn in terms of successes;
  • Not enough Michelle Morgan and
  • The inaccuracies mentioned within the reviews.

Reframed Marilyn Monroe Part I and II Review and Fact Check

There is no such thing as a documentary that is completely faultless, especially when it comes to stars like Marilyn Monroe. Constantly there are conspiracies thrown in with fantastic tales to increase the drama of her life. And yet, Marilyn’s true story is a remarkable one. 

That is why the new CNN documentary, which aired on Sunday 16th January, was so highly anticipated by fans around the world. Could we finally be given a factual docuseries about a woman who has been publicised so much in the 60 years since her death? 

The marketing promised we would see Marilyn we didn’t know. A strong, determined woman who would not be made into a victim by the patriarchy that dominated Hollywood. 

This time we were hearing about Marilyn from women, those who knew her and Marilyn herself. Photographers, actresses, writers and biographers. 

Narrated by Jessica Chastain. we are told the story of Marilyn’s rise to fame. But is it accurate? This post will simply summarise my thoughts on the documentary (so far) along with some fact-checking.

WORDS OF WOMEN

Firstly, I absolutely love how we are hearing Marilyn’s story from women. We have actresses; film historians; playwrights; biographers and researchers discussing the world from a panel of women. 

Actresses, Ellen Burstyn and Joan Collins, discuss the male dominant industry that was Hollywood. It’s insightful to hear the stories of how actresses were seen as commodities and viewed as prey by the Hollywood Wolves. In a way, it was comforting that Marilyn was not alone in what was expected of her. On the other hand, it was disgraceful to know that so many aspiring actresses were being treated in such a manner. 

In addition, we hear from women who analyse Marilyn’s life, her actions and what it must’ve meant to be such a powerhouse in a time that women were seen as nothing but baby makers and housewives. Seeing women support women, as opposed to tearing them down, is what we need more of in today’s culture. 

Considering many of the biographers of Marilyn’s life have been from men, it’s also uplifting to see it voiced by women. 

PRODUCTION & PRESENTATION

The overall production is professional, easy to watch and contains plenty of beautiful footage of Marilyn coinciding with recordings of her reminiscing. The re-enactments are also gorgeously presented. 

FACTS OF MARILYN’S HISTORY AND RISE TO FAME – PART 1

The discussion of Marilyn’s childhood is fairly accurate. This is (thankfully) in part to the documentary including recordings of Marilyn discussing these events. Hearing what she actually had to say about these topics is the closest we will ever get to the truth. 

I do wish more was elaborated on about the struggles she faced as a child including her family history. I personally feel it would’ve been insightful to those who are new to Marilyn’s life, to examine how her mother’s health deteriorated despite desperately trying to do right by Norma Jeane. I feel these tragic events are what shaped Marilyn into being both strong and sensitive. 

Her rise to fame is discussed somewhat differently from Love, Marilyn (2012). The 2012 documentary (which also features Sarah Churchwell, Lois Banner and Ellen Burstyn) claims that Marilyn was a part of the casting couch system and slept her way to fame, despite Marilyn specifically stating this was never the case for her. This and the use of Norman Mailer’s biography were Love, Marilyn’s biggest faults. But what about Reframed? Were they going to go down this route too?

Confusingly, it is then mentioned that Marilyn attended the parties of Joseph Schenck (20th Century Fox studio executive) to meet and date men that would help her career (in line with her character Miss Caswell in All About Eve.) 

The documentary also implies these images were taken during Marilyn’s first-ever screen test. This is not true, these were publicity shots for Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!

“Schenck’s favourite girl” is how she is referred to, a term Marilyn stated in her biography, My Story, annoyed her. Marilyn explains in her book (written with Ben Hecht in 1954) that she liked Schenck but he “never so much laid a finger on my wrist or tried to. He was interested in me because I was a good table ornament and because I was what he called an “offbeat” personality.”  However, they change the narrative by discussing how she turned down other studio heads resulting in her being fired.

I understand the documentary is shaping Marilyn as to being a powerful woman, making up her own mind as to what she does, how she does it and who she does it with. But if Marilyn states something didn’t happen, why can’t this just be accepted? 

Why does the plot go from “she didn’t sleep her way to fame” and how she beat off the wolves to “she was intimate with studio executives” when she specifically stated she didn’t? 

If this is the road they wanted to go down, they could’ve just left it at the relationship with Johnny Hyde which was briefly mentioned despite how important he was to Marilyn. They DID have a relationship. She DID care for him. What happened in their relationship was between them so whether it was sexual or not is something that we cannot be completely certain of. However, HE helped Marilyn’s career too, not just her. 

