Among many resonant moments in Liz Garbus's documentary Love, Marilyn, a pouf-lipped Lindsay Lohan reads from Marilyn Monroe's diary, one in an ensemble of A-list blond stars -- and a few brunettes -- including Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, Elizabeth Banks, Viola Davis, Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Lily Taylor. When a cache of diaries, poems and letters by the doomed star left to Lee Strasberg surfaced in 2010, producer Stanley Buchthal edited the published book, Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) and initiated this film project, to air on HBO on June 17.
The conceit is to have many read Marilyn in her own words, much as Todd Haynes reconceived Bob Dylan using six actors, with Monroe's actual words, handwritten as background. While not every actress has Lohan's scandal record, the ways in which blonds or starlets could be manipulated or misunderstood by studios, media, and the public, is jarring to consider. In the very deliberate image Monroe constructed, the fight to be taken seriously and not always portray "dumb" was particularly vexing, as was getting properly paid. Marilyn's sad center is seen in the context of her drive to live, create, learn, act, work, love in a narrative that also features men who knew her or were fascinated by her: Ben Foster reads Norman Mailer, Adrien Brody reads Truman Capote, David Strathairn reads Arthur Miller on points missed by archival interviews with the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who also was her husband, forming a forceful posthumous portrait that also includes Ellen Burstyn explaining Lee Strasberg's acting and teaching methodology, and interviews with Ben Gazzara and photographer Eve Arnold who shot the stills on The Misfits and became a Monroe confidant.
But among all those reading or interviewed only one person really knew her: Amy Greene, the widow of photographer Milton Greene whose photos of the star remain some of the most enduring. For a time, Marilyn lived with the Greene family in their Connecticut farmhouse. In the film, Amy Greene questioned Marilyn on her marriage to Arthur Miller, saying, "Don't tell me he's good in bed because I doubt it." A broad in an old school sense, and a petite pistol, Amy Greene refuses to own a computer. Last week, at a premiere screening at HBO, I spoke to Amy Greene, asking her whether she thought this film captures what the world should know about Marilyn now:
She was not a victim; she was vital. She wanted to know everything about the branches on the trees. She loved to be around successful people. It stimulated her.
Darryl Zanuck didn't like her, didn't understand her. He called her 'Strawhead.' Zanuck was a genius as far as movies were concerned. But he didn't bother to look beyond her facade.
She read everything. She loved books. Reading was her way not to be alone in LA. She didn't go out. She didn't have the clothes or the inclination. All she did was eat, work, and go to bed. She had no social life. She loved writing. She would think of something and write it down in those black and white marble notebooks school kids had. She was THINKING, not a victim. How they got all this down in the film is a miracle.
As to their friendship, Amy Greene recounted:
We brought her into our lives; we never went into hers. But, one night we wanted to see Frank Sinatra at the Copa. 'I can get you in,' she said. We would always go in through the kitchen, with Sammy Davis. We went in the front. Frank was on, wondering who are these people who are interrupting. She was wearing a white satin dress, a white mink coat looking sensational. I was in gray, Milton in black. We were quite a trio. So all of a sudden this table appeared and they put it right under Frank Sinatra. And he said, 'For Chrissake, you're ruining my act. Sit down already.' That was one time we went into her life.
Was she depressed?
No. Don't go there!
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.