by Melissa Uhrin
One of my favourite songs, and in fact the first song I ever dissected, is Billy Joel's “We Didn't Start The Fire.” Oddly enough, while my capacity for memorization could be qualified as nothing more than shitty, I can sing the whole song on command at any time. In fact as I write this, I am singing it aloud, so that I can prove to myself that this is indeed a fact. (Nothing worse than a liar!) So feel free to approach me and demand this song at any time and you shall be dazzled by the one skill I acquired in the eleventh grade that has stuck. BAM!
Harry Truman Doris Day Red China Johnnie Ray South Pacific Walter Winchell Joe DiMaggio. Joe McCarthy Richard Nixon Studebaker Television North Korea South Korea Marilyn Monroe.
We were each given a short section of the song and asked to investigate the meaning behind each historical name or event. This was one of the most fun and entertaining ways I had ever been taught about eventful people and moments in our recent history (1949-1989), and is in fact something I continue to enlighten others about to this day. (HAHA, like right now, suckers... You had no idea this was going to be a history lesson! I will get to my point now, but I'll bet those of you who where unaware of the meanings within the song will be doing a bit of Googling now). Anyways, I was given the second line in the song, beginning with Joe McCarthy and ending with Marilyn Monroe, which turned out to be my kickstart into a love affair with all things Marilyn.
The look created for her in Niagara was carried over in the next few films and later that year we were given more of Monroe, in comedic performances that enhanced the “dumb blonde” persona. It's actually painful to admit that I did not get to watch these movies until quite recently. I was talking with my friend Brittany a short while ago about our shared love of Marilyn and discussing how odd it was that we both had not seen a large portion of her films. Simple explanation: Marilyn was so captivating that it only takes one performance to fall in love with her! I have spent the last little while catching up on her movies and did my best to watch them in order of their release date.
And again, although she only briefly appeared in Howard Hawks' Monkey Business (1952) alongside Cary Grant, all eyes are glued to her every movement. I really REALLY loved this movie, for so many reasons, Marilyn being but one of them.
Next up on my list and also from 1953, How to Marry a Millionaire (directed by Jean Negulesco) had Monroe acting alongside superstars Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. This comedy centres around three women with the solitary goal of marrying a wealthy man; however, along the way they discover that finding true love does not necessarily come with money. Not quite my favourite of her films, but the more I see of her, the more I fall in love. It seems that with every performance of hers I take in, I learn a bit more about the woman I have admired for years.
Otto Preminger's River of No Return (1954) was filmed almost in my backyard (an eight hour drive from Saskatoon is totally backyard claimable). And it's not that I'm going to be one of those people that travels to all these places to claim they “stood in” or “slept on” or “ate where” Marilyn did, but I am totally dragging my husband on a trip to Jasper and Banff National Parks to do just that. We have been gifted with an appreciation for beauty, and the combination of both the scenic Rocky Mountains with one of the world's most beautiful women is entirely mesmerizing.
Her 1956 performance in the dramatic film Bus Stop (directed by Joshua Logan) was charming and garnered her a Golden Globe nomination for her role. It was followed by The Prince and The Showgirl, which I unfortunately did not track down in time to watch for this piece. However I did give My Week With Marilyn (2011) a re-watch, its premise being that of the tension between Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn during the production of The Prince and the Showgirl. Not quuuuite the same, but it filled the gap for this purpose. If anyone has a copy to lend me of The Prince and the Showgirl, I would love to borrow it. Just send it to Igloo #7, The Great White North please.
And lastly, not only my absolute favourite of her films, but one of my top 10 favourite movies, is another Billy Wilder film: 1959's Some Like It Hot, of course. For me, this is the most re-watchable, most loveable, most perfectly Marilyn. From her singing to her wide eyed, innocent looks to her witty one liner exchange with Tony Curtis, this film is perfection in every facet for me. Haven't seen it? If there is one to watch, this it.
Even with a life cut far too short, what she has become today is so much bigger than any imagination could have conceived. How could it be that the same performance in the same film has growth from viewing to viewing? How is it that the same lines delivered in the same footage have a different impact and effect? For most, a performance captured on film repeats itself time and again... Marilyn has somehow managed to overcome the finality of being captured on film and continues to re-invent her performance every time she walks onscreen.
“We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle” - Marilyn Monroe