Marilyn Monroe’s Amanda Wingfield

marilyn monroe carlyle blackwell 5Yesterday, I was discussing the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie that I was lucky enough to see last week.  The person I was speaking with, an actress of a certain age, asked me what I thought of the production.  I told her that when you see a play like that, you have a hope that you are going to witness the definitive portrayal of these iconic characters.  I had hoped to see the definitive Amanda, the matriarch of the Wingfield family or the definitive Tom, the narrator and central, autobiographical character of the play.  In my humble opinion, that is not what I witnessed.  Both Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto gave heartfelt, formidable performances, but I left wanting a little more.

My friend, I’ll call her Jane, said that an actor needs to understand the poetry of Williams to play his characters.  I agreed and admitted to a struggle with the poetry when I worked on another Williams character in an acting class.  “You know who would have made a wonderful Amanda?” Jane asked me.  “Who?”

“Marilyn Monroe.”  

I confess to you that I actually gasped a little when she said that.  “You mean Laura?”  I asked.  “No, Amanda.”  Jane went on to tell me that many years ago, she had been in the same acting class as Marilyn.  She told me her Amanda would have been something to see.  In some ways, I’ll admit, I couldn’t see it.  

And yet, in the two days since she put this idea in my head, it’s all I can think about.  One would not have a hard time believing that Marilyn’s Amanda would have had a trail of gentlemen callers.  One would not have a hard time believing that Marilyn’s Amanda would have chosen the most unpromising of those gentlemen callers.   Marilyn’s Amanda would have understood that Williams is funny.  And Marilyn’s Amanda, entering the living room with the ridiculous old cotillion dress from her youth, would have been, as Jane put it, something to see.  So many possibilities.

If you are a drama nerd like me, and you’re still reading this, no doubt, you’ve had your own opinions pop into your head about the possibility of Marilyn Monroe’s Amanda Wingfield.  Maybe you like the idea, maybe you hate the idea.  Whether over a cup of coffee or a Makers Mark neat, these are the conversations I love.

Because this is the way my little brain works, I think of what might have happened if Marilyn had played Amanda.  What might Amanda have unlocked for Marilyn.  There is something exciting about living with a character that helps us understand the world we live in and understand ourselves better.  Maybe Amanda could have saved Marilyn, maybe she wouldn’t have left this world so young.  And maybe Amanda would have turned Marilyn into a great actress, not just a compelling movie star.

And there is something else about yesterday’s conversation that I’ve carried with me.  It goes back to those possibilities.  I told Jane that Marilyn as Amanda sounded so wrong and Jane said, “It might be!  And it might be so wrong that it’s right!”  Maybe this conversation will unlock in me the practice to see the possibilities for myself, that Tom Wingfield isn’t the only one with tricks in his pocket, things up his sleeve.

Edward Hopper

hopper.nighthawks

When I was 22, I bought my first piece of “art” at a flea market while visiting Orange County, California on vacation.  It was a print of Gottfried Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams.  Proudly, I carted the framed print back to my small Missouri town and hung it prominently on the living room wall in my apartment.  Every morning when I woke up and walked into the living room, I gazed happily at my purchase.  I’d look at the images of Marilyn and James Dean and Elvis and Bogart, trying to understand something great about art and myself.  I loved the picture because it reminded me of a painting I loved called Nighthawks that was one of the works of art in the childhood board game, Masterpiece.  

Image

 

Somewhere between 1990 and now, I did become a little more sophisticated in my relationship with art, though I will never be an art historian or expert.  I moved to New York in 1992 and spent a lot of time going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art and other New York museums where I discovered the works of American realist Edward Hopper with my own eyes.  For the longest time, I would tell people that Hopper was my favorite artist.  There is an exhibit that just opened at the Whitney, the first major museum exhibition to focus on his drawings and creative process. In the last few years, it seems like Hopper is more popular than ever and I believe what makes him so beloved is the fact that anyone can look at a Hopper painting and be moved by it. He evokes childhood, he evokes a simpler time. His subjects are lonely, staring into space or their cup of coffee. We relate to his art. When I lived in New York, I would go to the 24 hour donut shop on my corner and I felt like I was living Nighthawks. When I look at the gentleman at his gas pump in Gas, I think of my father who owned gas stations when I was growing up. The few times I worked an office job, I spent way too much time daydreaming like the man in Office in a Small City. Even now, when I walk into an old theatre, I think about the lonely girl standing at the rear in New York Movie. Art is subjective, thank goodness, but Hopper is, in my humble opinion, among the most universal of artists.
edward-hopper-gas
h2_53.183
newyork-movie
Now that I am a little older, I think of Edward Hopper a little differently. I still count him among my favorites, but I always think of him as the first painter I really loved, the first one who I felt like he was painting just for me. When I look at the paintings of other artists I now gravitate to, like John Sloan, or Winslow Homer, or George Bellows, or Thomas Eakins, or John Koch, there is almost always a recognition that I love them because they remind me a little of Hopper. My apartment walls no longer boast mass market prints, but rather paintings and photographs that Eric and I have collected through the years. Some were collected at yard sales. Some were gifts. And many remind me of the works of Edward Hopper. It makes sense, because, of course, you never forget your first.
h2_62.95