5 things about Marilyn Monroe that you don’t know

Marilyn Monroe

Actress Erin Sullivan portrays Marilyn Monroe in “With Love, Marilyn,” an intimate, behind-the-scenes look that takes place one month before her death. Photo by Jason Woodruff.

LOS FELIZ — Actress Erin Sullivan says she doesn’t do karaoke, and she isn’t an impersonator.

Sullivan realizes audiences might be skeptical to see another musical play about blond-bombshell actress Marilyn Monroe, whose life has been repeatedly dissected and examined, but Sullivan’s one-woman show, “With Love, Marilyn,” is in a different league, she says.

It’s an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the actress that takes place about one month before her death in August 1962. Sullivan also sings four favorite Monroe songs: “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” “My Heart Belongs To Daddy,” and “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,”

Sullivan will perform “With Love, Marilyn” in Silver Lake Monday at Rockwell Table & Stage, which is owned by openly gay business partners Wayne Elias and Chris Diamond.

“I’m not putting on a karaoke performance. I’m an actor not an impersonator,” Sullivan says in a recent interview. “I wanted audiences to feel and be educated about her. It’s a tribute from her to the people who impacted her career.

“This is more than a general entertainment performance,” she says. “I want to bring some unknown facts about Marilyn to the public.”

In an interview with Q Voice News, Sullivan, 36, shared five things audiences might not know about the 1950s icon.

Here are some excerpts.

Marilyn Monroe had plans for a Las Vegas show

Sullivan had been developing a show about Monroe and had become friends with Samantha McLaughlin of All About Marilyn, who told her Monroe was in talks about doing a Vegas show with Frank Sinatra.

“That sparked the idea of an intimate portrayal of the show we didn’t get to see,” Sullivan says. “ ‘With Love, Marilyn’ is set around the final dress rehearsal of that Vegas show between June and July 1962.”

Monroe wore a dress originally made for Ethel Merman

The dress Sullivan wears in “With Love, Marilyn” was created by Broadway costume designer Ryan Moller.

“We wanted something that seemed recognizable, but you were not quite sure from where,” Sullivan says. “The performance is in a cabaret setting, so we didn’t want a huge gown. I was drawn to a photo of her in a black, cocktail dress trimmed in rhinestones that we saw in a couple of books.

“That dress was for a photoshoot, and it was originally a generic stock dress at 20th Century Fox that was made for Ethel Merman.”

Marilyn Monroe was based on a 1920s Broadway actress

“I love the development of how Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn,” Sullivan says. “Ben Lyon (a casting director at 20th Century Fox) thought she looked like the Broadway star Marilyn Miller.” Lyon, a former actor, had played Miller’s love interest in a 1931 film, “Her Majesty, Love.”

Miller’s personal life was filled with disappointment and tragedy. Following surgery complications, Miller died at the age of 37. Monroe was 36 when she died.

Monroe’s husband sabotaged her film acting

After Monroe told her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, that she wanted to be a serious actress, he wrote “The Misfits” for her. The 1961 film was Monroe’s last movie.

“Marilyn was a strong, solid character, but they kept changing the script,” Sullivan says. “Arthur and Marilyn had a very troubled marriage. Arthur kept making her dumber and dumber in the script. It was a big fuck you to Marilyn.”

Monroe was a pioneer for women

“When the studio gave her a makeover, she was like, Sure. I will play the game,” Sullivan says. “Norma Jean turned Marilyn Monroe into a brilliant marketing tool. She’s an example of a woman being powerful with in her sexuality She knew how to manipulate people and get what she wanted. She was so daring. She was a pioneer for her type in the industry.

“As other women were being aged out of the studio, Marilyn opened her own production studio, Marilyn Monroe Productions, in 1954,” Sullivan says. “Marilyn would be in charge of what would appear on the screen. That was a bold move. She told the most powerful men in Hollywood, You don’t own me.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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