Jack Benny & Marilyn

DATELINE:  An Innocent Age

Back in 1953 for the first show of his second season, Jack Benny garnered the biggest name and biggest star of the year:  Marilyn Monroe. It was called the Jack Benny Program.

As all the set-ups in the Benny program were at the expense of Jack’s delicate ego, he took the barrage of raps and insults with his usual aplomb.

You might be ready for some outdated racial profiling when Rochester showed up: Eddie Anderson always played Jack’s valet who goes with him everywhere and calls him “Boss.” Here they go to Hawaii, and we find Jack lugging all the luggage with no Rochester.

Jack sits on the dock, ready to leave, while flower leis are given to all the departing guests for their generosity, kindness, and friendship. Alas, even a dog gets a lei, but not Jack. Finally a delicatessen owner shows up and gives him a lei of chicken livers. He is warned to be careful of the seagulls.

We learn too that Jack is carrying Rochester’s luggage because he was late for the ship.

When Benny falls asleep on deck, he dreams about the star he saw that night in a ship’s nightly movie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes megastar, Marilyn Monroe.   And, in one of her designer gowns, she drops into the barcalounger recliner next to Jack in his dreams.

She professes her love for him despite their age difference. She points out she is 25 and he is 39, but in 25 years she will be 50, and he will still be 39. She is enchanted by his big blue eyes.

It was Monroe’s first TV appearance as a guest star (we don’t count her TV commercials, satirized in All About Eve).  She is lovely and charming, and so is Jack.

You simply don’t have that kind of weekly series surprise, even with cable nowadays. It was a gentle treat of a bygone era, and a lovely little escape from today.

 

JFK’s Women (A Few of Them)

DATELINE:  Mystery Liaisons 

 Beehive hair and sex.

If you want your history to be salacious and lurid, this film called JFK’S Women seems to be a candidate, but in reality, this one-hour documentary is fairly staid, but blunt. Though there were many women who caught the attention of JFK from his youth until his death, this film puts focus on five disturbing choices he made.

The source material is highly legitimate and interesting observers and researchers, including notorious Bobby Baker, author Anthony Summers, and prosecutor G. Robert Blakely. You have a well-known, reliable group of insiders with information.

Many women from Hollywood are simply never raised—probably because today they are not known or are basically forgotten (Gene Tierney is a case in point), and the only Hollywood tie is the ever-repeated Marilyn connection. Yet, she comes later in his life—and her delusion was that she had hoped to have a post-movie career as the wife of a president. It was never going to happen.

The first notorious affair was with a Danish-born woman named Inga Avard, a friend of Adolph Hitler no less, and a German spy in America, preying on a young and oversexed officer named Kennedy. Only transferring him to the South Pacific could end this catastrophe—but the mold of bad connections was set. She later married movie star Tim McCoy.

JFK was apparently not so bright in bed—and had a propensity to be a sexual danger nut. He became emboldened by the risky nature of his liaisons. In the 1950s, the shift came toward communist agents who canoodled with a Massachusetts senator. Kennedy had flings with woman under Soviet control, and another under China communist control. He seemed oblivious and defies logic.

However, J. Edgar Hoover was not pleased by the Kennedy lifestyle—and kept track of all these problems. It worsened when mobster Sam Giancana joined the 1960 campaign to drum up votes—and provide Kennedy with a White House interloper by the name of Judith Campbell.

Brother Bobby as AG ran afoul of Hoover and Giancana with his control over bubbling scandals. He would deport these women and threaten journalists. It was the last of the agents, Ellen Rometsh who was in mid-1963 the one who could have brought JFK down—if not for an assassin’s bullet.

JFK claimed she gave the best oral sex he ever had in or out of the White House.

If any question emerged from the investigatory film, it is JFK’s motives to be so dense, and then angry when caught. It will forever remain inexplicable how he could be prisoner of his own sex drive. He’s not the only man in history condemned by his libido. The film turns out to be quite a stew.

