Archive | August, 2012

From Sneaky Marketing Spring Mixed Blessings

18 Aug

^ Tommy Lee Jones (l) and Meryl Streep (r) in Hope Springs. Streep’s character works at a Coldwater Creek retail outlet in the movie, and Oscar winning costume designer Ann Roth (The English Patient) has been praised for outfitting Streep in clothes that look recognizable for a mature, comfortably middle-class woman. What do you think?

So  Hope Springs, starring Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a solidly conventional, romance starved, middle-aged couple quickly approaching their senior years, opened last weekend with a relatively strong gross of 14+ million.  It will be interesting to see how, or if, this movie catches on with Mr. and Ms. Moviegoing Public for the long haul. In case you haven’t heard, Hope Springs is being marketed as one thing when in actuality it is much much different than what the handlers at Sony Pictures would like all of us to believe.  From the coming attractions trailer, which has been circulating for a few months (at least), Hope Springs looks like a smirky comedy about a couple of sixtysomethings who want to reinvigorate their love life by visiting a sex therapist–played by the one and only Steve Carell.  Everything about it just screams “hilarity.” I mean, c’mon, comedic maestro Steve Carell as a sex therapist? How can that not be worth a laugh or two?

Well, guess what? The movie is almost nothing like what it appears to be in all the publicity materials. Indeed, one critic even made a comparison between Hope Springs and Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage–and Ingmar Bergman, to clarify for some of my younger readers, was never accused of sacrificing story and characterization for a joke.  No, almost without exception, Bergman was known for dark, brooding works that painted a bleak portrait of Scandanavian life–and Scenes from a Marriage, which was originally presented as a TV series in Sweden, was no exception (just longer).  Hope Springs, despite its optimistic title, isn’t completely devoid of laughs, but they are, well, incidental–and most of them are presented in the trailer. I’m surprised at just how clever the people were who assembled the trailer from the reels of completed footage, but don’t get me wrong: I actually enjoyed the film though it was hard to sit through at times.

Streep plays a woman who craves physical intimacy and urges her husband of thirty-one years to join her in Maine for an intensive couples retreat with a high profile therapist. To clarify: the characters played by Streep and Jones, with both their children grown and living on their own, no longer even sleep in the same bedroom let alone the same bed.  Streep’s Kay believes her husband no longer finds her sexually attractive and is profoundly miserable because of it.  Of course, she is not entirely blameless in the dissolution of the sexual nature of their relationship as Jones’s Arnold eventually explains; meanwhile, poor Arnold thinks the marriage is fine. He finds comfort in the banal rhythms of their day-to-day routine, and he is not prone to express–or elaborate upon–his true feelings unless it comes to money. He’s a bit of a tightwad, and as the old saying goes, he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. It’s obvious from the beginning how desperately unhappy Kay is, and, yes, she and Arnold are clearly in a rut, but once she and Arnold are behind Dr. Feld’s doors, the full extent of their dysfunction becomes all too uncomfortably real–especially to anyone who has ever, say, been married or been in an otherwise monogamous long-term relationship and has sought couples counseling when things get rough, which they do, inevitably.

^ Texas native Tommy Lee Jones won the 1993 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the smash big screen adaptation of the TV classic The Fugitive opposite Harrison Ford. Fresh on the heels of that success, he co-starred with Susan Sarandon in the movie version of John Grisham’s The Client (for which Sarandon was subsequently Oscar nominated). The two were reunited for 2007’s In the Valley of Elah (as seen in the above image). Directed and co-written by Paul Haggis (of 2005’s Oscar winning Crash), In the Valley of Elah helped Jones secure his third Oscar nomination, and his first for Best Actor. The same year, he starred in Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men. Jones’s first Oscar nomination was for his supporting role as suspected conspirator Clay Shaw in 1991’s J.F.K. In 2005, Jones won Best Actor  at Cannes for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which he also directed and was, like No Country for Old Men, filmed in Texas.

