A movie I remember finding quite creepy when I was in my teens, but hasn’t aged well. A young family becomes caretakers for a haunted house, that has designs on them becoming permanent members of the household (similar storyline to ‘The Shining’ now that I think of it, complete with occasionally psychopathic dad, played by Oliver Reed). Features Betty Davis in one of her later roles (although she’d still be hanging around for another ten years at least).
Marilyn Monroe with Eileen Heckart (and her sons) on the set of Bus Stop, 1956.
“Marilyn was crazy about my brothers. She loved to play a little game with them at night. Marilyn was constantly receiving elaborate gift baskets from agents, publicists, and studio types trying to gain her favor. After a long day of shooting, she removed the grapefruits and oranges from the basket and went out onto the balcony.
She’d call down below, ‘Mark! Philip!’
Four year-old Mark raced out onto the balcony with two year-old Philip tottering close behind. They looked up at the pretty blonde lady on the tiered balcony above.
‘Wanna play a little catch?’ Marilyn asked.
‘Okay!’ Mark replied. And so began the nightly ritual of Marilyn Monroe playing ball on the terrace, using grapefruits and oranges as their only sports equipment. First, Marilyn threw a grapefruit. Mark caught it with pride. Next, an orange to Philip. Of course, at two, he couldn’t catch anything, so the fruit rolled onto the balcony below and off the edge to the pool deck, five flights down.
‘Marilyn,’ Mama would say, ‘it’s very sweet of you to do this, but really, you don’t have to.’
‘Are you kidding?’ Marilyn replied. ‘It’s my favorite part of the day! Besides, Vitamin C is very important for growing boys. They have to have their citrus!’
After a few days of this game, during her nightly phone call to my father in Connecticut, Mama remarked, ‘Oh, sure, Marilyn’s playing catch with the boys on the terrace again. They’re having the time of their lives. And guess who’s gonna have her raggedy ass down at the pool at two in the morning picking up all those goddamn grapefruits and oranges? It ain’t Miss Monroe, that’s for sure!’ “
-Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing up with Eileen Heckart by Luke Yankee.
Bus Stop (1956) (Also known as: The Wrong Kind of Girl)
After resolving her bitter wrangle with Twentieth Century-Fox and forming her own production company, Marilyn was tempted back to Hollywood to play the lead in a screen adaptation of William Inge’s 1955 Broadway hit. The result was what many considered to be Marilyn’s finest dramatic performance.
Marilyn’s business partner Milton Greene, did much to design the look of the picture. Under the terms of her new contract with Fox, Marilyn had approval not only of the script but of the director and cinematographer as well. First choice John Huston, who had directed her so well in The Asphalt Jungle, was unavailable. Lew Wasserman suggested Joshua Logan, who was persuaded to take on the project when his friend Lee Strasberg vouched for Marilyn’s abundance of talent. Initially, Paula Strasberg was not allowed onto the set. However, Marilyn’s intercession, and Lee’s behind-the-scenes insistence, led to his wife being hired (for a whopping $1,500 per week) for the first time to steady the star’s nerves and help her perfect her accent.
Location shooting took place in the first part of 1956 in Phoenix, Arizona for the rodeo footage and Sun Valley, Idaho for mountain exteriors. The enormous temperature difference between the desert and the mountain gave Marilyn a nasty case of bronchitis, and shooting had to be suspended as Marilyn was admitted to hospital in early April.
Marilyn, as ever, was “difficult” during shooting. It wasn’t just her old bugbears, fear of failure, and low self-esteem; she had an increasing dependency on barbiturates to contend with. She was also, for the first time, in a position of executive power. Co-star Don Murray, for one, found that she was not always a caring boss. The only actor on the set whom Marilyn struck up a friendship was Eileen Heckart, who had recently starred in the Arthur Miller play A View from the Bridge.
With scope at last to express her creativity, Marilyn made some brilliant decisions. She vetoed the sumptuous costumes that wardrobe came up with, picking out a shabby dress and deliberately laddering a pair of fishnet stockings. Marilyn also gave the “chantoose” character of Cherie a stutter in moments of high tension (a detail from Marilyn’s own life), and a tendency to forget her lines at important moments.
In the final version, much of Marilyn’s monologue with Hope Lange in the bus, in which she gives a highly dramatic performance, was cut after Logan was put under pressure to shorten the movie. Marilyn believed that this cut cost her an Oscar nomination.
Screenwriter George Axelrod had Marilyn very much in mind when he adapted the original stage play. In the character’s revealing speech to young Lange on the bus, she says: “I’ve been goin’ with boys since I was twelve - them Ozarks don’t waste much time - and I’ve been losin’ my head about some guy ever since. Of course I’d like to get married and have a family and all them things…Maybe I don’t know what love is. I want a guy I can look up to and admire. But I don’t want him to browbeat me. I want a guy who’ll be sweet with me. But I don’t want him to baby me, either. I just gotta feel that whoever I marry has some real regard for me - aside from all that lovin’ stuff.”
Several copies of the black dress in which Marilyn sang her “Old Black Magic” number are in collectors’ hands: one is owned by model Jerry Hall, one is on display at the Costa Mesa (California) Planet Hollywood restaurant, and another is in the Debbie Reynolds Las Vegas museum.
This is perhaps the only one of the movies in which Marilyn stars that has not been available on video in the United States, as a result of legal wrangles with the estate of playwright William Inge.