 

Hollywood Lens of Murray Garrett

DATELINE:  Eye on Hollywood 1950s

 Odd Couple: Marilyn & Dale Robertson?

You may not know his name, but the photo-journalist of choice among Hollywood minions of the 1950s was a New Yorker with a keen sense of beauty. He protected his subjects—and they appreciated it.

Murray Garrett started out at age 16 taking photos of celebrities. He even apprenticed with one of the big Broadway photogs and learned how to visualize stars on stage, meeting the likes of Brando and Ferrer In their stage phase.

As someone who met and worked with a few celebs, we can confirm that the lessons and observations of Murray Garrett are more than a means to live with stars: it is a sense of decency that sensitive people, artistic souls, easily spot.

The documentary of his career and life shows that Murray knew how to see the best in people—and took a photo of it.  His pictures show clarity of heart, beauty and honesty in every subject.

At 16 in New York, he was to take a photo in Frank Sinatra dressing room in 1943, when the singer was first going solo. Sinatra asked for a print—and Garrett said, of course. Sinatra was snidely disbelieving, but the kid returned the next day with an envelope and left it.

Three years later he was in Hollywood at a studio and walked through the commissary—and Sinatra recognized him! He told others the kid was a great photographer from New York, and Garrett was on his way.

He was a personal photo-journalist, and took pix at Sinatra parties.

Later, he met Bob Hope who grunted at him from the stage during a radio broadcast. Thinking he’d offended Hope, he went to apologize after the show, but Hope liked him—and wanted him to be an exclusive photographer for his shows. Their relationship last 25 years. He became a personal photo-journalist for Red Skelton and Louella Parsons too.

He was the antithesis of an “ambush photographer,” and stars could trust him to destroy any unflattering images.  Yet, it was more than that: he actually talked to his subjects before shooting and seemed to win relaxation that showed up in pictures.

 

 

 

 

Summit with Rat Pack

DATELINE: Ocean’s 11 History!

  Frank & Jack!

A bad, inconsequential movie seldom is a watershed of history. So, to find a film that provides a great context for politics, social life, entertainment, and cult of celebrity, you have to stand back and simply be agog at its temerity.

Ocean’s 11, the original 1960 movie, turned out to be seminal and a turning point in mindless fluff having serious impact. The Ocean 11 Story will surprise you.

This gang was called the Summit (and it’s a pinnacle of some lunacy). Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., were denizens of the Las Vegas show world. That was the descendant of vaudeville—taken a turn toward Godfather syndicate crime and gambling.

These entertainers brought thousands to the desert to pack five casinos along a neon strip. They created a world of entertainment unto itself.

And, the mob was beholden. Their pranks, self-deprecating humor, and interjecting in each other’s shows became an act itself. They soon were joining forces: “maybe” someone else would show up and liven up the audience. Tickets were prized.

Sinatra’s mob connections (notably played out in the Puzo tale, Godfather) made him royalty. His friends like Sam Giancanna could guarantee a Hollywood career however he wanted it.

Then, his hostility to Lawford ended when the actor married into the Kennedy family—and JFK ran for President with Franks support. It was the first time a pop star turned his hit song into a campaign rally tune.

Ties between Sinatra, beautiful Hollywood starlets, and a Kennedy president, became legend: Marilyn Monroe was in there too.

A double-edged mob could protect Kennedy—or kill him.

And, the Rat Pack lived it up, never sleeping, making a cheesy movie with the casino help. It was a movie about robbing the casinos—and the mob loved it.

You could have High Hopes and a Kind of Fool as these loose show-stoppers unloaded on screen and off. They moved off second-banana status with Sinatra’s Oscar coming from here and going to Eternity, Martin’s break from Lewis, and a black man on equal footing.

The Summit of talent heckled each other—and brought in tons of money and popularity. They would never do more than one take in their movie—which was merely an extension of their stage shenanigans. They lacked self-discipline, but who needed it?

