Monroe, Miller, Montand, Signoret: When golden couples meet

Fifty years on, a new play explores what went on during the four months the quartet spent together in 1960.

Hollywood, the summer of 1960. In a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel are Marilyn Monroe and her husband, the playwright Arthur Miller. Next door, the golden couple of French cinema, Simone Signoret and her husband Yves Montand. Monroe and Montand are starring in the George Cukor movie, Let's Make Love.

Miller and Monroe's unhappy marriage is reaching its endgame. He has rewritten the script for Let's Make Love and, after Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Rock Hudson have all turned down the male lead, Miller suggests Montand, who starred in the French movie version of The Crucible.

Montand is a very French version of the matinee idol: a communist and former lover of Edith Piaf (among many others), a music-hall crooner who marries the country's greatest actress and develops a film career of his own. To shoot Let's Make Love, he and his wife, renowned as a left-wing intellectual as well as an Oscar-winning actress (for her 1959 role as an alluring older woman, in Room at the Top) decamp to Los Angeles.

For those four months, their corner of the Beverly Hills is as much of a crucible as Salem in the 1690s. Signoret and Monroe become close friends. They all spend a lot of time together. There are photos of the two couples eating dinner, Montand holding forth while Monroe oozes out of a black dress. Then, once the film has wrapped, Monroe and Montand have a very public affair.

This charged episode has long fascinated Scottish playwright Sue Glover and is the subject of Marilyn, her latest play for Glasgow's Citizens Theatre. "The force of this meeting changed Simone Signoret's life completely," says Glover, best known for her 1991 play Bondagers. "For her, it was never the same again. It was a pivotal moment."

Glover confines the two women into the hairdresser's chair, their roots coated with the aggressive peroxide of the 1960s. With the help of the third cast member, their stylist Patti, the writer combs through the two icons' fraught relationship, while also considering fame, celebrity and the sexual politics of mid-20th century cinema.

"There is the so-called dumb blonde, who isn't dumb at all, and the egghead. And then you find that they've got quite a lot in common."

Signoret, played by Dominique Hollier, was a force in French intellectual life, regularly appearing on political discussion shows and, later in her life, ringing up producers to suggest items they might want to cover. This was her first trip to the US, at a time when McCarthy's anti-communism was a national obsession and no bed was safe until it had been checked for reds underneath. Monroe (Frances Thorburn) would, according to the writer, have struggled to articulate her own political position in a TV debate. But, Glover says, she did it her way, "posing for photographers when Miller was subpoenaed to appear in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee."

"Simone was super-intelligent and sharp but Marilyn sometimes took her by surprise. And although Marilyn's politics were rather vague, instinctively she was on the same side as Simone."

In fact, Signoret and Montand had, in many ways, the life Monroe hoped to have when she married Miller. She had lost her baby while filming Some Like It Hot. Signoret had a daughter from her first marriage. They had a wide circle of friends, respect for their professional achievements and their political activism. Montand found fidelity challenging, but behaved himself while his wife was around, whereas Monroe's husband's idea of a romantic gesture was to write The Misfits, in which she starred as a depressed divorcee. Signoret had an Oscar while Marilyn was appreciated for cleavage and wiggle rather than dramatic monologues.

So what, exactly, did they have in common? "They both depended on the man in their lives, to an extent that seems quite extraordinary to us today." Monroe married three times and allegedly had affairs with John and Bobby Kennedy, among others.

Signoret was different. She famously said of Monroe: "If Marilyn is in love with my husband it proves she has good taste, for I am in love with him too." For Glover, that is key to understanding Signoret. "Simone had to have this man."

Let's Make Love was shot the year Monroe turned 34. Signoret was five years older and, while Patti gives their hairlines their weekly bleach bath, they discuss ageing, how long you can stay young and what, in those pre-Restalyne days, you could do to stretch it out.

According to Glover, "Simone is quite categorical: you don't have to do anything. Look, she says, grey hairs, wrinkles. I don't care – but you know that she does." Approaching 40, she has started playing age-appropriate roles: mothers, countesses, what would now be called cougars. "She didn't like it but she did it wonderfully. She won the Oscar for Room at The Top. Later on, in La Veuve Couderc she is a bitter, lustful widow. In Le Chat she plays the wife of someone 20 years older than she is."

This was not for Monroe, who was determined to preserve her world-class erotic capital. "Of course Marilyn was trying to hold on," says Glover. "What else would she do in Hollywood?"

Fearing that her legendary sex appeal was about to curdle, her marriage to Miller crumbling and her self-esteem in the toilet, Montand never stood a chance. "Marilyn was one of these very damaged people who found reassurance in seduction. Miller was already making her feel inferior and Simone would make anyone feel inferior."

Glover thinks Monroe used sex with intriguing, powerful men to fill these perceived gaps in herself. "She liked special people. Marilyn married Miller partly to gain status and knowledge. She desperately wanted to read Ulysses and play Cordelia. She knew the part by heart."

For Signoret, Montand's public betrayal and the ensuing headlines and hoohah, was an unbearable humiliation and affront to her dignity. "It embittered her, for a while she really lost the place, which is what will happen if you will be utterly devoted to a man like that."

Marilyn's downward spiral gained momentum and she died two years after Let's Make Love. Signoret lived until 1985, continued her distinguished career and was nominated for a César for her role in her last film, L'étoile du Nord in 1982. The summer of 1960 may have been a turning point in Signoret's life but she refused to blame her friend for it. After her death she famously said: "She will never know how much I didn't hate her."



'Marilyn', Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (0141 429 0022) tonight to 12 March; Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (0131 248 4848) 15 March to 2 April

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea