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Friday, March 18, 2011

Addison Takes Miss Casswell On a Date

I've got this great idea for a comedy team --- Addison De Witt and Miss Casswell --- only it's sixty years too late. Should George Sanders have credited Marilyn for some of his Oscar win? I wonder if GS or anyone realize what a help she'd been toward George/Addison's win? Monroe wasn't invited to the Academy's ceremony, being still on the slow climb up and regarded around town as a "hustler." Like Jean Harlow before, her va-voom distracted from comic aptitude there from the start. If the breathy sex kitten was an act all along (bios say it was), wouldn't Marilyn have looked on her own career as one long laugh routine? Had sex not been taken so seriously then, or better put, regarded as a threat, she might have been a next generation's Gracie Allen. I'm just sorry Fox didn't reteam Sanders and Monroe in a Joe Mankiewicz penned follow-up farce, Addison a Mr. Belvedere of Broadway (look at the series 20th and Clifton Webb got from that!), with dizzy but knowing Miss Casswell to return serve his sardonic quips. Now Joe would have had to give up Julius Caesar and The Barefoot Contessa to set himself properly upon the task, but wouldn't you swap those for more Sanders and Monroe? When the two walk off All About Eve, I want to follow them, my interest greater in where their date heads or what happens at that TV audition they're bound for, potentially lots more fun than continued squabbling among Eve's other characters.

According to records, Marilyn Monroe showed up in six 1950 releases, two of them permanent classics, and none without interest. Stars before had arrived in  clumps. Clark Gable was everywhere in 1931 before a public could pause and take stock. Monroe would be seen in bits for a seeming eternity after The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve should have put her on stardom's fast route. I looked at several of these starter guns to see how clear she'd register as a comet ascending, enjoying luxury of how could they have been so blind? hindsight. Seems everyone who worked with Marilyn that formative year had to answer questions about her later, no matter how large their own status and customary focus on me, me, me. I doubt Groucho Marx got through conversations on Love Happy without someone saying, Yes, Yes, Grouch, but what was she really like? Bette Davis, John Huston, Mickey Rooney ... all got the same inquisition, answers predictably to form: Just a scared kid, didn't seem like anything special, etc. Fellow celebrities on the topic of Marilyn Monroe tended to be self-serving first, revealing second, how reliable always the larger question. She'd become more a legend than most and that had to spur resentment well past MM's 1962 passing. Even George Sanders was compelled to address the Monroe phenom in a memoir, wherein he'd prove more generous than most.

Asphalt Director John Huston claimed he sort of discovered MM. Others write he cast her only to clear a boarding debt for horses. Hollywood really did run on chance and luck, I suppose. Marilyn's first scene in The Asphalt Jungle is reminiscent of Harlow seducing Ben Lyon in Hell's Angels, gloves-off torrid for Code-shackled 1950 in spite of Monroe's objective being solemn Louis Calhern (looking as she did here could arouse a wood Indian). Metro, they say, opted out signing Marilyn because they already had Lana Turner ... well yeah, since 1938. Was there a doghouse at Culver for those who'd missed this bet? All About Eve circulated within months of Asphalt --- two great writer-directors and both showcased Monroe in scenes among best in respective pics. You wonder how she went from these to running in place of cheesecake parts in throwaway shows, and two more years at that. I notice Monroe didn't get before color cameras until 1953's Niagara, not a little unusual for a rising 50's name. The (minor) one that followed Asphalt and Eve was The Fireball, which I happily saw thanks to good offices of Warner's Archive. This was a roller-derby-set Mickey Rooney vehicle, a word not used inadvisably for it's being wall-to-wall Mick and maybe a trial for those not warm to the mighty mite. I perversely found it terrific, another of those scratch-penny independents waded into postwar market where theatres could buy freer now that big distributor block-booking was on the run. The Fireball came of a Thor Productions, their clenched fist logo throwing off lightning bolts, and the moment where I knew this would be a great picture.

Mickey Rooney wrote of how he got Marilyn Monroe her Fireball break. Being MR's was biggest noise on hand, I'd not dispute him. The project was joint between veteran director Tay Garnett, around since hand-cranking, and a producer named Bert Friedlob (the very name suggestive of cigars and racing forms), whose first credited job this was. Exploiting a heated-up roller-skating fad was The Fireball's mission. Seventeen million skaters and seven M more watching Derbys on TV were there for taking, said Friedlob to Variety, just a fraction of these would surely give him a hit (though worldwide rentals ended at just $831K). 20th Fox agreed to distribute, being short of home-grown product and needing to grease distrib wheels. The Fireball was familiar stuff of mixed-up kid Rooney (thirty when he made it) letting skate fame go to his head. Pat O'Brien's along in yet again priestly robe. Co-writer Garnett pillaged Boy's Town for an opening reel, with milder rework of Angels With Dirty Faces to effect Mickey reforming at the finish. Rooney did much of race action himself and briefly interacts with stadium seated Marilyn Monroe (your eyes can't help scanning every crowd shot --- she's there for many of them). Clad in a same sweater-dress from All About Eve, MM makes most of here/there lines and reaction shots. A not unexpected Fireball footnote: Garnett fell out with partner Friedlob over what Variety labeled a coin dispute, seemingly last chapter to most independent producing sagas back then.

A (finally) contract for Marilyn Monroe at Fox yielded one after another small parts in/out of swimming and other brief attire. One was Let's Make It Legal, seen of late at Netflix and highlighting Monroe poolside and on a dance floor. Would anyone ever watch this movie if not for her fleeting presence? Let's Make It Legal was entertainment folks might as easily have duplicated on new televisions at home, being divorce/reconcile porridge of the kind star Claudette Colbert mixed over a last twenty years. She was less Fox's interest than young players grooming for prominence to come. Studio systems even in 50's decline were peas in pods for doggedly developing fresh faces, these tougher selling to a public increasingly tilted toward free-vee. 20th decorates Let's Make It Legal with Robert Wagner and Barbara Bates in addition to Monroe. Bates would prove an even harder luck case than Marilyn, notwithstanding those hundred + books so far on the latter's troubled life. MM doesn't glow here as in Asphalt/Eve, difference being Huston/Mankiewicz v. Legal's Richard Sale. Fox offers pretty near all the Monroe run-ups on DVD, including Love Nest, We're Not Married, O. Henry's Full House, others. They're interesting as much for other participants as MM, and as barometers of 20th trying to stay afloat in hard times just ahead of Cinemascope and temporary salvation.


Blogger Mike Cline said...


Maybe not so lucky.

They don't look overly-thrilled.

Maybe they knew something about the movie before the public did.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Mike Cline: I was thinking the same thing! Maybe they WERE lucky...they didn't have to SEE the finished film!

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

...and look at the frozen grins on Myrna Loy and Clark Gable. They definitely knew something about the movie.

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

I initially read Houston's excuse -- "boarding debt for horses" as "boarding debt for whores." Would this, perhaps be a little closer to the truth?

I like how MGM played up MM's appearance in the re-release of "Asphalt Jungle," considering she's onscreen for roughly five minutes. United Artists did the same thing with its re-release posters of "Love Happy" -- as if the studios were bragging how blind they were not to sign her to a 7-year contract.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Sanders was a terrific actor,who had the lucky knack of making everyone look great. (Not to take away from MM!) Sanders and MM had real chemistry, and you wonder what could've been had Sanders been the co-star of The Prince and the Showgirl.....

1:37 PM  
Blogger Jimbo said...

Actually, Monroe appeared in a Technicolor movie in 1950, three years before “Niagara” in “A Ticket to Tomahawk'”

2:57 AM  

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