They made Las Vegas, and they made Kennedy president. They loved the danger of the Mob, and no one dared cross them. It was a golden age of promiscuity and booze.

This hour documentary turns out to be highly significant about how silly inanity could dominate a century.

 

 

Making Montgomery Clift

DATELINE: Extraordinary Film

The man who turned down the lead in Sunset Boulevard and East of Eden made it possible for other stars to have their great moments. Montgomery Clift played down his refusal to do those films, but we think he would have reached latitudes and heights later denied to him.

Monty Clift’s nephew Robert has made a biographical film documentary to correct decades of misinformation and misjudgments. It is better late than never and tries to address the legend that he was a self-hating, self-destructive homosexual.

The charges against Clift, salacious and mean-spirited, may have been vestiges of homophobia he constantly encountered, even from sadistic directors like John Huston (our late friend Jan Merlin who made List of Adrian Messenger with Huston confirmed this—and we have been dunned for saying it).

Robert Clift interviews those still around so many decades later—like Jack Larson (Superman’s Jimmy Olson) and his mother Eleanor Clift. They report Monty was a funny creative man with a giving personality. He was an actor and used life experiences all the time in his art.

Brooks Clift, Monty’s brother, collected and kept everything about his brother to the point of obsession and taped conversations. Yet, it was he who was duped into providing info that would disparage the man he most loved and admired in life.

Robert Clift is to be highly commended for sorting through all this data to give us a more balanced, kindest view. Robert was born long after his uncle died, and he does not have the benefit of a personal relationship. Yet, the trove of collectibles, never seen or heard, provide insights that might only come from sitting down with Monty.

Most people looked at his later performances as biography, not art. He loved being alive and enjoyed being artistic, but it was a world of cruelties and harsh realities.

This is a brilliant work, worth your time and should send you scurrying for any Montgomery Clift movie you can find.

Giancana: Recognizing Truth & Disbelieving Sam(e)

DATELINE: Unimpeachable Crime

sam Sam Testifies to Congressional Hearing!

Mobster Sam Giancana’s great nephew wrote and produced a documentary on the notorious and contradictory mob leader. It is fascinating and entitled: Momo, the Sam Giancana Story. If you wondered about an inspiration for The Godfather, here it is.

Giancana’s daughters oversaw the production and participated in giving personal details about their father.

What came out of the life of a Chicago mobster, one of the successors to Al Capone, is a dapper and dangerous figure who wanted to be a globe-trotting figure of celebrity. He hobnobbed with the likes of Frank Sinatra and was boon companion to Phyllis McGuire of the famous singing sisters.

He had tentacles everywhere but managed to keep his life compartmentalized. He was a kindly family man—and to his associates he was a bad-tempered businessman.

Reconciling the elements reaches a state of improbability that turns viewers into cartoon version of “Believe or Not!”

Giancana made deals with Joe Kennedy to make his son president. He made deals with the CIA to murder Fidel Castro for taking away the mob’s Cuban casinos. He made deals to run Las Vegas—and he was a man who liked to control influence over powerful people. He shared mistresses Judith Exner Campell and Marilyn Monroe in order to gain an advantage.

He had close ties to Jack Ruby, a mob nightclub owner in Dallas, who often did business for Giancana. One of Lee Harvey Oswald’s brothers was hooked into the New Orleans mob.

The stretch or reach of Giancana may be disturbing beyond having turned Oswald into a patsy and hired Chicago killers to murder John Kennedy, hired J.D. Tippitt to kill Oswald, and then had it all go awry.

On the verge of talking to a U.S. Senate committee in 1975, his flamboyant mob boss attitude perturbed more than a few in the criminal element who ordered him assassinated in his own home. His flashy style did him in.

With corruption so total and human nature so contradictory, the life of Momo Sam Giancana takes on a sense of reality that may have you shake your head in recognition and in disbelief.

