Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Breaking Down "Secret Life" Part 1/10

Breaking Down "Secret Life" Part 1: Some basic background history

In 2015, Lifetime Network aired a special two-episode mini series about Marilyn Monroe’s life based off of J. Randy Taraborrelli's book "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe." Now, over a year later, I am both reviewing it and providing more information about Marilyn’s story by comparing and contrasting it to the film in the hopes to inform and educate others who are either planning on seeing it or have already seen it. The reason I’m doing this is because after this movie came out, a lot of people seemed to join the Marilyn community, which is wonderful! And also I get asked about it all the time (my opinion, what's true and what isn't, etc). I think everyone was casted very well and I think that each actor played their part admirably. Kelli Garner is one of the best Marilyns I’ve seen, and I admire the way she portrayed her after having limited time to learn about Marilyn. I think she had it down as far as looks, spontaneity, and even the voice was well done. So many "Marilyns" these days way over-exaggerate the voice, but I think Kelli accomplished it at a comfortable level. However, this movie is riddled with inaccuracies. There were things that I liked but there were also things I was very uncomfortable with, one being the way they made it seem like Marilyn was mentally ill, to the point of being crazy. But I’ll get to that later! For the next series of blog posts I will be breaking down the movie bit by bit. This is not to criticize in any way, but to learn, both for myself and others. Like I said, although there are inaccuracies, I actually enjoyed this film. And also like I said, it is based off the book, so the book is what should hold the responsibility for the inaccuracies for the most part.

So here we go!

*EDIT/9.27.16* Marilyn slowly began taking psychoanalysis in 1952, but didn't delve into it fully until 1955.

Episode 1

The movie starts off with Marilyn (played by Kelli Garner) arriving an hour and a half late to her scheduled appointment with fictional psychiatrist Dr. DeShields. The other people in the house at the time are Pat Newcomb (Marilyn's publicist) and Eunice Murray (Marilyn's housekeeper). Marilyn Monroe, in real life, was always late for everything, this isn’t any new information. Rarely was she ever right on time. She would usually spend hours perfecting her makeup and choosing the right thing to wear. This is a trait that goes back to her childhood. During that time, she had always felt unwanted and easy to abandon. Yes, she was loved by some of the people who took care of her for a number of years such as Grace McKee and Aunt Ana, but it’s much different when you lack a strong and healthy mother figure throughout your entire childhood. Not only but that, but also not ever knowing your father, and your father never caring to know you. And that’s not something you can blame her for. And now, as Marilyn Monroe, people longed to see her, even the slightest glimpse would do, and therefore she subconsciously was enjoying what she had never experienced before: the feeling of being wanted and people waiting on you. Marilyn constantly admitted to this habit, she was fully aware of her actions. In fact, here are a few quotes she said herself regarding her chronic lateness:

From the Gadsden Times July 17, 1960:
“It’s a bad habit, I know but I believe that you shouldn’t do anything in life until you’re ready. Half of life’s heartaches come from decisions that were made in a hurry.”

From the same newspaper, screenwriter/producer Jerry Wald (producer of “Let’s Make Love” (1960) said:
 “True, she’s not punctual. She can’t help it, but I’m not sad about it. I can get a dozen beautiful blondes who will show up promptly in makeup at 4am each morning, but they are not Marilyn Monroe.”

From her last interview, conducted in July 1962, published in Life Magazine August 3, 1962:
“I guess people think that why I’m late is some kind of arrogance and I think it is the opposite of arrogance. I also feel that I’m not in this big American rush – you know, you got to go and you got to go fast but for no good reason. The main thing is, I do want to be prepared when I get there to give a good performance or whatever to the best of my ability. A lot of people can be there on time and do nothing, which I have seen them do, and you know, all sit around and sort of chit-chatting and talking trivia about their social life. Gable said about me, ‘When she’s there, she’s there. All of her is there! She’s there to work.’”

I can imagine it must have been pretty difficult to work with someone who was late all the time, sometimes by several hours, but honestly the way I see it now is: She wasn’t a diva about it, and clearly she owned up to it. It’s been half a century, in my opinion I think everyone should stop complaining about how tough she was to work with at times. Just like the very last line in Some Like It Hot: "Nobody's perfect."

