Newcastle’s Love Affair With Marilyn

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‘Marilyn Monroe: A British Love Affair’, first displayed at London’s National Portrait Gallery in 2012, is coming to the Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University on January 25, 2014, until the 30th, reports Sky News.

I was lucky enough to see the display in London. It was small, but well worth a visit. You can read my review here.

Photos by Reiss

Jean Kent 1921-2013

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The British actress Jean Kent has died aged 92, after a fall at her home in Westhorpe, Suffolk, reports the BBC.

She was born in Brixton, South London, the only daughter of variety performers Norman Field and Nina Norre. She made her screen debut in 1935, aged 14.

During the 1940s, she played supporting roles in popular melodramas produced at Gainsborough Studios, including Fanny by Gaslight (1943); Madonna of the Seven Moons, The Wicked Lady and The Rake’s Progress (1945.)

Her first starring role was as the gypsy Rosal, opposite Stewart Granger in Caravan (1946.) During filming, Jean met her future husband, actor Josef Ramart.

She worked with Granger again in The Magic Bow (1946), and with Michael Redgrave in The Man Within (1947.) Her female co-stars included Googie Withers in The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947), and a young Diana Dors in Good-Time Girl (1948.)

After achieving star billing in Bond Street(1948), Jean played her own favourite role, as a music hall girl in Trottie True (1949.) She was directed by Anthony Asquith in The Woman in Question (1950), and again in an adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play, The Browning Version (1951.)

'The Prince and the Showgirl': Jean Kent as Maisie Springfield, at right
‘The Prince and the Showgirl’: Jean Kent as Maisie Springfield, at right

By the mid-1950s, Jean was increasingly seen on television. However, she secured a role in another big-screen Rattigan adaptation, The Prince and the Showgirl (1956.)

The story is set in London’s musical theatre in 1911. Jean plays Maisie Springfield, star of ‘The Coconut Girl’, who finds a rival for the affections of a visiting Archduke (Sir Laurence Olivier) in American showgirl Elsie Marina (Marilyn.)

Unfortunately, Maisie’s frosty relationship with Elsie was mirrored in reality. ‘She wasn’t very well and not an easy person and Olivier, who was directing, had a quite a lot of difficulty,’ Jean told the BBC in 2011.

‘I can understand the enduring fascination with Marilyn, but, to be frank, I really couldn’t bear to discuss my own experience of working with her,’ she told the Daily Mail in 2012. ‘She was, by that point, an extremely troubled girl…I had only two brief scenes with her, but I think poor Larry must have aged at least 15 years during the making of that film.’

Jean played a supporting role in Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Otto Preminger’s adaptation of the classic Francoise Sagan novel, opposite David Niven and Jean Seberg.

She later played Queen Elizabeth I on television, in Sir Francis Drake, and appeared in a 1967 adaptation of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

She took occasional parts in many popular shows during the 1960s and ’70s, including Emergency Ward 10, Steptoe and Son, Angels, and Crossroads. One of her final roles was in a 1991 episode of Lovejoy, alongside Ian McShane.

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On June 29, 2011 – Jean’s 90th birthday – she attended a screening of Caravan at the British Film Institute.

In his introduction, the film critic Michael Thornton remembered that as an eight-year-old boy in Brighton in 1949, he was in a crowd of 4,000 to 5,000 people who turned up for a personal appearance by Kent, which led to police officers linking arms to get her into the cinema.

‘The war had only just come to an end, the country was broke, ration books and austerity reigned supreme and there appeared to be more bomb sites than actual houses,’ said Mr Thornton. ‘I think the glory of those rather extraordinary, fantastical, testosterone-drenched, overblown and highly romantic “bodice-rippers” is that they took people’s minds off a really very tough situation.’

‘Since then film historians have critically re-evaluated this era and, instead of saying “this is a load of tosh and tripe”, they’ve realised these were expertly crafted, highly successful films.’

Ever the professional, Jean told the BBC she was still available for work. ‘Oh yes, I’d work like a shot, as long as I didn’t have to walk,’ she said. ‘A nice sitting-down part would be fine.’

 

Kim Kardashian Compared to Marilyn

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Rapper Kanye West has compared his girlfriend, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, to Marilyn in a radio interview, reports EntertainmentWise. ‘Kate Upton ain’t Marilyn Monroe!’ he said on Chicago’s Power 105.1, referring to the blonde supermodel. ‘Kim Marilyn Monroe! She was controversial. She controversial.’ (In the same interview, Kanye also compared himself to Walt Disney and Michelangelo.)

It’s not the first time that Kim has been compared to Marilyn. Carine Roitfeld, editor of French Vogue, told Time Out in October, ‘First of all she’s beautiful – and in fashion, that is a talent you know. She was also a very sweet person, a hard worker. You don’t see her in parties drinking loads of alcohol. She’s controversial, but so was Marilyn Monroe and I always like controversial people. I hope the issue will be a good souvenir for her and her baby.’

Full disclosure – I have never watched Kim’s hit show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians. However, I do think she is striking in looks, and a great businesswoman. However, the reason behind the comparison – that like Marilyn, she is ‘controversial’ – is a tenuous one.

In her time, Marilyn was no more controversial than other stars. While she was frank about her sexuality, she did not have as many affairs as was later alleged. And, while she may have posed nude, there is no hard evidence that Marilyn ever made a sex tape – unlike Kim, who famously sold hers.