 

 

 

 

Marilyn Monroe: Gone 56 Years

DATELINE: Sad Anniversary

MM 

Was it really so long ago in August, 1962, that Marilyn died so suddenly and mysteriously? We heard the news on Sunday morning on vacation. Was it an accident or some kind of bizarre conspiracy that did her in?

She was thought to be a sad, pathetic suicide at the time of her death, body claimed by former husband Joe DiMaggio. Her last film was the Misfits with Clark Gable, written by her ex-husband and playwright Arthur Miller. It was extraordinary stuff. She could play light comedy or heavy tragedy (Some Like It Hot, Bus Stop).

She had become emotionally erratic, fired by the studio and dismissed from movies (The outtakes of Something’s Gotta Give show her radiant and perfect. Over an hour of film footage was reconstructed a few years back. Why did they fire her?). The career trauma  seemed to explain her death—at first.

Over time, we learned she was a victim of the casting couch: with lurid stories of her promiscuity and misuse by producers and unscrupulous men (and Joan Crawford).

Then, we learned she was the victim of the President of the United States and his brother. Some even speculate that she was assassinated by the CIA because she was about to blow the whistle on political shenanigans and UFOs, state secrets she learned in her dalliances.

Now, more recently, we hear that she fought the casting couch mentality of Hollywood, walked out of movies when she was mistreated and sexually abused.

Whatever the truth, she was a luminous talent, who actually glowed on celluloid. Her career might have been on the skids because of age by the late 1960s, but we will never know whether she would have made a transformation to character actress, or into a legend as she is now.

Poor Marilyn. She was missed immediately– and is still missed today.

 

What Would Marilyn Tell Harvey Weinstein?

DATELINE: Hollywood Sexual Harassment

MM Grand Marilyn

Despite all of the complaints by actresses about Harvey Weinstein, we keep wondering what legendary star of the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe would have to say about the Hollywood scandal.

Miss Monroe spent her entire life trying to find respect as an actress in an industry where she was treated like a cheap platter of hors d’oeuvres.

She might tell us she is not surprised by what’s going on today. She might tell us nothing has changed. She could tell us that some of the most important people of the 20th century sexually harassed her and abused her.  And, it was all in a day’s work.

That was the price you had to pay to become a superstar while trying to find roles that served her talent. She was the plaything of athletes and president. On that score, not much is changed.

Our superstar athletes and our President are known sexual abusers.  Or at least use locker room talk regularly when they grab women unceremoniously.

Miss Monroe had to leave Hollywood to go to New York stage in order to find dignity as an actress. But she didn’t realize this condition of sexual cruelty was the norm of her career choice.

Hollywood derived from sexual innuendo, sexual hijinks, and serial sexual users.

Harvey Weinstein and a plethora of male stars and producers have victimized men, women, and children, since Hollywood’s earliest days.

We think Miss Monroe would tell us, if you choose this life as an actress and you are beautiful, you better be ready for what’s going to be thrown at you.  It’s no big deal to be the victim of injustice.

 

Unsolved History: Death of Marilyn 1962

DATELINE: Carted Away

carted away

So long, Norma Jean

The old Discovery series holds up as a marvel of scientific accuracy. Take, for instance, their 2003 look at the strange circumstances surrounding the death of legendary actress Marilyn Monroe.

As the third episode of the second season, it may be worth your streaming download to put to bed all those conspiracy theories that she was murdered for threatening the Kennedy brothers (President and Attorney General) that she would reveal secrets about UFOs.

The episode brings together a witness from the original autopsy, a pharmacologist, and a forensic psychiatrist. It also pulls together a brilliant re-enactment and actual photo evidence.

Since the location of her death, a modest cottage in Los Angeles is now a parking lot, they build the room in which she saw her last minutes of life.

Using old mimeographed photos, as the originals are gone, they decorated the room to a minute detail: it was a stark, non-glamorous location filled with clutter. It had no decorations or artwork to express personality. It was the ultimate banal chamber of a drug addict without concern for the world.

