My Man Van

Van the man Heflin (1910 – 1971)

It’s day 6 of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, hosted by Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence, a month-long celebration of Turner Classic Movies’ much-loved Summer Under the Stars festival. Each day, the network is featuring a movie star with a marathon of their films, and each day Sittin on a Backyard Fence is playing host to a roster of bloggers who are sharing their thoughts on it. Today the spotlight is on Van Heflin, one of my all time favorites. This post was originally published two years ago, but it felt right to dust it off in honor of my man Van.

***

So the other night I’m halfway through my second glass of Shiraz and I’m hit with a sudden craving. You know what I mean … that inexplicable, sudden, maddening craving that is generally fulfilled by processed sugars . Or complex carbohydrates. Or MGM musicals. Or all three, really, who am I kidding? MGM musicals, after all, have much in common with my empty-calorie companions: there is little, if any, nutritional value but boy-oh-boy if they don’t make you feel good! So last night I satisfy the itch by tearing through my DVD library looking for something to hit the spot … hidden in the back is ‘Till the Clouds Roll By, from 1946.

TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946) – screen caps pulled from LikeTelevision

Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, June Allyson, Kathryn Grayson, Angie Lansbury and Van Johnson in an MGM technicolor extravaganza? That tingly sensation took hold. This was gonna be a great night.

Problem was, I purchased the DVD from a grocery store checkout line and the quality of the video transfer was shameful, and especially disappointing because I really wanted the bright, popping, obnoxiously potent pigments of the original print. (Kinda like getting animal crackers when what you really want is a big fat oreo.)

It’s not like I was expecting Ghandi, OK? And Hollywood biopics of the 40s and 50s are particularly notorious for flouting fact in favor of fiction so I was ready to take the plot of ‘Till the Clouds Roll By, the supposed story of the life of Jerome Kern, with a grain of salt. All I wanted was musical delirium and was quite prepared to fast-forward through the gosh-oh-gee-ain’t-life-swell scenes to get my fix.

But the fast-forward button was foiled by one Van Heflin.

Dammit.

Now I was going to have to pay attention. I’m sure all of us have certain favorites who more or less dictate whether or not we’re going to give a movie a shot. Van Heflin is absolutely one of mine. Even if my finger is about to switch the off button, if Heflin walks into the frame I have no choice but to watch. He simply leaves me no choice in the matter.

Original 1946 movie poster for TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY. If you’ll notice, Heflin’s cartoon looks suspiciously similar to Beethoven. (What a role THAT would have been!)

To some, Van Heflin may look like a “squat-faced kumquat” (<– © my Mother) but, I beg to differ. Maybe I’m just a sucker for squat-faced kumquats, but Heflin possesses a  just-the-right-side-of-danger bad-boy edge that never fails to make my toes curl. The bobby-soxers may have swooned for Van Johnson when he makes his toe-tapping cameo in ‘Till the Clouds Roll By, but this gal’s swooning heart belongs to the other Van.

One never quite knows what to expect when Heflin steps into a picture. Is he going to melt my heart or murder my grandmother? Heflin toes the line between kindness and cruelty, danger and delight, with ease and dexterity … for it is perfectly clear that he is entirely capable of both. Suffice to say, Heflin is not a granny killer in ‘Till the Clouds Roll By (nor is he in any of his films, so I don’t know why I’m so gung-ho on the analogy) but Heflin’s very likeable role as Kern’s mentor and friend is still shadowed with his unique brand of roguish charm. Was this effect augmented by the fact that in Till the Clouds Roll By Heflin is surrounded by 1-dimensional, superficial character cut-outs? (Even darling Robert Walker is a bit of a yawn.) Well … perhaps. But I wager it’s due to the fact that Heflin is an absolute powerhouse of an actor, a total scene-stealer, and more often than not simply ends up walking away with any picture he’s in.