Those inclined to stick with the movie even when the drama starts hitting too close to home will be rewarded by the gift of two truly astonishing performances–and good–great–performances, to me, are always worthy food for thought.  Of course, by now we have every reason to expect two such heavy-hitters as Streep and Jones to deliver each and every time, but I think their work here surpasses most expectations–and without all that painfully earnest emoting that sometimes reduces smart performers to strained self-consciousness. Nope, these two are about as a raw and real as most of us care to imagine while sitting in a darkened theatre. We certainly don’t need them to do more “acting” to make their point. It’s actually refreshing to see Streep be this good after winning her third Oscar for 2011’s silly–ludicrous–Margaret Thatcher biopic (The Iron Lady), which served more as a showcase for her talents at impersonation, than at skillful, robust characterization, and in which she was also hampered by a deadly script and was only brilliant in isolated moments. In Hope Springs, she’s so good that it hurts–and that’s the point. While watching the movie, it’s hard not to get caught up in the swirl of emotions that Kay finds so overwhelming.  The audience feels something for this character and all her frustrations; it’s not all about admiring the effort and technique propelling the performance.  If it’s possible, Jones might actually be even better because his character is at such a disadvantage, meaning that he must humanize a man that the audience is not primed to root for in the same way that they are with Kay; after all, her dissatisfaction is obvious, and she is noticeably less afraid to open up and share her feelings than is Arnold.  We just want him to snap out of it and get with the program, yet he’s the one, or Jones is the one, who has to put up a good fight and not give too much away lest he lose his position in the relationship. As such, Jones must measure how much he’s willing to display at any given time, and he does most of that through some pretty revealing body language and one devastating closeup. Bravo.

What else? Carell is good. He adds a thoughtful presence though his performance is almost too subdued for its own good.  I like Carell, but as my friend pointed-out, almost anybody could have played his role. The same can also be said about the high profile cameo appearances made by  Mimi Rogers, Elisabeth Shue, and Jean Smart. I wonder if the bulk of their performances were left on the proverbial editing room floor.     Hope Springs is directed by David Frankel, who previously worked with Streep on The Devil Wears Prada; the script is by Vanessa Taylor.  It’s her first feature film though she has plenty of experience writing for such TV shows as Game of Thrones, Everwood, and Alias.  Her script shows confidence and a lot of polish though it’s not as seamless as it probably should be. For starters, the root of Arnold’s behavior is never fully addressed. Oh sure, there’s something to be said for ambiguity–and I certainly have my own ideas about Arnold and his sense of mortality–but it seems like a lot of territory is covered enroute to a discovery of some kind only to have the whole thing dropped with an easy line or two of dialogue.  Also, somebody somewhere probably thought it would be funny to see a worldly sophisticated actress such as Streep engage in a running gag, so to speak, involving oral sex, and while I’m no prude and understand that people in their 50s and 60s (and older) deserve to have as much fun in the sack as the younger generation(s), I think the repeated emphasis on the one particular act sends a confusing message, as if the success of the marriage depends on Kay being able to service her husband accordingly.  Luckily, that notion is also abandoned.  Oh, and there’s also something peculiar about this movie’s math. Kay and Arnold have been married for 31 years, and we’re to understand that they met while Streep was a college student, and Jones was some kind of teaching assistant. Okay, let’s say that this movie was filmed in 2011 (likely), so 32 years prior to that would be 1980, yet in 1980, Streep turned 31 years old, and Tommy Lee Jones turned 34, which makes it seem highly unlikely that they would have realistically still be attending college at that time. Of course, the characters didn’t just meet and get married straightaway though I do believe the script implies that theirs was a whirlwind courtship–and they were married before Kay’s identity was fully formed, thereby allowing for a significant chunk of her dissatisfaction. In that case, these sixtyish actors are actually portraying people my age–fiftyish–or thereabouts, and that seems like a cheat.  Why couldn’t the characters be the same age as the actors?  I’m sure the answer is all about one thing: marketing. Marketing, marketing, marketing.

