A souvenir album featuring 34 original photos taken during Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio’s trip to Japan in early 1954 – including Joe’s stint as a coach to the Japanese baseball league, and Marilyn’s solo jaunt to Korea – will go under the hammer at a sports memorabilia sale hosted by Heritage Auctions on February 23-24, as Simon Lindley reports for Just Collecting. First sold in the 2006 auction of the DiMaggio estate, it was most likely a parting gift from the newlyweds’ hosts.
Last night, Marilyn was featured alongside Charlie Chaplin, Billie Holiday and David Bowie in the entertainment segment of the BBC series, Icons: The Story of the 20th Century. Theepisode was presented by actress Kathleen Turner, with biographer Sarah Churchwell and photographer Douglas Kirkland among the guests. Marilyn was nominated as an icon of glamour; or in Turner’s words, ‘the sex symbol who took on Hollywood.’
Her frank admission to having posed for a nude calendar, and later on her triumphant battle with Twentieth Century Fox and setting up her own production company, were cited as exemplifying her refusal to be bound by the limitations imposed on her by an industry which failed to recognise that she could have both brains and beauty. Sarah Churchwell praised her ability to spoof feminine stereotypes, with clips from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes showcasing her comedic skill.
The public vote was won by David Bowie, who will now be featured in the series finale. As noted in Mixmag, Marilyn came in second. Viewers in the UK (with a current TV licence) can watch the full episode here.
HMV is a British retail institution, serving music lovers since 1921. Sadly, in recent times it has struggled to keep up with an ever-changing market, and is currently seeking new owners after going into administration last month. It’s still trading however, so why not support this high-street stalwart and treat yourself to this DVD boxset, exclusive to HMV and featuring twelve Marilyn movies, reduced from £39.99 to a bargain £24.99? (More details here.)
A lock of Marilyn’s hair – comprising around 35 strands, and preserved by Kenneth Battelle, her stylist from 1958-62 – is currently on offer from autograph dealer Moments in Time for $16,500, as TMZ reports. It’s said Kenneth collected several locks as gifts for friends; and though undeniably peculiar, this sale is not unprecedented as two locks of Marilyn’s hair from the estate of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull were previously sold for $70,000 at Julien’s in 2016. (You can read my tribute to ‘Mr. Kenneth’ here.)
Carol Channing, the legendary Broadway star who originated the role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, has died aged 97.
Born in Seattle in 1921, Carol and her parents moved to San Francisco when she was two weeks old. Her mother Adelaide was of German Jewish descent and her father George was part African-American (on his mother’s side.) A newspaper editor by profession, George was also a Christian Science practitioner and teacher.
At sixteen, Carol left home to major in drama in Bennington College in Vermont. In 1941, she won her first Broadway part as Eve Arden’s understudy in a revue, Let’s Face It! That year she was married for the first time, to writer Theodore Naidish. They divorced after five years.
In 1948, Carol won a Theatre World Award for her featured role in another revue, Lend An Ear. Stacy Eubank noted in Holding A Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, that on June 16, a little-known starlet, 22 year-old Marilyn Monroe, attended the opening night at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood, where she was photographed with director Bill Eythe and actor Bill Callahan.
Illustrator Al Hirschfeld published a caricature of Carol as a flapper in the show, the first of many portraits to come. She even credited his artwork with helping her win the part of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Jule Styne’s musical adaptation of the 1926 novel by Anita Loos opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in December 1949, running for almost two years. In her 2002 memoir, Just Lucky I Guess, Carol wrote that Loos had told Styne, ‘That’s my Lorelei!’ after seeing Lend An Ear in New York. Styne promptly wrote a new song for Carol, ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.’
In January 1950, Carol made the cover of Time magazine. She was married again that year, to footballer Axe Carson, and they had a son, Channing Carson. After her third marriage to manager and publicist Charles Lowe in 1956, he was renamed Chan Lowe and went on to become a successful cartoonist.
Darryl F. Zanuck swiftly acquired the film rights to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for Twentieth Century Fox. Carol was duly invited to Los Angeles for a screen test, but it was generally assumed that Betty Grable, the studio’s reigning blonde star of musical comedy, would get the part. In any case, Carol had already decided to take the show to London after the Broadway run ended.
In mid-June of 1951, Marilyn Monroe flew to New York, where she spent several days. Columnist Dorothy Manners would report that she had been given tickets by Fox to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – perhaps as a warning to Grable, who was then on suspension. ‘Physically, Marilyn fits the bill,’ Manners noted, ‘but whether she is experienced enough to take on a top comedy performance remains to be seen.’
