Eric Woodard has an extensive background when it comes to Marilyn Monroe. He authored "Hometown Girl," a guide to Marilyn Monroe sites in Los Angeles, he organized the publication of a Marilyn paper doll book, "Film Fashions by Travilla," he blogs about Travilla, who designed most of Marilyn's most famous costumes, and he also runs an online store devoted to Travilla merchandise at CafePress.com/TravillaStyle.
Always researching, Eric has recently written about an aspect of Marilyn Monroe's life that is frequently overlooked—her passion project, "Rain." Marilyn was eager to star in an adaption of "Rain," but it never happened. Most Marilyn fans have heard about "Rain" in passing, but this is (to my knowledge) the first in-depth research into a project that she was so excited about. It's extensive, so it will be broken up into pieces, but it's an enjoyable journey to learn more about this long-ignored part of Marilyn's life. A newspaper article announcing the negotiations of "Rain" appeared on January 6, 1961, so today is the perfect day start examining the project. Without further adieu—here is Eric Woodard's research on "Rain."
With the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's untimely passing, several new biographies have joined the numerous others written about the screen goddess—filled with new interviews, information and previously unknown minute details thanks to the discovery of a large cache of Monroe's personal and professional papers as well as former boyfriends, classmates and co-workers finally breaking their silence.
But with all that has been revealed, one particular event mentioned in almost all biographies, but very little more than a few paragraphs or a couple of pages, is Monroe's ill-fated project that would have been her dramatic debut on the growing medium of television, playing the character Sadie Thompson in W. Somerset Maugham's "Rain."
Marilyn had previously appeared on the "Jack Benny Show" in a comedic skit to promote "How to Marry a Millionaire,” and was interviewed on Edward R Murrow's "Person to Person" program with Milton and Amy Greene. She even appeared in an early television commercial for Royal Triton Oil. But she had never attempted such an important project as this one.
I stumbled upon a cache of documents, notes and contracts that dealt with "Rain" on eBay in 2007 and managed to acquire them and then promptly stored them away in my research library as I was involved in other projects. Not until last August did I consider loaning them to a writer for an upcoming 2013 book on Marilyn, but decided not to until I did a bit more research on my own. I always thought that this project wasn't written about because there wasn't much material to go on, but online newspaper archives turned up over 100 articles and columns connected with the production. Combining them with the papers I'd purchased and other items found from other sources, I believe this is the most concise and detailed version of exactly what happened from start to finish and why it didn't come to be.
With it being the 52nd anniversary of the first announcement of the production in the newspaper, now would be a good time to share it.
One of Somerset Maugham's most well-known pieces of work, "Miss Thompson," about a free-wheeling and free-loving spirit who confronts a fire-and-brimstone preacher on a South Pacific island, was based on his experiences during a 1916 South Seas cruise. The short story was rejected by numerous publications including "Cosmopolitan" before being purchased for $200 by "Smart Set" and published in April 1921. Soon thereafter, Maugham gave his permission to collaborators John Colton and Colemence Randolph to turn his story into a stage play now entitled "Rain," which opened in 1922 with Jeanne Eagels in the lead.
The Synopsis of "Rain"
A boat is temporarily stranded on the South Pacific island of Pago Pago due to a possible cholera outbreak on board. Among the passengers are Alfred Davidson, a self-righteous missionary, his wife Mrs. Davidson, and Sadie Thompson, a prostitute. Thompson passes the time partying with the American Marines stationed on the island. A Sergeant Tim O'Hara, nicknamed by Sadie as "Handsome," falls in love with her, but Thompson's wild behavior becomes more than the Davidsons can stand. Mr. Davidson confronts Sadie resolving to save her soul.
When she dismisses his offer, Davidson has the Governor order her deported back to San Francisco where she is a wanted woman. She begs Davidson to allow her to remain on the island a few more days, allowing her to flee to Australia. During a heated argument with Davidson, she apparently experiences a religious conversion and agrees to return to San Francisco and the punishment waiting for her there. The evening before her departure, Sergeant O'Hara proposes to Sadie, offering to hide her until the Sydney boat sails, but she refuses. Later, the repressed Davidson succumbs to Sadie's allure and accosts her. The next morning, he is found dead on the ocean shore from a suicide. Thompson switches back to her old self and goes off to Australia with O'Hara to start a new life.