Of course, movies have to be marketed–there’s nothing novel about that–but sometimes I have to wonder about the people making such decisions, and why studio personnel won’t just trust audiences to judge a movie on its own merits.  I’m now going to borrow from the late great Pauline Kael to show how some of this “stuff” works.  If Hope Springs turns out to be a disappointment to the people who buy tickets based on the cheeky preview, who then turn around and kill the movie with negative  (or bewildered) word-of-mouth, the studio’s marketing department will likely lay the blame on a movie that was somehow inherently unmarketable, a hard sell, and they will feel like they did everything they could to save it by appearing, or stretching,  to turn it into a comedy.  That’s how the business of writing-off failures works. Like Kay and Arnold, these marketing types need to learn how to listen and how to accept responsibility for their actions. On the other hand,  if the movie succeeds, well, at least the title wasn’t in vain.

Thanks for your consideration…


The Music Man: Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012)

7 Aug

(^ Left to Right: Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, and Marvin Hamlisch celebrating their shared Academy award for “The Way We Were” at the 1973/74 Oscars.)

How shocking it was for Michael and me to turn on the TV this morning and to see a scroll announcing the death of composer Marvin Hamlisch at the relatively young age of 68.  Hamlisch was a mere 29 years old when he won three Oscars in one night for his contributions to a pair of huge 1973 films, The Sting and The Way We Were. For the former, he was honored in the “Best Original Song Score and/or Adaptation” category for pairing the music of ragtime composer Scott Joplin to the Great Depression era antics of the smooth, ridiculously handsome confidence men played by Paul Newman and Oscar nominee Robert Redford.  Purists scoffed at the way Joplin’s music was reappropriated, but it was a perfect if unlikely fit, a nifty audio complement to the onscreen action–and it introduced the composer to a whole generation or two. Hamlisch’s other awards were for The Way We Were‘s original “dramatic” score as well as a shared honor for composing the music to the movie’s “classic” signature tune (with lyrics by the team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman) made famous by Best Actress nominee Barbra Streisand.  I was watching the Oscars that night–with my grandma in her bedroom–and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how ecstatic Hamlisch was–how he beamed–every time he was called back to the podium to collect another statuette. Yeah, The Sting was the big winner that year, what with victories in 7 categories including Best Picture,  but–ask anybody who was watching–it was definitely Hamlisch’s night.  I thought we was adorable, and the thrill of his success is one reason why  I keep watching the Oscars year after year. We need more Hamlisch. Oh yeah, I’m also happy to report that we had well-worn vinyl copies of both the complete soundtrack to The Sting and a 45/single of “The Way We Were” in our home. Now, that was living.

Hamlisch’s triple victory wasn’t exactly a first as Billy Wilder had already accomplished a similar feat by producing, directing, and co-writing 1960’s Best Picture champ, The Apartment; likewise, Walt Disney had taken home more than one award in one evening, including a set of four at the 1953/54 ceremony (in the categories of feature length documentary, documentary short subject, cartoon short, and two-reel short subject). Of course, Disney’s Oscars were not necessarily for work he created himself, and both he and Wilder were fully mature men when they scored big.  Did I mention that Hamlisch was only 29 at the time of his first major triumph? Of course I did. Wow! Where do you go when you’ve seemingly reached the pinnacle of your career before you’ve even turned 30? (Fact: he turned 30 shortly afterward.)

  • Well, Hamlisch soared to even greater heights, becoming one of a select few individuals to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony (often referred to as an EGOT). So much for the so-called Oscar jinx.
  • His first Emmy was for 1995’s Barbra: The Concert on HBO (that would be Barbra Streisand, natch.) He earned a total of seven Emmy nods and won three times.
  • He won four Grammy awards, including Best New Artist (1974) as well as yet more accolades for The Way We Were soundtrack, giving him another incredible triple play evening.
  • Hamlisch’s Tony was for the long-running landmark Broadway musical, A Chorus Line. Two of the best known songs from the show include the catchy, “One” (One singular sensation. Every little step s/he takes…”) and the evergreen “What I Did for Love” (“Kiss today goodbye, the sweetness and the sorrow…”).
  • He shared the Pulitzer prize for A Chorus Line with Michael Bennett (director-choreographer),  James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante (book), and Edward Kleban (lyrics).
  • He reportedly holds the distinction with Richard Rodgers of being the only composers to win not only the  coveted EGOT but also a Pulitzer.

