Finishing the Picture: Marilyn, Clark Gable and Eli Wallach

Writing for SlashFilm, Anthony Crislip looks behind the scenes of The Misfits, and the row that broke out over how the movie should end.

The Misfits would be Marilyn Monroe’s final film … and the emotional devastation of the movie’s plot was reflected by what went on during its making, as Miller, director John Huston, and co-star Eli Wallach hatched a plan to rewrite the movie. The resulting adjustments would have had major consequences, changing the plot to raise Wallach’s heroic profile and diminish Monroe’s.

Wallach was an old friend of Monroe’s from the Actors Studio in New York. According to Les Harding’s They Knew Marilyn Monroe, he credited the actress with getting him cast in The Misfits, but by the time the movie was being made, something in their friendship had shifted. Beyond the rewrites, he used the movie to execute a couple of practical jokes on her, some of which bordered on cruelty.

Given her friendship with Wallach, as well as the fact that she considered Huston one of the figures most important to her finding success as a film actress, she felt betrayed upon learning about the rewrites. Considering her health issues at the time and the psychological weight of her impending divorce from Miller, Monroe would not have been able to fight it. Her acting coach Paula Strasberg made sure she wouldn’t learn about it until something could be done.

Clark Gable, the film’s leading man, had final script approval, giving him the authority to actually examine what the others were plotting. He also was one of the few who could shut it down.

When Eli Wallach’s Guido dances with [Marilyn] early on, the scene is charming. But Wallach allegedly set it up so that her face would be obscured by the camera – you would just see his face and her back. Monroe was furious, and her acting coach Paula Strasberg backed her up.”

If Marilyn’s suspicions were correct, Eli’s behaviour during the dance sequence wasn’t so much a ‘practical joke’ as blatant scene-stealing. However, Crislip doesn’t mention her pithy response: “Nobody is going to look at his face if I’m jiggling my rear.” In his autobiography, Eli admitted their friendship had become strained – although not from the outset, as in candid photos taken on the set they still appeared to be close.

When discussing the rewrites, Crislip refers to Monroe biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles, who interviewed her masseur and friend, Ralph Roberts (who also played a small part in the movie, as an ambulance driver.) Roberts recalled “how upset she was by her lack of an ally on the production,” but Paula Strasberg was firmly in her camp, while co-star Montgomery Clift was another old friend.

Roberts also claimed that Eli Wallach “had numerous (secretive) conferences with Huston and Miller,” restructuring the script in such a way that he would be the hero while Gable’s character succumbed to his crippling alcoholism and Monroe’s ended up “no longer a divorcee but … a prostitute.”

However, some revised script pages from The Misfits emerged at auction a few years ago, which fall short of Roberts’ description. The chief difference is that Marilyn and Gable’s characters don’t stay together after the horses are freed, which could have made for a more realistic ending. Incidentally, these pages don’t mention alcoholism or prostitution.

Nonetheless, the revised ending was ultimately scrapped at Gable’s behest, as Crislip reveals.

“As the production dragged on, John Huston was losing patience with Marilyn Monroe’s lateness and trouble with addiction, which wasn’t helped by the ample tension on set. It was as if the extreme stress of Some Like It Hot had devolved into total chaos and anxiety for the actress. Donald Spoto’s biography Marilyn Monroe claims she grew upset with husband Arthur Miller’s constant rewrites.

Gable, who had grown fond of Monroe according to Miller’s Timebends on account of her childhood crush on him, wouldn’t stand for it. Per Roberts, the legendary actor ‘blew a gasket.’ Along with Strasberg, Roberts made moves to conceal the script from Monroe until ‘something happened.’ Something did.

Part of the deal that got Clark Gable on The Misfits, according to Arthur Miller’s Timebends, was that the actor would receive $25,000 for every day the movie went over schedule. As its production went on, those days added up. He also got final script approval, giving him the ability to walk if he disapproved of what had been done with the screenplay. In the wake of the new draft, wherein his character as well as Marilyn Monroe’s was reduced, he threw that ability in the face of his director, writer, and co-star, according to Ralph Roberts’ recollection. Director John Huston reportedly spent two hours the next morning attempting to work it out with Gable. But the actor was adamant. He won out, and so did Monroe.

Both of them did finish The Misfits, and Gable, having seen the rough cut, allegedly remarked to Miller on the last day of shooting that it was ‘the best picture he had made in his life.’

As with Monroe, it would also be the final picture of his legendary career, whose rough start would conclude with one of the masterpieces of ’60s American cinema. As for Monroe, the health issues that plagued her through the movie’s production are barely noticeable when watching it now. If her performance occasionally rings false like Miller worried it did, the tension works within the movie, suggesting a character who struggles to find familiar joy in a bleak landscape.”

Thanks to A Passion for Marilyn

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