Tuesday, July 31, 2012

sighted yesterday ...

An interesting cloud formation. An oncoming storm, but also a beautiful line drawing by nature.


A curious feline that refutes the old wive's tale about cats not liking water, my shower-loving cat Harry.

Monday, July 30, 2012

joe & marilyn

In Joe & Marilyn, published in 1986, author Roger Kahn, probably best known for his book The Boys of Summer, announces early on that he is convinced Marilyn had mental problems, was depressed, and killed herself. That is his opinion, and he is entitled to it, but such a sweeping, un-nuanced statement leaves out any other possible interpretations. And it also keeps his hero, Joe DiMaggio, at a safe distance.
"They were exquisite lovers, wonderful friends, but perfectly wretched as husband-and-wife."
Maybe the simple approach, at least as applied to DiMaggio, is the correct one. Joe was and still is a national hero, but he also seems to have been a fairly uncomplicated personality. Others might use the term rigid. But he was a product of his Sicilian background and the times he lived in. His main talents were applied to a sport that is about numbers and winning and losing. The complex emotional terrain of Hollywood was something he had no true understanding of and unconcealed disdain for. So how and why was he drawn to showgirls, and especially the ultimate movie star? That is a question that Kahn and others leave unanswered. Maybe Joe was more complex than he let on, even to Marilyn. Or maybe he always needed to play the hero, on and off the field, and Marilyn was often a damsel in distress.

Joe visits Marilyn while she is filming River of No Return
Kahn's interest and sympathy is clearly more invested in Joe, and he spends a great many chapters detailing his amazing career with the New York Yankees, up to his retirement in 1951. Joe's first wife was showgirl and sometime actress Dorothy Arnold, who he married in 1939. But Joe wasn't around for much of the marriage and Dorothy moved to Reno to file for divorce three years later. Like his relationship with Marilyn, it was up and down, apart and together. Joe got Dorothy to relent, and they got back together for a few more years, but she was back in Reno in 1944 and this time it was final. Even after the divorce, Joe didn't give up on the possibility of getting back with Dorothy — that is, until he began seeing Marilyn in 1952.
"As Lady Macbeth instructs us in high school English classes, raw ambition is unattractive and somewhat frightening. So shrewd young women with their eyes on stardom learn to conceal the drive behind the smiles and charm that are part of the acting craft." 
Kahn is talking in that quote about Dorothy. It's a fairly sexist statement, but it does shed light on the obstacles that Marilyn also faced as she tried to pursue her own dreams of stardom, which conflicted with her other dreams of marriage and motherhood.
"She played dumb-blonde roles in musicals, speaking in a breathy staccato voice that seems affected now. It projected beguiling sex in the 1950s to a country that had not yet invented the R-rated Hollywood movie."
When Kahn does write about Marilyn, he focuses mainly on her sex life prior to Joe, claiming that she only "slept around" in Hollywood with someone she felt really valued her. If she was expected to put out, she refused. He alleges she lost her first Fox contract for refusing to submit to Darryl Zanuck's demands, and her Columbia contract for refusing the same with boss Harry Cohn. Maybe she just wasn't attracted to either of them. She did have a (possibly sexual) relationship with elderly Fox board chairman Joe Schenck, who helped her get the Columbia contract. "I used to go to dinner at Schenck's house. That was important because after Fox let me go, I was not eating so good on my own. He was always nice and friendly and open and warm to me, but I was not Schenck's girl [bedmate], not ever. He was genuinely fond of me as a person."

A relaxed Marilyn and Joe
One of the most interesting stories Kahn tells about DiMaggio directly parallels Marilyn's struggles with her studio, and may tell more about why they could relate to one another than their obvious animal magnetism. In 1938, during his third season with the Yankees, DiMaggio demanded a raise, from $15,000 to an unprecedented $40,000 a year, which would have made him the highest paid baseball player at that time. He was the Yankees' biggest star (as Marilyn was later Fox's) and believed he deserved to be compensated accordingly. But Yankee president Colonel Jacob Ruppert (like Fox chairman Zanuck) insisted that $25,000 was more than enough. The tussle lasted weeks, even into the starting season, and there was plenty of (bad) press for the slugger as a result. DiMaggio finally had to accept Ruppert's figure, and his fans turned against him temporarily for his stubbornness and perceived greed.

The majority of Joe & Marilyn treats them each separately, as entities on their way to one another. There is precious little about their two-year romance prior to their wedding, and understandably, not too much about their short, nine-month marriage. Kahn includes an oft-told tale about their wedding night: "Although they had been lovers for many months and reporters knew it, someone interviewed the room clerk who had checked them in, probably paying for the information. Yes the clerk said, DiMaggio had asked for a double bed. Anything else? He had also wanted to know if the room came with a television set. Another impudent joke. Who in the world, on his wedding night with Marilyn Monroe, wants to watch television? Joseph Paul DiMaggio, the almost perfect knight. (She would later complain seriously and sometimes angrily that he spent much too much of their time together fixated before a television set, not enough tending to her sexual needs.)"

Checks and houndstooth, in color
Soon after they became husband and wife Marilyn went back to work and Joe entertained himself with sports, and friends. They don't seem to have spent much time together. "They settled briefly in his San Francisco house. Marilyn insisted she was having a wonderful time learning Italian cooking. In fact, there wasn't much for her to do. Joe's sister Marie ran the household. She'd been running it for years. DiMaggio lapsed into his familiar routine, playing golf and spending evening hours with male friends."

