The Goddess (1958)

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Portrait of a Young Girl:  Innocent fatherless little Patty Duke grows up in the South with a hate-filled single mother (Betty Lou Holland) to become busty Kim Stanley whose lonely life is transformed when she becomes America’s screen love goddess. Ah, Hollywood. Every actor’s story is a morality tale, ain’t it. It is widely assumed that despite its superficial origins in Ava Gardner’s life, this was about Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was already a legend in the mid 1950s when Paddy Chayefsky decided to write her up as an allegory of stardom, or perhaps a cautionary tale. She’d been mocked in George Axelrod’s long-running Broadway satire, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? where ‘she’ was played by Jayne Mansfield (she of the genius IQ – for real) there and in the screen version as ‘Rita.’  Monroe had acted in the screen adaptation of Axelrod’s play The Seven Year Itch. Then a clever dick journalist wrote a book about her, Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe? because, you know, she was just a dumb blonde, not an actress playing one (in just two films, actually). The big irony was in hiring first-timer Stanley (born Patricia Reid), the renowned stage actress, who was at the Actors Studio at the same time as Monroe, to play Marilyn – here she’s called Emily Ann and her name is changed to Rita Shawn for her Hollywood career. Stanley had been the lead on stage in Bus Stop, which Marilyn produced as a film under her own banner:  not so dumb. Stanley was no beauty and wouldn’t have been able to carry the film. Monroe’s sister in law, Joan Copeland, plays Emily Ann’s aunt here. Monroe’s then husband (and Copeland’s brother), Arthur Miller, thought Monroe should sue over this production (which didn’t stop him from being quids in on several occasions himself).  Portrait of a Young Woman: She marries young to a soldier whose character seems to have been ascribed certain aspects of Monroe’s family history of mental illness. The rumour that Monroe herself occasionally spread that she’d had a baby as a teenager is dramatised but as a legitimate but unwanted product of this unwise marriage – Mom is left holding the baby for a spell before the divorce comes through and the father gets the child. Later she’s married to a boxing promoter – played by Lloyd Bridges, which yields a nice meta reference:  in This Year’s Blonde, 25 years later, the Moviola segment about her in the Garson Kanin TVM adaptation, Bridges plays Johnny Hyde, the agent with whom Marilyn lived on and off for two years while he tried to build up her screen career. Portrait of a Goddess:  Installed in Hollywood, friendless Emily Ann/Rita’s had a nervous breakdown and delayed a film and her now deranged religious fanatic mom comes to visit and her daughter wishes her dead. The film concludes in very downbeat fashion following the mother’s funeral when the loneliest star in the world only has her entourage for company and a secretary tending to her.  There is not a laugh to be had and Stanley decried the way the film was edited, draining all humour from the work in which she was in any case obviously miscast. Chayefsky’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Blacklisted John Cromwell directed this major production, his last time in Hollywood after a seven-year block on his career. One can only shudder at the creative licence so many men took in interpreting their distressing version of Hollywood’s greatest legend in her lifetime, short as it would be: her first husband describes 1957 as “this year of suicide and insanity.” They wanted to illustrate the dark side of the American dream. Those ugly men got their revenge on all the uppity women who abhorred them, didn’t they. Ironically, for all her acting skill, Stanley herself had a major mental breakdown when critics in London trashed her performance in an Actors Studio production of The Three Sisters in 1965 and retired from the stage for good. There really are no happy endings.

 

 

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Runaway Bride (1999)

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Julia Roberts famously did a runner from her fiance Kiefer Sutherland on the eve of their wedding a quarter of a century ago; it became part of what theorists call her star text and was wrapped into this delightful romcom, reuniting her with her Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall and co-star Richard Gere. He’s jaded NYC journo Ike who always files at the last minute and his attention has been drawn to a smalltown woman Maggie Carpenter working as a lighting designer who jilts men at the altar:  when he runs the convenient unresearched story he exaggerates the facts so she complains, his ex-wife editor Rita Wilson fires him and the photographer Hector Elizondo (a Marshall staple) encourages him to dig up the real dirt. Upon his arrival in smalltown Maryland her friends are protective and the hairdresser Peggy Fleming (‘not the ice skater!’) (Joan Cusack) together with Julia gives him a pastiche of the Pretty Woman makeover – only with red dye in his hair not his apparel. Her dad Paul Dooley (how nice is it to see him?) unwittingly aids his research by giving him the VHSs of the three weddings she ran out on but slowly Ike falls for her as he prepares to write the truth and she prepares for her wedding to mountaineering enthusiast Bob (Christopher Meloni). She runs out on Bob and Ike proposes and then she runs out on HIM …  She turns up at his apartment in NYC and explains … This seems like it was made for the cast but in fact is a screenplay by Josann (Three Men and a Little Lady) McGibbon and Sara Parriott that had been in development for more than ten years with so many different actors attached it would make your eyes water:  Anjelica Huston, Mary Steenburgen, Lorraine Bracco, Geena Davis, Sandra Bullock, Ellen DeGeneres, Tea Leoni … Christopher Walken, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Michael Douglas … And yet Roberts and Gere with Marshall in the hot seat is a combo just seems so obvious and right. McGibbon and Parriott would go on to adapt Gigi Levangie’s brilliant Hollywood satire The Starter Wife for TV (with Debra Messing in the lead) but for now this is light as a summer breeze and quite as refreshing.