In her autobiography, Carol claimed that Marilyn was instructed to see the play every night for a month, which is doubtless an exaggeration given Marilyn’s busy schedule. Chronically shy, Marilyn never ventured backstage. “Our orchestra never saw anyone that beautiful before,” Carol recalled. “For the first time they were all looking at Marilyn instead of our conductor…”
That November, after Blondes finally closed, the New York Post‘s Earl Wilson reported that Marilyn hoped to play Lorelei on the screen. In his 1992 biography of Monroe, Donald Spoto wrote that Fox informed Marilyn the part was hers on June 1, 1952 (her 26th birthday.) Nonetheless, the studio kept up the intrigue for several weeks before announcing it to the press, still claiming that Grable would star, with Marilyn turning brunette to play Lorelei’s friend Dorothy.
When the news broke on June 23, Hedda Hopper wrote that Carol had responded with a 200-word telegram to Fox, while Grable denied asking Zanuck for the part. Marilyn was now the studio’s rising star, but as Stacy Eubank observes, she was still on a standard contract and would cost Fox far less than either Grable or Channing.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a golden opportunity for Marilyn, and a huge success when it opened in 1953. “I was heartsick over the whole thing, of course,” Carol admitted, and she also felt that Jack Cole’s flamboyant choreography “completely upstaged” the lyrics.
“I do think it was one of her best movies,” Carol reflected on Marilyn’s performance. “Not funny, however. They didn’t use one word of Anita’s original book, which was hilarious and which was what constantly kept the stage musical on a higher level. Anita didn’t write the musical’s book. So where they didn’t insert the original book it was mundane. It was the stock formula for a dated Broadway musical. I followed Anita’s original Lorelei character ferociously…”
“You can cast Lorelei two ways,” Loos explained. “With the cutest, prettiest, littlest girl in town, or with a comedienne’s comment on the cutest, prettiest, littlest girl in town. I wrote her as a comedy, and Broadway is attuned to satire.” Carol’s broader interpretation was perfect for the stage, whereas Marilyn brought a softer, more innocent quality to Lorelei.
During the 1950s, Carol replaced Gracie Allen as a comedy foil to George Burns. “Finding roles that suit the strange and wonderful charms of Carol Channing has always been a problem to Broadway showmen,” a 1955 cover story for LIFE read. “She looks like an overgrown kewpie. She sings like a moon-mad hillbilly. Her dancing is crazily comic. And behind her saucer eyes is a kind of gentle sweetness that pleads for affection.”
Her next great role was in Hello, Dolly! (1964.) She befriended Broadway newcomer Barbara Streisand, only to lose out again when the younger actress was cast in the film adaptation. A registered Democrat, Carol campaigned for Lyndon B. Johnson and was a favourite of his wife, Lady Bird. In 1966, she won the Sarah Siddons Award, and finally achieved movie stardom alongside Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), winning a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress, and an Oscar nomination.
In 1970, Carol became the first celebrity to perform at a Super Bowl halftime. Three years later, she was revealed to have been on disgraced president Richard Nixon’s Master List of Political Opponents – which she quipped was the highest accolade of her career.
The 53-year-old revisited her early success in Lorelei (1974), a reworking of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes featuring songs cut from the original play, and broke box-office records by selling out for six consecutive days in just 24 hours. She also frequently appeared on television, including a 1987 Jules Styne special in which she performed ‘Little Girl From Little Rock.’
In 1998, Carol separated from her husband of forty years, Charles Lowe. He passed away shortly afterwards. She would marry once more in 2003, after rekindling her romance with high-school sweetheart Harry Kullijian. He died in 2011. Carol maintained her faith in Christian Science, followed a strict organic diet and swore off alcohol.
A much-loved resident of Rancho Mirage, California, Carol had a star dedicated to her on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2010. She returned two years later to honour Marilyn Monroe, praising her “brilliant and unique” performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Carol also attended a farewell party for Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn‘, when it left Palm Springs for the East Coast in 2014.
A wide-ranging essay about Marilyn, encompassing Charles Casillo’s recent biography and comparisons to Hedy Lamarr (and much more), has been posted by David Herrle on his Bookolage blog.
“Sure, many might consider the gulf between Hedy’s public image and her intellectual/scientific passions to be wider than Marilyn’s, teaming up with George Antheil in an invention frenzy and belting out detailed ideas such as breakthrough spread-spectrum technology utilized by the Navy, but Marilyn was much more of a reader and a curiouser cultural dabbler/explorer – and she was…get ready to groan…headier about acting. I think Marilyn had more of a genuine artist in her, and I think her frustrations and pain were of the artists’ brand. But still. She excelled as living art, as bathetic (and perhaps offensive) as that term is.