Possibly the most interesting aspect of their relationship is how their friendship endured, even deepened, after their divorce, but this is not the book for anyone interested about that aspect of their lives. Marilyn and Joe may not have been destined for marital success, but they did seem to have been meant to be in each other's lives. But for stories about Joe's enduring passion and Marilyn's continued respect and dependence on the former Yankee other sources will need to be consulted.
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

baby's first rock song

A la School of Rock, a movie we both love, the kid is composing her first guitar anthem. It's a bit in the mellow side, but I have no doubt that head banging will soon follow.

I actually went to see School of Rock at the movies, by myself, while pregnant, so the kid had no choice. She acquired my love of rock 'n' roll and Jack Black in utero. Joan Cusack, as always, is amazing in the film, too. And the kids are allowed, from time to time, to steal scenes without being cutesy. There have been rumors of a sequel. Only if director Richard Linklater is back, please.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

after two hours of tai chi practice ...

... I'm pretty tired and my ankles and knees aren't exactly sore, but let's say I'm feeling them. A lot of the moves are done with knees "soft," but keeping them continually bent is a new experience for me, and just underlines how I need to build strength in my legs. Tai chi baby steppin' ...

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Friday, July 27, 2012

kitty olympics

London isn't the only place where top (c)athletes are training hard ...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

book give-away — julia's child

Sarah Pinneo's debut novel, Julia's Child, is an entertaining read which charts the trials and tribulations of Manhattanite Julia Bailey, a mother of two young boys who is struggling to make a success out of her small start-up organic food business, called Julia’s Child. Julia is torn between wanting to provide the best, healthiest food for her family and starting a demanding business which keeps pulling her away from any quality time she might spend with them.

Pinneo accurately portrays the fear that underlies a lot of modern parenting — what exactly are we offering our children when we take the fast or easy way out to prepare a meal? She isn't afraid to poke a little fun at the extremes of organic products, and whether they are truly organic. The book at times reads more like documentary than fiction, as Julia must surmount many obstacles in order to make her business a success and keep her wares organic. In fact, Julia's struggles with production and distribution of her products makes one wish it were based on a true story, so that we could sample some of the foods mentioned. Luckily, Pinneo also peppers the novel with recipes for Julia's "muffets" and other creations, which not only adds a nice touch, but enables a reader with talents in the kitchen to whip up their own.
From the author's page on Amazon: Sarah Pinneo worked in finance for more than a decade before making the transition from breadwinner to bread baker. Sarah writes about food and sustainability for lifestyle publications including The Boston Globe Magazine and Edible Communities.
Anyone with an interest in organic food and eating in a more healthy, responsible way should be interested in Julia's journey. You don't need to be a mother of young children to enjoy Julia's Child, but some of Julia's encounters and observations of modern mommy culture will be better appreciated if you are traveling or have traveled that road.

. . . . . . .

Plume Books has offered an extra copy for me to give away to a lucky reader, so if you would be interested in your own copy of Julia's Child, here's how to enter the give-away:

By next Friday, August 3, at 8:00 p.m. EST leave a comment on this post to be entered into a drawing to win this book. One person will be chosen at random. Please be sure to include your e-mail address with your comment. Books can only be sent to addresses in the United States and Canada. The winner will be announced on my blog on Saturday, August 4 and I will email them to request a mailing address to send them their copy.

Thanks, and good luck!
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

birthday girl

My grandmother was born today, "Christmas in July." She was born in 1899. She was a talented cook, seamstress and an aspiring opera singer, a very creative lady. She is still missed.


A little internet cruising showed that she shares this birthday with some other interesting and creative people:

Thomas Eakins, Self-portrait, 1904.
Maxfield Parrish, Princess Parizade Bringing Home the Singing Tree, 1906, oil on paper.
Walter Brennan, To Have and Have Not, "Was you ever bit by a dead bee?"

Happy birthday, Grandma!
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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

harry potter and the audio book

I've read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone more than once (or even twice), not to mention seeing the movie a number of times. My daughter loves Harry and all his friends. At eight, she isn't old enough to see all the movies yet, or read the books. A friend a few years back recommended the audio books, and since we have been doing a bit of driving around this summer I thought we'd give the first novel a go. I didn't think I was really in the mood to "read" it all over again, but the amazing work of Jim Dale changed all of that. He makes Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone come alive in a way that rivals the printed word and the movie, although some of his vocals, especially those of Hagrid and Harry's uncle Vernon Dursely, seem to be influenced by the movie's actors, Robbie Coltrane and Richard Griffiths respectively.

