Seminar with Joyce Carol Oates, Leonard Maltin & Stanley Rubin

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(L-R) BLONDE author Joyce Carol Oates, Leonard Maltin, RIVER OF NO RETURN producer Stanley Rubin. 

Joyce Carol Oates said that the impetus for writing BLONDE, a novel based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, was that she was drawn to the image of Norma Jean Baker... not pretty, not perfect. Who didn't know she was to become the world's biggest movie star and sexual icon. She said that the brown haired Norma Jean even looked a little bit like her mother.

Stanley Rubin recalled that as he walked with her past the studio executive offices during the filming of RIVER OF NO RETURN, Marilyn exclaimed that she would fix them all someday. Everyone on the panel agreed that she had tired of playing the dumb Blonde parts, but she did it so well, it was a testament to her genius. Rubin also related a story about auditioning Marilyn (at the time going by the name Norma Jean Dougherty) as a favor to a friend when he was producing a television show in 1948. He wasn't bowled over by her and explained to his friend that the filming schedule was tight and he'd have to only hire seasoned talent. "Just three years later there was no one I wanted more to play in RIVER OF NO RETURN," he said. "She was wonderful to work with. This doesn't sound very nice, but we had a common enemy in Otto Preminger." Apparently the only time Marilyn was uncoperative during production was when they had to do a scene in a tank where buckets of water were poured on the actors. Preminger couldn't get her to JCOatescu.GIF (27223 bytes)come out of her dressing room so Rubin had to coax her out. He also said she was eager to do the picture because she really enjoyed singing and looked forward to the opening number.

Leonard Maltin responded to a question about the whether or not Marilyn's movies or her legend would have more staying power, by saying that already her fame has superceded any of her actual films. "Young people today who have the Marilyn posters and other things with her image on them, may never have seen more than a few clips from her movies."

Oates felt that Marilyn never really got a role that was quintessentially her. "She was always speaking words men wrote for her. I think she would have liked to have gotten to a point where she could have written some of her dialogue," Oates commented.

The panel spoke about her rough childhood, the foster homes, not growing up with a father. For Oates, the child-woman image that Monroe put across was the personality that she had learned early on, made her well liked. The hyper-femininity appealed to both men and women. Her vulnerability also played  into that image.

Did Marilyn committ suicide? Oates and a woman in the audience who had worked on SOME LIKE IT HOT and came to know Marilyn's make-up man and confidente (Whitey) said they both felt her death was accidental.

JCOatessigning.GIF (44256 bytes)Oates mentioned that there were incidents or people in Marilyn's life that were reduced to a sentence in one of her biographies. These sketchy details were filled in by Oates' imagination in BLONDE.

While Oates doesn't see her book working as a movie, she has sold rights for a CBS mini-series based on it. The book uses a device of Marilyn's interior voice which would be difficult to depict without the use of extensive voice over. But Oates leaves that to the movie-makers to figure out. She signed copies of BLONDE for an enthusiastic crowd in the lobby.