Back to the film: As the fictional Doctor DeShields is awaiting Marilyn’s arrival, he picks up a book on her coffee table and opens it to find a short handwritten note inside that reads “Everyone’s childhood plays itself out.” In Marilyn’s case, we like to call these little scribbles of hers “fragments.” This is a real quote! In 1958 , Marilyn wrote this very sentence on a piece of note paper during the time she was living in Roxbury, Connecticut, around 2 years into her marriage with husband Arthur Miller.

From The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

From Marilyn's personal notes

What is significant about this book that DeShields picks up is that the subject is Stanislavsky’s form of “Method” acting. When Marilyn first joined the Actors Studio in New York in 1955, she became familiar with this technique because it is what was being taught by world renowned acting teacher Lee Strasberg. “Method” acting involves drawing from your own life experiences and using them to enhance your performance to better understand the character which you are playing. Strasberg insisted that his students see a psychoanalyst so that they would be able to look deeper into themselves to harness these experiences and memories. Marilyn first applied this form of acting in her 1956 film “Bus Stop.” Her co-star Laurence Olivier from “The Prince and the Showgirl” was famously against the Method. 

Marilyn in front of the Actors Studio, 1955

The reason I keep saying “the fictional Dr. DeShields” is because that is exactly what he is: an entirely fictional character. There is no record or documentation of anyone named Dr. DeShields in Marilyn’s history. The way the movie is set up is to have a fake psychiatrist come and have Marilyn discuss her life with him, therefore allowing the film to play out chronologically. It makes for a better story telling process, but he is entirely fictional. Marilyn’s real psychiatrist at the time of her death (1962, when the movie takes place) was Dr. Ralph Greenson, and his intern who provided prescriptions was Dr. Hyman Engelberg. There is no evidence of Marilyn trying to hire a new therapist while being in Greenson’s care. Kelli Garner briefly mentioned this in a 2015 live interview on Fox:

“We used the vice of Marilyn with a fictional therapist to kind of tell her story.”

One of the first things I notice is the setting of the house, and wow, I was impressed! It is incredibly similar to Marilyn’s real house, even down to some of the furniture items.

From The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn's house at the time of her death

Even the paintings are the same.

Part of Marilyn's dining room

They even mentioned the Latin tiles outside of Marilyn’s house saying “cursum perficio,” which means something along the lines of “My journey ends here” or “I complete the course.” I’ve read before that it was put there when it was built, and that by “journey ends” it is supposed to mean that the homeowner that is searching for a home can stop looking because this is the one they were meant to have, and therefore their journey can end. Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the settings throughout the film.

From The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

The original tiles from Marilyn's home

Marilyn in “Secret Life” mentions having been in psychotherapy for the past 6 years. This is true in real life, Marilyn first became acquainted with psychotherapy in 1955 when she trained at the Actors Studio in New York (mentioned above). Her first psychoanalyst was Dr. Margaret Hohenberg, who she became a client of from 1955 to 1957. Her photographer Milton Greene was also seeing Hohenberg for therapy at the time. After that, Marilyn began to see Dr. Marianne Kris from 1957 to 1961. The reason Marilyn dropped her is because Kris was the one who had her admitted to Payne Whitney Hospital in 1961, where she had been locked up in the psychiatric ward and treated as if she were crazy. Joe DiMaggio was eventually able to release her. The last therapist she saw was Dr. Ralph Greenson, who became her therapist from 1961 to 1962, who had also been a friend and colleague of Marianne Kris.

At one point during their conversation at the beginning, Dr. DeShields mentions the pills she frequently takes such as Nembutal, but I also caught him mentioning “Demerol.” Demerol is a brand of meperidine, a painkiller which is prescribed after and during major surgeries. According to Marilyn’s prescriptions and dosages, the earliest we can confirm she took a painkiller is decadron phosphate in 1960, and this would have been most likely for her allergies, since that is what this medication was used for as well. It was at a low dose and she had been going through some muscle loss. In June of 1961, Marilyn also had her gall bladder removed. She also had a couple procedures done in attempt to correct her endometriosis. In short, the only times she was prescribed painkillers was around surgical procedures. Marilyn did not seem to be addicted to painkillers whatsoever, so I was a bit taken aback when they implied excessive use of a painkiller. Again, the mention of it was so brief, but it caught my ear.

These are just some of the basics and background of Marilyn’s story, in the next posts I’ll be getting more into the chronology of her life and comparing it to the film. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, I hope it has been helpful! And special thank you to April for helping me figure out that 1960 prescription. Next post: Marilyn’s childhood and her mother, Gladys Baker.

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