Dale is so convincing in the prose passages and character voices that at times it is easy to forget that you are listening to just one person. From Wikipedia:
To millions of fans in the United States, Jim Dale is the "voice" of Harry Potter. He has recorded all seven books in the Harry Potter series, and as a narrator he has won two Grammy Awards, seven Grammy Nominations and a record ten Audie Awards ... He is also the narrator for the Harry Potter video games, and for many of the interactive "extras" on the Harry Potter DVD releases. He also holds two Guinness World Records: one for having created and recorded 146 different character voices for one audiobook, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and one for occupying the first six places in the Top Ten Audio Books of America and Canada 2005.
As much as some of J.K. Rowling's character names become a little twee for me after a while (Phyllida Spore, Vindictus Viridian, Arsenus Jigger, Quirinus Quirrell) I have to admit that Dale has helped me fall in love with Harry Potter all over again. I've always felt the first book was her best, as it probably received the most solicitous attention from editors. But it is fun again to hear Harry encounter Hogwarts and Hermione and Ron and everything else for the first time. Rowling undeniably created a wonderful world, and as inspired as it might have been by authors like Roald Dahl or P.L. Travers, it is still an amazing achievement. For our first venture into audiobook territory I'm now glad that we chose something so familiar and loved. And as Dale has done the entire series I'm tempted to press on. I'm not sure, however that even Jim Dale could get me through the last book and its endless forest camping trip, but we'll see.
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Monday, July 23, 2012

arthur miller's timebends

Arthur Miller's Timebends: A Life, his time-hopping autobiography, was first published in 1987, when the renowned playwright was 72. In it he chronicles his youth in Brooklyn, his life in the New York theater, and his trials and tribulations and his ability to not "name names" to the House Un-American Activities  Committee during the McCarthy red-baiting scare of the 1950s. All fascinating stuff. The book, not unexpectedly, is well written, even poetic at times. But the bulk of (this) and many other readers interest in Timebends is that it is also the first occasion of Miller speaking publicly about his second wife, Marilyn Monroe.
Happy times — Miller and Marilyn dancing at the April in Paris Ball, Waldorf Astoria Hotel ballroom,  c. 1957. From Vintage Everyday
As long and as interesting as Miller's life had been up to the point of his writing Timebends, he spends the majority of the book discussing the period of his life that included Marilyn. He first met her in 1950, when he was touting a screenplay in Hollywood with director Elia Kazan. She made an indelible impression, one that apparently never left him. Miller also made an impression on Marilyn, and she kept in touch with him, exchanging letters over the years.

He based one of his characters, Lorraine, in a(n unfinished) play he was working on in 1951 on Marilyn, although he had only met her the year before, briefly "By now, even after only those few hours with Marilyn, she had taken on an immanence in my imagination, the vitality of a force one does not understand but that seems on the verge of lighting up a vast surrounding plain of darkness. I was struggling to keep my marriage and family together and at the same time to understand why I felt as though I had lost a sort of sanction that I had seemed to possess since earliest childhood. Whom or what was I writing for?" Sounds like a combination of the seven-year-itch and Miller being in search of a muse. There is little to no mention of his life with his first wife, Mary and his family in Timebends.

Miller may not have realized how his private life was seeping into his work, but his colleagues and contemporaries did. He even ruefully quotes playwright Clifford Odets' slam of his 1953 play The Crucible to Elia Kazan: "Just a story about a bad marriage." It may be an overstatement, but Miller admits that before even embarking on the project, the central conflict of his guilt-ridden protagonist John Proctor, who has had a sexual relationship with his servant girl Abigail Williams, might be more related to his own life than he would like. His attraction to Marilyn was already influencing him, and providing a subtext in his work.

As much as Miller was obviously attracted to Marilyn as a woman, he also might have felt that she offered a new chance for him, a new medium for his writing — film. "I could not help thinking in 1953-54 that time was running out, not only on me but on the traditional American culture. I was growing more and more frighteningly isolated, in life as in the theater." As much as Miller admits to being pulled towards her, he never comes out and simply says that he loves Marilyn. But he spends a lot of pages analyzing her and theorizing about her. His descriptions of her don't always sound like a real woman, but rather a character he is fashioning. More than once he says that she is cursed, presumably by her rough childhood. It's unclear whether he believed this on his own, or because he thought she believed it.

Once Marilyn left Hollywood (and Joe DiMaggio) for New York in 1955, she and Miller quickly made their friendship something much more. Miller got a quickie Reno divorce while Marilyn was filming Bus Stop and they married in 1956.
"I was forever saving her from crowds, crowds she could handle as easily and joyfully as a minister moving among his congregation. Sometimes it was as though the crowd had given her birth; I never saw her unhappy in a crowd, even some that ripped pieces of her clothes off as souvenirs."

Miller may have loved her, but Timebends  and its author maintain a superior tone when he talks about her insecurities and what he deems as her unfounded suspicions of others' motives. They had departed for London for their honeymoon and for Marilyn to film The Prince and Showgirl with Laurence Olivier co-starring and directing. When their two very different acting styles clashed, Miller, unfortunately for his marriage, chose the wrong side, unable to believe an actor of Olivier's calibre could ever be in the wrong, "It was simply impossible to agree that he could be the cheap scene-stealer she was talking about. ... Marilyn verged on the belief that he [Olivier] had cast her only because he needed the money her presence would bring. I wanted to believe that this was only half the truth; I was sure he saw the legitimate dramatic contrast between their social and cultural types, and if his motives were indeed partly cynical, they did not cancel his valid artistic judgment in casting. ... inevitably, the time soon came when in order to keep reality from slipping away I occasionally had to defend Olivier or else reinforce the naïveté of her illusions; the result was that she began to question the absoluteness of my partisanship on her side of the deepening struggle."