Once upon a time, Louis B. Mayer took one look at Heflin and told him flat-out, “You’ll never get the girl at the end [of the movie].” Heflin said, “I just didn’t have the looks and if I didn’t do a good acting job I looked terrible.”

Well, Mr. Mayer? Taking inventory of Heflin’s show-stopping performances in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Johnny Eager, Possessed, The Prowler, Black Widow, Shane and 3:10 to Yuma, I think what you’ll find staring you back in the face is a prominently raised middle finger.

The object of Joan Crawford’s crazed affection in Posessed. (My favorite Heflin film.)

His best roles are the 40s noirs that demanded a new breed of leading man. John Garfield and Humphrey Bogart weren’t matinee idols, but they smoldered on screen and Heflin was perfect for the postwar realism that American audiences, sobered by War, demanded. The Robert Taylors of the world found themselves having to toughen up their image while guys like Hef were ahead of the curve. There is a confidence, even swagger, to Hef’s complete command of himself on screen, giving full credit to the credence that confidence is sexy. Not only do we believe that Joan Crawford is dangerously obsessed with him in Possessed… we totally get it.

Whatever Heflin may have lacked in conventional good looks mattered nothing. His undeniable appeal was rooted deep within and his performances, when viewed today, are still fresh and exciting. Overlooked today as, sadly, his work tends to be, Heflin was without doubt one of the finest actors to first emerge on the scene of postwar American cinema… and one hell of a cool cat.

With Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

 

The Birth of an Actress: Marilyn Monroe in Don’t Bother to Knock

Theatrical Poster, 1952

This post is in conjunction with Sittin’ On A Backyard Fence’sSummer Under the Stars Blogathon”—a month-long celebration of the film icons being spotlighted each day, all day, on Turner Classic Movies. Today, the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the tragic passing of Marilyn Monroe, I am dedicating this post to the Blogathon and, more importantly, to Monroe. A tormented woman of strength and talent that, five decades on, still shines… and inspires.

Perhaps one of the many reasons I have such a deep admiration and respect for Marilyn is due to the fact that the first film I saw of hers, or rather, the first film I remember watching start to finish ( Marilyn’s films are so rooted in our cultural subconscious that someone can feel as though they’ve seen her films even if they haven’t) was not her  fluffy, fun, frivolous light comedies that immortalized her. The white pleated blowing skirt in The Seven Year Itch and the pink-gowned diamond-digger in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. (In which, of course, she is dynamite.) Rather, it was a strange little noir called Don’t Bother to Knock. And it was scarcely a typical first encounter. It was in fact atypical. Don’t Bother to Knock is a curious, offbeat noir. The fact it originally was slated to be helmed by noir master Jules Dassin shows how seriously 20th Century Fox was taking the film: Zanuck granted a modest budget, assigned talented scribe Daniel Taradash to the script (soon to adapt From Here to Eternity) and wanted high production value… perhaps because he was still not sold on Marilyn’s (as-of-yet) unproven ability to take on a dramatic role. Fox assigned studio director Roy Ward Baker and his direction lacks the stylized tension that so permeates the noir film in general (take for example Marilyn’s previous film, Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night’s starring Barbara Stanwyck, or her next film, Henry Hathaway’s Niagara), but it in spite of the static direction, the film possesses an undeniable electric  current  with Marilyn as its conductor. In Don’t Bother to Knock, Marilyn was no “dumb blonde”. She was an actress.   A damn good one. Her performance as Nell Forbes managed to both scare the shit out of me, and leave me in tears.  It is a heartbreaking, soul-bearing performance that was the first truly great dramatic performance of her career.

Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark

And, in typical Hollywood fashion, her bottom-line money-mongering studio zookeepers would not allow it again. Monroe would have to take her career into her own hands, forming her own production company 4 years later with Bus Stop (my personal favorite of her films), before she would again have the chance to prove herself a serious talent to be reckoned with.

