Channeling Norma Jean

Winners of this year’s New Works Initiative competition include Maggy Anthony’s play about a 76-year-old Marilyn Monroe

Maggy Anthony imagines what Marilyn would be like today in her play <i>Impossibly Blond: Marilyn at 76</i>

Maggy Anthony imagines what Marilyn would be like today in her play Impossibly Blond: Marilyn at 76

Photo by David Robert

“I never compared myself to her in high school,” 67-year-old playwright Maggy Anthony says of Marilyn Monroe. “I wasn’t popular and I wasn’t beautiful. Then, two years after I graduated, I had my hair lightened. One day I ran into the captain of my high school football team and he said I looked like Marilyn. From then on I started copying her dresses and keeping my hair light.”

Anthony’s play Impossibly Blond: Marilyn at 76 is a one-woman show told from an aging Monroe’s point of view. In it, an often-bemused Monroe talks about the events of her life in retrospect. About her marriages. About her miscarriages.

Anthony’s play is one of six selected for the Nevada Shakespeare Company’s New Works Initiative 2003. The initiative allows playwrights the opportunity to hear their works read by other actors, or, in the case of Anthony, to read the works themselves. NSC put out a national call for manuscript submissions and received more than 800 entries. Four of the winning pieces were penned by local authors.

The plays are Amigas, adapted by L. Martina Young and Jeanmarie Simpson from Emma Sepulveda and Marjorie Agosin, Remains by Colleen Shelley, Hemline by Jim Lund and John Hadder, The Table by Mark Curtis, Nearby Faraway, a musical by Neal Herr and Catherine Reid, and Anthony’s Impossibly Blond.

“The forum is to nurture a work in progress,” says Gailmarie Pahmeier, a poet and University of Nevada, Reno, creative writing professor who will be leading the panel. “[The panelists] read the manuscripts in the way a literary artist reads a text. We look at the language before it’s made physical. We take into account how crisp the language is, how energetic the dialogue is, how the characters develop. We will write critical responses to these pieces, but when the language is made physical through the readings, we will probably respond quite differently.”

Pahmeier says the panel will operate almost like a writing workshop. “The idea is always to make something better,” she says. “Making art is hard enough.”

The New Works Initiative selected only one manuscript last year—Anthony’s The Acolyte. She has a winner’s attitude about being selected again this year.

“I’m a pretty good playwright,” Anthony says. “ I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t good at it, and I feel very passionate about this play. It’s very personal. It’s about me and Marilyn. It’s about being a woman in the ‘50s and ‘60s, about being older, about fame.”

Anthony’s “personal” connection to Monroe is not just an imaginative one. In 1962, Anthony’s then-husband, a magazine photographer, was commissioned to take photos on the scene of the actress’ death. Anthony and her husband arrived an hour after the body was taken away. When Anthony attended the funeral, she was disgusted and frightened at the way the crowds tore apart the flowers, the stands and even bark off of nearby trees. She moved outside the country for several years.

“I lived with that last image of what people do to their idols after they’re dead. I wanted to imagine what [Monroe] would be like if she lived on, like Elizabeth Taylor." Anthony pauses. "It is her voice in the play. It’s her speaking. It’s like channeling her. I wait to see each day if she’s going to talk to me or not."