I am fascinated by Marilyn Monroe.
Wikipedia has her short biography description as follows:
"Marilyn Monroe was an American actress, model, and singer. Famous for playing comedic "blonde bombshell" characters, she became one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and early 1960s and was emblematic of the era's changing attitudes towards sexuality."
Very general explanation for someone who has stood the test of time and influenced many generations, huh? She was much more than her looks and that particular above description, as I believe most would agree. It's not Marilyn's beauty that fascinates me. Her psychology and how she lived is more intriguing to me, now, especially living and working in the town that she helped make so famous. There are a multitude of landmarks in Los Angeles that are attributed to Marilyn, in one way or another. I did a hunt, one day, of most of them, that ook me all over town. They all have a “Marilyn story” attached to them, big or small. I was a little possessed by this hunt and was especially intrigued by how many places she had lived in, and in a not so glamorous fashion. She flitted this way and that, staying with friends, like most typical actresses do when they are starting out, except she did it well past the “starting out” stage. Even the home in which she purchased, lived in for six months and the bedroom where she was found dead, was not as glamorous as one would dream.
Marilyn apparently lived in 43 homes in her 36 years (if you would like to view the list of her residences to go on your own hunt, info will be at the bottom of this blog.) Although she had owned prior homes with former spouses, the home where the late actress was found unresponsive was the only one that she purchased herself, at the urging of her psychologist who told her to “put down some roots.” Inscribed on tiles, embedded in the front stoop of her house, were the Latin words Cursum Perficio, which means "My journey is over" or "I have completed my journey." Words that unfortunately came true for Marilyn, only six months after moving into the home.
The history of an icon comes with much speculation and a lot of truths and untruths. So many people come out of the woodwork, after a celebrity dies, and they tell tales which can no longer be confirmed or denied by the celebrity in question, especially celebrities that predate the internet and smartphone eras. Upon my research of Marilyn’s bio, I kept hearing about an old TV movie, Marilyn and Me (1991), starring actress, and now much celebrated Marilyn Monroe impersonator, Susan Griffiths. I had been searching for this film for years, but it hasn’t been available to the public until now, thanks to Amazon Prime Video. Oh, the wonders of streaming!
Over the course of staying at home this year, flipping through the "next best thing" to watch, like everyone else, I landed upon Marilyn and Me on Amazon Prime. Very excited to view it, I hunkered down on my bed, with my own framed Frank Worth photo of Marilyn lounging in sheer bliss, that resides just above my headboard, and I delved into Susan Griffith's uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, which had me captivated, to say the least. My immediate thought was that if this film were done today, it would be celebrated in a much more media blitz type manner, with social media going ballistic and Susan would no doubt launch to super stardom. The film portrays the life of Robert Slatzer, an American writer who claimed to have married Marilyn while in Mexico, in 1952 (of course, there is no proof that this happened, which is why I was intrigued). He met her when she was just starting to delve into acting. Their secret affair has many ups and downs, as Marilyn is conflicted about her love of Slatzer and her love of becoming a movie star (according to him). As I watched, my inkling was that this story is probably just like so many I had heard hunting her residences all over town...it was probably just the fantasy of a fan who showed up a few times to press events where Marilyn was and took opportunity photos with her and then utilized those photos to tell another tale long after she was gone in a pseudo autobiography. All in all, the film is worth a watch, solely for Susan Griffith’s enchanting performance. If you’re wondering why Susan might seem familiar, it is because beyond her lead role as Marilyn in Marilyn and Me, she also has appeared as Marilyn Monroe in Pulp Fiction, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Quantum Leap, Time Cop, Dark Skies, Cybill, and Nip/Tuck to only name a few.
I had so many questions about the story behind the film and about actress Susan Griffiths after watching, that I had to find and contact her for a few one-on-one questions. She needs to be celebrated.
Before I get into that, I just want to show you a brief collage of how uncanny her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe is.
TD: Tell me, in brief, what your background is, where did you grow up and at what point did you realize that you had an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Monroe?
