Famous Hollywood Audio Recordings

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Marlon Brando is known for his brooding good looks and charisma on the big screen, but a new documentary from filmmaker Stevan Riley explores a more intimate side of the iconic actor. Listen to Me Marlon is compiled from private audio tapes that the actor recorded in his home and during downtime.

“The tapes, some of them audio journals, some of them affirmations, some self-hypnosis, are candid and critical; he discusses his doubts, his womanizing, his disengagement from acting,” writes our own Jason Bailey. The audio was extremely emotional for Brando’s daughter Rebecca to listen to. She even walked out of the film’s first Sundance screening. While Hollywood is an image-driven industry, we can learn a lot about our favorite stars by listening to their voices and hearing them compose their thoughts in another medium. Here are several insightful audio recordings from some of Hollywood’s finest.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe discusses how her life was changed by fame in an interview for Life Magazine, recorded two days before her death in 1962. The recordings ran over eight hours long. Interviewer Richard Meryman notes that the actress drank champagne and became increasingly angry recalling the treatment she received by Hollywood, which she felt never took her seriously as an actress.

James Dean

During a break from shooting his most famous role in Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean spoke about his approach to acting. He had just wrapped up his Oscar-nominated role in East of Eden. “Jimmy” Dean, as the interviewer calls him, died just one month before the release of Rebel Without a Cause.

Mae West

Mae West was banned from NBC following a risqué radio broadcast in 1937. She appeared on the variety show The Chase and Sanborn Hour in a segment as a saucy Eve to Don Ameche’s Adam. “Adam, my man, give me trouble!” she purrs. The FCC opened an investigation after moral groups flipped out. West was told never to come back. She didn’t do radio again until 1950.

Orson Welles

Filmmaker Orson Welles became famous and played the greatest prank of all time when he directed and narrated a 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds and convinced a panicked nation that they were under attack by extraterrestrial beings. The broadcast would go on to influence science fiction stories, in books and on the big screen, for decades.

Elvis Presley

The King of Rock and Roll started his film career with 1956’s Love Me Tender. Earlier that year, his first RCA single “Heartbreak Hotel” became a number one hit in the United States, catapulting him to fame. This 1956 recording of the artist captures him during the whirlwind of his early successes.

Stanley Kubrick

As we just wrote, 2001 director Stanley Kubrick had a love of gadgets — particularly tape recorders. The filmmaker owned several, unlike New Yorker writer Jeremy Bernstein, who interviewed Kubrick in 1965. Kubrick took over the chat by grabbing one of his own recorders and started taking. It’s a rare portrait of a private artist as he discusses his childhood, working relationships, and more.

Judy Garland

In 1961, Judy Garland performed the Larry Shay, Mark Fisher, and Joe Goodwin standard “When You’re Smiling” at her famous Carnegie Hall concert — once dubbed “the greatest night in show business history.” But she apparently recorded her signature song (one of them, anyway) in 1951 for CBS Radio.

King Kong

This one’s for you, King Kong fans:

This historically significant and extremely rare audio recording was made by one of the early pioneers of documentary filmmaking: Ernest B. Schoedsack, co-director of KING KONG (1933). Schoedsack was considered one of the finest cameramen in early Hollywood. His “tape letter” was made for film historian George Turner sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s. (This is an edited version of it. I do own the complete transcript.) This fascinating oral document gives us a firsthand account of the Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack adventures. It also benefits from the contributions of Schoedsack’s wife, Ruth Rose, and actor Robert Armstrong, who tells an anecdote about the making of Kong.