The premise of Don’t Bother to Knock is simple. A family hires a babysitter to look after their young daughter for the evening while they attend a dinner party. They are staying in a hotel, and the porter (Elisha Cook Jr.) recommends his niece Nell (Monroe) to babysit the kid. The problem is that Monroe is suicidal. She has only recently been released from a mental institution having gone off the deep end when her fiancé was killed in a plane crash during the war. With the Jones’ downstairs at the party, Monroe tucks the little girl, “Bunny”,  into bed and her intensely lonely, quiet life becomes painfully apparent to the viewer as she tries on the fine jewelry and expensive negligee of her well-to-do employers. Her appliqué of lip rouge reveals two scars on her wrists.  In a quietly moving scene, Monroe looks at her face in the vanity mirror, admiring the fine diamond earrings, and as she does a plane is heard to pass over the hotel. She crosses to the window and peeks out between the blinds, up into that black sky—the same black sky that had taken away her fiancé. She closes her eyes and the camera, only faintly, registers that she is crying. It’s the moment that I sat straight up in my seat, suddenly glued to this unexpectedly haunted, emotionally naked performance on the screen.  I must have been about 15. And I was riveted.

An airline pilot (Richard Widmark) occupying a room across the courtyard from Monroe has checked in to win back his girlfriend, a singer in the hotel lounge who has given him his walking papers (Anne Bancroft in her screen debut). When he sees Monroe’s bombshell figure in the room across the way, he rings the room and invites himself over.

What he thinks is going to be a casual night of hanky panky out to be anything but. Monroe slowly unravels during the course of the evening as he is the first man she’s been alone with since her fiance’s death and she begins to believe that he is her fiancé. Things take a fork knife turn when little Bunny blows Monroe’s cover, crying for her to ‘take off her Mommy’s things’ and Widmark understands that Monroe has been feeding him a line about her being a woman of the world. She’s nothing more than the babysitter, new to New York and lonely.

Against his better judgment, Widmark stays for a bit, visibly moved at Monroe’s confession , but all the while desperate to leave the crazy situation he’s got himself into and get downstairs to see  Bancroft again to try one last time to win her back. Monroe begins to believe that her uncle, who keeps trying to check in on her during the night, and the little girl, who is understandably concerned at finding a strange man in the hotel room, are intruders trying to keep her away from her fiancé . And when Monroe sits next to Bunny on the windowpane, looking out at their neighbors’ windows, there is a terrifying moment when it seems as though Monroe actually will push the girl to her death. Widmark steps in and, when his eyes meet Monroe’s, he is suddenly aware that, perhaps, he got more than he bargained for. Behind Widmark’s back, Monroe threatens Bunny into keeping her trap shut and going to bed… or else. And the psychotic glint in Monroe’s eyes leaves no doubt whatsoever that she is perfectly capable of carrying out her threat.

The night quickly caves in on itself when Monroe’s Uncle shows up again, unexpectedly, to check up on her.  Monroe shoves Widmark into the bathroom to hide, and takes some very tough love from her Uncle who, upon wiping off the lipstick off Monroe’s face, sends her into a fit and she strikes her Uncle on the back of his head, rendering him unconscious on the bathroom floor.  Widmark now knows that this girl is more than just trouble, she is very possibly dangerous, and he flees the scene to meet up with Bancroft downstairs before he loses her forever.

Widmark spills his guts to her about Monroe and the little girl, and Bancroft is hit by his uncharacteristically sincere interest in the situation. Widmark, however, is suddenly overcome with the realization that Monroe might actually do serious harm to the little girl. His intuition has served him well, as Monroe has locked her unconscious uncle in the broom cupboard and has bound and gagged little Bunny whom she blames for the night’s disastrous turn of events. The parents, sick with worry over their phone calls not having got through, show up just in time. Widmark is not far behind, as is the House Detective.

Monroe comes unglued on Elisha Cook Jr.

