American Lives: Becoming Marilyn

Dr Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, presents a free lunchtime talk, ‘Becoming Marilyn: The Invention of Marilyn Monroe’, as part of the ‘American Lives’ week presented by the University of East Anglia’s School of American Studies at The Forum, Norwich, on Thursday July 7 between 12-1pm. (On a related note, Christopher Bigsby, author of a two-volume biography of Arthur Miller, will speak on Friday July 8.)

BFI to Honour Jean Kent

Jean Kent as Maisie Springfield, right

Actress Jean Kent – who appeared alongside Marilyn in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) – will be honoured by the British Film Institute at 6.10 pm today (her 90th birthday), at the National Film Theatre on London’s Southbank.

Former Daily Express critic Michael Thornton will introduce a screening of her 1946 film, Caravan. (Jean met her husband, Josef Ramart, while filming. They were together until his death in 1989.)

In The Prince and the Showgirl, Kent’s character, Maisie Springfield, is the leading lady of ‘The Coconut Girl’, a musical play in which the American showgirl Elsie Marina (played by Marilyn) is part of the chorus. Maisie is also Elsie’s rival for the affections of the visiting Grandduke of Carpathia (Sir Laurence Olivier.)

Speaking to BBC News, Jean alluded to the tensions between Monroe and Olivier:

“We were supposed to do a musical number in that, with me doing the song and she (MM) was mucking it up at the back, but it was cut because they ran so over budget,” Kent said.

“She wasn’t very well and not an easy person and Olivier, who was directing, had a quite a lot of difficulty.”

Jean made her stage debut aged just eleven, and later found fame on the big screen playing haughty, seductive women (rather like Maisie Springfield.)

Jean Kent’s films include ‘bodice-rippers’ like Madonna of the Seven Moons, Fanny by Gaslight and The Wicked Lady (all from 1945); and 1951’s The Browning Version. Her favourite role was in Trottie True (1949.) Jean has also worked extensively on television, with her last screen credit dating to 1991.

Jacques Lowe Pic Sold in London

This photo of Marilyn, taken by Jacques Lowe in NYC, February 1956 (not 1961 as some reports have stated), has sold for £6,050 in a fundraising auction for London’s Kentish Town Primary School.

Lowe was best known for his photos of JFK’s election campaign. His daughter, Thomasina, has children at the school.

More info at London24

Marilyn, Shirley and ‘The Apartment’

The photo above shows Marilyn attending a preview of The Apartment with Yves Montand in June 1960.

There has been some debate over what dress Marilyn wore that night. To me, it looks a little like the grey halter-dress that she had also worn at a press conference that year, and would wear again in Reno that summer.

Eve Arnold, 1960

However, Shirley MacLaine, star of The Apartment, told guests at the LA Film Fest Q & A last week:

“I’ll tell you a story: I came out of the first screening of The Apartment, and it was at some little screening room here in town. I left before the lights went up, and I walked out of the door and there, up against kind of a bar because they were serving food and drinks, was a woman — a blonde swathed in a white mink coat. I walked over to her just to talk, and she said [whispering], ‘You were so wonderful! Just brilliant!’ She opened up the coat and she had nothing on. Marilyn.”

I find it a little odd that Shirley has not mentioned this detail on her website:

“I remember Marilyn Monroe was at the screening. She had no makeup on and was wrapped up in a mink coat. In her low whispery voice she said… ‘The picture is a wonderful examination of the corporate world.’ My mouth flew open! She got it!”

Also, the fur coat in the photograph is dark, not white. However, Montand – Marilyn’s co-star in Let’s Make Love, with whom she had an affair – told biographer Anthony Summers that MM had once entered his hotel room wearing nothing but a fur coat. And so, whether true or false, the rumour is not unprecedented.

Shirley’s co-star in The Apartment was Marilyn’s friend, Jack Lemmon (her co-star in 1959’s Some Like it Hot.) Both movies were directed by Billy Wilder, with whom Marilyn had fallen out. However, Marilyn was seen embracing Billy at the screening of  The Apartment, so it seems that they must have made up their differences.

While Marilyn has often been criticised for her ‘difficult’ behaviour on film sets, Shirley also found Wilder hard to please. ‘He was un-empathetic,’ she recalled. ‘We looked at a scene in front of everyone, and he stood up in front of everybody and said, “I tried.”‘

Marilyn considered several roles that were ultimately played by Shirley MacLaine: in Some Came Running, Wilder’s Irma La Douce and What a Way to Go! Also, both actresses were friendly with Rat Packers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Year of the Dress

“I have a feeling some records are going to be broken with this gown,” artist Liz Grammaticas posted to her blog on the eve of the Debbie Reynolds auction. She was, of course, referring to the immortal white halter-dress that blew up as Marilyn stood over a subway grating in The Seven Year Itch (1955.)

And Liz was right, of course – the dress sold for £2.8 million, along with many other Monroe-related items as Melinda reported on The Mmm Blog.

The Guardian reported on the history of Marilyn’s dress, quoting its now deceased designer, Travilla: “I wondered what could I do with this most beautiful girl that Marilyn was to play to make her look clean, talcum-powdered, and adorable.”

Over at Bloomberg, Virginia Postrel noted that, contrary to myth, MM was definitely not a plus-size: “In fact, the average waist measurement of the four Monroe dresses was a mere 22 inches, according to Lisa Urban, the Hollywood consultant who dressed the mannequins and took measurements for me. Even Monroe’s bust was a modest 34 inches.”

However, Scott Fortner – who attended the auction – asked on his blog, ‘Was it the dress?’ As many fans will know, designers often made up to five versions of any costume. After liaising with Andrew Hansford, curator of the Travilla Estate, Scott recorded his findings in another post, ‘Say YES to the dress’. It is a well-researched article, pointing out differences between the dress worn in the outdoor photo shoot, and the version used in the later, studio-staged scene.

On a sombre note, many have lamented the dissembling of one of the world’s most spectacular collections of Hollywood memorabilia. None more so than Debbie Reynolds herself, who tried for many years to open a museum.

Finally, who bought the dress? Nothing has been confirmed, but Jane Fonda posted on her blog last week, “A Canadian consortium that has all of Marilyn Monroe’s estate and possessions bought her white Seven Year Itch dress for many millions.”

If Jane is correct, hopefully this won’t be the last we’ll see of the world’s most iconic dress.

MM Film Season in NYC

Filming ‘The Seven Year Itch’, New York, 1954

Fourteen of Marilyn’s films will screen next month at New York’s BAM Rose Cinema, reports the New York Post

July 1: The Asphalt Jungle, Don’t Bother to Knock

July 2: The Seven Year Itch

July 3-4: Some Like it Hot

July 5: Bus Stop

July 6: Monkey Business

July 7: How to Marry a Millionaire

July 8: Niagara

July 10: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

July 14: River of No Return

July 15: The Prince and the Showgirl, Let’s Make Love

July 16: All About Eve

July 17: The Misfits