Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Drama in the desert, part 1

From Arthur Miller's autobiography Timebends:
The motel owner woke me one night to tell me I was wanted on the phone. It was after eleven, well past Marilyn’s bedtime while filming. The truck bumped along the sandy path to the phone booth, lit inside only by the greenish glow of the moon. Every star seemed to crowd the sky across the great Western vault. The air seeping in under the door of the booth was cold on my bare ankles. Her voice, always light and breathy, was barely audible. “I can’t do it, I can’t work this way. Oh, Papa, I can’t do it . . .” Jokingly at first, then as a habit, she had been calling me this, but there was no joking here; she was desperate and near weeping. She sounded strangely private, almost as though she were talking to herself, not even bothering with pronouns. “Says I did the scene with vulgarity. What is it, a registered nurse? Can’t stand women, none of them can, they’re afraid of women, the whole gang of them. Vulgar! Supposed to rip off my tail, this thing I have sticking out of my costume in the back, but angrily so it makes a mockery of me so I can react, instead of like just lifting it away I didn’t even know he’d done it. So I said rip it off, be angry with me so I can make it real when I react, but they’re afraid to act nasty because the audience might not approve, you see what I mean? I’m no trained actor, I can’t pretend I’m doing something if I’m not. All I know is real! I can’t do it if it’s not real! And calls me vulgar because I said that! Hates me! Hates me!  
“Supposed to run out into the rodeo and my shoe came off and I could see him start to call cut, but then he saw the crowd laughing and so happy so he let me run back and get my shoe and go on with the scene, but he was ready to cut if I hadn’t of gone on! Because I knew the minute it happened it would be good, and it was, but he doesn’t know!” But all this was overlay, a swollen sea of grief heaved under it, and now she began to sound high and inspired. “I don’t want this, I want to live quietly, I hate it, I don’t want it anymore, I want to live quietly in the country and just be there when you need me. I can’t fight for myself anymore . . .” I asked if her partner, Milton Greene, couldn’t help, and her voice went deeper into secrecy; he was there in the room with some other people. But he was afraid to stand up to Logan for her. As such, her complaints about Logan—which smacked a bit of frantic actor talk—mattered less to me than a new terror I was hearing, an abandoned voice crying out to a deaf sky, and the dead miles between us choked me with frustration; whatever the truth about Logan, her sincerity was unquestionable, for she was dancing on the edge and the drop down was forever. This was the first time she had sounded so unguardedly terrified, and I felt the rush of her trust in me. She had concealed her dependency before, and I saw suddenly that I was all she had. I recalled her telling me months ago that she was putting off signing a contract that Greene and his lawyer had been pressing on her to set up her new company; it gave Greene fifty-one-percent control against her forty-nine. In return for his share he would bring in new recording and film projects that would not require her participation, but so far the new company’s assets consisted only of her and her salary. She had not wanted to dwell on this, had tried to turn from the implicit betrayal, and even now as she reported her disappointment in Greene’s failure to protect her from Logan, she seemed to shy from any open anger with him. For myself, I wished she could trust him; I had had only the minimum necessary interest even in my own business affairs, leaving most of the decisions to lawyers and accountants to keep myself free to work. I hardly knew Greene; it was faith itself I instinctively did not want to see her lose.' 
I kept trying to reassure her, but she seemed to be sinking where I could not reach, her voice growing fainter. I was losing her, she was slipping away out there, and with partner and friends so close by. “Oh, Papa, I can’t make it, I can’t make it!” Her suicide leaped up before me, an act I had never connected with her before. I tried to think of someone I knew in Hollywood who could go and see her, but there was no one, and suddenly I realized I was out of breath, a dizziness screwing into my head, my knees unlocking, and I felt myself sliding to the floor of the booth, the receiver slipping out of my hands. I came to in what was probably a few seconds, her voice still whispering out of the receiver over my head. After a moment I got up and talked her down to earth, and it was over; she would try not to let it get to her tomorrow, just do the job and get on with it. Lights were still revolving behind my eyes. We would marry and start a new and real life once this picture was done. “I don’t want this anymore, Papa, I can’t fight them alone, I want to live with you in the country and be a good wife, and if somebody wants me for a wonderful picture . . .” Yes and yes and yes and it was over, and the healing silence of the desert swept back and covered it all.
It's sad that Monroe was so unhappy during the filming of Bus Stop, one of the best character roles she played was the dance hall girl from West Virginia, Cherie. I don't think it's a coincidence that one of her best characters is played in a film produced by her new company Marilyn Monroe Productions.

But she sounded so unhappy on the phone that Arthur Miller thought she was going to kill herself, which stressed him out so much he fainted in a phone booth.

In this documentary about the making of the movie, George Axelrod (with whom I disagreed so vehemently in his assessment of her character in "Seven Year Itch") claims he didn't give her any long speeches because she couldn't remember them. I should say here that Axelrod made major changes to the play by William Inge, but this movie is better - and much better for Monroe as an actor - than Axelrod's "Seven Year Itch." Although I thought the ending was fairly weak.

The scene with the tail that Monroe was talking about at the beginning of the above excerpt can be seen at minute 10:50 in the documentary.