His wealth of accomplishments also includes…

  • a total of 12 Oscar nominations, including a pair for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me (collaborating with Carole Bayer Sager on the song “Nobody Does It Better) and a nod for “Surprise, Surprise,” a number that he and Kleban composed for the 1985 movie version of A Chorus Line.
  • an additional 11 Golden Globe nominations, claiming the trophy for “The Way We Were” and “Life is What You Make It”  from 1971’s Kotch (another shared nod–this one with celebrated American songwriter Johnny Mercer).
  • four awards from the American Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (ASACP)

Hamlisch and one-time partner Carole Bayer Sager were once a romantic item as well and collaborated, with no less than ever-popular  playwright Neil Simon, on the successful Broadway musical They’re Playing Our Song, starring Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein. The show was based on the real-life relationship between the composer and the lyricist; it ran for over 1000 performances, beginning in 1979.  He married Terre Blair in 1989.  His most recent offering is/was the long awaited stage version of the Jerry Lewis classic The Nutty Professor. The production has been in the planning stages for quite awhile and recently opened in Nashville as a tryout for an anticipated Broadway run.

He was young when he began his career,  first as  a child prodigy at Julliard and then later composing “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows,” a 1965 hit for Lesley Gore. Hamlisch was 21 at the time. Today, he passed from this earth all too soon, it seems, but, oh, what a life. What a career. What a legacy. What music to our collective ears!

Thanks, Marvin…

Official Hamlisch website:

USA Today obituary:

Hamlisch at the Internet Movie Database:

Hamlisch at the Internet Broadway Database:

Hamlisch and the Grammy awards:

Broadway: The Musical (PBS):

Wilder at the IMDb:

Disney at the IMDb:

Richard Rodgers at the IMDb:

Richard Rodgers at the IBDb:

Something About Marilyn

5 Aug

Goodbye, Norma Jean: In 1973, Elton John and Bernie Taupin collaborated on “Candle in the Wind,” a moving, humanizing, tribute to Marilyn Monroe that depicted her as burning brightly yet also living vulnerably and uncertainly. Decades later, when Princess Diana died in a devastating car crash, John and Taupin insulted MM’s memory by rewriting the song as a memorial to the late beloved British royal. Candle in the wind, indeed.

Today marks 50 years since the passing of Marilyn Monroe.  Had she lived, she would have turned 86 this past June.  There’s not a doubt in my mind that no other American film star has been written about as exhaustively as Marilyn Monroe (though Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor probably come close). At this point, there does not seem to be anything left to write about regarding Marilyn though, of course, the opposite is actually closer to the truth. We seem to know everything about her, yet we still know almost nothing. That’s because Marilyn died so young (36, to clarify), because her death occurred under such mysterious circumstances (was it suicide, an accidental drug overdose, or something much more sinister), and because, to be just a tad obvious, Marilyn is no longer here to explain herself to us. If she had lived, she could have written a tell-all book and promoted it on, say, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or with Oprah on her own show, but there’s more.