By the time they were filming The Misfts the marriage, and their faith in each other, was shattered. "... With The Misfits I was preparing to dedicate a year or more of my life to her enhancement as a performer — I would never have dreamed of writing a movie otherwise ..."Not entirely true, as he had been shopping a screenplay back in 1950, when he first met her. He writes that he hopes The Misfits will save their marriage. Yet he doesn't detail any concrete problems between them, except what he views as her innate despair. He writes about their life from a distance, rarely mentioning her intake of sleeping pills, or the second baby they lost.

"During the shooting of Let's Make Love and Some Like It Hot I had all but given up any hope of writing; I had decided to devote myself to giving her the kind of emotional support that would convince her she was no longer alone in the world — the heart of the problem, I assumed. I went so far as to do some rewriting on Let's Make Love to try to save her from a complete catastrophe, work I despised on a script not worth the paper it was typed on. It was a bad miscalculation, bringing us no closer to each other." He neglects to mention, of course, well-documented in other sources, his agreeing, for a lucrative sum, to work on Let's Make Love during a Writer's Guild strike in Hollywood, which caused Marilyn to lose faith in him and his integrity.

He calls her role as Roslyn in The Misfits, more than once, her first serious part, but that is far from true. What of Bus Stop, Niagara, and The Asphalt Jungle, just to name a few? He spends a lot of pages explaining his ideas behind The Misfits, but skirts how his "Valentine" to his wife created such a negative story. "One afternoon Marilyn, with no evident emotion, almost as though it were just another script, said, 'What they really should do is break up at the end.' I instantly disagreed, so quickly, in fact, that I knew I was afraid she was right. But the irony was too sharp: the work I had created to reassure her that a woman like herself could find a home in the world had apparently proved the opposite."

Even after so many years, he really fudges what was going on behind-the-scenes on the shoot. He points out Marilyn's escalating lateness caused by pills, tension, and personal problems, but waves away director John Huston's staying up all night shooting craps as something that may have adversely affected the shooting of the movie. Instead, he views Huston's casino time as a byproduct of Marilyn's behavior and not the fact that Huston was more than happy to be shooting a movie set in Reno for his own reasons. Miller claims that Marilyn moved out of their shared hotel suite to Paula Strasberg's because "Her control over Marilyn was now so complete… Paula had finally won our long undeclared war. Still, this might clear the air, I thought, and free Marilyn to concentrate solely on the work she now said she wanted to do." Marilyn moving out of a room shared with her husband had nothing to do with the fact that his rewrites showed her in an increasingly unflattering light, or that he had met photographer Inge Morath (who he would marry a year later) on the set?

Awkward — Marilyn and Miller dancing on the set of The Misfits
As he is watching Marilyn film a scene with costar and Hollywood legend Clark Gable near a lake, "I was almost completely out of her life by now, but from my distant view the film seemed purely a torture for her. … To be fair, her work in the film looked far more authentic to me in later years than it did during that bad time. I now marvel at how she managed, under the circumstances, to do as well as she did." Once he is through with The Misfits, through with Marilyn (for the most part), he finally writes about Inge Morath, but not until page 493. But Marilyn soon re-enters his life, and Timebends, through her death.
"Coming out of the '40s and '50s, she was proof that sexuality and seriousness could not coexist in America's psyche, were hostile, mutually rejecting opposites, in fact. At the end she had had to give way and go back to swimming naked in a pool [in Something's Got To Give] in order to make a picture."
Miller's take on the people who surrounded Marilyn differ from other accounts. He demonizes her business partner Milton Greene, but lionizes her doctors, describing psychiatrists Dr. Marianne Kris (in New York) and Ralph Greenson (in Los Angeles) as both "physicians of integrity and unquestionably devoted to her." It is understandable, as he views them as trying to help her, and failing, as he once did. But more recent takes on Kris and Greenson show that they may have done Marilyn more harm than good, and not just by the endless supply of barbiturates that they sent her way. Miller had no contact with Marilyn, or real knowledge of her life in California after they divorced, so his assumptions are just that.
"... She had always been one of those people for whom time is a sticky entanglement that they don't want to touch, perhaps in denial that a past exists." 
In Timebends Miller writes about her poetically enough, but Marilyn, his conception of Marilyn, rarely comes across as a real person. She is still a muse to his words, almost thirty years after their break-up and her death. Perhaps that is all she really ever was to him. The exception is one story that he tells about her during the filming of The Misfits, where she is being shot up with Amytal by a local, reluctant doctor, while he and acting coach Paula Strasberg look on. An irritated Marilyn sees him and mutters "Get out" repeatedly until he slinks out of the room. Not a pretty scene, but one that has the ring of truth.

He wraps up the book with details of his controversial play After the Fall — controversial because of its main female character's uncanny resemblance to Marilyn, as well as his being able to bring productions of his other plays to places as remote as Russia and China. Miller, who died in 2005, had a successful and productive career, producing some of the most lauded and memorable plays in American theater, The Crucible, All My Sons, and Death of A Salesman, for which he will always be remembered. But he will also clearly also always be remembered as Marilyn Monroe's second husband, or as they were dubbed by  the press at the time, "The Egghead and the Hourglass." He seems to be at peace with that fact in Timebends, if not completely convinced that it all really happened.
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Sunday, July 22, 2012

don't ask me what's in there ...

... because my acupuncture doctor can only tell me the Chinese names for most of the ingredients. But he gave me instructions to brew the tea, which is supposed to be good for an unsettled tummy (IBS) and damn if it doesn't seem to help a bit.



