Emmy nominated actress Catherine Hicks talks with TV STORE ONLINE about her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in the 1980 telefilm MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY. The film is based on a best seller by Norman Mailer.
TV STORE ONLINE: In doing some research and watching some interviews online with you....Why do people only seem to be familiar with three pieces of work that you've done over your career? People only ever talk to you about CHILD'S PLAY (1988), STAR TREK 4 (1986), or the television series Seventh Heaven (1996-2007)? No one talks about your stunning work in MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY (1980) or the Richard Brooks film FEVER PITCH (1985)?
HICKS: Well, when everything is said and done, the horror, sci-fi, and family show stick out because they have some what of a fan base for them. MARILYN is available on YouTube, but I don't think it's available on DVD currently. So maybe that's why I don't get asked about it when I go out to these movie conventions to meet fans.
TV STORE ONLINE: I found a quote where a writer called you, "The Donna Reed of the new millennium..." I love this analogy...laughing
HICKS: Laughing...I'll take it! I play both those extremes. I can play a sexy dumb blond and I can play a nice clean cut mom.
TV STORE ONLINE: So let's talk about MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY...You're so incredible in that role, and it wasn't your first time playing Marilyn was it? You had done the Arthur Miller play After The Fall and also Bus Stop on the stage while you were in college, no?
HICKS: The part of my story that is the most interesting is that while I was in college I wasn't interested in acting in the theater. While I was in school I was studying English and Theology. My epiphany happened later. I timidly went to the theater one day while I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame. I just went in to audition for like one of twelve squid tentacles. That's all you could do there because of all the theater majors. When I decided to purse acting I ended up going and studying at Cornell University, and after I graduated, that's when I did After The Fall. We did it up in a rep company up in Ithaca, New York.
Cornell wasn't like Yale Drama School where there's a lot of polish of exterior styles. We did major interior work. We were working in Stanislavski and Grotowski. It was a very different approach to theater. We were studying theater that rocks the world of those that see it. Theater should go to the core of everyone that is experiencing it. We prepared After The Fall for a year before we performed it, and the performance was on campus and it was only for two weekends. But, all of that deep preparation for Maggie was still inside of me when I got on a bus with my head shots and headed for New York City. I wanted to be on Broadway.
There was a former theater student from the program at Cornell that saw me in After The Fall and liked what I had done, and he helped me get an agent. So not long after getting to the city, I booked three national television commercials and I was hired onto the soap opera Ryan's Hope (1975-89).
TV STORE ONLINE: How did MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY come to you?
HICKS: Marilyn, again, was still inside of me from doing After The Fall. I think that she's still inside of me all these years later as well. When I think about her, I'm never thinking that its an adoration of a great movie star, but that she's my dead older sister. I felt then, and still do, that I have to act as a sort of Defense Attorney on her behalf so that her story can be told, and that the facts aren't twisted. When I first moved to New York I started researching her too. I would ask people if they ever knew her. I can remember, I got into a cab one day and I asked the cab driver if he had ever had Marilyn Monroe in his cab, and he slammed the brakes on and said, "I grew up next door to Arthur Miller!" Then, after about a year in New York I finally got to Broadway. I was cast in a play and Jack Lemmon was in the play as well. So I would talk to Jack Lemmon about working with Marilyn. I was just always gathering, gathering, gathering information about her. After the play was over, Jack Lemmon had told me that if I wanted to continue climbing the ladder that I should move out to Los Angeles. I didn't want to though.
I wanted to stay in New York and climb the ladder on Broadway. Then I got a call from my agent and they wanted me to go out to Los Angeles and audition for a television series, in which Jack Warden was a part of. So I went out to do that, and I got the part. I went back to New York to start packing up my apartment and I heard about a casting call in which a producer was looking for someone to play Marilyn Monroe. The project hadn't been announced yet though. So I moved out to Los Angeles, and I was living alone at the time in the Hollywood Hills. This was the late '70s at the time and it wasn't totally developed out, so I can remember just walking alone at night through the hills and just thinking about how spooky it was, and about a chorus of all the dead blondes that Hollywood had devoured. Then I thought about how Marilyn Monroe grew up in Hollywood.
Then the project was announced, and I just knew that I had to get that role. I didn't think that anyone could play Marilyn but me. I just felt as if I knew her so well because of all my research and because of After The Fall. Arthur Miller had exposed so much about her in that play. I went in to audition, and there were two hundred blondes waiting to be seen. I went across the hall and sat alone for hours in a business office and I waited until all of them had gone home. Then I went in and saw John Flynn and Larry Schiller (Directors: MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY), and I knew it was mine to get. I went in and read and I had my Frederick's of Hollywood bra on that day too...laughing I just felt it in my core that I knew who she was.