I feel that the main narrative in part one is more about the Hollywood system and how Marilyn was sexualised and seen as an object. I would’ve liked to have seen more about how she worked with Natasha, the amount of studying she did and how hard things were for her trying to break out. Personally, this felt like background information and there was more of a feminist agenda, which is wonderful, but I would also like people to understand Marilyn’s history better than just what a bunch of horrible, old men there were (and still are) in Hollywood. 

PART 2

Part two continues with Marilyn’s growing stardom and we are now more focussed on her career, how Marilyn took control over her image and how much of a sense of humour she had, a quality I think is often overlooked. 

Marilyn was the master of publicity. She knew how to play the media and use her sexuality and wit to do that. A fantastic topic that I am happy is being discussed as it’s an underrated attribute of Marilyn’s. 

The conversation of Marilyn’s nude calendar (photos in 1949 but publicised as being Marilyn in 1952) and how she refused to “be ashamed.” I love that this topic is reviewed in detail. Still, nudity is seen as a negative. Ironically, they decided to blur Marilyn’s nipples thus showing society has a way to go before accepting the female form. 

In addition, credit is given to Marilyn for writing her line in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), “I can be smart when it’s important… But most men don’t like it.” After some research, book skimming and contacting a few fellow Marilyn researchers, there is nothing we can find that backs this statement up. And although Marilyn was incredibly bright, I find it frustrating when positive falsities are used to promote these qualities of Marilyn’s when there are plenty of real things she said and did which back this up.

However, the publicity aspect of Marilyn’s life is continued into 1954, by implying her relationship with Joe “started as a publicity stunt” and her marriage was used to get her more money from the studio. Although it. Has been rumoured in the past Marilyn dated Joe in 1952 for publicity, she didn’t even know who he was when she met him. By the time they were married Marilyn and Joe were in love and had been dating for over two years. This wasn’t an overnight choice. But it was the wrong time for them. Marilyn’s career was soaring, and it was hard for the retired baseball star to have to share his wife with the world when he had just left the life of constant screaming crowds. You can read more about their relationship, starting here.

Marilyn’s trip to Korea was a lovely perspective on what a caring person she was. That she sang in the freezing cold to boost the morale of hundreds of thousands of men, who admired her. It was a beautiful way to display her caring qualities. 

Still focussing on publicity, we reach September 1954, when Amy Greene discusses Joe’s rage on the set of The Seven Year Itch during the subway scene. She claims she was standing next to Joe that night and could see he was visibly frustrated. However, any footage or photos of Joe do not show Amy present or anywhere near him. Despite Amy always standing by that she was there, which likely she may have been, how close to Joe she was to visibly see his rage is unknown. What we do see In some photos is him smiling with Walter Winchell before the attention on Marilyn’s underwear became too much. I don’t think this is entirely unreasonable. Many partners of Hollywood actors find it hard seeing their other half exposing themselves or in love scenes.

She, like in Love, Marilyn quashes the abuse allegations. Although I don’t believe Joe was physically abusive with Marilyn, the rumours of this initially started in part because of Amy’s interviews with Anthony Summers, claiming, “Marilyn started to get undressed. She forgot I was sitting there and that she was taking off her blouse. … Her back was black and blue — I couldn’t believe it.” Because of this statement and a couple of other people making comments, the rumour mill started.

I am glad that Amy did confirm Marilyn didn’t put on crocodile tears for the press when she was announcing their divorce. Marilyn was genuinely upset that her marriage had come to an end, so this was not part of her publicity scheme. To imply everything Marilyn ever did for publicity would be false. Marilyn knew when to turn it off and on and that is what I think is missed a bit in part 2.

CONCLUSION

As many fans have already stated, there are errors within the first half of Reframed Marilyn Monroe and there’s no ground-breaking information that those who have researched Marilyn don’t already know. 

However, I think this is (so far) a refreshing take on Marilyn’s life. Research has been done, despite a few mistakes and some daft comments. Obviously, we haven’t reached the discussions of her drug habits, her marriage with Arthur or her death yet. This is usually when documentaries go downhill significantly.

But overall, the documentary is doing well in promoting Marilyn as someone who was NOT a victim. I do feel, however, that it is unnecessary to overdo her #GirlBoss ability. Despite her having a dream and working hard, she didn’t do this entirely on her own. She had support and she did need help and, although I am not the biggest fan of some of these people, they deserve some credit too for how they helped Marilyn.