Monroe is a shattered, broken mess, crouching in the corner of the hotel room. A fragile shell of a woman that might, at any moment, be carried away with the wind, like dust, never to be seen again. And, as far as she is aware, her disappearance would matter just as much as dust particles in the wind. And so she sneaks away, unnoticed by Widmark, her uncle and the detective.

Her walk down the corridor is a death march. She leans against the wall for support. Her beautiful eyes wide and full of numbed confusion. Her perfect face cracked with the deep stain of lost, desperate tears. This is not Nell Forbes. This is not Marilyn Monroe. This is Norma Jeane Mortenson. For the final 10 minutes of the film, she is exposed: for all her cosmetic perfection, she is raw and imperfect, alone and afraid, desperate to feel the warmth of love and kindness and respect but all-too aware that she never will. What was Marilyn thinking and feeling during that long, languorous dolly shot? Was she thinking of her own childhood with a mother gone mad? Was she painfully aware of how much she actually had in common with the emotionally spent state of Nell? Whatever the case, there is an infinite depth in those glazed wide eyes, and to a modern audience it is acutely obvious that this emotion is coming from some place very, very deep within.

And when Widmark finds her, in a daze, with a razor in hand, Bancroft is at Widmark’s side. She is moved by his deep concern. It is the only asexual relationship Monroe will ever have onscreen. She is a child in a woman’s body that Widmark wants to protect.

It would be the story of Monroe’s life.

Monroe and Nell as they become one person on screen. It’s hard to watch when you know what painful emotions lay behind Monroe’s beautiful facade.

The film was released in 1952 while Marilyn was under contract with Fox, just prior to her watershed success in Henry Hathaway’s sexy, Technicolor noir Niagara which would catapult her into super-stardom.   Don’t Bother To Knock was far from sexy. It was not the sort of film, perhaps, audiences wanted to see this white-hot new screen personality in and the film flopped both financially and critically. (Daily Variety, however, was a fan and applauded her performance as “excellent”, and LIFE Magazine keyed in most astutely by calling Monroe’s  performance “the genuine article.” ) It’s a shame this particular role is so seldom discussed. A very real 180 from the soon-to-be sex kitten that Fox would brand her as, Monroe is a revelation here.  Untrained in dramatics, Monroe’s acting coach, Natascha Lyness, confessed “I have to say that I didn’t think she was ready to take on a role of that magnitude. I underestimated her talent… or at the very least, her resolve. The time we spent on the script—two days, no sleep—was very dramatic and passionate and filled with angst, like Marilyn herself. In the end, she did such a great job that Zanuck saw fit to writer her a note to congratulate her, which surprised thrilled her to no end. She was so insecure and unsure of her ability that any validation at all was considered high praise.” Zanuck may have flattered Monroe, but he had no intention of making a habit of such unglamorous, dramatic parts. “She’s a dumb tomato and half-crazy to boot,” he is reported to have said about Monroe in the film. “In each picture she’ll earn her keep, but no more dramatic roles.” Monroe would stretch her range in Niagara as an emotionally manipulative femme fatale but the role capitalized completely on Monroe’s sex appeal. It was branded as sex. And that’s all anyone saw: explosive, on-your-knees-slave sex. A presence so overpowering, that no one could (or wanted to) see the actress, so strongly competent right in front of them.

As Rose in Niagara.

As Cherie in Bus Stop.

As Joslyn in her final film, The Misfits

Marilyn’s close friend Montgomery Clift, himself an outspoken foe of the Hollywood studio system, later made this comment on Marilyn’s stunted growth as an actress following Don’t Bother to Knock: “Fox wanted to keep a tight grip and drain her dry. Marilyn had a right to make the choice not to demean herself. But the boss wouldn’t let her. They didn’t want an actress. That’s what they’d agreed upon. They sat at their round table and decide that Marilyn wasn’t capable of making a relevant decision.”