I recognize the hawthorn fruit (reddish in color) but the rest of the Chinese herbal ingredients are at the moment unfamiliar to me. I am definitely going to research this further, but it made me realize that a lot of what we buy and ingest is an act of faith. How closely do I read the ingredients of other things that I eat or drink?
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

crab in the driveway

Well, that's something you don't see every day. This morning as I was out walking the dog, a large green crab strolled across the driveway in front of us and into the bushes. We had to go out to one of Angel the dachshund's favorite spots by the street, but once she did her business and I disposed of it, I high-tailed it back to catch another glimpse of the crab, but it was gone. As I was heading back inside our building I heard a squawk and saw our mail person laughing, but also walking very quickly inside. She had thought it was a toy at first, but Crabby had been waiting for her at the back gate. That crab can move fast. I took a peek and it was under the bushes again, to the right of the gate. I ran upstairs to get the kid and my camera, but alas, the speedy crustacean had disappeared again by the time we got downstairs. Looks like our new neighbor is rather shy.

Apparently it's a land crab, a blue land crab

Maybe its burrow is right outside our gate. The kid was really disappointed that she missed it this morning, but something tells me that we will be seeing our crustaceous friend again, maybe in the evening hours, when it's cooler and easier for it to forage.
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Friday, July 20, 2012

blonde heat

In Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of Marilyn Monroe author Richard Buskin chronicles all of Marilyn Monroe's thirty films, highlighting the dramas that occurred behind-the-scenes, as well as giving details of the casts, crews, and plots of each film.

He also includes quotes from some of her directors and costars over the years, including Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, Jean Peters and Jane Russell. Buskin also includes some interesting quotes from the actress herself:
"I think cheesecake helps call attention to you. Then you can follow through and prove yourself." — MM, 1951.
Not only Marilyn's movies but her surviving screen tests, her one television commercial, and an appearance she made on Jack Benny's television show are included in the volume. Because of the nature of her film contract, Marilyn could not appear Whenever she chose on television, radio, or record music - she could not appear in different mediums as interchangeably as today's stars can. One of the reasons modern movie stars have more freedom is because Marilyn fought hard to win hers.

With David Wayne in How to Marry A Millionaire

Marilyn's notorious "difficult" behavior is put into context by people who worked with her before she became a worldwide sensation. Marilyn learned early on in her career that people would wait for her.
"She was only making $500 a week but she enjoyed a remarkable position because she could come in at any bloody time she wished. … I mean, all of the studio personnel were alerted that no matter what time Marilyn came in, nobody was to bark at her or ask her where she had been, and the reason for that was that Joe Shenck, who owned 20th Century-Fox, was head over heels in love with Marilyn." — Actor David Wayne, who worked with Marilyn in four films, starting in 1951 with As Young as You Feel, and then in We're Not Married (1952), O. Henry's Full House (1952), and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).
Interspersed in the behind-the-scenes sections on various films are some of the familiar stories that have appeared in many other biographies of the star, including her failed marriages and struggles with barbiturates.  But Buskin is most interested and most interesting when he is chronicling Marilyn's struggles and legal wrangles with her film studio, Twentieth Century-Fox.
"[After Marilyn fled Hollywod and formed her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions] Fox verbally promised to give her a $100,000 bonus for appearing in [The Seven Year] Itch, while also agreeing to pay drama coach Natasha Lytess, vocal coach Hal Schaefer, choreographer Jack Cole to work with her on [There's No Business Like] Show Business. What's more, a new, more financially rewarding seven-year contract would be implemented in August 1954. Round one to Marilyn – at least in terms of her dealings with the studio."
Perhaps the most fascinating and tragic story that Buskin tells in Blonde Heat is how completely insane were the dealings of the studio with their stars, especially Marilyn, during the making of the ill-fated Something's Got to Give, the film that she was never able to complete before her untimely death in August 1962. The production had been troubled from the start. A remake of the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne comedy My Favorite WifeSomething's Got to Give had an unfunny script that was constantly being tinkered wth, which added to the tension and dissatisfaction of everyone on the set. Things went crazy, and fast as the shoot progressed.

Because of the over-budget spectacle Cleopatra, Fox was going bankrupt, and decided to take its wrath out on an easier target than Elizabeth Taylor, who was still needed to complete the bloated extravaganza. Fox execs fixed on Marilyn, deciding to teach A lesson to all of its "wayward" stars, through her. Marilyn had missed many days on the set, due to a recurring sinus infection, and when it became clear that Something's Got to Give was in serious trouble, Fox decided to fire her for breach of contract. They filed a suit against her for $500,000 and hired Lee Remick to replace her. But costar (and producer) Dean Martin refused to work with anyone but Marilyn, so Fox sued him for $500,000, too. Costar Cyd Charisse sued Dean for $14,000 for lost earnings. Not satisfied, Fox raised its lawsuit against Marilyn to $750,000, and sued Dean (as producer) for $3,339,000. Dean counter-sued for $5,885,000.

Even with all of this crazy litigation by August 1 the astute Marilyn had managed to patch things up with Fox. The lawsuit was dropped and she was rehired. She also signed a new two-picture deal — a raise on Something's Got to Give, from $100,000 to $250,000 (the most she had ever made on a picture) and $750,000 for her next picture. Marilyn had also been busy, meeting and planning some other new projects — I Love Louisa (which became What A Way To Go!, Harlow, a musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and some potential projects with Brigitte Bardot, to be filmed in Europe. What a combo they would have been.

