Even more than 50 years after her death, people are still in thrall to Marilyn Monroe. The screen actress, who combined a sexy breathy voice with iconic blonde hair and total movie star power, is still studied and written about, and portrayed by drag queens.
But actual women impersonate Marilyn as well, and one such woman is Sunny Thompson. She brings Marilyn: Forever Blonde, a show created by her husband Greg Thompson, to the Winter Garden Theatre from Feb 11 to 15. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.
“It wasn’t my first choice of a part to take on. It’s a meaty challenge,” explains Sunny via telephone. “I did extensive research. It’s a daunting process to take on such an iconic figure and there is always a lot of criticism, but I did 14 months of research and have amassed quite a big Marilyn library.”
Sunny did more than read books and watch movies, though. She actually met with people who knew the iconic screen goddess. “I met with Milton Green’s son, and I met a couple of her make-up artists, who know so much from spending so much time with her. Marilyn took between four to six hours to get ready for an event. She was terrified to go out there in front of crowds, notorious for getting ready and then saying ‘Oh, I forgot to take a bath’ and they’d have to start all over.”
The one-woman show takes place at her final photo shoot famous for its use of billowing white sheets, on a set inspired by Douglas Kirkland’s book about the same. “We use only Marilyn’s words in the play. Thank God she was witty,” says Sunny. There are also 17 songs, in partial form, woven through the text and acting as ironic counterpoint.
When it comes to Marilyn’s fans, there are those who think she tragically took her own life, and those who think she was murdered. The former is the official explanation that never quite seemed right. The latter is a new thing, backed up by extensive research. My buddy Darwin Porter’s book Marilyn at Rainbow’s End, puts forth the theory that mobsters sedated her and then injected her with poison in the anus, where it was unlikely the coroner would find the needle mark.
Sunny’s heard a different but similar theory. “I think it’s safe to say she was murdered, poisoned via enema by her housekeeper, who was unavailable for questioning after the funeral because she went to Sam Giancanna’s home town in Italy for six months.” That poor famous anus, the ultimate vulnerable part of her. It may be impossible to ever know for sure if she was indeed murdered – by the Mob, the Kennedys, whoever - but one thing is certain. Marilyn Monroe was one of a kind.
“She was so funny and lovely,” says Sunny. “And sexy. That’s a part of me I don’t necessarily show, nor would I show that much vulnerability, but that’s what makes it wonderful to portray her from an actor’s standpoint.” Just as wonderful as it will be to watch her come back to life, if only for one magical night.
Marilyn: Forever Blonde runs Wed, Feb 11 to Sun, Feb 15 at the Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge St. marilynforeverblonde.com