Movie Stars: Monroe, Marilyn–Cukor Talks about her Last, Unfinished Movie, Something’s Got to Give

With all of George Cukor’s frustration over the cutting of The Chapman Report, it was a mild experience compared with the ordeal of his next project, Something’s Got to Give, starring Marilyn Monroe.

Initially called Goodbye Charlie, the film was a remake of My Favorite Wife. The picture, Marilyn’s last under her Fox pact, was approved by production head, Peter G. Levathes. Hoping to get the film made without breadkowns or interruptions, for which Marilyn was notorious, Levathes met all of her demands. First, Marilyn demanded that they let go producer David Brown. Then, the script had to be rewritten, costing the studio an additional $125,000 dollars. She was displeased with director Frank Tashlin, so Fox brought in Cukor at a cost of 250,000 dollars. She also insisted on hiring her hair stylist Sidney Guillaroff and Jean Louis as costume designer. Finally, the studio also accepted her choice of Dean Martin as leading man.

In this version, Marilyn plays a lost aviatrix, a married woman and mother of two kids, who comes back to her husband (Dean Martin), who in the meantime has attached himself to another woman (Cyd Charisse). A new facet of Marilyn was revealed in her scenes with the two children. Wanting, but unable, to have children, Marilyn’s relationship with the kids was lovely. She was genuinely interested in kids, delightfully rolling on the floor and playing with them.

Shooting was to start in November l961, but was delayed to January l962. On January 21, the film was eight days behind schedule, and Fox had already invetsed a million and a half dollars. At first, Marilyn would call in sick at 6 am, but then the calls stopped and she simply didn’t show up. “We can’t afford her and Cleopatra too,” was Fox’s reaction; Liz Taylor’s absences boosted the cost of Cleopatra to over thirty million. Monroe’s absentee record showed just five performance days out of seven weeks of shooting. The picture was 32 days behind schedule, costing more than 2 million dollars. Of her five days, only two were really good. Dean Martin, who was at first undisturbed by Marilyn’s absences, told the press he was “the highest-paid golfer in history.”

A replica of Cukor’s house was built on the Fox lot, including his noted swimming pool. In the episode, Marilyn was trying to woo her ex-husband by exposing her charms in a brief skinny-dip sequence. Cukor first asked Marilyn to do it in a flesh-colored bikini, but the subterfuge was so transparent that Cukor conned her into doing it for real. A year ago, she was 15 pounds overweigh, and would not do it. But she has trimmed down and was back to her great 37-22-35 measures. When Cukor suggested to do the swimming pool scene nude, she agreed without a murmur and looked exquisite in it.

The nude scene got a lot of publicity, with stories about Marilyn going back to where she came from, before gaining respect as an actress. “I had been wearing the flesh-colored suit,” she told a reporter, “but it concealed too much, and it would have looked wrong on the screen. “My birthday is June 1, and I thought I’d celebrate a little early by acting in my birthday suit.” Tight secrurity gripped Fox’s Stage 14 that day. The set was cleared of hangers-on, and electricians were asked to look away. Clutching the pool’s grim, Marilyn was more bashful about showing off her stroke than her figure. “All I can do is dog-paddle,” she told Cukor. “That will be just fine, darling,” said the director. Later, Cukor vowed never again to have swimming scenes in his movies. Garbo did her much publicized swimming in Two-Faced Woman, which turned out to be her last picture. And now Marilyn!

Cukor was by turns irritated and amused by Marilyn’s acting coach and companion, Paula Strasberg. Her immortal line, “My Lee (Strasberg) says, ‘it’s what’s on the screen that counts.'” That’s what she would say when Marilyn would appear for a few hours once in three weeks. To him, Madame Paula Strasberg was pretentious, ridiculous, and not very nice.

The company had been assembled in April, but out of 32 working days, there were only 7 and a half usable minutes of film. Almost a million dollar overbudget, shooting was postponed several times because of Marilyn’s various illnesses. When Marilyn did show up, late as usual, she was nervous about being late. Cukor would reassure the insecure actress by telling her not to worry or be nervous, because she was worth waiting for.