SG: Grew up in So California, moved to Utah when I was 11. When I was 16, with brunette hair, people would say you look like Marilyn Monroe, which meant nothing to me, as I was not familiar with her at all. When I moved back to California and started highlighting my hair, it was a weekly comment.
TD: Did you pursue acting and entertainment as Susan Griffiths before focusing in solely on Marilyn jobs?
SG: After 5 years of being a Marilyn impersonator, I dyed my hair dark, moved back to LA, from Vegas, to pursue and acting career as myself.
TD: Also, what do you prefer your occupation in doing so to be called? Impersonator? Look-alike? I am not aware, so that is a genuine question. Teach us.
SG: I started as a “look-alike”, that is just someone who looks like someone, an impersonator is someone who portrays them. I thought of myself as a channeler, and I would allow this person to work through me.
TD: When did you hear about the casting call for Marilyn and Me? Did you immediately get excited, at the chance of being seen for this role? Role of a Lifetime type thing? What was that casting process like?
SG: After a year of being in LA and only being represented by a commercial agent (which I landed a national commercial on my 3rd time going out and didn't know at the time how lucky that was), I was doing what I encourage all young people who want to be an actor to do; you have to network, go to class, meet other actors. I knew of two Marilyn Monroe projects and I called about one and they said they are making Marilyn and Me, instead. In my gym clothes, I went to the casting office (I was brunette) to drop off a photo and as fate would have it, both casting directors were there. They looked up at me, and I knew how they were looking at me was probably a good thing. So, I got an audition (no agent). When I was auditioning, they stopped me and said, “we want you to be good.” Those wer the magical words, as I was then able to relax, and on to see network executives I went. Going to network for final casting is the most intimidating experience ever.
TD: Had you been working as Marilyn prior to this?
SG: Yes, but a few bit parts and years of stage shows.
TD: How much did you know about Marilyn, prior to being cast and how did you prepare?
SG: By this time, I had mastered making her facial expressions and body movements second nature, so it was more natural, less contrived.
TD: The TV movie, Marilyn and Me, is based on the “alleged” relationship between Robert Slatzer and Marilyn Monroe. About the actual history of the story between Marilyn and Robert “Bob" Slatzer, what can you tell us was embellished in the script vs reality that you were made aware of during filming? Just from photos and interviews of him, I can see that Bob Slatzer was not as charming or handsome, as he depicted himself in the TV movie, and it made me curious as to why that was also a choice. What was your personal relationship with him during filming and how helpful was that to your performance? I wonder if he fascinated over your uncanny resemblance like the public does.
SG: Robert came to see me in Vegas, he looked at me and said, “You will be cast when I make my movie.” I didn't take any of that very seriously. I am sure he wanted me in the part, when five years later it happened, but he did not have final say, and it was the casting directors who were the main push. I do not believe his story and he was an odd duck. Yes, the actor who played him, Jesse Dabson, was a real step up, looks wise. But at the time, we were making the movie and having been given the chance of a lifetime to go from bit parts to starring in a MOTW, it was all good for me. I got an agent (Gersh) and it allowed me to start my career in an amazing way, so win-win, but disappointed in the substance of it.
TD: Upon doing my own research of Robert Slatzer, I learned that most Marilyn fans do not believe that he had the relationship he depicts in his books/scripts. I wonder what your feelings were on this at the time of filming versus now where you state that you don’t believe his story. I can see both side of this story, as someone who has had my picture taken many times with strangers and fans, that any fan could easily have a photo of me and then project false information about the inner workings of our relationship just from having picture proof of our momentary personal interaction. The difference with today is that social media and the internet has become a barometer of truth to some degree. Robert Slatzer places himself in some pretty important moments of her timeline from unknown to huge star. But in the case of Marilyn, there is no way to prove either way, with what we have, historically speaking, on record, as to what their real relationship was or became. What percentage of his story would you gauge to be true?
SG: I think 90% is not true.
