After surviving a plane crash and being marooned on a tropical island for five years, Ellen Arden (Marilyn Monroe
) returns home on the day that a judge has pronounced her officially dead, freeing her husband, Nick (Dean Martin), to take Bianca (Cyd Charisse) as his new wife. Following Nick and Bianca’s departure on their honeymoon, Ellen returns to the Arden home and reacquaints herself with her two children. On learning about the marriage, she rushes to the hotel where the newlyweds are staying. As soon as Nick spots her, he panics and makes an excuse to convince Bianca that they should return home. Ellen, however, manages to get back before them and installs herself in the house by pretending to be a Swedish maid. She then encourages Nick to tell Bianca that his first wife is alive and well, but her problems are compounded when Nick learns that, far from being alone on the island, Ellen was stranded there with a male survivor. Ellen claims that the man was the bookish type, more interested in studying the island’s geological features than her body. She duly attempts to pass off a weedy shoe clerk as her platonic island companion, but nick has already discovered the mystery male to be handsome Steven Burkette (Tom Tryon). After initially pretending to go along with Ellen’s story, Nick embarrasses her by revealing that he knows the truth. He also confesses everything to Bianca who starts consulting analyst Dr. Schlick (Steve Allen) as a result. During the ensuing mayhem, Nick is arrested for bigamy. In court, the judge pronounces Ellen officially alive and Nick’s marriage to Bianca null and void. This clears the way for a happy Arden family reunion, while Bianca winds up with Dr. Schlick.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Famous as the film that Marilyn Monroe never lived to complete, Something’s Got to Give
stands today not only as a prime example of a wayward star undermining the crumbling Hollywood studio system but also as a tantalizing reminder of what might have been had she not been fired in mid-production.
The negative for most of the footage had supposedly been stolen or destroyed shortly after Marilyn died, but in 1982 eight boxes containing nearly six hours of raw footage were found in storage. Gaps in this material are probably the result of the removal of the best takes, which were edited together into a 35-minute version of the movie to help director George Cukor
monitor progress during production. The location of this work-in-progress is unknown, but what remains contradicts the oft-repeated assertion by studio executives that Marilyn’s acting, hampered by drugs, had the on-screen effect of being “in a kind of slow motion that was hypnotic”. Indeed, if there is anything hypnotic about Marilyn’s performance, it is the considerable tenderness and vulnerability that she was able to convey, together with her remarkably good appearance, at this troubled time in her life.
Intended as a remake of RKO’s 1940 screwball comedy entitled My Favorite Wife
, which had starred Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, Something’s Got to Give
was remolded into that sub-genre known as the bedroom farce, which was quite prominent during the 1960s. In this type of comedy, glamorous characters in glamorous settings experienced difficulties of an amorous nature, usually revolving around – but never exploiting – bedroom high jinks. It would have been fascinating to see Marilyn Monroe bring her brand of overt sexuality to the bedroom farce during this era. Interestingly soon after Give
had been shelved, the script was re-worked by Fox into Move Over Darling
, which was produced and released in 1963 as a Doris Day vehicle. Co-starring the affable James Garner, Move Over Darling
featured an altogether different cast and crew.
Marilyn and the studio began experiencing severe problems before the production of Something’s Got to Give
even began. Twentieth Century-Fox was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, courtesy of the gargantuan production of Cleopatra
that had been filming in London and Rome for two years. The historical epic was originally budgeted at around $5 million, but costs soon spiraled out of control. Sources vary as to what the final cost of the film was, but some speculate it was close to $44 million, while others estimate $37 million. The studio had been forced to sell part of the back lot and veto any new projects.
The only new production that was approved was Something’s Got to Give
, because it’s total budget was a mere $1 million, the same amount that Liz Taylor was commanding for appearing in – and often being absent from – the title role of Cleopatra. Marilyn was entitled to $100,000 for each of the two films that she still owed Fox under the terms of her 1955 contract. Although her recent movies had not been too successful, the studio executives were banking on her name to still be a sufficient enough draw at the box office to provide them with some much-needed funds.
Having shed 15 pounds, Marilyn appeared in excellent shape when she appeared in some costume and makeup tests on April 10th, 1962, but the following morning, producer Henry T. Weinstein came face to face with her instability when he discovered Marilyn in a barbiturate coma at her newly purchased Brentwood home. He suggested abandoning the picture, but his superiors disagreed.
Once filming began on April 16, these decision-makers must have had second thoughts, for Marilyn, suffering from sinusitis and a virus did not show up on the set for the first two weeks. Her first day of work was Monday, April 30th, when, in spite of having a sore throat and a temperature of 101 degrees, she proved herself well prepared for the homecoming scene in which Ellen Arden encounters her children by the family swimming pool. The next day, Marilyn’s virus flared up again and she went home 30 minutes after arriving at the studio. On another occasion, she had to quit after almost fainting under a hair dryer. By May 10th, she had turned up for only three of the first 18 shooting days and had actually worked on only one of those days.