When Marilyn was out, Cukor filled it in with cover shots of Martin and Syd Charisse, who played the second female lead. But they ran out of material–Dean Martin reacted to the script girl and anybody else they could find. Cukor was furious, when suddenly one noon Marilyn scampered off the set to a helicopter, flew to International Airport at Inglewood for a jet to New York. This was on a Thursday, two days before the President’s Birthday party at Madison Square Garden, on May 21. Defying the studio’s edict not to go to New York for the President’s Ball, her trip threw an entire crew of l04 people out of work for half a day on Thursday and all day on Friday. Monroe insisted the studio had been notified months in advance she was going to the party; the studio denied ever permitting it. The studio was even more annoyed, when Marilyn did not show on set on Monday, June 4, after making a personal appearance at the Dodgers Game, on Friday night, June 1.

After three weeks of work, she came in for 2 days than flew off to Washington. For Cukor, it took the nerve to do that She went to the baseball game Friday night and couldn’t come to work on Monday. And there was certain ruthlessness, 104 people show up everyday and go home. Hired by the day, the workmen come in in the morning and sit around. “Here are these men,” Cukor told Hopper, “and I hate to sound patronizing, but they are married and have children, and they have to sit and see this money thrown away. Cukor thought the studio should have replaced Marilyn weeks ago, but it was run by people who had no experience. Levathese said to Cukor in the midst of the crisis, “If we can get her in for just one day.” “What about the other days” Cukor said.

At the end, Cukor resented “Marilyn’s shenanigans, her plotting, bullying and outsmarting the studio, making outrageous demands, and the studio stupidly giving in on every point.” The management’s ineptness and stupidity was hard to believe, down to a “rogues” gallery of characters that included a horror of a producer, who did Marilyn dirty work and finally rounded her.

On June 7, Marilyn’s picture appeared on the front page of the NY Post, with the cover story: “Marilyn Monroe Fired-Says She’s Ill.” On June 8, the studio was notified by her attorney that “she is ready and eager to go back to work on Monday, June 11.” The widespread reports that Fox was preparing a replacement, made Marilyn issue a statement. She was recovering from her most recent, never clearly defined, “illness.” In the meantime, Marilyn was reportedly busy furnihing a new beach house, making daily trips to the stores.

“Dear George,” Marilyn wrote to Cukor in a telegram on June 8, “Please forgive me, it was not my doing. I had so looked forward to working with you.” The same telegram was also sent to her two co-stars, Martin and Cyd Charisse, and the cast and crew. On June 11, Cukor and his associate producer, Gene Allen, packed their stuff. Cukor’s contract for 26 weeks had wounded, but he was on a week to week salary, pro-rated on the basis of 250,000 for half a year. “The picture in a state of contingency, there was no salary and we can not accept other jobs,” Cukor told a reporter, “We just sit and wait.” He was relieved by the turn of affairs, because, as he said, “even if we’d finished the picture, it would not have been much good.”

The studio issued a formal announcement of star’s dismissal, explaining that Monroe’s removal was necessary because of her “repeated willful breaches of her contract.” No justification was given by Monroe for her failure to report for work on many occassions. Suffering major losses through these absences, Fox took legal action against Monroe, filing a $750,000 lawsuit against her. Lee Remick was seriously considered as a replacement, but Martin did not think she was right for the part, though he had the greatest respect for her talents. “I signed to do the picture with Miss Monroe,” Martin said, “and will do it with no one else.”

In a length and honest talk, Cukor told Hedda Hopper that no company could take this. He thought that some of this willfull ebhavior stemmed from ‘over the hill.’ A reliable acquanitance told Cukor that his “little friend Marilyn was in the seventh floor of the Harkness Pavillion, where the windows are barred–it’s for violent cases. When Sinatra got engaged, Marilyn reportedly went mad, knocking her head against the wall. Getting closer to her, Cukor realized there was no sane procedure to her; she had obsessions, ome of them was refusing to pursue a man.

