The set awaiting Marilyn’s arrival was Fox Soundstage 14.
Where everyone was waiting – anxious to the point of delirium. Cast, crew, even many in the executive/administration departments had sneaked away and were lurking in the shadows of the cavernous soundstage – where workers had constructed easily the most expensive and elaborate indoor set ever attempted by the studio.
At a cost that was outrageously bizarre for the nature of the simple comedy.
Thanks to the ego and whim of director George Cukor.
The director, with a penchant for a grossly overstated and indulgent lifestyle – had early on simply decided what he needed to make the film work – to establish his directorial command over the domain of the production… and that was to insist the house needed for the main set would be replicated after his own sprawling Mediterranean villa.
And so it had.
An exact replica.
The same tile, the same identical woodwork, the same salmon-pink coloration to the stone masonry.
Even the swimming pool – Cukor had demanded must be built to perfectly match his own in size and shape – right down to the same matching baby-pink beach balls gifted to the director by Vivian Leigh.
And Cukor would not accept merely close. He demanded exactness. This was, after all, a George Cukor film. (Not a Marilyn Monroe production – not if he could help it).
As Monroe was chauffeured from Brentwood to the studio, a short drive of some fifteen minutes, the technicians were hurriedly painting the trees and bushes to the precise shade of green to resemble the shrubbery around the Cukor estate above Sunset boulevard.
High above on the scaffolding, electricians were installing new amber and blue spotlights – as everything would be shot inside and Cukor needed an exacting sense of ‘bright sunlight’. Tests had not given Cukor the proper sense of brightness and hence more had to be rushed into place.
The studio execs stood back in the shadows – rolling their eyebrows at such excess through out the set – which had cost the studio over $200,000! Just a few days earlier these same execs had received word from the corporate New York accountants – that at the current rate of reckless studio spending, the Fox coffers would be dry by early July.
Barely enough time to finish “Cleopatra.”
Barely enough time to start and complete “Something’s Got To Give.”
Or maybe not – maybe the studio was heading toward one, big financial blood bath!
Much, certainly, hinged on Monroe and her ability to deliver a product Fox could send to market.
Many silent prayers were being uttered on this particular morning as the waiting for Monroe began and intensified.
Inside the bungalow assigned to Monroe, the drugs were starting to kick in. Even so, Marilyn’s make-up man of many years Whitey Snyder had to frown to himself as he went through the transformation – Norma Jean into Marilyn Monroe. She did not appear healthy.
“Hey Marilyn…” Snyder said, “You don’t look so good…”
“Peach against the way I feel,” Marilyn returned.
“So why do it? Go home, rest – get better.”
Marilyn shook her head. “Need to do this. Got to get the show on the road. Y’know…” and she offered an exaggerated smile: “Showtime…!”
Snyder nodded. He knew she got a lot of bad rap from different elements at the studio. Guys who thought she was just a lucky dumb blonde – without any talent. But Snyder, who’d done many films with her, knew far better. As the one who brought the Marilyn look out for each film, he knew intimately and far better than most just exactly what a creation she had made in bringing Marilyn Monroe to celluloid life. It was, in many ways, as good and sharp and archetypal a creation as Chaplin’s little tramp.
How many actresses or actors could even come close to claiming that?
Cukor knocked and entered the bungalow. “Marilyn – everybody’s ready. Everybody’s been ready for two hours. Now – get your ass out there – or go home and pretend to be sick… but I demand you make up your mind so I can tell my crew what to expect. Now – what is it?”
Marilyn rolled her eyes to Snyder, who winked back.
“Be there in five minutes.”
“Make sure you are. Or I’ll shut down for the day!” Cukor fumed, leaving.
As Cukor departed, another face – far friendlier, appeared. Jerry Wald gave a look at Cukor’s expense and kissed Marilyn on the top of the head while Snyder continued.
“How ya doin’, kiddo?”
Marilyn tried to grin. “Trying to be a good girl. ”
Wald could tell right off Marilyn was struggling. He did not like what he saw.
“Whitey – give Marilyn and I a moment to ourselves.”
“Sure thing, chief…” and Snyder put a finishing touch on a perfect Marilyn – and excused himself.
Cukor saw Snyder coming out and alerted everybody. He glanced up to the electricians – and nodded for them to ‘lights-on’ for the dazzling bright daylight effect to begin warming up.
The set buzzed with that last minute, nor or never, this is it prep work.
And it was absolutely ready for Marilyn’s entrance.
“Something’s Got To Give” was finally going to shoot.
The executives in the back shadows smiled.
The grips and best boys started a countdown.
The assistant director readied to call out the magic words.
Cukor stood, legs apart – staring at the bungalow defying Marilyn to make her appearance.
Fox sound stage 14 held its collective breath.
Then Marilyn appeared – walking… very timidly across the exact salmon-tined tile – towards the waiting set and the pool.
She almost made it.
She almost made it poolside – with the cool, clean, cerulean waters….
And everybody – everybody –who saw her could not believe how great she looked. She’d lost weight, her face seemed to have matured, there was a certain glow about her that hadn’t been there before….she was breath-takingly beautiful.
And just as this was registering on the assembled collective consciousness – this astonishingly gorgeous presence –
Marilyn was rushed home.
She had tried, tried herbest, summoned up everything she had, pushed herself as hard as she could – to hit her mark and make the call.
But it wasn’t enough. She was still far too sick. Her body, despite the drugs, too weak to grit her through it.
Cukor, of course, was furious.
So were a lot of people.
Skouras went into a five minute tirade.
Wald was mad too, but not for the same reasons. And not because Marilyn was being rushed home to bed.
Somehow, he wasn’t sure – but the draft of the screenplay by Schulberg of “The Enemy Within” had gotten leaked, had been circulated.
“How – ?” Marilyn asked when told just before she’d gone out onto the set.
“That I do not know. Yet. But I wanted to check with you.”
“Jerry – my copy has never been out of my sight. Literally.”
“Only Schulberg, me and you – had copies. No one else.”
“And Aaron Townes.” Marilyn reminded.
Wald nodded. “Right. But he’s down in Mexico. No way.”
“Are you sure..? “ Marilyn, “I don’t see how?”
Wald nodded: “Unfortunately I have some very strong proof.” A picture came forth from his coat. She showed it to Marilyn. “There are people who have contacted me, warning me against making Bobby’s book into a movie. This is their second communication.”
The picture showed the screenplay’s title page – smeared in blood and a severed finger lying atop. Underneath, the words of warning: “Write another draft – and fingers will be severed!”
Marilyn face drained of all color as she looked at Wald, speechless!
“Marilyn – who comes to your house? Who was on the premises?
Slowly Marilyn tried thinking. “Really – only a few people.”
“Well… my housekeeper. My press secretary. Peter Lawford, and Pat. Dr. Greenson and his wife have been over. And their daughter, Joan. Oh, and Mike Pearl.”
“Don’t know him.”
“He’s my…uh… he’s a psychic. Reads my chart and stuff.”
Wald nodded. Another kook. Marilyn – always seeking multiple sources of guidance and advice. And it might well have ended there, but Marilyn added: “Mike’s also trying to become an actor. Hey – maybe I should introduce him to you… huh?”
Wald nodded – sure, why not. But he’d just been told something critical. Mike Pearl wasn’t a psychic – he was a struggling actor. And Wald knew what that meant.
Or what it could mean.
Marilyn took another look at the ghastly picture. “What are you going to do, Jerry. That’s pretty awful stuff!”
Wald wasn’t sure. He wasn’t a man to be toyed with. He was a pretty tough cookie in most all ways. But this was another level.
Cutting fingers off?
A deep chill shuddered through him.
And then he had heard the scream from outside – out on the set. He rushed to the window, peering through.
There was Marilyn – passed out on the tile by the pool – people rushing to her.
And even worse chill swept over him.
And up on the scaffolds of Soundstage 14, way up there – manning the lights for the daylight effect, were a pair of electricians looking down upon the scene – Marilyn lying there, people trying to help her.
“What do you think….?” one of them asked.
His friend just shook his head: “Cleopatra Two…!”