Liz Smith: Marilyn Monroe and Norman Mailer — Together Again!

Marilyn Monroe in "Something's Gotta Give"

And more from our Gossip: Big surprise? Jennifer Lopez loves herself …. Liz meets the Smurfs

“WHAT ARE your nightmares?”

“My nightmare is the H-bomb. What’s yours?”

So went the exchange between Redbook writer Alan Levy and actress Marilyn Monroe, in the summer of 1962, just weeks before the star’s death.

Levy’s interview with MM was one of the more wide-ranging efforts, and it includes Marilyn’s admission that where once she had thought becoming a better actress would improve her as a person, she now felt becoming a better person would improve her acting. Of her career, she remarked astutely, “I seem to have a whole superstructure with no foundation. But I’m working on the foundation!”

* * *

TOMORROW MARKS the 49th anniversary of Monroe’s suicide/accident/murder. There will be the usual tributes from fans born long after her death, and reminiscences from the few contemporaries left. And, as always, there is a steady stream of new photos, disputed porn reels, controversial works of art — the current, giant sculpture in Chicago of Marilyn with her skirts in the air — and books, books, books. The fascination with this profoundly unique, unquestionably strange girl never seems to end.

As to books, Europe’s Taschen publishing house next week will re-release Norman Mailer’s controversial 1973 bestseller “Marilyn.” Norman took a lot of heat for his fanciful opinions and purple prose, but his work contains some amazing insights, and he was nothing if not obsessed with his subject. Her image, he declared, was the “most tender and lovable” of all screen stars.

Norman’s words will be accompanied by Bert Stern’s photos of Marilyn, her infamous “Last Sitting.” Monroe’s fans hold their breath on this aspect. The big problem with Norman’s original book was the terrible reproduction of the color photos — they were over-processed, giving Monroe’s pale, milky skin an orange hue. This was most disastrous in the Stern photos. Bert photographed 36-year-old Marilyn under super-strong lights, and he declined to retouch. Every freckle, the blonde fuzz on her face, the tiny lines around her eyes, were magnified for the world to see. Not to mention her recently acquired gall bladder scar, which he promised to erase, in order to persuade Marilyn to pose semi-nude. (She was soon dead, and Stern figured their verbal agreement was null and void.) In the first Mailer book, Stern’s Marilyn — orange, and in super-sharp focus — looked like a leathery Miami Beach Medusa.

Monroe’s admirers hope this latest batch of Bert Stern photos do her justice. Many of the 3,000-plus shots he took are iconic works of art, and deserve to be properly re-printed. Most who saw Marilyn in those final months said she had never looked so lovely — thin, fragile, but ravishing. (The footage from her uncompleted final movie, “Something’s Got to Give” reveals a totally new and gorgeous MM.)

It will be good, also, to have Norman’s words out there again, causing blood to boil.

* * *

I LIKE Jennifer Lopez. Don’t ask me about her music. I’ve probably never knowingly listened to any of that. But I think she is a charming actress. I found her especially appealing in “Maid in Manhattan” and “Monster-In-Law.”  Now, I am sorry she and her husband of seven years, Marc Anthony have split, and I don’t mean to be insensitive, but I all but fell down when I read Miss Lopez’s comments in Vanity Fair magazine. “I am loving myself, I am doing things for myself.”

Perhaps Miss Lopez is an even better actress than I realized, but she has never appeared to be a woman who had issues about loving herself. However, marriage to Mr. Anthony — a thin but strong-willed man — might have changed her. And if she didn’t like that change, more power to her for reclaiming herself.

* * *

THE CURRENT hot New York magazine offers in its Intelligencer page this week, the question asked at the premiere of “The Smurfs in 3-D.” And the question is: “Did you ever feel too grown-up to act opposite the Smurfs?

Various famous actors answered this question, including Alan Cumming, Brooke Shields, Sofia Vergara, Katy Perry, George Lopez, Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris.

I don’t know what each one of these worthies said, but had I been there I know what I would have said – because I happen to be “in” this movie. (I don’t feel “too grown-up” to do anything!)

I agreed early on to act with The Smurfs in 3-D. And I don’t think it’s exactly a small thing to have been cast as a glamorous extra atop a roof garden at 30 Rock , standing with fashion’s one and only Tim Gunn – plus Joan Rivers and Michael Musto. “The Smurfs in 3-D” is actually a huge, huge hit, tied with the more mature “Cowboys & Aliens.” It’s a plus to have such a movie credit under my belt. I can add it to my acting experiences in “Garbo Talks”…”The Fan”…”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” plus the Ron Galella documentary “Smash His Camera” – as well as some TV acting, as it were, in “Murphy Brown” and “The Nanny.” And a still-to-be released documentary titled “Craptastic!” (I don’t even remember doing that one.)