TV STORE ONLINE: Larry Schiller was a photographer who knew Marilyn Monroe, and of course, Schiller worked closely with writer Norman Mailer, and they collaborated on two books on Monroe, one of which was used as the basis for the screenplay for MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY...Did you read those books prior or after getting cast as Marilyn?
HICKS: I did. I had read them, but I'm not sure if it was when I was still living with my parents in Arizona or after I had left home. My parents had moved there from the East Coast originally for health reasons. And Norman's coffee table book with all of those pictures inside...I just internalized them all. Growing up in Arizona was very lonely for me. We moved there and we lived out in the middle of nowhere. I remember when I was a little girl in Arizona, my grandmother came to visit us and there was a parade. It was this little western parade and Marilyn was in it. Because she was there at the time shooting BUS STOP (1956), and I can clearly remember the day she died, I can remember seeing RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954) for the first time. I just knew who she was, but I never played her as a sex bomb, I played her as a lonely little girl, because that is what she was, and that's what I was too..
Arizona was very lonely for me growing up there, and even when I first moved out to Los Angeles and was living alone as I mentioned, that was a lonely time in my life too. Hollywood can be a lonely place. We both had that loneliness in common.
TV STORE ONLINE: Those Mailer/Schiller books on Marilyn Monroe are my favorite volumes about her...There is that saying, "Men wanted her, and Women wanted to be her..." But it seems to go beyond that, doesn't it? There's something organic about it, something metaphysical? What do you think it is about her all of these years later that still has us so fascinated and captivated by that Marilyn Monroe mystique?
HICKS: I think it's that little lonely seven-year-old girl. She was abandoned and she was alone. Her mother was taken off to an insane asylum. She was frozen in time at age seven. That's why she always had that little girls voice. Women want to help her and women want to protect her. Men wanted her, and yes, she was sexy. Vulnerability is sexy. I think men also wanted to protect her too.
TV STORE ONLINE: Seeing all of her films....Do you think that she truly was a great dramatic actress? Many wouldn't consider her such...
HICKS: Well, I think she's a great comedienne. I love BUS STOP and I love THE MISFITS (1960). THE MISFITS...is really the brilliance of Arthur Miller. He was around those three actors, and what he was really writing for them wasn't a film, but their eulogies. Those three actors were all wounded birds and they would all pass away not long after they shot that film. It was a pre-death gathering, and they were all doomed and they were all dying. It's an amazing film for that reason. She did method work as an actress...Yet she was naive enough to be just who she was. She had the courage to be simple and herself. She also, sort of perfected a persona that she created. All of those Marilyn-isms....I think a lot of actors do those types of things today. In order for someone to be a movie star, the audience needs to be addicted to that movie stars mannerisms and want more. Most movie stars do about five things, and we all love those five things. Underneath that all, you could see a glimpse of her loneliness in every role she played.
TV STORE ONLINE: That's interesting...In my notes here...I've written about your performance in MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY, "Catherine Hicks as Marilyn is extremely naive and she radiates this incredible energy within the frame..." How did you find that naive aspect of her? Is that stuff just all part of working in sense memory?
HICKS: Not really...You just go to your inner child. You remember how to look at the world magically. That's Marilyn.
TV STORE ONLINE: What's your process in creating her visually? Does the costume or the haircut assist you a great deal in bringing her to life?
HICKS: I think so. I remember at the time that I was going to addition for Marilyn, I had a friend who said, "Oh Catherine. You're not doughy enough." I thought to myself, "Well, I was a fat little girl. I can gain weight in five days." So I gained some weight. I always thought that there was a special liquid-ness to Marilyn. I liked playing Marilyn because it allowed me to turn my head off.
TV STORE ONLINE: MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY had three directors that worked on the film. There was Larry Schiller and then Director Jack Arnold of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) fame....
HICKS: Right, and John Flynn too. When I went in for my first audition I met with John Flynn. He had seen that television series I had done with Jack Warden. When I went in for him, I did that sort of Marilyn lip quiver that she does at times. I think Flynn left the project not longer after that, and that's when Larry Schiller brought on Jack Arnold to work on the film. He was a great director. Larry Schiller was the producer and he was really at the helm of the project. I had to audition three times to get the role, and it was with Larry on my third audition that I got the part, because I had gone in to see him and I was playing a scene and I was on the floor acting because I felt comfortable there, and he gave me the role then because he said that that was something that Marilyn always did too.
TV STORE ONLINE: Considering that MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY is based on Schiller and Mailer's book Marilyn...Did Norman Mailer ever visit the set to watch you as Marilyn Monroe?