Marilyn’s despondent spells, her hang-ups, and her fears and sublimations have been categorized as darkness, but I consider the woman essentially a creature of light and an evoker of light for others – including us, and I’m fascinated by the profound light metaphors that were and are so often used about her. ‘I could massage her in the dark because her body gave off light,’ said masseur Ralph Roberts. Henry Hathaway, who directed Marilyn in Niagara, said that she was ‘bright, really bright…naturally bright.’ And in reference to her role as Lorelei Lee in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Charles Casillo writes that ‘she absolutely glows. Her inner light is so radiant that it’s difficult to believe anything dark ever happened to her – you don’t want to believe it, yet you know there’s darkness there.’
A common assessment is that Marilyn gradually disintegrated throughout her life, but perhaps that’s not quite correct. There must first be integration for disintegration, and I think it’s safe to guess that Marilyn was never integrated, never in any equilibrium, never in a steady orbit around a definite self which could be nourished properly, let alone allowed to burgeon and deepen. I like to imagine that living to old age would have benefited her rather than gradually destroyed her, as the common prediction goes. In my relatively limited knowledge, I think that more time might have provided space for her to hone her cultural interests, refine her poetry, ripen her life philosophy. I can picture her exclaiming like Margaret Fuller once did: ‘I feel within myself an immense power, but I cannot bring it out!'”
Bert Stern’s famous portrait of Marilyn wearing a black, backless Christian Dior dress – shot for Vogue magazine in July 1962 – is among the iconic fashion images featured in The Dior Collection, a new exhibition beginning a 2-month run at London’s Proud Central on February 7.
The 60th anniversary tributes to Some Like It Hot have already begun, with a look behind the scenes published in the Christmas 2018 issue of US weekly Closer (with Kathie Lee Gifford on the cover.) If you missed out, just click to enlarge the photo below. (It was posted on the Marilyn Remembered Facebook group by Christopher Lentz, author of My Friend Marilyn, a novel set at the Hotel Del Coronado during the legendary shoot.)
Legendary fashion editor Babs Simpson has died aged 105, the New York Times reports. Born Beatrice Crosby de Menocal in 1913, she was raised in an upper-class New York family. She married William Simpson of Chicago in 1935, but returned alone to the Big Apple seven years later. She first worked as a photographer’s assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, and in 1947, began her 25-year tenure at Vogue magazine. Diana Vreeland, her boss from 1962, described Babs as ‘the most marvellous editor.” In 1972, she moved to House & Garden, where she would stay until her retirement in 1993.
One of Babs Simpson’s most famous Vogue assignments was with Marilyn and photographer Bert Stern at LA’s Bel Air Hotel in 1962. Stern had already spent a day alone with Marilyn on June 23, working on the iconic semi-nude images where she wears a gauzy scarf, some jewellery and little else. But this wasn’t the high-fashion shoot Diana Vreeland had in mind, and another sitting was arranged for July 10-12.
“She was absolutely perfect,” Simpson said of Marilyn. Stern wrote about the fashion shoot in his book, The Last Sitting.
“The fact that Vogue were sending an editor on the shoot was a sign that they were getting serious. The first time they’d let me go off and do whatever I wanted, but now they had realised that I was on to something, and they were going to make sure they got what they wanted. Babs Simpson and I had worked together many times, and she understood me. I was sure they’d chosen her as the editor who could let me be the most creative and at the same time keep the most control. ‘Keep her clothes on,’ they’d probably told Babs. They saw where I was heading.
An editor has the difficult job of picking out all the fashions for a sitting, dressing the girl so that she looks just right, and helping the photographer in the best way possible. Babs Simpson was great because she knew when to step in and help, but she also knew how to leave the photographer alone with the model. I thought of her as ‘the needlepoint editor,’ because at every sitting, while the girl was doing her makeup or the photographer was shooting, Babs would sit on the side and work on needlepoint. Her whole house is decorated with pillows, rugs, the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen, which she made just sitting around studios over the years while the lights flashed.
Babs was bringing all the clothes, so I flew out to California with my assistant, Peter Deal, and we started setting up in the bungalow of the Bel Air … Babs arrived from the airport in a limousine. When I saw the heaps of designer dresses and fur coats being carried into the bungalow, I had to laugh.
Later that morning Kenneth [Battelle] arrived. Babs had all the clothes organised and ready and she worked seriously on her needlepoint while we sat in the garden waiting for Marilyn … But when four o’clock came, Babs folded up her needlepoint, put it in her bag, and said, ‘If she isn’t here in an hour, I’m leaving’ … I said, ‘Look, just give her until five. We’re all staying here in the hotel anyway, so what’s the difference?’
