Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Breaking down "Secret Life" Part 4/10

Episode 1 continued: Marilyn’s starlet years

Thanks for tuning in! This is a continuation of my series of blog posts titled “Breaking Down ‘The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe’ the movie.” If you have not, please check out parts 1 & 2 of this review.

Links are here!
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

In the last post, we ended on Marilyn’s marriage to her first husband Jim Dougherty, as well as the beginning of her decorated modeling career. Now we are moving on to her years as an ambitious starlet in Hollywood.

At this point in the movie,we see Jim and Norma Jeane visiting Gladys at a mental institution.

From "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe"

 Marilyn is asking about her father, whom she had never met and didn’t know much about. She is referring to Charles Stanley Gifford. Gifford is widely accepted among reputable researchers as Marilyn’s biological father, although no definitive proof has ever been produced. She resembles him a lot more than Edward Mortenson, the man listed as her father on her birth certificate. This was done to avoid being looked at as an illegitimate child. Gifford was known around town at the time to be sort of a player. In July of 1919, he married Lillian Prester until she left him due to his promiscuity in 1923. He was Gladys’s supervisor at Consolidated, where they soon began seeing each other. Gladys was then separated from Mortenson and with Gifford by the time she became pregnant. Gifford left shortly after learning this news, and denied any responsibility to the child. Edward Mortenson denied being her father in 1934, although by the time he died in 1981, he had accumulated several newspaper and magazine clippings of Marilyn Monroe.

Side by side comparison of Marilyn with Stanley Gifford

I never called myself Mortenson at any time because Mr. Mortenson was not my father. He proved that to the satisfaction of the authorities, and for that reason, he had no financial responsibility for me.”  -Marilyn to Hedda Hopper in 1953

Kelli as Marilyn mentions that she “drove out to the desert to see him,” meaning her father. The only thing we really know about Marilyn’s contact with her father is that in February of 1943, she wrote to Grace McKee telling her of her plans to contact Gifford. Jim recalls a time when she attempted to call her father, but he hung up on her. Both Natasha Lytess and Sidney Skolsky claim that they did drive out to the desert to see him, and that he wouldn’t answer her. And finally, rumor has it that in 1960 he finally made the effort to get a hold of her over the phone, but she told him to talk to her attorney. We can’t be sure of very much, it’s possible she drove out there, it’s possible she attempted to phone him a few times in the early 40’s, but there is nothing to really substantiate all of this. It’s safe to say that in any event, Marilyn did not have any relationship with her father. There are also no accounts that suggest Gladys did not remember giving birth to her daughter. Gladys was very emotionally distant as a mother, she suffered the rest of her life with schizophrenia, but she always knew who her daughter was.

At this point in the movie, a shy but determined Kelli as Marilyn slowly walks into a makeup room where a man is working. She asks him if he can give her some tips. The man agrees to help her out, and gives her a full face of makeup, deciding which techniques would be best for her and educating her on the ways she can improve her makeup for film. This man is Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, who will become a life-long friend and confidante until Marilyn’s death. He will even have the emotionally brutal task of applying her makeup for her funeral, as requested by Marilyn herself in conversation once. Whitey first did Marilyn’s makeup for her very first screen test at 20th Century Fox in 1945. He continued to work with her on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the Jack Benny Show, How To Marry A Millionaire, Niagara, River of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot, Let’s Make Love, The Misfits, and Something’s Got To Give. He was even one of her casket pallbearers.

From "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe"
Marilyn with Whitey Snyder, 1953.

Now we see Kelli as Marilyn phoning and old acquaintance: photographer Tom Kelley. Not long before, Marilyn had a small collision with another car on Sunset Boulevard. She was on her way to an audition and thought she would never be able to make it, and couldn’t afford a taxi. Tom Kelley rushed over and they talked for a moment. He gave her his card as well as money for a cab. Now, Marilyn was phoning him granting his offer to pose nude. She didn’t have any money at this point, and she needed it to pay her rent at the Studio Club. She decided that she may as well go ahead and earn some money by posing for him, although throughout her modeling career she was against posing nude (although Andre de Dienes had asked her to many times, she politely turned him down). After all, she was an unknown actress, so no one would recognize her, right? And so in May of 1949, something legendary happened. Tom Kelley, with his wife Natalie present, snapped some of the most well-known photos in pop culture history: the famous red velvet nudes. Kelli Garner provides an absolutely beautiful recreation of this moment in history, with her hair and makeup done exactly as Norma Jeane’s in real life. Once the session was over, Marilyn was paid $50, and was on her way. The Baumgarth calendar company then bought Kelley’s photos for $500, which were then purchased by Hugh Hefner, who used them as his centerfold in his first issue of Playboy in 1953.

From "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe"
Marilyn Monroe, 1949.

At the end of this scene, Kelley recommends that Marilyn go to one of Joe Schenck’s parties. Joseph Schenck was one of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time. He was the head of production at 20th Century Fox studios. He often threw parties at his home for celebrities in which lesser known starlets would attend to do specific jobs like, serving food or just being on display for the male guests and watching them play poker. In 1948, John Carroll, husband of Lucille Ryman, introduced Marilyn to a man named Pat de Cicco who was friends with Schenck. (Marilyn had rented out one of the Carrolls’ apartments, and they were financially helping her for a time). Pat was the one who suggested Marilyn go to one of Schenck’s parties. As a side note, Marilyn also met future confidante there, Louella Parsons.

Schenck, 76 at the time, took a liking to Marilyn. However, the film depicts an event entirely opposite from the way it went down in real life. In the movie, Schenck immediately falls in lust with Kelli as Marilyn, and convinces her to go to bed with him. Afterwards, Schenck, played by Peter MacNeill, is seen making an important phone call in which he lands Marilyn a role in the film “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!” He offers Kelli as Marilyn cash for her services, but she politely declines, and is on her way. Here is what really happened: Taking de Cicco’s advice, Marilyn showed up at one of Schenck’s poker parties in 1948 as a young and unknown starlet. By this time, she had appeared in a few uncredited roles under her contract for 20th, but they had chosen not to renew it, so she was dropped. Marilyn meets Schenck at this party, and he takes an immediate liking to her. The two become friends and she often visits him at his home for dinner. It was Schenck’s influence that got Harry Cohn to consider her for “Ladies of the Chorus” at Columbia studios. And here’s the most important part: they did not have a sexual relationship. Both firmly denied being involved other than just being good friends. I don’t think the mixed up chronology in the film was that intentional, it was probably just done that way to progress the movie more smoothly. To conclude, meeting Schenck and attending his party happened before Marilyn posed for Tom Kelley.

Get this straight, Mr. Schenck and I were good friends. He gave me encouragement when I needed it. He didn’t do anything for me. He let Mr. Zanuck run the studio the way Mr. Zanuck wanted to run it. The only favor I ever asked him, Mr. Schenck, was later, when I was back at Twentieth I wanted a decent dressing room. I never asked him to help me get good parts at Twentieth, and he didn’t. He knew how I felt about it, that I wanted to succeed on my talent, not any other way, and he respected my feelings.  -Marilyn Monroe, Empire News June 1954

She used to come here quite often for dinner. I think she liked to eat. We have good food here. No, I never had any romantic thoughts about Marilyn and she never had any such thoughts about me.” –Joseph Schenck, Cavalier August 1961

Joe Schenck

Lastly, here in the film we see Kelli as Marilyn at the mental institution where her mother is being kept. This institution is supposed to represent Agnew, the place she was admitted to after an attempt to escape from Norwalk. In the scene, Marilyn is signing for her to be released, which is a little confusing since if they are corresponding it with the year Marilyn posed for Tom Kelly, it would be 1949, By this time in real life, Gladys had been released from Agnew a few years before and was living with her new husband, John Stewart Eley, in Los Angeles.

Right: Marilyn's mother Gladys

Thank you for taking the time to read all this, hope you learned something out of it! Stay tuned for the next post, which will be wrapping up the first episode of “Secret Life.”

© Ky Reynolds and fifthhelena.blogspot.com 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site's author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ky Reynolds and fifthhelena.blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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