One of the thing that keeps us fascinated about Marilyn is trying to reconcile the two halves of a complex whole. We all know that MM was born Norma Jean Mortensen–though later commonly known as Norma Jean Baker–and that she had a miserably unhappy childhood: no relationship with her father, a troubled relationship with her mother, a stint in an orphanage, passed around from one well-intentioned do-gooder to another, etc. That’s the backstory of the damaged young woman who willed herself to be a star in the guise of Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean’s greatest creation.  Marilyn Monroe, of course, was that flirtatious, larger-than-life sex kitten with a creamy complexion,  silky soft hair, dreamy bedroom eyes, a dazzling mega-watt smile, a knock-out figure, of course, and a voice that cooed sweetly yet hinted at even more delicious possibilities.  Her act was so great that it only confused the men in her life, and she even said as much, I believe, explaining  the dilemma of  men going to bed with Marilyn Monroe and waking up with Norma Jean.  She could never live up to their expectations, and she suffered because of it. (Note: The story might be apocryphal in that a similar quote has also been attributed to sultry Rita Hayworth: “Men go to bed with Gilda [her famous vamp] and wake up with Rita.) Yes, Marilyn Monroe was Norman Jean’s greatest creation: almost everything about her was calculated for effect. There is at least one account–awkwardly recreated in last year’s My Week with Marilyn–in which Norma could turn “Marilyn” off and on at will, going from being a regular Jane in a crowd to creating a frenzy just by rechanneling her energy, smiling,  and striking a Marilynesque pose. I recall reading one time in a book someone working with her on a movie watching MM go through her script, making notes and saying stuff like, “Marilyn wouldn’t say that; she wouldn’t do that.” Trippy, huh?  At some point, I think managing Marilyn became even too much for her creator, and that’s probably one factor in her rollercoaster adult life with its extreme highs and lows: Norma Jean was never secure enough to handle all that Marilyn was.

This piece won’t be a film by film tribute to MM–it would be a bit much, and many of us already know how great she was, and we all have our favorites. I’ll probably write about a few of the movies more in depth, individually, at a later time when the mood strikes me.  That noted, most of us surely already know that MM never earned a single Oscar nomination even though she was one of the biggest stars of her era–and I pity the fools who like to argue that, while popular, she only became a superstar in death.  Not so. There’s enough evidence to dispute that cynical claim. The truth is, she was a top box office draw with both the public and the press following her every move.  There are probably two important reasons why she never scored with the Academy.  The first reason is three-fold: once Marilyn hit the big-time, she was often cast in comedies, and comedies do not typically play as well with jaded Oscar voters. Of course, there are exceptions, but, generally, the Academy prefers “meatier” fare; comedies register as lightweight(s). The second part of that very factor is that, aside from playing in comedies, Marilyn was frequently cast as, well, gold diggers, perhaps gold diggers with heart, but gold diggers nonetheless. The characters were perceived as shallow compared to say someone like Ingrid Bergman playing an amnesiac who may or may not be the lost daughter of Russian Czar Nicolas II in 1956’s Anastasia. Bergman won the Oscar the same year that Marilyn stretched her talents as a second-rate chanteuse in Bus Stop, which many critics believe to be her finest performance.

There’s also the feeling that in role after role Marilyn was somehow not acting, that she was just playing herself or that she was simply playing the same character over and over again, which might be true on some meta level but also somehow misses the point of what makes MM so great.  Finally, the other important factor to consider when it comes to Marilyn and the Oscars is that other Academy members–the colleagues who actually vote for the awards–were likely exasperated by her off-screen antics. She was notorious for holding up production through her own insecurities, an unhealthy dependence on her acting coaches, and a seeming inability to remember her lines, often requiring dozens upon dozens of takes, though in a recent TV documentary, no less than  former co-star Mitzi Gaynor allowed that the bit about not memorizing her lines was often a strategic ploy for MM to get out of doing something she didn’t feel comfortable doing–and esteemed writer-director Billy Wilder is quoted in Danny Peary’s Alternate Oscars, offering that “Anyone can remember lines, but it takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and give the performance [in Some Like It Hot] that she did.” Peary tries to right the Academy’s wrong by giving MM the 1959 Best Actress Oscar for Some Like It Hot, and he (Peary) also names her an alternate runner-up for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and the aforementioned Bus Stop. To clarify, she actually claimed the Globe for  Some Like It Hot, was likewise nominated for Bus Stop, and won the Globe for World Film Favorite-Female twice (1954 and 1962).