A set photo from Something's Got to Give, taken by Lawrence Schiller
But as we know, Marilyn never was able to complete any of those films, or Something's Got to Give. Her unfulfilled promise is why she still remains so elusive, so enigmatic. Buskin has done a great job covering her life and her films in his enumeration of Marilyn's career in Blonde Heat. Marilyn is long gone, but her films remain, and what seems universally agreed upon is how she loved the camera and it loved her back. Marilyn was simply born for the camera.
"No matter what her lack of technique was every shot of her — as long as she didn't back out of her light — was a treasure. She just could not be badly photographed. It was impossible." — Actor David Wayne 
"She doesn't do anything right and she drives everybody crazy, but then you go in the projection room, look at her on screen, and go 'Wow!'" — Director Jean Negulesco (How to Marry a Millionaire), to actress Jean Peters (As Young as You Feel, Niagara
"She was practically perfect to photograph. ... No two eyes are alike on a human face — one will be a bit smaller or a slightly different shape — and a real artist will capture the essence in getting the likeness of the person. However, if you could measure Marilyn's eyes and facial features, they were almost perfect. The end of her nose was tipped up a bit, but it was charming, and she was absolutely lovely. She photographed perfectly from any direction."— Cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The Prince and the Showgirl)
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

skios, modern greek farce

Article first published as Book Review: Skios by Michael Frayn on Blogcritics.

Skios, the new book from Michael Frayn (Noises Off, Spies, The Tin Men) is a fast-moving comic farce set on a private Grecian island, the eponymous Skios. Frayn pokes fun at pseudo-intellectuals and con artists and ambition as he charts the disintegration of the annual lecture at the Fred Toppler Foundation, an institute with a vague humanitarian purpose that may really exist as a front for shadier activities.

Michael Frayn

We are introduced to Dr. Norman Wilfred, the paunchy yet distinguished professor of "scientometrics" who is supposed to deliver the annual Fred Toppler Lecture; Nikki Hook, the ambitious top assistant at the Foundation, who has invited Wilfred to Skios; and Oliver Fox, a charming trickster, who decides on the spur of the moment after a glance at Nikki's blue eyes, to become the name on the sign that she holds up at the airport, "Dr. Norman Wilfred." Oliver is aided in his deception by a series of mistaken identifications, some similar-looking suitcases, and the very human quality of making assumptions, which he has no desire to correct. He also likes living on the edge, in constant risk of discovery.
"He had made himself Dr. Wilfred by his own individual act of will. He remained Dr. Wilfred by the will of others."
Frayn hints at the less-than-intellectual aspirations of the various people who have come from all over the world via yacht, jet, or other means to attend the lecture, but the prose and action moves so quickly that the reader is never quite sure about the secondary cast. This is all fine for the first two-thirds of the novel, where the antics of the two Wilfreds is the heart of the story, but by the end, when things are happening so fast and so furiously, it becomes clear that fleshing out some of the other cast might have made Skios an even better read.

Cast is a very appropriate word to use, rather than character, in the case of Skios. Most of the people populating the novel are described by just a few physical attributes. Nikki is discreetly blonde and cool, Wilfred is slightly balding with a tendency to take himself too seriously, and Oliver has a dishmop of blonde hair that he is continuously brushing back from his soft brown eyes. The cinematic prose practically demands that the reader mentally cast a movie based on the book. Although British in Skios, it's hard not to picture American actor Owen Wilson as Oliver. It's unclear if this is Frayn's intention, or just a result of his blending theater, film, and the written word for so many years.

Skios hurtles along to its Fawlty Towers-like conclusion at a breakneck pace. It is a fun summer read, but may leave one wishing for more than just a few good jokes and great pacing.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

eating out

When I was a kid we rarely ate out in a restaurant. None of my friends' families did much, either. Eating out was something you did as a special occasion, for a birthday or anniversary, or when out-of-town relatives came to visit.

My daughter, on the other hand, has been to a whole lot of restaurants in her eight-year-old life. And the frequency has increased since we moved down here with Grandma. If my mother had her way, we'd eat out, every day; some days more than once. During the school year I can usually keep these forays limited to weekends-only, although I must admit that one weekday is usually a take-out night to spare me from making dinner.

This summer I have had to take us all out to eat almost every day, mostly so that Mom gets an outing. The kid doesn't really seem to care if we eat out or not. She's a grazer by nature, so is happy nibbling through the day. Of the places we go she prefers buffet-styled restaurants, which play into her grazing nature, as opposed to having to settle for one thing off a menu that never seems to have what she wants.

I am starting to hate eating out. Not only is it costly (and fattening), but with my tummy troubles and new ventures into a more vegetable-based diet, it is difficult to find something good to eat. I was shocked when we visited a local Chilis recently. There was practically nothing on the menu for someone who isn't eating beef, poultry, or pork. They didn't even have a veggie chili. I ended up getting the soup/salad combo, but had to ask that they hold the bacon on their "loaded potato" soup. The other soup offered was chicken tortilla. When the soup appeared, it was basically melted cheese with a few pieces of potato in it. Yum? After checking out their website, it appears they have a vegetarian version of their menu. Chili's suggests that when a customer sees meat on the menu, to substitute black beans. Or there's always their dessert choices. Sigh.