Marilyn was very sweet with Cukor, but he felt enormously sorry for her. Even her lawyer was baffled, as she accused him of being against her. Marilyn fired her staff, then took them back. A dangerous girl,” Cukor said, “Marilyn has these stoodges around who dislike her really. The terrifying thing was that she wanted to do the picture, but she had no control of herself. Cukor predicted it was the end of her career.

Fox worked up enough gumption to fire a shot heard around the world. They heaved Norma Jean out on her kiester and sued her. Fox signed a pretty and talented girl Lee Remick into the part, but then they ran smack up against Dean Martin. One of the Rat Pack, Cukor perceived him as a disciple of Sinatra, with the same gansgter mentality. Martin declared that Monroe was in his contract and refused to proceed with Remick. Before production stopped, Martin bellyached to Cukor about how impossible it was to work with Marilyn.” So Martin was the cause of the suspension and sued Fox for six million to assuage his feelings for the bad publicity he’d received due to the studios deflamatory statements about his irresponsibility. Enormous costs piled up. Five or six scripts by expensive writers, 34 days overschedule in the first quarter of productioon.

“Fox was weak and stupid and deserved everything it got,” Cukor said offrecord. But Marilyn deserved what she got, too. It was obvious to him from her brief appearances on the screen that she couldn’t function anymore. After shooting for seven weeks, they had five days work of work, but the sad thing was that the five days were no good. Marilyn couldn’t remember her lines, acting as though she were under water, and in the afternoon, she was under alcohol. To her credit, Marilyn was intelligent enough to know she was no good.

Working with Marilyn for the second time, Cukor realized that as a director, he had very “little influence” on her. All he tried to do was to create a climate that was agreeable for her. In spite of her shenaningans, he was sorry for her because he believed her career was over. When Fox finally called it quits, Cukor was relieved, for all he could see was disaster looming up for all of them. Cukor’s words of cure and comfort proved a consolation to Fox’s Jerry Wald. Wald felt better when he looked over his list of upcoming projects and saw there were no roles to be tailored for a certain blonde actress.

Cukor was actually not surprised when Marilyn was found dead, in August 1962. “Hollywood can’t be held responsible for her death,” he said, “because It was Holywood which made her.” She was too ruthlessly exploited and couldn’t live up to the image that was created around her.” Wherever Cukor went, people asked about Marilyn. In Beirut, there were having a Monroe festival. In Paris, there was allegedly an epidemic of suicides and attempted suicides after her death. Cukor knew he didn’t please Marilyn’s fans with his standard explanation of her conduct and death. “She was a girl fraught with crises,” he said, “There was a crisis every day of her life, and perhaps one night was more critical than the others.”

On at least one level, Cukor enjoyed the gossip about Marilyn. It put him at the center of a big media scandal. Whenever he worked with stars on the claiber of Garbo, Garland or Monroe, he was guaranteed extra press coverage amd media attention to the film and his own work. Thus, he promised Judy Garland and Dirk Bogarde that when he got to England, in July l962, he’d go into detail of his “trial and tribulations, what I told Marilyn and what she told me. Oh, it’ll be fascinating.” From the beginning, Cukor had a strong hunch that the enterprise at Fox with Monroe was doomed, that it would go up in smoke.

“It was might nice of you folks to think of an old pal who’d the rug pulled out from under him,” he wrote to Judy, “But just when I thought it was “curtains” for me (Judy–please explain ‘curtains’ to those square English) from somewhere over the rainbow (did you ever think that it was Warner Bros in Burbank that was at the other end of that rainbow, didya now, Judy) came my chance for a ‘comeback.’ (Dirk, please explain comeback to Judy). Dear Jack Warner has selected me to do that musical, based on, I believe a stage play called Pygmallion.” It was the preatest piece of news Cukor could deliver, particularly at this time and junction of his decling career.

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