Marilyn Monroe's Last Film Work Resurrected for New Documentary


Marilyn Monroe enjoyed celebrating her 36th birthday on the set of her film "Something's Got to Give." But a week later--June 8, 1962--Monroe was fired from the romantic comedy by 20th Century Fox, and the project was shelved. Two months later, she was dead from an apparent drug overdose.

Over the decades, there have been glimpses of Monroe's scenes from the film--which eventually was made in 1963 as "Move Over, Darling," with Doris Day--primarily of her famous nude swimming sequence.

But more than nine hours of footage was shot during the ill-fated production and had been tucked away for the last four decades in the Fox vaults. Now that material has been edited into a 37-minute version of the film, which also starred Dean Martin, Cyd Charisse, Tom Tryon, Steve Allen, Phil Silvers and Wally Cox.

This reconstructed version of "Something's Got to Give" is featured in the new documentary "Marilyn: The Last Days," which will be released Tuesday as part of Fox's new VHS and DVD set, "Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection." The set includes her films "The Seven Year Itch," "Gentleman Prefer Blondes," "How to Marry a Millionaire," "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Bus Stop."

The two-hour documentary also airs Friday, which would have been Monroe's 75th birthday, on American Movie Classics. Along with the "Something's Got to Give" footage, it features an interview with Monroe's personal physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, who discusses at length the actress' emotional instability and her battle with manic depression, chemical dependency and poor health. There also are interviews with Charisse; the movie's producer, Henry Weinstein; its original producer, David Brown; screenwriter Walter Bernstein; and James Haspiel, who knew Monroe for the last eight years of her life.

In 1962, 20th Century Fox was reeling from the mounting expenses and production delays in Rome on the Elizabeth Taylor movie "Cleopatra." Meanwhile, the studio was also having problems at home with Monroe on "Something's Got to Give," a remake of the 1940 comedy "My Favorite Wife," in which she was to play a housewife who, after being stranded on a deserted island for five years with a hunk (Tryon), is rescued and returns home, only to discover she has been declared legally dead. Further complicating matters, her husband (Martin) has just married another woman (Charisse).

Monroe, who hadn't made a film in 18 months, was consistently late or absent for days at a time; illness was the usual excuse. Director George Cukor shot around her, filming scenes with her co-stars, but after 30 days of production, 17 of which she had missed, she was fired.

Following her dismissal, Monroe did a whirlwind of publicity--including revealing photo sessions--to prove she was still vital and employable. It worked. On Aug. 1, the actress signed a $1-million, two-picture deal with Fox, and production was to resume on "Something's Got to Give." But she died four days later.

"When you lay out the story of the production, day by day, scene by scene, you really see the disintegration of a human being," says Kevin Burns, executive producer of the documentary. "She wasn't capable of performing and wasn't performing."

Burns was "blown away" when he found the 9 1/2 hours of footage during his research. "There were all of these scenes--not necessarily featuring Marilyn, but scenes with Cyd Charisse, Dean Martin, Phil Silvers and Steve Allen. This was all the stuff that was shot when Marilyn didn't show up. It forced me to speculate that if one were to cut this together, was there anything like a movie or a story here?"

Looking at all the outtakes of Monroe's flubs and gaffes, Burns didn't think her performance was cohesive enough to cut together. But he and his colleagues decided to try anyway.

Monroe, says Burns, was famous for doing 20 to 30 takes per scene. "Writers wrote for her with that in mind. They didn't write much dialogue for her to say in a scene because they knew she couldn't handle it. We had a screening of this documentary, and the producer of 'River of No Return' said she was exactly the same 10 years earlier. Everyone knew this about her, but people had been able to get her through it. But they couldn't do it with this [film] because she was riddled with insecurities, emotional problems and pills and alcohol toward the end."

Hence, the actress' performances had to be shaped in the editing room. "They would look for moments of clarity, moments of lucidity," says Burns. "They would cut them together into a performance."

That's exactly what editor Tori Rodman had to do with "Something's Got to Give"--what Burns calls "surgical editing, to put Marilyn into some kind of a performance."

Still, Burns says, "when you see what exists [in 'Something's Got to Give'], she looks fabulous. She looks smart and strong and luminous. And in some ways, it is the best acting I have ever seen her do."


"Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days" will be shown Friday on AMC at 5 and 11 p.m. The network's "Pure Platinum: AMC Celebrates Marilyn Monroe" kicks off that day at 7 a.m and continues through early Saturday morning.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World