TD: Beyond simply being a doppleganger of Marilyn Monroe in physical appearance, you have also mastered her mannerisms and speech patterns. Prior to being cast in this film, you mentioned that you organically channeled her. What was that one aha moment where you said, ok, I have it!?
SG: The key for me was making it second nature. And at times, I would feel like I was letting the performance flow through me. My biggest regret is that I wish the project had been authentic and that it would have had more merit, but such is life.
TD: What was the reception of this film in 1991? Reviews? Press interviews? How did you benefit from this role, at that time? Did it help you land other acting jobs, not pertaining to Marilyn?
SG: When I went to the press day for ABC, John Stamos who I had met when I was doing Legends, in concert, also had a MOTW, he said, “Hey! They are putting your movie in the opening of the new fall season.” Well, that sounded fantastic, but they ended up putting Dolly Parton's movie and another big one up against mine, which was not the best for the project. Timing is everything. But Gersh sent me out on a TV pilot called Danger Theatre and I got the lead with Melinda Clark. We played twins which was flattering, as she was 10 years younger. Had it been picked up, I would have had a TV series on Fox. I had to back out of Calendar Girl, another Marilyn portrayal, to do this, but the pilot was a chance to act in something other than playing Marilyn.
TD: Everyone knows you are the first call and notably the most famous when looking for a Marilyn double. When did you decide to turn this into a full-time business and what is that world like?
SG: After Pulp Fiction, I did a few other good parts, but it was becoming less and less, and doing Marilyn was a constant flow of jobs for me. Around then, I went back to riding that wave. I then did my Elton John Candle in the Wind photographic portrayal, that consistently ran in his tour until all concerts were shut down, met photographer David La’Chapelle, and had some amazing projects with him, Nip/Tuck, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc. So, it seemed this was the direction to go, and Hollywood had changed so much.
TD: Do you work with Authentic Brands Group who run Marilyn’s estate, or do you work with an agency that focuses solely on this type of work? How do you go about getting jobs? Can people contact you to hire you directly?
SG: My last project with my commercial agents was a Mercedes commercial, but it was meant to show Marilyn Monroe older. So, I don't participate in anything that would cast Marilyn Monroe for TV or movies, as that time has passed, BUT I do have great clients who book me for shows and corporate jobs and that is all done through me.
TD: You have surpassed Marilyn’s living age. How much responsibility do you feel in keeping up her memory and looking as how she is remembered and is that a tough job?
SG: It's huge. I do work hard to look my best. I can only say that my resemblance and what I can bring to the table, after years of doing her, keep me working.
TD: What do you think she would look like or be doing now, pending she did not pass away?
SG: Because I think she was a self-medicating bipolar, I think the road would have been rough, not to say that she couldn't have gotten through it, as so many have. But given the time, and the way things were at that time, it would have been a lot. But no doubt, she could have done great things if she was able to power through.
TD: Is there something you haven’t done as Marilyn yet that you want to do? Anyone you want to work with? I for one, have a short film idea that I would like to do with you. (I told her my idea, but removed it, to be revealed at a later date.)
SG: The idea of playing Marilyn, had she lived, has stalked me for a long time, so funny you should have an idea about this (a very interesting one at that). Yes, that is what's left for me, and it would be amazing.
TD: As mentioned, you are the most famous Marilyn out there. Give us a run-down of all the favorites in the huge and illustrious jobs and people you have worked with.
SG: Loved working with John Travolta and Quentin Tarantino. Loved David La'Chapelle and the filming of Candle in the Wind. I first heard that song when I was beginning my career, and to be involved with Elton, all these years, is a dream come true. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, I spent two days talking to Dustin Hoffman!! Oh boy! That was a pinch-me moment. I loved Scott Bakula on Quantum Leap. And both stars of Nip/Tuck. It's been an amazing ride!!
TD: Please list all of your social media and contact info for people to find you:
Do you want to take a map tour of Marilyn Monroe's residences...Click Here!
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