By Sheryl Aronson
Erin Gavin looks radiant. Her blonde wispy hair falls over the lovely face of alabaster skin, her red dress hugs the curves and shows off the delectable shoulders, and her voice is light, breathy, sensual…the actress has transformed into one of Hollywood’s most iconic and tragic actresses, Marilyn Monroe.
On November 11th, The Hollywood 360 attended the opening night of Marilyn – My Secret which was produced, directed, and written by Odalys Nanin. The production ran two consecutive week-ends at the Macha Theater in West Hollywood.
Odalys Nanin commented about Marilyn Monroe’s appeal as an actress, “She had her most sex appeal in her eyes… something in her eyes exuded special, expensive champagne where all the bubbles come out and flow over you.”
The Director wanted to portray Marilyn Monroe in two ways: The Norma Jean side and the high profile persona of the actress we all knew, Marilyn Monroe. “Marilyn Monroe was an iconic, powerful person. She was smart, she was not dumb; however, she had a tragic life. She lived at a tumultuous time and dealt with sharks, big sharks… she lived a dangerous life…”
Onstage we watch Erin depict a highly sensitive and neurotic woman who suffered from low self-esteem, a desperate need to be loved, yet at the same time very witty and observant about human behavior…especially how the powerful men she loved or married, dealt with her. Erin talked about Marilyn’s feelings about being loved, “I feel she never felt loved, but continued chasing after that real need to feel loved. What she counted on was love, marriage and kids. All the men in her life had the same characteristics. They were very manly, powerful men. She felt protected by them. That’s what she went for.
The play opens with the character of Marilyn lying face down in bed with a naked left buttock artfully being shown, as a white sheet covers the rest of her body. Open pill bottles line the night table. Erin pops up suddenly, grabs the sheet and heads to the back of the stage to put on a white robe which she mostly parades around in throughout the story. From the moment Erin tip toes back onstage in slippers and robe, we are swept along in a stream of consciousness of the inner workings of Marilyn’s serpentine labyrinth of her tragic/glamorous life.
In doing research on Monroe’s character, Erin discovered, “She had a psychiatrist from her early 20’s to the day she died. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize the dangers of popping pills back then. If you are taking uppers to stay awake and downers to go to sleep…your body gets used to them and needs more and more. That had a huge effect on her work, her personal life, everything. She mixed it with champagne. She became addicted to specific pills. She felt like she just wanted to sleep so not to be depressed.”
Although not a singer, Erin Gavin had to learn 8 songs for the production that cornered Marilyn Monroe’s reputation as a sex Goddess and talented actress. Also, Erin is from Scotland and has a strong Scottish lilt to her voice. When watching her perform the role, neither facts would seem obvious.
In an interview Erin told The Hollywood 360:
“I wasn’t sure if I could play Marilyn Monroe because of my Scottish accent, but a friend recommended I try out for the role. The night before the audition, I was crossing the street and got hit by a car. I fractured my hip and was in the hospital for a period of time. Obviously I didn’t make the audition. When I was recovering at home, I watched Marilyn Monroe movies which inspired me to call the director and explain to her what happened. She asked me to make a video of me singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” After seeing me do that, she asked me when could I come in to read the part.”
Continuing with the story…
“At the audition I sang, “I Want to be Loved by You,” read a bit from the script. The Director then asked me when could I start? I had five weeks to learn an hour and twenty minutes of dialogue, 8 songs. The other crazy thing is I’m not really a singer so I had to have someone coach me about breathing and other technical aspects of singing.”
The complexity of depicting Marilyn Monroe’s multi-layered character throughout the play required the ingenious shifting from one extreme mood to another. Gavin skillfully handles the manic ramblings, the depressing rants, the sexual predatory seductions of men & women, the sarcastic, sharp tongue, the desperate pleadings to be loved… which all culminate in Marilyn’s ultimate demise.
Attending the performance that evening was a very special person, Michael Selsman, Marilyn Monroe’s press agent for two and half years before she died.
He imparted to The Hollywood 360 some very intriguing facts around Monroe’s life and death. “I was Marilyn’s press agent for two half years before she died. I handled her funeral for 20 media outlets and it was the hottest ticket in town. People were calling me from Australia and Japan asking me not to bury her until they could get there, which would take two weeks.”
When asked what was his biggest challenge being her press agent, Selsman responded, “Everybody knew about her affair with the Kennedys, but we didn’t talk about it back then, unlike today’s world of social media. My biggest problem was keeping the media from revealing it. I traded information on other clients like Judy Garland, Rock Hudson, all three Fondas, and Jimmy Stewart in order to keep the press at bay.”
Because Michael Selsman represented Marilyn Monroe at the end of her career, he reported that there was not much fun in handling her.
“I was representing her at the end of life so she wasn’t joyous and she was very difficult. She was addicted to the alcohol and drugs and was very insecure, as many actresses are.”
However, he clearly understood her huge attraction and appeal to the masses of people.
“Her genius was in her vulnerability, which makes her the icon today 55 years after her death. People still identify with her and continue to have symphony for her.”
With complete candor, Michael Selsman talked about how he felt when she died.
“I was saddened when she died. It was not a shock. She had tried to commit suicide several times and had always reached out in the last moment to be rescued. Contrary to conspiracy theories, we all knew she basically took a lot of sleeping pills, drunk a bottle of Cristal and forgot to breathe.”
Some of the secrets of Marilyn Monroe’s life:
Erin Gavin: “She suffered from insomnia. She suffered from night terrors. She was friends with Jane Mansfield…I met with Jane Mansfield’s husband before he passed away and he told me that they would both hang on the phone together until each of them fell asleep. It was a comfort that someone was there and understood her night terrors.”
“She was in and out of 12 orphanages. She never had a normal upbringing. Her childhood was sad and unloved. Marilyn felt every child should be told they were pretty when they were growing up. She said she was never told that.”
Marilyn always said she wanted to be a successful actress and didn’t care about the fame…she rather have the respect. To go Lee Strasberg in NY where there were elite strong actors, really took courage. It took a lot of strength for her being a Hollywood actor who was known for being sexy and comedic, to sit in the class with people who didn’t have respect for her.”
Watching Erin Gavin onstage that evening, one felt the essence and totality of Marilyn Monroe fill the room. We were exposed to ever changing personality of Hollywood’s Goddess of the big screen. When Erin donned the famous white dress, as she stood over the blowing air from the subway grating below on the city street… the dress whipping up Monroe’s shapely thighs… a mystical moment occurs.
“Marilyn wanted to be the best actress she could be. I tried to also put my heart and soul into performing this part. She was someone a lot of people knew. I let her take over me.”
Champagne bubbles… to the core she was this little girl… that’s who she wanted to be 24/7… but then the dark side came out.
Michael Selsman summed up Erin Gavin’s performance as Marilyn Monroe.
“I’ve seen many Marilyn Monroe impersonators. Erin catches her like no one else.”
Photo Credit: Sheryl Aronson (unless otherwise credited)