Clift would work with Marilyn 8 years later on her final film (and his third to final), John Huston’s The Misfits. Brilliant but doomed like Marilyn, a friend noted “Monty and Marilyn were psychic twins. They were on the same wavelength. They recognized disaster in each other’s faces and giggled about it.” Clift, considered to be one of the most gifted actors of his generation, would call Marilyn the finest actress he ever worked with.

The Misfits, to many, is Marilyn’s finest strongest performance. Written for her by then-husband Arthur Miller, the role could probably be played by any actress… but none as broken and Marilyn’s. Her Method training had allowed her to transcend written lines and bare herself completely. It is a testament to the fragile-yet-formidable talent first unveiled in Don’t Bother to Knock, made undeniable in Bus Stop, and forever cemented in The Misfits.

Of her relationship with her Method acting coach, the legendary Paula Strasberg, Monroe said simply “Whatever road leads to growth, you take.” And if Don’t Bother to Knock, Bus Stop, and The Misfits prove anything, it’s that Marilyn took those risks and traveled those roads that no one believed she should, or could, travel.  Thankfully, even though we lost her so many decades ago, these rarely appreciated artistic triumphs live,  forever, on film. Who knows. Maybe one day we’ll finally recognize her as the deeply human actress she truly was. Instead of the icon Hollywood created.

The Birth of an Actress: Marilyn Monroe in Don't Bother to Knock

Theatrical Poster, 1952

This post is in conjunction with Sittin’ On A Backyard Fence’sSummer Under the Stars Blogathon”—a month-long celebration of the film icons being spotlighted each day, all day, on Turner Classic Movies. Today, the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the tragic passing of Marilyn Monroe, I am dedicating this post to the Blogathon and, more importantly, to Monroe. A tormented woman of strength and talent that, five decades on, still shines… and inspires.

Perhaps one of the many reasons I have such a deep admiration and respect for Marilyn is due to the fact that the first film I saw of hers, or rather, the first film I remember watching start to finish ( Marilyn’s films are so rooted in our cultural subconscious that someone can feel as though they’ve seen her films even if they haven’t) was not her  fluffy, fun, frivolous light comedies that immortalized her. The white pleated blowing skirt in The Seven Year Itch and the pink-gowned diamond-digger in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. (In which, of course, she is dynamite.) Rather, it was a strange little noir called Don’t Bother to Knock. And it was scarcely a typical first encounter. It was in fact atypical. Don’t Bother to Knock is a curious, offbeat noir. The fact it originally was slated to be helmed by noir master Jules Dassin shows how seriously 20th Century Fox was taking the film: Zanuck granted a modest budget, assigned talented scribe Daniel Taradash to the script (soon to adapt From Here to Eternity) and wanted high production value… perhaps because he was still not sold on Marilyn’s (as-of-yet) unproven ability to take on a dramatic role. Fox assigned studio director Roy Ward Baker and his direction lacks the stylized tension that so permeates the noir film in general (take for example Marilyn’s previous film, Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night’s starring Barbara Stanwyck, or her next film, Henry Hathaway’s Niagara), but it in spite of the static direction, the film possesses an undeniable electric  current  with Marilyn as its conductor. In Don’t Bother to Knock, Marilyn was no “dumb blonde”. She was an actress.   A damn good one. Her performance as Nell Forbes managed to both scare the shit out of me, and leave me in tears.  It is a heartbreaking, soul-bearing performance that was the first truly great dramatic performance of her career.

Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark

And, in typical Hollywood fashion, her bottom-line money-mongering studio zookeepers would not allow it again. Monroe would have to take her career into her own hands, forming her own production company 4 years later with Bus Stop (my personal favorite of her films), before she would again have the chance to prove herself a serious talent to be reckoned with.

