Marilyn’s Last Act: ‘Something’s Got to Give’

In the latest instalment of his series for Classic Movie Hub, Gary Vitacco Robles looks at the myths surrounding Marilyn’s unfinished last film, Something’s Got to Give.

“Only brief dazzling excerpts from Monroe’s 30th film appearance would appear in documentaries on her remarkable life, most recycled from Fox’s retrospective, Marilyn (1963) and said to be gleaned from the entirety of only about eight usable minutes of footage. Then in 1990, an investigative Fox News reporter, Henry Schipper, set out on a mission to locate surviving scenes at Fox Entertainment’s archives. He discovered six crates of film reels that vindicated Monroe’s reputation as an actress. Editors eventually compiled about thirty-seven minutes of the footage into a reconstructed, coherent short film.

‘It has been accepted ever since that her work on SGTG was a sad finale to an otherwise spectacular career,’ Schipper reported. ‘This film proves the studio wrong. In fact, Monroe never looked better. Her work there is on par with the rest of her career — funny, touching and, at times, superb. She was lighting up the screen as only she could.’

The property offered Monroe a chance to portray a mother and wife, Ellen Arden, who returns to her family after being declared lost at sea for five years … Monroe campaigned for Dean Martin in the role of her husband, Nick Arden … [She] passionately campaigned for comedic actor Wally Cox over Don Knotts in the role of the meek shoe salesman who Ellen attempts to pass as her companion on the island. Cox voice the animated cartoon series Underdog and shared with Monroe a mutual friend, Marlon Brando.

An insurance agent visits Nick at home to resolve the issue of his company having paid Ellen’s life insurance claim and discusses an investigation into allegations that Ellen survived as a castaway: she had not spent the last five alone, but her companion on the island was an athletic playboy, Stephen Burkett … To allay her husband’s doubts about her fidelity, Ellen recruits a mousy shoe salesman to pose as Burkett … Meanwhile, Nick has already sought out and confronted the playboy at the local yacht club. Ellen presents the show salesman to Nick as ‘Adam.’ Nick plays along as Ellen and the imposter stumble along in describing the island and their struggle for survival.

This comic scene was Monroe’s final performance of her illustrious career on June 1, 1962, her 36th and final birthday. Martin’s character has already discovered the playboy but humors his wife by quizzing the coached imposter. ‘We lived in huts,’ Ellen explains. The shoe salesman clarifies, ‘Separate huts.’ Nick asks where they lived during the rainy season. Ellen replies that they moved into the trees. The salesman interjects, ‘Separate trees.'”