Actually I think the kid is onto something with her buffet proclivities. At least at a buffet there are always soups and salads, and invariably one of the soups is meat-free. And if I want to skip the carving station, I can just attack the sides — potatoes, vegetables, pasta, etc. I am just going to have to start weaning us from the daily food-related outings as the summer begins to wane next month. Maybe feed them at home and then still go out and do something — a movie, the library, shopping, etc., so that mom gets to get out of the house for a while. Life is always a balancing act.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

donald spoto's marilyn book

I remember taking some of Donald Spoto's film theory classes at The New School in the late eighties. He had written a nice book on one of my favorite film directors, Alfred Hitchcock, and I enjoyed the class discussions and being exposed to some great films I might never have gone to see on my own, like The Battle of Algiers and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. He has written many celebrity biographies over the years, including books on Laurence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Marlene Dietrich. His book on Marilyn Monroe is considered one of the most definitive biographies of the star. The facts of her life and death seem to be elusive (or even fabricated) to most who write about her, so I had high hopes for Spoto.

For the most part, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, doesn't disappoint. If it does nothing else, Spoto's meticulous research does seem to debunk once and for all the highly unlikely claims of Robert Slatzer, who has told anyone and everyone who would listen about his three-day "marriage" to the star. Spoto points out how other biographers, like Anthony Summers have used Slatzer as a credible source and have allowed the cult of mis-information about Marilyn to snowball. Spoto also identifies Marilyn's "friend" Jeanne Carmen as a fraud, another person who has trumpeted her "close relationship" to the star, only after Marilyn's death, to her own financial benefit. But the most interesting and useful of Spoto's discoveries is that Marilyn may have had a one-time fling with President John F. Kennedy, as did many, many other Hollywood starlets, but that she never had an affair or any other sort of intimate relationship with his brother, Robert Kennedy. If the "Kennedy conspiracy" is subtracted from Marilyn's life and death, her story is not only very different, but much more believable.
"Beginning in 1955, a formidable file on Marilyn Monroe also began to accumulate in Washington – records of which she was never aware. They comprise a ludicrous waste of paper."
Spoto believes that if there is anyone to "blame" for Marilyn's death it is the highly unethical behavior of her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, and her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, who Greenson had Marilyn hire shortly after she moved back to Los Angeles from New York. They do seem to have worked as a team, with Murray keeping tabs on the star and reporting back to the doctor. Marilyn was seeing Greenson almost daily at this point in her life, so the extra spying seems completely over-the-top, but Spoto makes a great case for Greenson's desire to "possess" his most famous patient, and highlights his extremely unprofessional behavior throughout his career. While he doesn't go so far as to accuse them of murder, he comes awfully close, suggesting that Murray (a person with no medical training) may have administered barbiturates to the already drugged-up star on Greenson's orders, and that the dose was what put her over the edge.

I have to admit that I don't completely buy Spoto's reconstruction of Marilyn's last days. He claims that she and Joe DiMaggio were planning to remarry on August 8 and she was excited and happy about it. There are receipts for a special dress and hair appointments and catering arrangements that help back up this idea. But he offers no reason for why, paradoxically, two days before her supposedly planned nuptials, she became suddenly upset enough to start the whole alcohol/pill/depression cycle again. He suggests her plummeting mood on the day of her death may be connected to her regular daily session with Greenson — he claims that she tried to fire the doctor that day. Maybe. She started drinking and popping pills and called Joe DiMaggio's son, Joe Jr., twice that day, and did finally get through to him in the evening (he later said they had a pleasant conversation), but there are no records of her trying to contact Joe at all. Wouldn't she have called her fiancé at least once, if she had been so disturbed, either by her meeting with Greenson or by something else?
Hollywood reporter Sidney Skolsky, a hypochondriac who worked out of the famous Schwabs drugstore (where he had easy access to sampling their products), befriended Marilyn. Once before an audition he "gave her three sleeping tablets so that the anxiety of preparing would not exhaust her before the test."... Joe called Marilyn and Sidney Skolsky "pill-pals, not pen-pals." 
"Barbiturates to sleep, amphetamines to stay awake, narcotics to relax – in Hollywood, these were as plentiful as agents, and could easily be obtained through the studio front office."

"[Her internist, Dr. Hyman] Engleberg visited Marilyn at home every day but six during July; except for the fourth, the sixth through the ninth and the 16th, she received injections – liver and vitamin shots, she said. But these transformed her mood and energy with alarming rapidity."
The last few days of Marilyn's life aside, which we are unlikely to ever fully know all the facts of, Spoto does paint a wonderful portrait of Norma Jeane and how she became Marilyn Monroe. Her great ambition, her constant struggles with health, and the huge difference between how she looked and how she felt inside, are meticulously and chronologically presented. He isn't afraid to show her weaknesses and bad decisions, but he is also eager to show the screen goddess in a flattering light when he can, and has the facts to back up his debunking of old rumors  such as Marilyn's family didn't have a history of insanity as has been endlessly reported. Her grandfather died from a brain infection and her grandmother "of heart disease, which caused impaired mentation due to insufficient oxygenation of the brain." Marilyn's mother Gladys did fear genetic mental disease, especially after she had heard that her own grandfather committed suicide. Spoto points out that his death was related to his ongoing bad health and imminent eviction, not mental illness, Gladys was never aware of those facts. Gladys certainly suffered from anxiety and depression, but there was no Prozac for Marilyn's mother in 1935, so she chose to opt out of life and spent most of her life in sanatoriums.