Marilyn eschewed her usual sleeping pills and took just about all of Nembutal that she had purchased the day before.

Her body could have been re-arranged, or moved, but the series proved she locked the door—and went about her grim task.

One researcher insists that she was given drugs through an enema to kill her—but the show proved that the drugs would dissolve in her system within 20 minutes, time enough to put her out before death descended within an hour or so.

Occasionally one must view one of these historically and scientifically accurate episodes to sweep away the hysteria and legend.

In under one hour, History Unsolved resolves plenty.

Dapper Oldster Charles Coburn’s Great Films

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

 Image

Charles Coburn with Monroe and Grant

After success in The Devil and Miss Jones in 1941, two unlikely actors found themselves paired up again.

Charles Coburn came to acting at age 60 and continued to play salacious millionaires and dotty grandfathers for the next twenty years. He chased Marilyn Monroe around in two movies and took all the comedic roles that Charles Laughton couldn’t play.

Jean Arthur was a nasal and twangy leading lady that seemed to go against the grain of glamour queens. In this film she does one scene with a mouthful of toothpaste. Her last major role was as the love interest of Alan Ladd in Shane.

But during World War II, the two actors seemed a most romantic couple, playing off each other as only May and December can. They usually had better chemistry than the leading men Arthur faced (Robert Cummings, Joel MacRae).

In The More the Merrier, a George Stevens film, the set piece is Jean Arthur’s apartment in Washington, D.C., when accommodations were hard to find. She takes in an old millionaire who subleases to a good-looking inventor (MacRae). He wants to play matchmaker, but he may be the best boon companion for Miss Arthur. They are a charming team.

Their shared flat is tiny enough with paper-thin walls to make for a curiously sophisticated arrangement for the pre-war crowd.

Coburn provides enough winks and nods, as well as pratfalls, to win his place as the pinup boy for the senior set. Seventy years later, he still dresses up the image of growing old.

The movie was later remade (Walk, Don’t Run) as Cary Grant’s last film (playing Charles Coburn, no less). Grant studied Coburn and  both costarred with Marilyn in Monkey Business.

You can never get enough of a good thing.

After Niagara, Where Do You Go?

 DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

 

Joseph Cotten and Jean Peters had a great hit in 1953 with Niagara, but no one recalls their follow up movie. It was called A Blueprint for Murder—but done without costar Marilyn Monroe.

Whenever you find another lost film noir from the 1950s, you may have either a treasure or something unworthy of rediscovery. The pleasure is in finding the movie the Late Show never played endlessly in the days when movies were fodder and filler on television.

You will always find a prize in the Crackerjack box. This one may surprise you. By the time of this movie American society began to realize that the most innocent of creatures could be a psychopath. Hence, this movie played on the novelty. In this case Hitchcock’s Uncle Charley from Shadow of a Doubt renews his vow, thanks to Cotten’s performance.

This 1953 effort is written and directed by Andrew Stone with “you are there” in upper middle class America style. It catalogues a lifestyle of indolent post-war innocence in American suburbs.

The film features Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, and Gary Merrill. Jean Peters always played good girls with a gold heart. She was also Mrs. Howard Hughes, and her movie career was now in decline. She probably decided to shake things up by playing a sociopathic serial killer. She made only three or four additional movies before retiring from the big screen. She could have stopped here and knocked’em dead with strychnine.

Yet, this movie mind-twister may actually have another suspect duping the audience along the way. Short and sweet, this little film might have been a television special in the Golden Age. It is amusing and clever with its red herrings. Too bad few people ever saw it in its original release.

There is some satisfaction in being one of a handful that has seen the delightful murder mystery.

Now available because of the voracious appetite for more and more entertainment by DVD watchers, this movie becomes a gemstone for those looking for Hitchcock Zirconia.

What the film proves is that steady and professional actors like Gary Merrill and Joe Cotten deserved far more accolades than they ever received in their lifetimes.