I happen to think that Marilyn is one of the greatest screen actresses ever, perhaps the most purely cinematic actress since the advent of talkies.  Hers is/was a particular talent in that I don’t know how she would have ever fared onstage, but onscreen she was magic though her magic was the result of enormous skill. Simply, almost nobody has ever been as aware of how to play to the camera, to work all the lighting and all the angles to her advantage, as well as Marilyn. Every Marilyn performance is an act of well-calibrated contrivance. Every gesture, every flutter,  and every pose are all there to do one thing and one thing only: to make sure the camera stays squarely fixed on her–and, of course, the camera responds accordingly. The camera loves her as do we in the audience; moreover, how she does what she does is a feat because she makes all that effort appear so, well, spontaneous.  The next time you watch an MM movie, try watching only her if you can. Separate her from her character, the plot, and the other actors and watch how she takes advantage of the camera down to even the smallest detail. (Not that she ever ignores characterization, per se; it’s the way she uses technique to serve the character.)  Once again, fascinating stuff. Of course, some people might argue that I give her too much credit, and that the directors are equally responsible for her successes. I say, well, yes, of course, but I also believe that no one could direct Marilyn better than Marilyn herself.

Besides her success at the Golden Globes, Marilyn Monroe was a seven-time nominee for the Laurel Awards, per Motion Picture Exhibitor magazine. Additionally, she was a two time Photoplay award winner (often called the Photoplay Gold Medal).  She won a British Academy award–and Italy’s David Di Donatella prize–for 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl. She snagged an additional British Academy nomination for 1955’s The Seven Year Itch. She made the Quigley Publications Top Ten list in 1953, 1954, and 1956–the highest ranked female star on the list each and every time.

Here’s my question: had she lived, what would Marilyn be doing now–or what would she have gone on to do in her illustrious career? Her roles in Bus Stop and The Misfits (1961) showed that she was moving into more dramatic terrain, and the available footage of her last film, the abandoned Something’s Got to Give, shows incredible sensitivity. The plot, borrowed from 1940’s My Favorite Wife (starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne), shows what happens when a woman, both a wife and a mom believed to have been drowned at sea and declared dead after several years, miraculously returns just as her husband (Dean Martin) has remarried (to Cyd Charisse). Years ago, AMC television cobbled together the footage into a featurette as a follow-up to yet another Marilyn documentary, and the result was stunning. Not only did Marilyn look as lovely as always, there was something touching about the brief scenes with her children, and that showed a whole new side to the star. Though 20th Century Fox pulled the plug, the same scenario was later resurrected as the hit Move Over, Darling with Doris Day, James Garner, and Polly Bergen.

I started making a list of movies, many of them with iconic roles and/or performances, that Marilyn might have been perfect for had she lived; my friend contributed one or two as well.