He charts her uneven childhood. She lived in many foster homes — but not as many as usually reported, and most of her foster parents were friends of Gladys, not unknown to her. She was in the Los Angeles orphange for two years. Maybe because of this bounced-around upbringing, always having to please a new set of adults, Marilyn throughout her life would seek out a patron of some sort, usually a family, like the Strasbergs, or an older man, like agent Johnny Hyde. But even with powerful people on her team she still had to work hard to get noticed, to get a decent part in a picture.
Cinematographer Leon Shamroy: "This girl had something I hadn't seen since silent pictures.… She got sex on a piece of film like Jean Harlow. Every frame of the test radiated sex.… She was creating effects visually. She was showing us she could sell emotions in pictures." 
George Sanders: "She showed an interest in intellectual subjects which was, to say the least, disconcerting. And in her presence it is hard to concentrate. … She so obviously needed to be a star …" 
Marilyn, about this time in her life, "... I didn't have any friends. I had teachers and people l could look up to — nobody I could look over at. I always felt I was a nobody, and the only way for me to be somebody was to be  well, somebody else. Which is probably why I wanted to act."
Spoto has a very different take on Marilyn's sexual history than most of the other lurid biographies of the star. The author claims that rumors of multiple abortions are ridiculous. She never had even one. "Later there were two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy requiring emergency termination, but no abortion." Marilyn had lifelong struggles with endometriosis (for which she had multiple operations to try and ease the symptoms) and uterine bleeding which would cause her great pain. She, the great goddess of sex, was most likely unable to bring a pregnancy to term because of her physical problems, one of her life's great disappointments.

Spoto uses quotes from many people in Marilyn's life to document how she was able to turn on and off her "Marilyn" persona at will — when she had the need to feel glamorous, to be recognized. He uses these instances to support his underlying theory of her internal conflict of identity, of her never really reconciling her two (or more) selves. This Norma Jeane vs. Marilyn idea is hardly new. But what Spoto doesn't acknowledge, probably because he has never personally experienced it, is that this sort of conflict exists in most women. Marilyn was an extreme case, surely, but most women have to deal with their public and private faces daily. Women are judged primarily visually. We are bombarded with cosmetics and media images that we are expected to at least attempt to aspire to. Men are judged by what they do, first, before how they look. For Marilyn, both how she looked and how her work was perceived, was incredibly important to her and to everyone in her orbit.

The best part of Marilyn Monroe: The Bigraphy is Spoto's detailed recounting of just how hard Marilyn worked to become Marilyn. Once she became a star, we all know that things got even tougher for her, but Marilyn stayed strong and did things that no one would have ever expected of her — she started her own production company, married and divorced two very different American icons, worked hard to be taken seriously as an actress. Her death is tragic, and others certainly had a hand in helping her find the crutches that eventually killed her. But however she died, what really resonates from Spoto's book was how she lived — always questing, reaching, trying to improve herself, trying to grow. That's a new and valuable image of Marilyn.

Images from: Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans
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Monday, July 16, 2012

ice age: continental drift

Why didn't someone tell me that Peter Dinklage was one of the voices in this movie? I was going anyway, as the kid has been brainwashed, I mean, eager, to see Ice Age: Continental Drift since she saw the first preview for it months ago. But it was an extra-special treat to have one of my favorite actors playing Captain Gutt, a very mean pirate captain that the main trio of heroes, Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary), and Sid (John Leguizamo) encounter when they are cast adrift on an iceberg from their friends and family when the earth starts to break apart and form the continents. Another bonus: an opening Simpsons short, The Longest Daycare, featuring baby Maggie and her heroic adventures at Springfield's Ayn Rand daycare.

Diego, Sid, and Manny are adrift on the ocean as the continents divide
Granny steals the show
Scrat chases an elusive acorn
As fabulous as Dinklage was, it would be remiss of me not to mention Wanda Sykes, who truly steals the movie from everyone, as Sid's crazy-like-a-fox grandma, Granny. It's hard to believe that this is the fourth movie in this series. I remember when Queen Latifah entered the scene as Ellie the mammoth and became Manny's partner, but I have no recall of the third film. This movie, besides some of the fun characters, is entertaining, but not the best animated film we've seen this summer. Madagascar and Brave both had more to offer. Ice Age introduces some new characters and complications in Manny and Ellie's teenage daughter Peaches (Nicki Minaj) and a female sabertooth partner for Diego (Jennifer Lopez) who were frankly a yawn. The movie and series is always at its best when it centers on the dysfunctional friendship of Manny, Diego, and Sid and their adventures, as well as the gravity-defying lengths that squirrel Scrat (Chris Wedge) will go to in order to get his precious acorn.

Ice Age: Continental Drift throws its heroes into a pirate plot, as well as have them team up with some cute lovable rodents that may have wandered off an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie and overpopulated. They also encounter some pretty clever Sirens. But Scrat still has the best moments — an opening sequence where he manages to get the continents to drifting, and a visit to an ancient squirrel society headed by Ariscratle (Patrick Stewart!) It's all incredibly silly, but admittedly fun.

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