Something's got to give

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At first glance, there aren't a lot of similarities between the life of a luminous film star who was gone too soon and our reigning Prince of Darkness, who can't be gone soon enough. One overcame tremendous obstacles in her determined quest for admiration and remains an object of fascination half a century after her death. The other was equally hungry for attention, but possessed very little to attract it beyond the fortune he inherited from his father and an ego that transformed his pathetic neediness into a driving life force.

A casual remark by one of the men who worked with Marilyn Monroe indicated that they probably shared another trait that, while individually tragic in a troubled movie star whose memory is preserved on flickering strips of film, is potentially catastrophic in a man who has unimpeded access to things like nuclear codes.

During the last century, there were few people from any sector of life who was more analyzed, mythologized, dissected, or speculated upon than Monroe. She survived a rootless childhood marked by emotional deprivation and loneliness. Her early death is often attributed to the intense physical and emotional exploitation she experienced in one of the most fiercely competitive businesses in the world. But, in many ways, Marilyn was her own worst enemy.

She was a peerless comedienne, in a league that included Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur, but she wanted to be regarded as something much more than that. She remained a top box-office draw throughout the 1950s, mostly in movies she felt were unworthy of her talent. The inevitable encroachment of middle age in a pitiless industry that idolized youth and beauty only added to the erratic personal behavior that had already entered the realm of epic.

Otto Preminger, who coped with her insecurity through the rigorous physical demands of "River of No Return," later blamed her problems on the "s**t-ass" acting classes she had taken in New York. Billy Wilder said the he deserved a Purple Heart for enduring her conduct during the filming of "Some Like It Hot" and her co-star in the movie, Tony Curtis, said that Monroe was the only person he ever met in Hollywood he genuinely disliked.

From a professional standpoint, Monroe wasn't easy to like. The breathtaking blond with the charmingly wispy voice was pretty much a manufactured product. She was obsessed with managing that celluloid image down to the smallest detail. It wasn't unusual for her to require 50 separate takes to utter a single, relatively simple line of dialog. As Wilder pointed out, however, while Marilyn got better with each take, other actors just wilted and budgets ballooned.

Wilder, the multi-Oscared director of "Sunset Boulevard" and "The Apartment" begrudgingly conceded "everything was worth it when you saw her up on the screen."

Perhaps as a means of self-protection, Monroe managed to detach her own personality from that of the movie goddess. Spotting reporters lurking outside of her New York apartment, she asked a walking companion, "Want to see me be her?"

Since her death at the age of 36 in 1962, there have been countless attempts to explain the psyche that both propelled and doomed Monroe. Hundreds of books have been written about her by authors ranging from unabashed hacks to Norman Mailer. Arthur Miller, her third husband, attempted to exorcise her ghost in "After the Fall" with little success. Michelle Williams won an Oscar nomination for her perceptive performance as the actress in "My Week With Marilyn" in 2011.

George Cukor offered a brief opinion of Monroe to author Gavin Lambert in his book, "On Cukor." The celebrated director had worked with many of the great film actresses, including ten movies with Katharine Hepburn, three with Joan Crawford, and two with Greta Garbo. He worked with Monroe on a silly trifle called "Let's Make Love" and reluctantly agreed to direct her last picture, prophetically titled "Something's Got to Give," from which Monroe was eventually fired after 20th Century Fox executives concluded that the studio could not afford her endless absences and the elephantine costs of completing "Cleopatra" in Rome.

Cukor's short - and some might say brutal - assessment has always had more resonance with me than any of the long-winded attempts to explain the demons that haunted her. According to Lambert, he shrugged his shoulders in a helpless sort of way and said simply, "She was crazy."

I think that Mr. Trump will probably be the subject of hundreds of attempts to delve into the mind that we witness unspooling day after day. And perhaps someone who had much closer access to the man will make the same succinct remark about him. Trump has not demonstrated much behavior to avoid the inevitability of such a conclusion.

The completed scenes of "Something's Got to Give" have been reassembled over fifty years after it was abandoned into a coherent half a movie. One can only hope that there is enough of our country left after the callous and cruel assaults by Mr. Trump and his Republican cohorts to recognize the America that once was a beacon of hope to the entire world.

Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist.


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