A nice woman named Vivian came up to me in the Bon Bon Hair Salon this week where she works and told me she loved me in “The Smurfs” movie and said I looked great.

I asked her, “Did I get to say any lines; any dialogue?”  She laughed: “I don’t remember.”

But still, I thought my lines pushed along the plot, such as it is. Have to go check myself out at the movie theater because nobody invited me to the “dailies.”

It was quite an experience standing in the New York skyline at a faux party and acting with the Smurfs. (There wasn’t a Smurf in sight. They hadn’t been created at the time.)

Ho, hum, that’s how movie-making goes!


14 Responses so far.

  1. avatar rick gould says:

    It blows my mind that J Lo hasn’t done anything in years and one season on “Idle Americans” and a divorce gets her a Vanity Fair cover. Well, she does epitomize the first half of the title.
    That and the “Most Beautiful” woman title from that other august publication, “People.”

    Maybe next year, J Lo will get the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award or a Nobel Prize.

    She must have a helluva manager.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rick…

      Her manager is Benny Medina.  Oy. And double oy.  But, he has helped her become a multi-millionaire.  And he is responsible for many of the “bitchy diva” tales that surround her.  He’s no slouch in that department himself.

      • avatar rick gould says:

        I don’t have anything against J Lo personally. She seems like a smart cookie and may even be a decent person in her personal life.

        But she made her first movie in 1995 and a couple of good films aside, totally unmemorable music, and being a Flygirl, this is all J Lo has to show for heading in on 2 decades in show biz? Zzzzz…

  2. avatar Daniel Sugar says:

    I really enjoyed “Garbo Talks”.

  3. avatar Count Snarkula says:

    Off topic, but why the hell is Oprah getting an honorary Oscar? Over Doris Day? Really?

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Count…

      What appears to stick in the craw of the Academy is that DD will not appear to accept an award.  Whereas Oprah—you put a potato chip on a window ledge and she’s there. 

      • avatar Count Snarkula says:

        Oh Mr. Wow, thank you. I needed that laugh. I’ve been clutching my pearls over something Margo said in her column today. But Oprah, really? Why? She was good in “The Color Purple”, but she totally massacred “Beloved”. What else has she done to deserve an Oscar? I am truly baffled. If it is just a matter of showing up, surely there is a more deserving candidate that would come. And for the record, I find it cruel that the academy won’t give Doris the Oscar because she wouldn’t come in person. She likes her fans to remember how she looked. Nothing wrong with that. Wait and see how fast they give her a posthumous one when the time comes.

        • avatar rick gould says:

          Well, it just shows you how absurd awards, tributes and general merit in show biz have become.

          Doris Day should have gotten an honorary award at least two decades before. Compare her 20 years as a top box office draw/hit singer with the above abysmal J. Lo. (I know I sound like I am picking on Ms. Lo. I don’t hate her, just don’t get her.)

          This year, the Academy couldn’t even acknowledge Elizabeth Taylor on her birthday, the same night as the show, from her hospital bed, even though it publicized that she was watching, and that she had come from her near-death bed 50 years ago to collect her first Oscar. Might have been a classy touch to dig deep and say Happy Birthday or Get Well. But the Academy Awards ain’t classy and has a short memory…

          And yeah…An Oscar for Oprah. That’s another stretch, isn’t it?

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Rick..

            I guess Oprah is being honored for her humanitarian efforts.  Fine.  But Doris Day’s movies did more to lift spirits than 20 years of O’s self-aggrandizement. 

            In my humble opinion.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Oprah is being considered because she is 1) rich 2) powerful and 3) needs to have her ego boosted again.  How has she used film in any way for humanitarian causes?  This isn’t the Emmys. It’s the Oscars.

            I suspect there is more to “won’t return to Hollywood” than Doris Day not “aging well” and wanting her fans to remember her as she was. One problem is that “New Hollywoood” has forgotten “Old Hollywood” and feels no sense of gratitude for those who paved the way for them. As we saw with the Motion Picture Fund when it decided that those who had paved the way could find other accomodations other than Woodland Hills since it had become too expensive to provide for them. True they relented. But only after a lot of outrage.
            As for the potato chip, well, Oprah would have someone call to inform you that she does not eat just one potato chip and then inform you of what kind of potato chip she does eat and then inform you that you will be required to sign a “non-disclosure agreement” before serving her. And suggest you use a linen tablecloth to place the bag on and provide a Scalamandre-covered chaise  on which she can repose on the ledge after enjoying the bag. Or two. Or three. Depends on her mood I suppose.