An immediate success, it was Eagels’ first leading role and she toured for two seasons with the show before returning to Broadway in 1926 for her farewell performance to reclaim the role from Gloria Swanson who played Sadie in the 1925 silent "Miss Thomson." Eagels died in 1929 and didn't get a chance to see 1933's black and white sound version starring Joan Crawford. Nor did she experience the infamous 1935 revival starring Tallulah Bankhead, the failed 1944 musical version starring June Havoc, the 1946 all-Negro musical "Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.” or the 1953 Technicolor all-white "Sadie Thompson" with Rita Hayworth in the lead.
It was only a matter of time before it reached television. And it was a woman who planned on making it happen.
Making it happen
Ann Marlowe was one of the few female producers in the early years of television. In 1950, she flew to London and returned with the exclusive television rights to Somerset Maugham's entire body of work. Their first collaboration was the 1951 series "A String of Pearls." Over the next decade Marlowe produced no less than 15 of Maugham scripts with her 1959 big coup being "The Moon and Sixpence" starring Laurence Olivier. The full-color $350,000 production received major critical acclaim and soon after Marlowe began working on Maugham's next project, a "South Seas Series" of which "Rain" was a perfect candidate. And Marlowe wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part of Sadie Thompson.
In a January 6, 1961, article announcing the negotiations, Marlowe told the New York Times, "I started to work on the idea of 'Rain' and Marilyn Monroe a year ago. Although her agents had never been able to get her to do television, I talked to her about it and she said she was interested but would have to wait until she finished a picture and came back to New York. When she returned from the coast, we started working on it and now the lawyers are drawing up contracts."
However, this was not the first time Marilyn had been considered for the role. On February 4, 1956, the Ottawa Citizen reported, "Nod that Marilyn Monroe can do all the TV her blonde heart desires, watch for her to play Sadie Thompson in Somerset Maugham's television version of "Rain"—in the spring, tra la ... Linda Darnell was hoping to play Sadie but, with Marilyn there first, she'll probably settle for "Liliom" on "Producer's Showcase."
It's interesting to note that this was about a month before Marilyn began filming "Bus Stop" (1956) under her new 20th Century Fox contract. Perhaps she and Marilyn Monroe Productions partner, Milton Greene, were interested in this as her television debut before filming "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957). Photographs taken on Fox’s back lot by Milton of Monroe, dressed in one of her costumes as Cherie—tight black skirt, green patterned half-blouse, mended fish-net hose and black pumps with a chain strap purse—and one can certainly picture a lady of the evening. In fact, the series of prints offered by the Greene Archives of this shoot is called the "Hooker Series."
In September 1960, Monroe's name again appeared, connected to "Rain" when actor Jeffery Holder, guesting for vacationing columnist Dorothy Kilgallen wrote, "I ran into a man in the street one day who wanted me to play Reverend Davidson in a revival of ‘Rain.’ He said he was thinking of Marilyn Monroe to play Sadie Thompson. When I called the man back, they had him in Bellevue." This was obviously a planted item, as the still-segregated America would not accept the Jamaican actor in a sexually based storyline with a white actress. And, the 6-foot 5-inch Holder would tower over Monroe, who stood just over 5 5 1/2 inches, 5 foot 8 inches in heels.
Marlowe also mentioned Frederic March and his wife Florence Eldridge for the roles of Reverend Davidson and Mrs. Davidson. By 1961, Oscar winner Frederic March was best known to audiences from his performances in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "A Star is Born," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Death of a Salesman," and "Inherit the Wind" in his 40-year career. Currently in New York City filming "The Young Doctors," March told reporters "they would have to see a script before deciding to accept or not." Monroe's press agent John Springer also commented, "It is not firm yet, but the deal is pretty sure."
Interestingly enough, columnist Mike Connolly gave his readers a hint something was about to happen when he reported on January 4th that Marilyn and her acting coaches, the Strasbergs, had just incorporated as partners to produce television films.
Earl Wilson's January 10th column's featured a blurb announcing the show with "Lee Strasberg'll direct" and his January 12th column led with several paragraphs of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn's recent dating spree in New York City then later in regards to "Rain" that "Paddy Chayefsky has been mentioned as a writer for the project."
To be continued...