A film – and film set – that’s likely to feature in Blonde is Billy Wilder’s gold-plated comedy classic. (Wilder himself and Monroe’s co-star, Tony Curtis, are both characters in the film.) Her performance as ukulele-playing singer Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczy won her a Golden Globe, just desserts for a comic turn that’s as light as air and ridiculously charming. Sure, she burnt through a lot of film stock – many of her lines requiring 40 or more takes – but the end result had Wilder raving: ‘All I can tell you is if Marilyn was around today, I’d be on my knees, saying: “Please, let’s do it again!”’
It’s 60 years on from her death and still not enough respect is put on Marilyn Monroe’s name as an actress of substance – although Netflix’s new awards-tipped film about her, Blonde, should help remedy that. She wasn’t always easy to work with, suffering anxieties that could manifest in all sorts of director-exasperating ways on set, but filmmakers of serious stature still queued up to work with her, hoping to tap into her star quality and limitless charisma.
The camera, as the oft-quoted cliché goes, adored her, but her work with acting guru Lee Strasberg helped refine her craft too. And it’s there to see across an acting CV that features 29 completed movies and one unfinished effort, with plenty of performances that belie any perceptions of her as purely a sex symbol there to dolly up the picture. With Ana de Armas’s take on her in Blonde not on screen until September, here are seven of the real deals to show just what Monroe could do.