HICKS: No, he didn't. I did hear from Larry that Norman liked my Marilyn. His only criticism was that I didn't make her "smelly" enough. He said, that we made her an angel and that she could also be smelly and stay in bed for days, and she was the kind of girl who would eat spaghetti in bed and stain the sheets...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: Being the massive admirer of Marilyn Monroe that you were and still are today...Did it ever feel surreal recreating some of those important moments in her life and some of those scenes from her films? What about recreating the famous dress scene in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955) in the film? I feel like I read somewhere that Schiller and crew actually had that massive Marilyn billboard recreated and put up in New York City....
HICKS: Yes, they did! It was great, but again, I really felt as if I was playing her Defense Attorney in a way...Throughout the entire shoot...I was committed to getting people to understand her lonely and misjudged and overlooked path. I was really on a mission. Her story is really a tragedy. That's the one thing I learned from being in After The Fall. She didn't have to die. She could've stopped acting. When she married Joe DiMaggio, he wanted her to stop acting. Arthur Miller abandoned her. She was abandoned her entire life. These men were threatened by her rising star.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about shooting the portion of the sequence where her dress is being blow up into the air?
HICKS: DiMaggio really told her during that to, "Put your dress down!" We shot it, and then Larry brought in a body double to do some more risque shots for that for the European release of the movie. I think that both Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller really could've tried harder to make their relationships with Marilyn work. I think they were jealous of her fame and how much she was loved by her public. It really takes an infinite amount of love to fill an empty heart and that is why she just couldn't give any of it up.
TV STORE ONLINE: Marilyn was never taken seriously by most in Hollywood, and then there are actresses today that get type cast based on a previous role of because of how they look. It seems as if Hollywood hasn't changed since Marilyn's time....As a young up-and-coming actress yourself at the time of MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY did you ever experience any of that bias or typecasting in your own career after you played Marilyn?
HICKS: I didn't really. When I started out I was always given smart roles. I was given to playing doctors or lawyers. I was well trained, and I wasn't given sex bomb roles. I was never asked to sleep with anyone to get a role. Feminism had happened, so it was a different world in a way. With Marilyn, I'm sure there was some of that going on. She was an abandoned child and that's why people wanted her. Yet, there was probably a trade off too. I'm sure she slept with people and in turn got a role out of it, but I don't think she saw it that way wholly either. I'm sure she did it because she felt loved too. She needed that. I don't think she worked her way up the ladder in an icky way, I think she did in a lonely way.
TV STORE ONLINE: In all of your MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY research you did....In the process of playing her in the film...Do you think that you learned anything about Marilyn that you hadn't known or understood before about her?
HICKS: Well, Alan "Whitey" Snyder was my make-up artist on the film, and he was Marilyn's make-up man and friend for many many years. I tried not to ask him any questions about her, but I'd ask little things that I thought would help me get through a particular days work. He'd hint at things though, I learned through him that Joe DiMaggio was threatened by her success because his own career was over in baseball. I heard many stories about how Arthur Miller would leave her alone often. People would come out of the woodwork and tell me things about her too. I learned a lot about her from just being in the Hollywood Hills and being alone and lonely. When I played Marilyn in After The Fall I didn't know Hollywood, and when I moved out to Hollywood I was very lonely. I didn't have any friends for the first couple years after I had moved out here. I remember, I took my driver to the MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY wrap party. I even befriended a story owner and I'd go in and see him at night and talk with him for hours just so that I didn't have to go home and be alone at night. I think I really learned profound loneliness from being out here and in playing her.
TV STORE ONLINE: One of the great scenes in MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY is that sequence where Marilyn is placed in the insane asylum and she's just covered in sweat...
HICKS: Right. I think we shot that on a sound stage. That's all a part of After The Fall too. It was all about her channeling her mother. I think at that point the character had taken over and I was just allowing her to come through. I think that scene had its own life, and I'm not sure how much of that was even me. That's when acting becomes something truly wonderful but frightening.
TV STORE ONLINE: What about that incredible moment with Marilyn down in the subway in New York City where she befriends that police officer? Marilyn looks at him and says, "Will you just talk to me?"
HICKS: Wow, I had forgotten about that scene. That was just me being lonely. It's funny...Growing up in Arizona, I felt so alone because we were in the middle of nowhere and there was no social community or anything like that. I would say that line to people back then! Even today, and I have a husband and a daughter, I'll say that. I'm always looking for a good friend...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: Then what about that scene where Marilyn is drinking out on the rooftop in New York City and has that imaginary argument with Joe DiMaggio where she says, "I don't know how to be a wife for you!" That's just some incredible work...
HICKS: Thanks. I don't know where that came from. That same friend of mine who told me originally that I wasn't "doughy" enough to play Marilyn...I've never forget something she said, "It's in your heart Cath..Don't worry." In a way, I didn't do anything. I just let myself go and let it fly.
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
Watch MARILYN: THE UNTOLD STORY (1980) on YouTube HERE: