Friday, February 22, 2013

A Two-Dimensional Biopic About Marilyn Monroe

Reviewed In An Open Letter to Julia Houston about BOMBSHELL

Dear Julia,
When Peter compared the script of BOMBSHELL, the new Marilyn musical from SMASH, to a two-dimensional biopic of Marilyn Monroe's life, I almost dropped my clam-feta-spinach pizza on my jeans. Honey, I have been to a two-dimensional biopic of Marilyn Monroe's life and that is one place you don't want to go. But I decided to revisit a two-dimensional biopic of Marilyn Monroe's life anyway. I'm going in, Julia - so you don't have to!

The Sex Symbol purports to tell the story of Monroe's life through its tale of Kelly Williams (Connie Stevens in a career-halting performance). It details her marriages (teenage, sports figure, creative figure), affairs (politician, movie studio heads) and the erratic behavior (alcohol, drugs) that leads to death, naked and alone, in the bedroom of her Hollywood home. The Sex Symbol aired on September 17, 1974 as an episode of The Movie Of The Week, ABC's anthology series of 73 minute world premiere television movies. The screenplay was based on The Symbol, a roman à clef novel by Alvah Bessie so, although technically not a biopic, it's close (and two-dimensional) enough for our purposes here.

Connie Stevens, in what I recall being touted as her finest acting achievement to date, cries, coos, snots and coddles her way through this one, trying to elicit sympathy but only succeeding in being disagreeable. Like the most enduring over-the-top performances, Stevens thought she was on to something; well I'm not sure what she was on to but it doesn't feel like acting. Her decision to go nude though (with strategically crossed legs) cements this as one that will be remembered in the dankest cobwebs of the Internet.

The movie takes place the night of Williams' death as the symbol drinks, drugs and ruminates about her circumstances, sometimes speaking with her psychiatrist or other persons on the telephone. Flashbacks detail her triumphs (cement breasts at Grauman's Chinese Theatre) and tragedies (a dad who won't talk to her on the phone) with these vignettes filling in the gaps missed while laughing at Ms. Stevens' frizzy hair and one note emote. In all fairness, I must admit to having a lump in my throat at the ACTUAL death scene; she kind of grew on me.

Aside from documenting the major Monroe life points, the focus of the movie is a grudge match between the symbol and gossip columnist Agatha Murphy, played by Shelley Winters. Aggie is a mashup of Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper - and considering this was the '70s, Rona Barrett. Aggie hates Kelly and does everything in her power to destroy her. Many of the movie's scenes are comprised of Williams and entourage watching Aggie destroy her on television - which does not make for exciting television watching for those of us on this side of the box.

The Sex Symbol was über controversial in the '70s. Two versions of the film were released. The first in which Stevens is clothed in a negligee during her climactic death was filmed for American television. The second in which the negligee drops to the floor early on was filmed for European theaters. The European theatrical version runs 108 minutes - that's 35 more minutes of, among other things, boobies, lesbianism, rape and a bedroom scene in which Williams and her artist husband discuss her frigidity (without actually using the word). Upon announcing plans to air The Sex Symbol, ABC was threatened with legal action although nothing came of the talk.

The Sex Symbol is, what they call in the biz, timeless. The movie was made in 1974 for probably $500,000. The clothes are decidedly 70s but the business of Hollywood is decidedly 50s. Throw that in with the gossip columnist wielding so much power being more of a 30s-40s concept and we have the history of show business. That's quite an accomplishment for such a tiny movie.

So Julia if the script for BOMBSHELL is anything like this movie, listen to Peter!!! Although by the time you've read this, you'll probably be sleeping with him thus, undoubtedly, listening to him. I would.


The Sex Symbol has never been released for home sale on any digital media format. I have an MP4 of the European version. Leave a comment or email me if you'd like a copy.

See my Pinterest page for a slew of
pictures of Connie Stevens from throughout her life and career.


  1. yes! i've vague memories of watching this at the time it first aired on tv (i would have been 13 or so). i'd love to have a mp4 copy of the European version. thanks.

  2. Send me an email address.

  3. big big hugs and thanks if you leave me a link at:

  4. OMG, I'd love a copy or know where to find this gem!


  5. I've been dying to see this! The only copy I've found had Spanish subtitles and an out of sync audio track. I know this post is old but if you now where I can get this film, please let me know. Thanks!

  6. I've been dying to see this! I found one copy with Spanish subtitles and an out of sync audio track but otherwise, no dice. If you know where to get this, please let me know. Thanks!

  7. Nothing's old in the Man's land! I'll send you an email.

  8. Very good article. Could you send me a copy of this movie? Thanks so much.

  9. On it's way, Rodney ... I mean Jerry.

  10. Hi Michael! I'd love a copy of this is still available please. I'm still totally in love with the copy of "Valley Of The Dolls 1981" you sent me before!

    Many many thanks!

  11. It's interesting to me that in 1974 they had to pretend that similarities to Marilyn Monroe were "purely coincidental" but in 1976 they could release "Goodbye, Norma Jean" and make no qualms about it. Maybe "The Sex Symbol" paved the way for all the biopics that followed. Please send the MP4 to:

    Thank you.

  12. Late but I just tried sending the link, Thom. The email was returned as undeliverable. Thanks for the comment.

  13. Better late than never, James. Just sent you the link. Glad you like Valley of the Dolls 1981 - still available for those would like it.