Babs agreed to wait. That crisis had been averted, at least for the moment. But not half an hour later my assistant, Peter, came over to me, looking pale. In his polite way, he said, ‘Bert, I really regret having to tell you this…’
At that moment Marilyn walked in.
If I had come with an entourage this time, so had she. She was flanked by Pat Newcomb … And then suddenly Peter was well … And now that Marilyn was here, Babs cheered up, too, and went right to work. The whole crew was there, and we were in business.
I looked around at all these people, busy getting Marilyn dressed, applying her makeup, doing her hair, pouring champagne, adjusting the lights – all the process and anxiety that accompanies high fashion …This time I was going to do exactly what I’d been sent to do: take fashion pictures for Vogue. And I needed all these people, because this was going to be one tough assignment.
There was always a little disagreement about the accessories Babs had brought. I didn’t see the point to most of them. The white veil was almost strange enough to be interesting but the black wig … what was that all about? The last way I would have imagined Marilyn was as a raven-haired brunette … On the other hand, Babs didn’t want me to take pictures with the hat, and I thought the hat looked beautiful on her.
Babs had brought a lot of black dresses – the hardest thing in the world to shoot … Marilyn put on the simplest black dress. Kenneth combed her hair back. She was beautiful. All I had to do now was backlight it. That image was the essence of black and white … and blonde.
She was beginning to lose patience. I could see it on her face. She had been a good sport, but it was well after midnight, and the fashion was wearing thin … Babs had dug up another black dress, and I was ready for anything. But Marilyn had had it.
She looked around and then she walked off the white no-seam and grabbed a flimsy bed jacket that was lying casually on a chair near the strobe. I had tossed it there as a ‘no’ when we were going through the clothes earlier, because Babs said it was bad fashion, and I didn’t think much of it either. But Marilyn looked right in it.
I turned to Babs. ‘Why doesn’t everybody just leave the room and let me shoot her alone?’
Babs said, ‘I think that’s a good idea, Bert.’ Everyone got up and began to file out of the room. As they were leaving Babs said, ‘We’ll be right out here if you need us.’
‘Great,’ I said and I closed the door and locked it.
The next day she didn’t show up. Late in the morning, Babs told me that Pat Newcomb had called and Marilyn wasn’t going to work today … Then the phone rang again. It was Pat Newcomb asking whether Babs and Kenneth would come over to Marilyn’s house at one o’clock. I wasn’t invited. So Babs and Kenneth went off leaving me sitting there in the Bel Air Hotel. I didn’t feel great that day … And then Babs came back and said, ‘She’ll be here tomorrow’.
When she came in for the third shooting, everything was very different. Especially Marilyn and me. Sober, subdued, not very talkative. There was nothing to say. And then there were all these people around us again: Kenneth, Babs, Pat Newcomb, Peter Deal.
‘I want to do one more picture,’ I said. ‘A beautiful head shot.’ Babs said, ‘Oh, wonderful! We could use a great beauty shot. Kenneth will do the hair.’ Everybody was very excited.
Everybody was working. Kenneth combing Marilyn’s hair. Babs arranging a string of pearls around her neck. I was way up there in the dark, looking down on her lying there with her hair spread out.
‘Okay, I got it,’ I said, and I climbed down. It was all over. Marilyn left with Pat Newcomb, and we all packed up and got ready to leave.
As we were leaving, Babs Simpson said, ‘What’s going to happen to that poor girl?’
I didn’t quite see what Babs meant. I didn’t feel sorry for Marilyn. I just figured I had done the best I could. And now I was going home.”
Another review for the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot (see my photos of the booklet, above) is posted today on Daniel S. Levine’s Movie Mania Madness blog, this time with a special focus on the extras.
“Some Like It Hot works for me. It’s not as polished and perfect as The Apartment, as snappy as The Major and The Minor or as hopelessly romantic as Sabrina. But it doesn’t have to be. Rather, it is a successful mix of everything that made Wilder’s best movies work, minus the biting cynicism of The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard or Ace in the Hole.
Criterion replaced the MGM/UA commentary that included interviews with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis with the 1989 commentary the label recorded for its laserdisc release. This one features Howard Suber breaking down the film and explaining why it works. It includes brief remarks from Lemmon. For the most part, it’s a good track, although Suber seems a little too obsessed with Monroe.
The 2-disc DVD also included galleries and an interactive pressbook, which are also not included here. However, considering how in-depth everything we do get is, those do not feel like big omissions. There’s a lot crammed onto this disc, ensuring that fans of the film will still want it even if they have previous editions.”