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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Focus: Paula Strasberg, coaching Marilyn Monroe

"On the stage — I will

not be punished for it

or be whipped

or be threatened

or not be loved

or sent to hell to burn with bad people

or feeling that I am also bad

or be afraid...
or ashamed

exposed known and seen —
so what.

from Marilyn Monroe poem 1955

…for me to live decently and productively, I must work! And work means not merely performing professionally, but to study and truly devote myself. My work is the only trustworthy hope I have.
Marilyn Monroe to Lee Strasberg in a letter dated December 19, 1961

Laurence Olivier (director, producer and star of The Prince and the Showgirl):

"I was told that Lee Strasberg's wife, Paula, 'always came along with Marilyn.' This alarmed me considerably...Marilyn was not used to rehearsing and obviously had no taste for it. I contacted Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot) and Joshua Logan (Bus Stop), they said, yes it was hell, but that I would be getting a pleasant surprise when it was all over. Twenty five years later, a couple of my Hollywood friends ran this picture for me. I was as good as could be, and Marilyn! Marilyn was quite wonderful, the best of all. "

Some Like it Hot:

with Billy Wilder


Below: (Thanks to James Grissom for this quote.

"In the course of writing Follies of God, I interviewed a number of actors and actresses—as well as playwrights and directors—whose opinion of Lee Strasberg had violently shifted: The man they had once adored as their greatest teacher and supporter was now vilified in their statements. I never met Lee Strasberg, and I did not want the book to be an attack on the man, so I sought balancing opinions from others. One of the most forthcoming was Marlon Brando, who admitted the man’s faults, but who also trumpeted his indisputable gifts and contributions. In one of my interviews with Kim Stanley, she  was particularly hard on Strasberg, and I read her comments to Brando by telephone. This is his full response: Kim is entitled to her opinion of Lee, no matter how often it shifts. We are entitled to feel as we do and as we must, but let us remember that I honor and adore—just to name two actors—Al Pacino and Ellen Burstyn, and they both state—not to me, but publicly—that Lee Strasberg is responsible for their growth as actors. I trust and honor those two people, and I trust their word. I could name you a hundred people, easily, who feel the same way, so my feeling is that what we’ll call the Lee Strasberg Argument needs to find some balance, some contours. Lee Strasberg impressed me, but he did not shape or alter me as an actor: I have told you and I have told many that Stella [Adler] may take blame or responsibility for the good work that I may have done. Nonetheless, what Tennessee himself calls the ‘kinetic nest’ that was the Actors Studio is the result of work done by [Harold] Clurman, Bobby [Lewis], Cheryl Crawford, Gadge [Kazan], and Lee, and it was Lee who remained and kept the nest operating and humming and producing actors and writers. The nest also produced people who might not have remained in the professional theatre, but who remained fervent lovers of good acting and good theatre. We cannot dismiss that. Whatever else may be said about Lee, he allowed a great number of actors to trust themselves and to feel comfortable to grow as artists. That is a huge statement, but I find it dismissed as light praise. I found this comfort and this inspiration from Stella, and others found it with [Sanford] Meisner or Herbert [Berghof]. Another group loved Mira Rostova. Listen, a lot of people don’t get the message of Jesus, but they thrive on the words of Buddha or Confucius. That has to be honored. No one is wrong. We all thrive on that which we thrive, and Lee was a great teacher to a great number of people. That is that. His knowledge of the theatre was vast—he was a walking encyclopedia—and he traveled the world to see and to study what was done and what was good. Lee then shared this with his students, and almost anyone who asked him questions. This cannot be underestimated. Imagine yourself in, say, 1952, and you think you want to be an actor, and all you know about are the few productions you’ve done in high school or college—not to mention what you’ve seen on film—and you find yourself in the presence of this man, who can tell you what the Russians, the French, the Italians are doing; who can quote virtually any playwright or critic or philosopher. That was valuable, and it was very cheap—often free—to attend the Studio. This cannot be discarded. Kim made some mistakes and entered into a relationship with Lee that served neither of them very well. I am glad that she takes responsibility for her role in that relationship, but she still has some serious issues with Lee, and we can’t let her issues devalue the man. Lee was criticized—and correctly, I think—by his role, and that of his wife, Paula, in the grooming, I suppose we can call it, of Marilyn Monroe. I called it remedial tutoring, and any actor who requires round-the-clock ministrations in the reading of a line or a call sheet is not a serious actor. Marilyn was a lovely and sad woman, but she needed help that extended far beyond the exercises given to her by Lee and Paula. Lee and Paula wanted the reflected fame that came by being in Marilyn’s orbit. They were seduced and betrayed and battered. I know that scene. All of us might have been tempted by it; many of us would have taken the same path. It is a creamy and lovely path, and we cannot be too harsh on the man for taking it. We can be harsh on him for abandoning some of his early principles and for moving toward the acquisition of fame and money at the expense of good teaching, but I have word from many that he found that balance again, and good work again came from the studio. The man stumbled, but the man walked greatly for a long time. Focus on the long walk.

