Michelle Williams’s Oscar nomination means one more month of my least favorite activity: thinking about Marilyn Monroe. Are we done yet? The whole point of My Week With Marilyn was to validate your great aunt’s boring perception of Norma Jean – that she took great photos, was sometimes a screen gem, and confused pills for meals. I get it. Here are five screen legends with lesser-explored stories worthier of a biopic.
5. Montgomery Clift
Nearly a decade ago, Colin Farrell was in talks to star in a biopic of the gifted and visibly tragic actor who made A Place in the Sun’s insane melodrama sort of believable, From Here to Eternity a classic, and Judgment at Nuremberg the slightest bit awkward. (Was that slurring at the witness stand part of his role or everyday life?) Clift is captivating as a screen presence and as a subject, and I’d pay $16 alone to see the debilitating car accident scene where Clift’s heroic pal Elizabeth Taylor manually pulls a broken tooth out of his tongue.
Casting options: James Franco, Josh Hutcherson (eh, a stretch)
4. Lana Turner
Catherine Zeta-Jones was rumored to play Elizabeth Taylor in that Clift project – and, mysteriously, she was also reportedly up for the starring role in a Lana Turner biopic. The pearl-blonde femme fatale of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Peyton Place may not have garnered consummate praise like contemporaries Olivia de Havilland and Ingrid Bergman, but she has enough gape-worthy anecdotes to fill 90 minutes of celluloid. That time Sean Connery broke her shady beau Johnny Stompanato’s jaw on the set of Another Time, Another Place? That time her daughter killed Johnny Stompanato in self-defense (allegedly)? It’s all very Mysteries and Scandals, and some of us miss that E! series very much. Holler to you, A.J. Benza.
Casting options: Drew Barrymore, Charlize Theron
3. Fred Astaire
During Debbie Reynolds’s guest-judging stint last season on So You Think You Can Dance (where she yelled things like, “Shirtless black men?! MY FAVORITE” throughout the telecast*) we were treated to a montage of her Singin’ in the Rain highlights to kick off the night. Um, did you know actors used to work for their paychecks? Fred Astaire wasn’t in Singin’ in the Rain, but his brand of clean showmanship and effortless athleticism led to Gene Kelly’s 1952 triumph, as well as, uh, all other dance on film. An Astaire biopic could serve as a portal to a truly bygone era of talent and an overshadowed life story, including his transition out of musical films and his young wife Phyllis Potter’s death.
Casting option: My Week With Marilyn’s own Eddie Redmayne
2. Marlene Dietrich
The Teutonic goddess received a glorious sendup from Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles, but the highly quotable siren is so cool and so inimitable that I’d like to see to a valiant journeywoman try to capture her whole essence. The range is formidable: Dietrich was a leggy, top-hatted cabaret draw as well as a commanding thespian. Her turn in Witness for the Prosecution is unforgettable, and if we revisit that movie, we also get to cast someone as the scalding-hot Tyrone Power. I want it now.
Casting options: Cate Blanchett, Madonna
1. Vivien Leigh
This brings me to my last point about My Week With Marilyn: How striking was Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh? The minute she appeared as Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) anxious, jealous wife, I wanted her to steal the movie for herself and burn the rest of it in a diorama of Tara. In an age where we’re still idolizing the bejesus out of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, it’d be nice to give proper due to the woman who delivered the two most respected Best Actress performances of all time (with the possible exception of Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice). Leigh was fragile and fiery, and she was so consumed with the craft of acting that she allowed the role of Blanche DuBois to drive her into abject madness. She’s the perfect mix of glamor, guts, and diagnosable wackiness, and I doubt Elton John could distill her phenomenal power into one condescending pop ode.
Casting options: Julia Ormond, Andrea Riseborough
*Not an exact quote. I think.