Director Cukor (on whose real-life home the Arden house was based) had shot around Marilyn as much as possible, but now he was forced to shut down the set. Adding to the scheduling problem was a second major source of contention for Cukor, which involved the movie’s script. Cukor had rejected the original script before production began, resulting in Walter Bernstein being commissioned to re-write Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay. No final version was ever officially approved and Marilyn – who had voiced her own objections to the script – struggled with frequent changes and newly amended lines amid her nightly bouts of insomnia.
Nevertheless, she completed three days of work on May 14th through May 16th, though one of those days was taken up entirely by the filming of a 15-second sequence with a reluctant dog. On May 17th, production again ground to a halt when a helicopter carrying Peter Lawford landed on the Fox lot before noon and spirited Marilyn away to Madison Square Garden in New York, where she was to sing at the famous birthday bash for President John F. Kennedy. Permission had initially been granted for her departure, but in light of how far the movie was behind schedule, it had been withdrawn. Fox executives, as well as the cast and crew, were furious. Producer Weinstein, who at time was also angry with Marilyn, later expressed regret that the studio had not swallowed its pride and turned the MM-JFK event to its own advantage by using it to promote Something’s Got to Give
To make matters worse, when she returned to work on Monday, May 21st, Marilyn was suffering from exhaustion because of her trip and could not shoot any close-ups. The next day, Dean Martin showed up with a cold and despite assurances from studio doctors that it was not contagious, Marilyn refused to work with him. Instead she went home and stayed there until Friday.
At this tenuous juncture, Marilyn’s insecurities began to heighten: She insisted that a blonde extra be removed because her hair color clashed with her own; and after insisting that Cyd Charisse was padding her breasts, she threatened to do the same, necessitating alterations to all her costumes. When Marilyn did report to the studio, she was witnessed throwing up by the studio gates because of nerves. She remained in her dressing room for hours on end in order to avoid the dreaded cameras. Not even her team of three doctors – an eye / nose specialist, an internist and an analyst – seemed able to help her.
Marilyn did enjoy a good day on Friday, May 25th, during the shooting of the now-famous nude-swimming scene. She was supposed to swim in the pool in a flesh-colored bikini to simulate nudity, but when a cameraman complained that it was visible through the lens, Marilyn happily discarded the costume and frolicked naked in and out of the water. The still photographers present on the set that day could hardly believe their eyes or their luck. Marilyn agreed to allow these shots to be published in exchange for a slide projector and the promise that the photos would replace those of Elizabeth Taylor pasted around the world! Within a short time, images of the discreetly nude Marilyn appeared on magazine covers in 32 countries.
She turned up for work again the next day, but the four hours spent in the pool had aggravated her virus. Another prolonged period of absence followed before Marilyn reported back to the studio on June 1st, her 36th birthday and as events turned out, her last appearance in front of the movie cameras. This involved Ellen’s attempt to pass off a weedy shoe clerk as her former island companion. Cukor, desperate to get some work done, refused to allow a birthday party to take place on the set until the end of shooting. Then, when the time did arrive, there were false pleasantries and a stilted atmosphere. “There was a pall over it”, confirmed Weinstein. “We had gone through so much”.
After the party, Marilyn made her final public appearance at a muscular dystrophy benefit at L.A.’s Dodger Stadium, where she was invited to throw out the first ball. Yet, the following week, she once again failed to show up for work, this time because of flared sinuses and a temperature of 102 degrees. By now, however, few believed her excuses for missing work. The production was 16 days behind schedule and $1 million over budget and Executive Vice-President Peter Levathes raged, “The star system has got way out of hand. We’ve let the inmates run the asylum and they’ve practically destroyed it”.
On June 7th, Marilyn allegedly visited a plastic surgeon after she slipped in the shower because of the medication she had taken and bruised her face. Fox responded by immediately contracting Kim Novak “and every other actress in and out of town”, to replace her in Something’s Got to Give
. Meanwhile, Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, interrupted his Swiss vacation to fly back to the States and guarantee studio executives that his patient would be fit and ready to work on the following Monday.
When Marilyn failed to show up for work the next day, Peter Levathes fired her and had his company file a $500,000 breach of contract suit. During 35 days of shooting, Marilyn had appeared at the studio on 12 days and had worked fully on only eight of these occasions. Soon after, lee Remick was hired as Marilyn’s replacement, only to be rejected by Marilyn’s loyal friend, Dean Martin, who had co-star approval. Fox was $2 million out of pocket with nowhere to go and although producer Weinstein had originally asserted that Marilyn “completely flouted professional discipline and is responsible for putting 104 crew members out of work”, he later admitted, “She had enormous problems. It came with the territory and the studio was naïve to think that this wouldn’t happen. I mean, if the picture was budgeted for an eight-week shoot, they should have budgeted it for a sixteen-week shoot, because they wanted a film with Marilyn Monroe”.
Weinstein was not alone in his change of attitude. For the second time in her career, Twentieth Century-Fox caved in to Marilyn Monroe and reinstated her at twice her original salary. Sadly, however, Marilyn Monroe died on August 4th, 1962 – a month before the film was scheduled to resume production.