A trifle, the movie is indeed a blueprint for delight for film aficionados. ‘Who done it’ achieves a minor classic status with this one.

Be sure to read William Russo’s movie books: MOVIE MASHUP, GREAT SPORTS STORIES: THE LEGENDARY FILMS, ALFRED HITCHCOCK FRESHLY SHOWERED, and MOVIES TO SEE!

Tom Brady Hits a Milestone—and It Hits Back

DATELINE: HUMOR!

New England Patriot Tom Brady celebrated, if that’s the word, his 36th birthday at practice outside Gillette Stadium.

He had a different hairdo this year, as he does every year. Of course in recent years, he has more hair than a few scant years ago. It must be attributed to good living because it cannot be attributed to the complete change of receiving corps for the upcoming season. Most men in his position would be bald and aging prematurely.

Young teammates all guessed that Tom was somewhere between 40 years old and death. Only a coach older than Tom dared to wear a T-shirt that speculated on a number of years that seemed to be measured in decades.

No one dared to remind him that at 36 Marilyn Monroe bought the farm—or that Lady Di, the ill-fated princess, also went into the good night at that age. So did Bob Marley.

To his credit Tom has outlasted Bruce Lee, John Belushi, Karen Carpenter, and Sam Cooke.

If there is a man more like Tom Brady, it is likely Alexander the Great who, like Tom, conquered the world before he was 30. It was all down hill after that.

Brady recently gave an interview that he planned to play up to the age of the Steppenwolf (50 for those who never read a Herman Hesse novel). We pause before revealing that the old Steppenwolf believed 50 was also a great age to commit suicide.

We hesitate to mention that the icon of youthful energy, Michael Jackson, barely made it to 50. But, who are we to rain on Tom Brady’s parade?

He may soon be playing in the NFL with children half his age. He has already outlasted the generation that came into the game with him.

Tom claims he has never felt better, which is the best way to handle mind of matter issues—and arthritis and gray hair.

Happy birthday, Tom! Again.

 

Be sure to read about Tom’s vintage years in NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS UNDRESSED, now available in softcover on Amazon.com.

http://williamrusso.us

Love, Fame, Adoration, All Fail Marilyn Monroe

DATELINE: LEGEND OF A GODDESS!

Love, Marilyn builds its subject out of her own words, based on recently discovered diaries, jottings, poetry, and other musings written by Marilyn Monroe.

A dozen actors read her words and the words of those who knew her—those friends and associates usually caused her great consternation and pain.

Marilyn Monroe still today plays heroine and victim at once, misunderstood still, and exploited at every turn.

The footage of her acting, both on and off screen, grows more desperate. She herself regarded Marilyn as a separate creature she had to play for the media and public.

In fact, Marilyn created her own Frankenstein’s Monster out of body language and platinum blonde hair that ran amok out of the Hollywood studios and was chased down by the media with cameras instead of pitchforks.

Director Liz Garbus does her best to take the luminous star and catch it falling from the firmament. Only in death has Miss Monroe touched more people than in life as a movie star.

No one who tied his wagon to Marilyn comes out of this documentary unscathed. Her two husbands, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, knew her better than anyone else in the world—and knew her not at all. In later years they regretted the way they treated her.

No one attempts to explain why Monroe wrote down so many feelings in couplets and free verse on dozens of pieces of paper. Was she planning to write a script? Did she plan an autobiography later in life? Was it merely an attempt to exorcize her demons by putting them on paper?

No one in 20th century America comes close to her iconography and her ability to become a goddess walking in our midst for a few years. (We see James Dean as a male counterpart.) She glowed on screen with some magic that defies explanation.

This little documentary, using her own words, may be the closest attempt to doing her justice and giving her the platform she may have hoped to employ if her life had not been snuffed out so young.

Marilyn herself pegged the trouble to trusting too easily, too many, too often. How sad indeed.

http://williamrusso.us/