The premise of Don’t Bother to Knock is simple. A family hires a babysitter to look after their young daughter for the evening while they attend a dinner party. They are staying in a hotel, and the porter (Elisha Cook Jr.) recommends his niece Nell (Monroe) to babysit the kid. The problem is that Monroe is suicidal. She has only recently been released from a mental institution having gone off the deep end when her fiancé was killed in a plane crash during the war. With the Jones’ downstairs at the party, Monroe tucks the little girl, “Bunny”,  into bed and her intensely lonely, quiet life becomes painfully apparent to the viewer as she tries on the fine jewelry and expensive negligee of her well-to-do employers. Her appliqué of lip rouge reveals two scars on her wrists.  In a quietly moving scene, Monroe looks at her face in the vanity mirror, admiring the fine diamond earrings, and as she does a plane is heard to pass over the hotel. She crosses to the window and peeks out between the blinds, up into that black sky—the same black sky that had taken away her fiancé. She closes her eyes and the camera, only faintly, registers that she is crying. It’s the moment that I sat straight up in my seat, suddenly glued to this unexpectedly haunted, emotionally naked performance on the screen.  I must have been about 15. And I was riveted.

An airline pilot (Richard Widmark) occupying a room across the courtyard from Monroe has checked in to win back his girlfriend, a singer in the hotel lounge who has given him his walking papers (Anne Bancroft in her screen debut). When he sees Monroe’s bombshell figure in the room across the way, he rings the room and invites himself over.

What he thinks is going to be a casual night of hanky panky out to be anything but. Monroe slowly unravels during the course of the evening as he is the first man she’s been alone with since her fiance’s death and she begins to believe that he is her fiancé. Things take a fork knife turn when little Bunny blows Monroe’s cover, crying for her to ‘take off her Mommy’s things’ and Widmark understands that Monroe has been feeding him a line about her being a woman of the world. She’s nothing more than the babysitter, new to New York and lonely.

Against his better judgment, Widmark stays for a bit, visibly moved at Monroe’s confession , but all the while desperate to leave the crazy situation he’s got himself into and get downstairs to see  Bancroft again to try one last time to win her back. Monroe begins to believe that her uncle, who keeps trying to check in on her during the night, and the little girl, who is understandably concerned at finding a strange man in the hotel room, are intruders trying to keep her away from her fiancé . And when Monroe sits next to Bunny on the windowpane, looking out at their neighbors’ windows, there is a terrifying moment when it seems as though Monroe actually will push the girl to her death. Widmark steps in and, when his eyes meet Monroe’s, he is suddenly aware that, perhaps, he got more than he bargained for. Behind Widmark’s back, Monroe threatens Bunny into keeping her trap shut and going to bed… or else. And the psychotic glint in Monroe’s eyes leaves no doubt whatsoever that she is perfectly capable of carrying out her threat.

The night quickly caves in on itself when Monroe’s Uncle shows up again, unexpectedly, to check up on her.  Monroe shoves Widmark into the bathroom to hide, and takes some very tough love from her Uncle who, upon wiping off the lipstick off Monroe’s face, sends her into a fit and she strikes her Uncle on the back of his head, rendering him unconscious on the bathroom floor.  Widmark now knows that this girl is more than just trouble, she is very possibly dangerous, and he flees the scene to meet up with Bancroft downstairs before he loses her forever.

Widmark spills his guts to her about Monroe and the little girl, and Bancroft is hit by his uncharacteristically sincere interest in the situation. Widmark, however, is suddenly overcome with the realization that Monroe might actually do serious harm to the little girl. His intuition has served him well, as Monroe has locked her unconscious uncle in the broom cupboard and has bound and gagged little Bunny whom she blames for the night’s disastrous turn of events. The parents, sick with worry over their phone calls not having got through, show up just in time. Widmark is not far behind, as is the House Detective.

Monroe comes unglued on Elisha Cook Jr.

Monroe is a shattered, broken mess, crouching in the corner of the hotel room. A fragile shell of a woman that might, at any moment, be carried away with the wind, like dust, never to be seen again. And, as far as she is aware, her disappearance would matter just as much as dust particles in the wind. And so she sneaks away, unnoticed by Widmark, her uncle and the detective.

