Liz Smith on “My Week With Marilyn”

Liz Smith reviews “My Week With Marilyn,” along with providing some comments on the star-studded screening of the film.


“WHEN I was growing up I wanted to be either Mickey Mantle or Bert Stern. But later, when I thought about it, I preferred Stern. Mickey Mantle hit a lot of balls and got drunk a lot. But Bert Stern got to meet all of the world’s most beautiful women!”

That was Harvey Weinstein’s introduction of photographer Bert Stern, at a special screening of The Weinstein Company’s feature, “My Week With Marilyn.”

The screening was held downtown at the Milk Gallery, which is currently exhibiting a collection of photos of Monroe, “Picturing Marilyn.” These run the gamut from fresh-scrubbed Norma Jeane in 1945 to the weary but still lovely goddess of 1962. One of Mr. Stern’s most beautiful shots of Marilyn, in a backless, black Dior gown dominates the entrance to the exhibit. The flamboyant sex-symbol is elegance personified.

Dior was one of the sponsors of the event. Indeed fashion model Dree Hemingway — daughter of Mariel Hemingway and the great-granddaughter of Ernest, was on hand, swanning around in what was said to be the very same Dior gown Monroe had worn in the Stern photos. Or at least it was an excellent copy. Dree looked lovely, though it was bittersweet imagining how gorgeous Monroe herself must have looked in this dress.

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THE SCREENING also attracted, as co-hosts, Celeste Holm (she was one of the big stars of “All About Eve” in which Marilyn had a small but showy role) and actress Joan Copeland, Arthur Miller’s sister. Also peering closely at the pictures of Marilyn were Ben Shenkman … Dan Abrams … Bruce Weber … Matt Stone … Calvin Klein and his Nick Gruber … Simon Curtis, director of “My Week With Marilyn” and one of the film’s stars, Dominic Cooper who plays Milton Greene) … Beverly Johnson and — giving Marilyn a run as the most gorgeous blonde in the room, Christie Brinkley — in head-to-toe shades of caramel.

Miss Brinkley is jaw-droppingly beautiful — so statuesque, so shapely, so radiant it’s almost scary. But she doesn’t have that scary look. If she has employed methods other than good clean living to stop the clock, it’s been done with an expert touch. She is still beaming from her adventures in London with the production of “Chicago.” She had been a big hit on Broadway in the long-running revival. And she is super-excited about a line of beauty products she is launching online. Christie is certainly her own best advertisement! At one point, Christie and Beverly Johnson embraced and posed for photos together. The sight of these two great beauties, supermodels of decades past, but still looking in their prime, stopped the room cold. Or hot.

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AH, YES — the movie. Much has been said — mostly by the film’s star, Michelle Williams — about the difficulty of portraying the many sides of Marilyn, her variety of voices and personas. Miss Williams is a wonderful actress and no doubt she means every word she utters, but the Marilyn of her creation is a dreary, depressed, dim creature. In fact, it is the Marilyn of Arthur Miller’s “The Misfits.” (Marilyn hated her role in that film, complaining endlessly of the girl’s passivity.)

This movie is based on the highly suspect memoirs of Colin Clark, a lowly go-fer on the set of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” which was filmed in London, in 1956. Colin and Monroe became “close” he averred. The characterization offers nothing of Monroe’s wit, humor, intelligence or — and this is vital — her anger. Her reactions to events were not always a depressed collapse. She was capable of intense, extraordinary rages. She had a sharp tongue. She could fight back, and she did. But “My Week With Marilyn” presents nothing but her fears. Or a perceived stupidity. Williams has to utter lines like, “Gee, I wish I could read all these books” when entering a library, or, “I met the Queen. She said my dress was pretty.”

Worse, all the other characters in the film — Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, Eddie Redmayne as Colin — are compelled to say how “extraordinary” Monroe is, despite her neurotic behavior. Then we see Miss Williams enacting various scenes from “The Prince and the Showgirl.” Problem? She is not Marilyn Monroe. And so, she does not seem extraordinary at all. I admire Miss Williams for her efforts and sincerity, but in the end, she has given one more imperfect impersonation of Marilyn.

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HOWEVER, the worst served by “My Week With Marilyn” is the late photographer Milton Greene. This man admired and loved Marilyn, encouraged her ambitions, supported her financially during her year-long strike against 20th Century Fox. He co-produced “The Prince and the Showgirl.” Their partnership ended badly, but he never spoke ill of her, never exploited their relationship or her image. Dominic Cooper plays Milton like a foul-mouthed NYC gangster, just another user. One wonders what Amy Greene, Milton’s ex-wife, who lived through The Marilyn Years with Milton, would think of this portrayal. (I ran into Amy Greene by chance, just last year. Still razor-sharp, she spoke lovingly of both Marilyn and Milton, “That was their golden time,” she said.)

You know what? Just check out “The Prince and the Showgirl” the next time Turner Classic Movies runs it. It is a testament to the talents of Monroe and Milton Greene.

No more pretty blonde ladies playing dress up, pretending to be Marilyn. It just doesn’t work. Sorry, Michelle.