Welcome to Marilyn From The 22nd Row
Late in June of 2013, I purchased a Blu-Ray of the odd film Coriolanus, primarily because it offered the promise of being William Shakespeare’s Rambo. Who wouldn’t want to test that promise? A brief preview on William Shakespeare’s Rambo began with the sounding of a single piano string then depicted an airplane landing, flash bulbs flashing and the appearance of a long-departed blonde beauty. This preview caught my attention when Sir Laurence Olivier announced: Gentlemen, it is my special pleasure to introduce a woman who clearly needs no introduction, a very great actress on her first trip to London.
As a result of this brief preview, sometime in late July, I purchased a DVD of My Week With Marilyn. It’s more than just likely that I watched that movie on the 4th or 5th of August, days that would have marked the 51st anniversary of Marilyn’s untimely and tragic death. At the time, however, I would not have known that because, at the time, Marilyn Monroe never entered the dialogue streaming through my head, not without an external stimulus that is, say the appearance of her beautiful face on the cover of a magazine, the glossy type you often encounter flanking the check-out lanes in grocery or discount stores. Invariably, those magazines announced prurient tales about her love life, new discoveries of something or other, proving this or that about her, none of which I ever read. Occasionally, while channel surfing, I collided with a television program featuring a round table of celebrities and cinema pundits discussing either her movies, her life or her mysterious death, none of which I ever watched. No need: I knew who Marilyn Monroe was. I had seen Andy Warhol’s diptych. She was that Mae West, Jean Harlow imitator, that air-headed, dumb blonde who made all those rotten dumb blonde flicks back in the fifties when I was five or six years old. I knew all there was to know; indeed, I knew all I ever needed to know, or wanted to know or so I thought, about this long departed, dumb blonde movie star. She was, after all, just another sad celebrity suicide. She was, after all, just an Andy Warhol cartoon. Then I watched My Week With Marilyn.
What appeared on my flat screen in the form of the pixy-like Michelle Williams was not the lac-quered cupie doll, but a woman, a human being. Little did I know, as I watched that movie over and over and over, that I was taking the first steps down a road I never expected to walk. I was becoming infected, afflicted with a benign ailment: Marilyn Monroe.
I could not get Marilyn Monroe out of my head. At first I was bemused. Marilyn Monroe? I told myself: this, too, shall pass. I didn’t know just how wrong I was. I read any article about her that I could find on Al Gore’s Amazing Internet. I visited blogs and Facebook groups, watched YouTube videos and documentaries. Some were flattering, some not. Finally, I bought two anthologies of her movies and began my excursion into the Realm of Marilyn. I didn’t realize it at the time, but by then, I was hopelessly, incurably infected. Biographies, memoirs and commentaries on her film career, along with books about a few of the directors with whom she worked, soon followed. I soon realized that Marilyn was not, and is not, an Andy Warhol cartoon.
But as the number of steps that I took along the road increased, as I walked deeper into the Realm of Marilyn, I become emotionally linked to a woman I had never met, a woman who shufflel’d off this mortall coile when I was twelve years old. Why? I was transformed into the unnamed narrator in James Joyce’s Araby. Mangan’s sister became Marilyn. The sound of her name was a summons to all my foolish blood and her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I did not understand so I could not explain, then or now, my confused adoration; and yet my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires. Marilyn Monroe had assumed an oddly significant status in my life. Now that I think about it, can anybody recommend a good shrink?
When I read negative comments about her I became incensed and if I encountered any negative comments on a website allowing me to respond, I always did, and often rudely. Negative comments about her acting ability I found particularly maddening, primarily because what I saw and what I experienced while I watched her perform did not mesh with the disparaging commentaries that I often encountered. I often wondered if the movie I had viewed was the same movie the critic had viewed. Their reviews were abnormally harsh and judgmental, often to the point of querulous derision. Most of the contemporaneous reviews of Marilyn’s films and her performances were particularly unkind, nearly brutal. One critic, Bosley Crowther, was abnormally tough on Marilyn and afforded her films nothing more than insipid and passing commentary of the most bilious sort. Mr. Crowther was the New York Times’ film critic from 1940 until 1967; and while he is reputed to be the most influential film critic of all time, I have found most of his reviews to be slack, vague and unnecessarily mean, particularly his criticisms of Marilyn’s movies. Many of the misguided asper-sions leveled at her and the adjectives used to describe her performances during the fifties have carried over into present day; and I’ve thought, while reading some contemporary reviews of her work, that the 21st century critics just repeated the baloney penned by their 20th century brethren.
Slowly, as I watched and read, read and watched, and the obsessive side of my personality began to exert its influence, I decided that I was going to act. I decided to review all of Marilyn’s movies and Marilyn From The 22nd Row is the result of that decision. This site is a recreation of a site that I began in early 2014 and then dismantled as I began to earnestly research and write my book about Marilyn’s tragic death, Murder Orthodoxies: A Non-Conspiracist’s View of Marilyn Monroe’s Death. Eventually, the complete text of Murder Orthodoxies will appear on this site.
Now, I don’t claim to be on a mission to repudiate all the criticism of Marilyn, the actress; and I don’t necessarily want or need to prove that Marilyn was a terrific actress. The proof of Marilyn’s acting talent and skill is very visible for anyone receptive to perceiving it. And therein lies the key: being receptive. You have to put aside all you have ever read about Marilyn, the actress, the legend, the Goddess and the Blonde Bombshell. You must be willing to watch her work, watch her perform, watch her eyes, her mannerisms, her body language. And yet, at the risk of sounding contradictory, you cannot watch HER. You cannot allow her legend or mystique, you cannot allow her beauty to distract you because when that happens you will not see the nuance, the beauty of her talent or her performances. I admit it is virtually impossible to do, virtually impossible not to get lost in her eyes. Sometimes, I still do.
Still, if you are not a Marilyn fan or have not seen any of her movies, I hope this web site incites your interest. I hope you seek out her films and eventually become a fan. Rest assured, you will not be disappointed. Careful, though, you may just find yourself seriously infected, afflicted with that benign ailment known as Marilyn Monroe. I now refer to those, including me, who are infected as MO: Marilyn Overwhelmed. Why? Because she is simply overwhelming.
Donald R. McGovern
London, Paris, Zurich, Memphis and Clara Mae’s Kitchen