2 Specials That Are Lost in the Stars : Television: A Fox documentary deals with Marilyn Monroe’s abortive last film. CBS’ ‘Sinatra 75' is a flattering portrait.
Show-biz celebrities: Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. Don’t have a chance.
They’re everywhere on the small screen, making political and product endorsements; blowing smoke in infomercials; blabbing on talk shows; promoting their movies, ghost-written autobiographies and other pet projects; being interviewed as filler on cable’s movie channels; getting gossiped about on the tabloid shows; making videos.
In the case of Madonna, moreover, it’s a celebrity shrewdly advertising her banned-from-MTV video by getting it shown and sermonizing about censorship on ABC’s “Nightline.”
What’s more, the next few days bring extended, dramatically dissimilar looks at two stars of truly legendary status. One is the late Marilyn Monroe, whose unfinished final movie is profiled in a Fox documentary at 9 tonight on Channels 11 and 6. The other is Frank Sinatra, whose 75th birthday is noted Sunday in a two-hour extravaganza on CBS.
Madonna has been compared to Monroe in terms of the raw sexuality each has projected on the screen. However, the similarity stops with their blondeness.
Even as a performer, Madonna comes across as a confident, controlling, calculating business and marketing mogul bent on navigating her own soaring flight. She exudes self-determination.
Troubled and intensely insecure, Monroe exuded self-destruction.
It’s impossible to separate the Monroe you see on the screen tonight from the Monroe you’ve heard about, the wounded bird whose personal and professional lives had plummeted by the late 1950s, the tragic figure who died of a controversial drug overdose in 1962.
Along with her sheer beauty and charisma, it’s this vulnerability and emotional fragility that comes across so strikingly in Fox’s otherwise thin and largely trivial “Marilyn: Something’s Got to Give.”
With William Knoedelseder as executive producer and Henry Schipper as producer/writer/narrator, the hour is devoted to Monroe’s problems during the making of “Something’s Got to Give,” the ultimately aborted 20th Century Fox comedy from which she was fired, then rehired just before her death.
Footage from the film, with Monroe looking gorgeous despite her problems, is fun to see, and even more fascinating are some outtakes that appear to capture her in unguarded moments. In a way, these fragments tenderly define the essence of her appeal, and while watching them you want to reach through the screen and embrace her.
Mostly, though, the program is an hour of strung-together footnotes--cataloguing Monroe’s tardiness and inexcusably difficult behavior on the set--seemingly aimed more at trivia buffs than at the general viewer.
We learn, for example, that Monroe did not bolt the movie but actually had permission to fly to New York to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy. Whoopee.
And we learn that Monroe’s skinny-dipping bit is “the most famous scene ever shot for a film that was never made.” Yes, well, that narrows it.
Finally, we learn that Monroe was “quietly rehired” after being fired--a fascinating scoop for the minuscule minority who knew this production even existed, let alone that she was fired from it.
The more central question--"What exactly was the matter with Marilyn Monroe?"--is asked by Schipper, but never answered.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s two-hour Sinatra program (9 p.m., Channels 2 and 8) not only doesn’t answer questions, it doesn’t even ask any. At least that’s the impression gotten from an hour of excerpts provided by CBS in lieu of the entire program being completed.
“Sinatra 75: The Best Is Yet to Come” is a standing ovation for the greatest pop singer of our time, with executive producers George Schlatter and Tina Sinatra (Frank’s youngest daughter) appearing to operate only on the sunny side of the street.
This highly selective approach would be acceptable were not the producers attempting also to turn this into a biography of Sinatra the man in addition to a celebration of his music and acting career.
As for Sinatra the performer, there’s footage of him and 72-year-old Ella Fitzgerald singing “The Lady Is a Tramp” at a recent musical tribute to him in Los Angeles. When it comes to sheer energy and presence, it’s amazing how much each can still deliver.
It’s the retrospective of his career that provides a real rush, however. This includes his movie musicals with Gene Kelly, for example, but also a memorable black-and-white clip of Sinatra and Elvis Presley singing “Witchcraft” on TV in 1960, a sequence showing the playfulness of a young Elvis. How many times will you ever see Sinatra upstaged?
As for Sinatra the man, the obligatory star tributes surface, along with a review of his life narrated by Robert Wagner and a visit with Sinatra at home talking about his painting and doting on his dogs: “Hello, pretty puppy dogs.”
Hello, puffery. Based on the excerpts made available by CBS, this appears to be an incomplete picture heavy on flattery, and you sort of wish “Sinatra 75" had hit the highlights of his epic music and movies and left it at that instead of trying to sell him as lovable Mr. Goodwrench.
Celebrities fill the screen, making us think we know everything about them when actually we know very little. That’s witchcraft for you.