Her walk down the corridor is a death march. She leans against the wall for support. Her beautiful eyes wide and full of numbed confusion. Her perfect face cracked with the deep stain of lost, desperate tears. This is not Nell Forbes. This is not Marilyn Monroe. This is Norma Jeane Mortenson. For the final 10 minutes of the film, she is exposed: for all her cosmetic perfection, she is raw and imperfect, alone and afraid, desperate to feel the warmth of love and kindness and respect but all-too aware that she never will. What was Marilyn thinking and feeling during that long, languorous dolly shot? Was she thinking of her own childhood with a mother gone mad? Was she painfully aware of how much she actually had in common with the emotionally spent state of Nell? Whatever the case, there is an infinite depth in those glazed wide eyes, and to a modern audience it is acutely obvious that this emotion is coming from some place very, very deep within.

And when Widmark finds her, in a daze, with a razor in hand, Bancroft is at Widmark’s side. She is moved by his deep concern. It is the only asexual relationship Monroe will ever have onscreen. She is a child in a woman’s body that Widmark wants to protect.

It would be the story of Monroe’s life.

Monroe and Nell as they become one person on screen. It’s hard to watch when you know what painful emotions lay behind Monroe’s beautiful facade.

The film was released in 1952 while Marilyn was under contract with Fox, just prior to her watershed success in Henry Hathaway’s sexy, Technicolor noir Niagara which would catapult her into super-stardom.   Don’t Bother To Knock was far from sexy. It was not the sort of film, perhaps, audiences wanted to see this white-hot new screen personality in and the film flopped both financially and critically. (Daily Variety, however, was a fan and applauded her performance as “excellent”, and LIFE Magazine keyed in most astutely by calling Monroe’s  performance “the genuine article.” ) It’s a shame this particular role is so seldom discussed. A very real 180 from the soon-to-be sex kitten that Fox would brand her as, Monroe is a revelation here.  Untrained in dramatics, Monroe’s acting coach, Natascha Lyness, confessed “I have to say that I didn’t think she was ready to take on a role of that magnitude. I underestimated her talent… or at the very least, her resolve. The time we spent on the script—two days, no sleep—was very dramatic and passionate and filled with angst, like Marilyn herself. In the end, she did such a great job that Zanuck saw fit to writer her a note to congratulate her, which surprised thrilled her to no end. She was so insecure and unsure of her ability that any validation at all was considered high praise.” Zanuck may have flattered Monroe, but he had no intention of making a habit of such unglamorous, dramatic parts. “She’s a dumb tomato and half-crazy to boot,” he is reported to have said about Monroe in the film. “In each picture she’ll earn her keep, but no more dramatic roles.” Monroe would stretch her range in Niagara as an emotionally manipulative femme fatale but the role capitalized completely on Monroe’s sex appeal. It was branded as sex. And that’s all anyone saw: explosive, on-your-knees-slave sex. A presence so overpowering, that no one could (or wanted to) see the actress, so strongly competent right in front of them.

As Rose in Niagara.

As Cherie in Bus Stop.

As Joslyn in her final film, The Misfits

Marilyn’s close friend Montgomery Clift, himself an outspoken foe of the Hollywood studio system, later made this comment on Marilyn’s stunted growth as an actress following Don’t Bother to Knock: “Fox wanted to keep a tight grip and drain her dry. Marilyn had a right to make the choice not to demean herself. But the boss wouldn’t let her. They didn’t want an actress. That’s what they’d agreed upon. They sat at their round table and decide that Marilyn wasn’t capable of making a relevant decision.”

Clift would work with Marilyn 8 years later on her final film (and his third to final), John Huston’s The Misfits. Brilliant but doomed like Marilyn, a friend noted “Monty and Marilyn were psychic twins. They were on the same wavelength. They recognized disaster in each other’s faces and giggled about it.” Clift, considered to be one of the most gifted actors of his generation, would call Marilyn the finest actress he ever worked with.