Marilyn Monroe and Paula Strasberg There is no right way or one way to become an artist. As Tennessee liked to say ‘We do what we can.’ And we do. Over and over. Time after time. There is great value in Lee Strasberg. There is great value in all the teachers: look at their students; look at the work that continues to flow from their efforts. We—and by we I mean humans—have an insatiable need to root for one sports team or one candidate or one religion or one sex or one soda or one TV network, and we feel strong if we demonize the ones that do not fit our needs or our hungers. This is corrosive and has to stop. I’m telling you as a service that it has to stop: You can’t do it. I tell it to everyone. Our time here is limited; our time as artists is limited. Everything is limited. However, teachers like Lee allowed a lot of people—and even me, by being in his orbit—to forget the limits, to forget the insane odds of working at all or working well. And that is a massive contribution. Honor the man."

                                                        At Marilyn Monroe's funeral.

audio link: Lee Strasberg reading eulogy

Marilyn Monroe blogs:


final note: Interview  with Don Murray, who played BO in the film Bus Stop:

Bus Stop had been a hit on Broadway.

After I landed the part, and we started shooting, I learned for the first time the movie was being co-produced by Marilyn Monroe and Milton Greene, a photographer who was her business partner. They had bought the rights to the play for Marilyn to return to Hollywood after studying at the Actors Studio. 
She had spent a year studying with Lee Strasberg as a special student.

Paula Strasberg was on the set as Marilyn's acting coach. Before a take, they would talk quietly off to one side, or if Marilyn seemed disturbed, Paula would take her aside and talk to her. They huddled together. You never heard what they said. Paula was polite but didn't pay attention to anyone else. She was very devoted to Marilyn. She never discussed the Actors Studio or offered any other actor advice. 
How did Josh Logan, the director, react to Paula Strasberg's presence on the set?

Paula was there every day, even on location in Phoenix and Sun Valley (Idaho). Logan worked with it very well. He let her talk to Marilyn. Then he would step in and direct. He was very patient. Very few directors would have put up with it. 
How was it working with Marilyn?

Every scene was difficult to get through. She had difficulty remembering her lines, concentrating. If she had a long paragraph, for instance, and was supposed to say, "Oh," at the end--she would come to the end and there would be no, "Oh." On some scenes there would be thirty takes. The average film scene requires about five takes. If  Marilyn was having trouble getting through a particular scene, and finally got it, they would print it. It did not matter how the other actors did. I had a feeling of relaxation doing the scenes she wasn't in. I loved the stuff with the  horses at the ranch and the rodeo sequence we shot in Phoenix. 
Did Marilyn socialize with the rest of the cast?

Marilyn didn't socialize with anyone. She was going with Arthur Miller, so anytime she was away, she was seeing him. It was clandestine. He was still married. We were shooting all day, so nobody was going out on the town. Sun Valley was very cold. When the shooting was finished, you went to your room. 
Did you get to know Marilyn? 
She was detached, into herself. On the set, she appeared frightened, worried. Just thinking about what she had to do. There was not much interchange. While they were setting up lights, she would sometimes have conversations about relationships. Marilyn didn't say so, but we knew she was talking about Arthur Miller. 
Ezra Goodman, who was covering the filming of Bus Stop, thought that Marilyn was bitten by the star bug.

At the time I was going with Hope Lange who was also in the cast. The story is true that Marilyn objected to having two blondes in the film. So they darkened Hope's hair a little. 
You have that kissing scene with Marilyn at the end of the movie.

Love scenes in movies are pretty mechanical. You have to make sure you put your head in a certain position so you don't throw a shadow. In those days, it was pretty strict. You had to keep your mouth closed or it wouldn't get past the censor. In viewing the rushes someone noticed that Marilyn had her mouth open during the love scene. They could not cut around it. So we had to redo the scene even though the filming was over. Marilyn was lighthearted. She was laughing. It was the most relaxed I'd seen her. She didn't have any lines to memorize. 

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