            She does not deserve an Oscar. But, well, what Oprah wants, Oprah gets…

  4. avatar Charles Casillo says:

    Those Stern photos…wrongly processed and unretouched in the Mailer book…and subsequently on postcards, several last sitting books, and blown up to giant proportions in photo galleries, have given the impression that Marilyn was weathered and aging in her last year.  The truth is she DID fear aging.  But as anyone who sees the footage from her last unfinished film, Something’s Got to Give, most of George Barris photos frolicking on the beach and photos and footage from Madison Square Garden know that she could be more breathtaking than ever in her career.  Her genius as a model was more potent than ever.  With a little more thought to lighting, care in reproducing the prints, and the normal amount of retouching that any professional photos receive, and these photos will be among the most stunning of her career.  Some of them are, even “as is.”
    I also hope that Stern includes some of the fabulous “fashion” shots he did in sessions following the nude sittings.  These breathtaking photos show a new Marilyn Monroe.  Elegant, mature, sexy, beautiful.  It’s a Marilyn that could have been.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Charles…

      Stern seems reluctant to release many of the fashion shots, preferring the nudes.  Many of those are lovely. Some are not, as she drank the endless bottles of champagne Stern had on hand, and lost a measure of control.  Worse, Stern didn’t even show Monroe half the shots, and many that she did see, she objected to, crossing and scratching the transparancies.  After her death, Stern went right ahead and published all the pictures, including those Monroe never wanted to be seen.

      The fully-dressed fashion shots are ravishing. 

  5. avatar French Heart says:

    ~Love M.M. regardless of any ungallant attempt at deconstruction.
    ~Loved ‘Monster-in-Law’ (Fonda & Wanda…take it on the road hilarious) and ‘Maid in America.’
    ~Live in Carmel-by-the-Sea where Doris Day and Clint Eastwood are revered. On her last birthday she did a ‘live’ interview over the phone that was broadcast at her party. Same voice, witty & wonderful. She has her gorgeous long-time place in Carmel Valley with gardens like paradise–why would she want to leave & have her precious moments ruffled in LA–can’t blame her at all. Think she is fantastic.

  6. avatar Richard Bassett says:

         Your column really made me laugh this morning. First, presenting the Smurfs at the glamorous premiere.  You stated, “Hey, I’ll appear in anything. I don’t take into consideration the adult/child movie stigma. You’ll just list the film on your résumé. Your take on your role was very seriously. I have felt that in Hollywood, given a TV pilot to film. To appear in…pilot”History 101”. I was a male hustler in the civil war and my costume was so scant that they I actually had to be walked to the FCC to get an approval for the hustler costume (like a go-go boy) before shot. I did get permission. Many on the set thought the costume was scandalous for family hour TV. I made a few ‘friends’ on that project.  After that, in post production, I managed to x-ray the pilot producer (I was a Radiology Tech at Cedars VIP Ward)…who was first to remember me!!!! He told me that my image and film scenes (this was the early 80’s) were considered the x-rated one on the editing floor. The show was scheduled for prime time, access to children so I (the character) was cut. Now, if it had it been scheduled to appear 2 am??  But I was happy to be part of it for a week. I decided there, it would go on resume. No wonder what the part was. In one scene, I was standing near a candle that was too close to the leading ladies lace shawl, I knew it would catch fire at any second so I move the candle into a safe distance. The whole production came to a halt. I was told not to touch anything. It was ‘props’ who had jurisdiction over all of that. Such a crime? The role is still on my resume. Asking your hairdresser if you made the final Smurf cut (seeing no dailies) just brought me back
     I laughed at your remark that you wouldn’t recognize Jennifer Lopez’s music, even if you had heard it. That’s so funny, and so TRUE. Her music blends in with all dance music. She has a big hit, “On the Floor” out right now (singing with Pit Bull…my favorite persona), but even I had to hear it a few times before I knew it was her. The vocals were so usual and generic. Even on her music video, I had to look twice to see if it was, indeed, really her. As for her much public private life, she manged to stay under the radar with her first two initial marriages…but then a headlining scandal with Sean Combs, as well as the perfect engagement to Ben Affleck , followed by a quick marriage to singer Marc Antony. Oh yes, being on “American Idol” was news…but her personal life for filing divorce against great perfect third husband, Marc Antony, just added to the erratic romantic reputation. There were twins that were born somewhere in the middle of this so she is starting to build up quite a reputation…and it is ongoing; they’ll be more TV, films, romances, marriages…I’m sure. At least her marriage to Antony was more than a rwo year deal. I love her new song. Loved it before I knew it was her song. I guess that is how the industry is going these days.