The Misfits, to many, is Marilyn’s finest strongest performance. Written for her by then-husband Arthur Miller, the role could probably be played by any actress… but none as broken and Marilyn’s. Her Method training had allowed her to transcend written lines and bare herself completely. It is a testament to the fragile-yet-formidable talent first unveiled in Don’t Bother to Knock, made undeniable in Bus Stop, and forever cemented in The Misfits.

Of her relationship with her Method acting coach, the legendary Paula Strasberg, Monroe said simply “Whatever road leads to growth, you take.” And if Don’t Bother to Knock, Bus Stop, and The Misfits prove anything, it’s that Marilyn took those risks and traveled those roads that no one believed she should, or could, travel.  Thankfully, even though we lost her so many decades ago, these rarely appreciated artistic triumphs live,  forever, on film. Who knows. Maybe one day we’ll finally recognize her as the deeply human actress she truly was. Instead of the icon Hollywood created.

Welcome Robert Osborne Back December 1st — Be There or Be Square!

Welcome Back Bob has generated a flurry of activity over on Twitter and Tumblr– thanks to any and all who have turned out to voice their support of Mr. Robert Osborne’s return to TCM. Since today is the big day, The Pictorial is letting its readers know that at 8PM Eastern Standard Time, when Osborne hits the airwaves, we are co-hosting a massive Live Tweet.

If by chance you are a Twitter user, please do log on at 8PM EST and post a quick tweet welcoming him back. (And don’t forget to use the hash tag #WelcomeBackBob so we can find you!) If you don’t have a twitter account, do feel free to send your thoughts to the Pictorial and we shall post it for you.

Happy Tweeting!

Welcome Back, Bob!

Robert Osborne: classic film champion since 1994.

Dear Turner Classic Movie Fans Everywhere:

As all of you are very well aware, this week marks the return of the one, the only, wonderful Mr. Robert Osborne who, after a five-month hiatus, resumes his primetime hosting duties on the TCM stage this week, December 1st.

Welcome Back Bob” is a week-long celebration brought to you by the online constituency of the classic film community. The Kitty Packard Pictorial and classic film blogger Will McKinley are sponsoring this humble little tribute, but the voices that truly matter are YOURS: everyone who makes up our vital, virtual community of classic film fanatics. We are, I think it’s safe to say, a close knit, affectionate community of film lovers and, with Bob Osborne being a patron saint of classic film, it is only fitting to rally together this week to share what it is we love about our dear Robert O— and classic film itself— and why it is such a unifying force.

Here’s how it works:

Hop on over to the Welcome Back Bob Tumblr page this week and voice up in any way you like: share memories, a video, a photo, a “Welcome Back Bob” graphic, a blog post, or even just a li’l old tweet– the sky’s the limit! If you post something on your blog or tumblr, tweet @MissCarley and we’ll repost it. And if/when you do tweet, make sure to tag it with #WelcomeBackBob so we can find it and share it!

Michael Schwab’s Classic Film Graphics

Graphic artist Michael Schwab has produced a simply swonderful collection of images for Turner Classic Movies‘ Summer Under the Stars. TCM is holding a sweepstakes giveaway of a collection of postcards, the complete collection of which can be seen on Schwab’s website.

The images are not available for purchase at this time, which means they almost certainly WILL be available for purchase once the TCM promotion is over. And when that happens, I’ll take one of each, please, because these really are just too darn cool for words:

Michael Schwab's Classic Film Graphics

Graphic artist Michael Schwab has produced a simply swonderful collection of images for Turner Classic Movies‘ Summer Under the Stars. TCM is holding a sweepstakes giveaway of a collection of postcards, the complete collection of which can be seen on Schwab’s website.

The images are not available for purchase at this time, which means they almost certainly WILL be available for purchase once the TCM promotion is over. And when that happens, I’ll take one of each, please, because these really are just too darn cool for words: