Hollywood foments a Marilyn Monroe moment
Next August will bring the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death. (She would have been 86, which is as weird to write as it is to think about.)
But Hollywood is getting an early jump on the remembrances. Currently playing in about 250 movie theaters around the country is Michelle Williams' "My Week With Marilyn," a dramatized (and possibly fictionalized) look at the screen siren during a critical period of her life while filming "The Prince and the Showgirl.”
In February, Monroe comes to the small screen via the NBC scripted series "Smash," in which theater producers mount a fictional Broadway show about the bombshell’s life. The real-life Broadway actress Megan Hilty and "American Idol" star-cum-recording artist Katharine McPhee, putting her own spin on "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," each vie to play her.
As if that weren't enough, the series could spawn an actual Broadway musical, with creators developing lyrics and music with an eye toward putting it all on a stage.
"You can actually squint and see a real Marilyn musical," said Craig Zadan, an executive producer on "Smash" and a Broadway producer of note in his own right. "There are already a bunch of new songs, and one of the possibilities if the show becomes a hit is to regroup and try to put it on Broadway." (A 1983 Broadway effort, "Marilyn: An American Fable," flopped, though that was heavily fictionalized and largely panned.)
What's behind the 2011-era Monroe-mania? Certainly, nostalgists say, rightly or not, that she’s a symbol of when celebrity was purer. And even less doe-eyed types will note that Monroe was a forerunner of modern celebrity, someone whose outsized fame derived from her persona as much as her work.
McPhee has her own perspective, telling 24 Frames that she believes there was a striving quality to the woman born Norma Jean Mortenson, who, of course, came from humble beginnings. "I think it's the aspirational quality people relate to," McPhee said.
Williams said that, for her at least, there was an element of reassurance in the Monroe legend. "If even a woman that beautiful clearly has trouble and is damaged and has insecurities, then we're all entitled," she said. (Her film has so far grossed more than $6 million at the U.S. box office in roughly one month of release.)
But the actress also said she believes there was something to admire in how the bombshell crafted her image.
"To be Marilyn Monroe, to be what people expect, to be that open and sexual and gorgeous, it takes an incredible amount of effort. I read something where she said that that’s a very difficult thing to be when one is feeling unlovable," Williams said. "It’s a drain to put out that much energy. It leaves you exhausted."
--Steven Zeitchik, with additional reporting by Amy Kaufman
Photo: Marilyn Monroe at 19. Credit: EPA/Julien Auctions.