  • Hud (1963) – Though perhaps more a supporting role than a starring one, Patricia Neal nonetheless won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of  the housekeeper who comes between Paul Newman’s title character and his nephew (played by Brandon De Wilde).  Neal was only 37 at the time, more or less the same age as Marilyn, and she had a worldliness (a weariness) that wasn’t immediately as apparent in Monroe, but I always loved Neal’s Southern drawl, and I can appreciate the way Marilyn’s sweetness could have been given new dimension by playing a woman who’s been around the block a few times. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Newman and Monroe in a picture together?
  • Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) – The great Kim Stanley snagged an Oscar nomination for this tidy British made thriller about a psychic “medium” and her efforts in a kidnapping case (and, really, that’s just a small thread in a complicated yarn).  Though, the film, again, is a British production, Stanley is an American, and she has a connection to Monroe, so it kind of makes sense to imagine Monroe in the film. See, Stanley originated the role of Cherie in the stage version of William Inge’s Bus Stop (later played onscreen by Monroe as noted elsewhere); likewise, Stanley created quite a splash in The Goddess, a 1958 film written by Oscar nominee Paddy Chayefsky that portrays the rise to fame of a sexy movie star born into impoverished conditions. Of course, the parallels to MM are unmistakable, so if Stanley can play Monroe, why shouldn’t Monroe be able to take yet another crack at a role (that would be) made famous by Stanley, especially since MM has a spacey quality that would work well for Séance‘s increasingly desperate psychic.
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) – Elizabeth Taylor won her second Oscar for playing the blowzy wife of a history professor (portrayed by her then hubby and frequent co-star Richard Burton) in the big screen version of Edward Albee’s Tony winning play. Liz, still in her early 30s at the time of the film, put on weight and played down her glamorous image in order to become fiftyish Martha. Monroe would have been right at 40 at the time and might have relished the chance to sink her teeth into such a demanding role. Also, given the glimmers of maternal possibilities in Something’s Got to Give, as well as her own reported miscarriages, Monroe could have gone even further than ever imagined in the role of a woman mourning the child she never had.
  • The Graduate (1967) – “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?” Who wouldn’t love to see Monroe as Mrs. Robinson, the classic role inhabited by Oscar nominee Anne Bancroft? When Bancroft played the character of middle-aged Mrs. Robinson, she was only 36 or so–only 6 years older than Dustin Hoffman in the role of Benjamin Braddock (he played younger; she played older). Monroe was 5 years older than Bancroft (11 years older than Hoffman) and would have been over 40 if she had played the role, which seems about right. Doris Day reportedly turned down the sexy, edgy part, but, again, since she and Monroe were reportedly considered for some of the same roles, it would have made sense for Monroe to have also been considered.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – Louise Fletcher won great acclaim and, yes, a Best Actress Oscar, for her take on the villainous Nurse Ratched in the famous movie version of Ken Kesey’s counter-culture classic set in a mental hospital. At the time of the film’s release, critics praised Fletcher for not playing Ratched as an obvious monster but as a chillingly soulless woman whose soft spoken, yet firm, demeanor made her seem even more threatening.  Hmmmm…consider all the possibilities as Monroe–who would have been 49 by that time–draws upon that petal soft voice from her youth, albeit with a slight edge, to a whole new effect.
  • Dressed to Kill (1980) – Angie Dickinson was in her 40s when she played the sexually frustrated wife (and mother) who has an active fantasy life and enjoys a torrid one night stand with a complete stranger–all the while being stalked by a crazed killer. Monroe would have been in her 50s, perhaps a little too old to play the mother of a teen whiz kid (played by Keith Gordon), but adjusting the script from a high schooler to a college student would not have been a big deal. Of course, Dressed to Kill, written and directed by Brian de Palma,  is not everyone’s cup of tea. It was considered shockingly violent in its day–and perhaps it still is. Dickinson is a stunner in the part and conveys a lot of emotion in a role with minimal dialogue. Again, MM would certainly know how to play to the camera in order to make this happen, and even though it’s a well known fact that Dickinson used a body double for selected shots in the opening shower sequence (De Palma’s nod to Hitchcock’s Psycho), the very idea of a prolonged sequence with Monroe in a shower–even with a body double–tantalizes the imagination.

Well, those are some of my thoughts. I guess if Monroe had continued acting, she might have guest-starred on such TV shows as Fantasy Island and Love Boat, just as many other stars from the old Hollywood studio era often did in the 1970s and 1980s.  Maybe Monroe would have found a whole new career playing, say, sensuous, man-hungry Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls (sorry, Rue). Who wouldn’t want to see a still luscious, if aging, Monroe square off against Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Estelle Getty? Maybe MM could have even played White’s  easily confused Rose Nyland. Certainly, she’d had experience playing dizzy dames in the past.  Like Taylor, Monroe might have had luck reinventing herself as a cosmetics and toiletries maven with her own line of products seen in infomercials and on the Home Shopping Network. Who knows….perhaps some of the biggest and brightest directors (Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, and Woody Allen to name a few) might have created wonderful characters just for her.  Maybe Tennessee Williams would have been inspired to write one last passionate–if fading–Southern belle for her as well.

Oh, Marilyn, Marilyn, Marilyn, maybe we should not even contemplate what might have been if only…maybe we should treasure you just the way you were and forever will be…

Thanks, Marilyn…

Thanks, Norma Jean…