While controversy may be part of Marilyn’s appeal, she would soon have been forgotten if not for her intelligence and talent. It may be too soon to judge if Kim Kardashian can achieve the same lasting cultural impact, or if she – like many others, once touted as ‘the new Marilyn’, will be remembered instead as a minor celebrity, frozen in time.

Montgomery Clift’s Personal Archive

This candid photo of Marilyn with her co-star and dear friend, Montgomery Clift, from the late actor’s private collection, is featured in a slideshow over at Vanity Fair‘s website. The Montgomery Clift Archive is now stored in the New York Public Library.

Thanks to Eric Patry

“Clift with a sultry Marilyn Monroe in a souvenir photograph taken at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, which once boasted a variety of alluringly named nightspots, including the Venetian Room, the Squire Room, and the Tonga Room. The two starred in the 1961 film The Misfits; it would be Monroe’s last picture before her 1962 death. ‘She gave so much as an actress,’ Clift once recalled. ‘Working with her was like going up and down on an escalator.'”

When Vivien Met Marilyn

The Oliviers in 'The Sleeping Prince', 1953
The Oliviers in ‘The Sleeping Prince’, 1953

This year marks the centenary of the birth of one of cinema’s greatest stars, Vivien Leigh. An excellent new book by Kendra BeanVivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, takes another look at The Prince and the Showgirl, and reveals how Vivien really felt about Marilyn Monroe playing opposite her husband, Sir Laurence Olivier, in a role originated by Leigh in 1953, when The Sleeping Prince made its debut on the London stage.

The Oliviers
The Oliviers

“The casting had been her idea to begin with. While performing in The Sleeping Prince in 1953, Vivien saw How to Marry a Millionaire at the cinema and became fascinated by Marilyn. ‘I thought, heaven help me, that she was very funny. I said to Larry: This girl is wonderful in comedy’*, and suggested Marilyn star in the film version. She added that she thought herself too old for the role. To her dismay, Olivier relished the idea and hoped that making a film with the Hollywood bombshell would be a new stimulus for his career. When Vivien changed her mind and suggested she might like to revive Mary Morgan** on screen after all, Olivier and Terence Rattigan said, ‘Oh, but you’re too old.'”

Olivier directs Marilyn
Olivier directs Marilyn

From the outset, Olivier’s classical training and Marilyn’s more intuitive approach were at odds, and the two stars soon became involved in a bitter power struggle.

To make matters worse, Vivien suffered a miscarriage in August 1956, a month into the shoot. “The feeling that she was responsible for the stress Olivier endured…compounded Vivien’s grief,” Bean comments.

Welcoming Marilyn to England
Welcoming Marilyn to England

Nonetheless, the Oliviers put on a brave face and even attended the London opening of Arthur Miller’s play, View From The Bridge, with Marilyn. So what did Vivien think of MM?

“It’s not impossible to think that Vivien and Marilyn might have formed a kinship had they gotten to know one another better,” Bean concedes. Vivien suffered from Manic Depression, while Marilyn had a history of emotional problems.

Theatre royalty: the Millers and the Oliviers
Theatre royalty: the Millers and the Oliviers

“But despite their troubles, they both had a vulnerability that endeared them to many people,” Bean reflects. “Both strived to avoid typecasting and to prove themselves as something more than just a pretty face or a sex symbol.”

Unfortunately, the tensions between Marilyn and Olivier did not permit the two women to bond in any meaningful way. “As it was though,” Bean concludes, “Vivien sided with Olivier and she and Marilyn remained rivals at best.”

To learn more about Vivien Leigh: A Portrait, please visit vivandlarry.com

* Quote from ‘Vivien Tells’, an interview with David Lewin in the UK’s Daily Express, August 17, 1960

** Mary Morgan was the name of the showgirl played by Leigh in Terence Rattigan’s original play, The Sleeping Prince. When the play was adapted for the screen, the character was renamed Elsie Marina.

Marilyn leaves London
Marilyn leaves London

Lady Gaga Does What She Wants

Lady Gaga performed her latest single, ‘Do What U Want‘ – a duet with R. Kelly – at last night’s American Music Awards. In this latest dramatisation (she and Kelly simulated sex on last week’s Saturday Night Live) Gaga played a White House intern who has a fling with the president (Kelly), who then dumps her.

Shades of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky there. However, the blonde wig she wears is strikingly reminiscent of MM. In fact, one of Kelly’s lines in the song is ‘You’re the Marilyn, I’m the president/And I love to hear you sing, girl.’

‘In this R&B-esque dance cut,’ comments RockGenius.com, ‘Lady Gaga compares letting the media talk about her any way they want to giving explicit romantic consent.’ It may be that she is also trying to criticise the sexual exploitation of women.

However, some may feel that, on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, this is just another cheap stunt at the expense of those no longer with us, and unable to tell their own stories.

Personally, I found Lana Del Rey’s ‘National Anthem‘ video from 2012 – where she briefly impersonates Marilyn, before playing Jackie Kennedy in a meditation on the Camelot years – far more powerful. What do you think?

When Marge Met Marilyn

Everyone’s favourite cartoon mom, Marge Simpson, has a Marilyn moment in this illustration by artist AleXsandro Palombo for Vogue, in a series of classic fashion recreations celebrating 25 years of The Simpsons:

“‘There is a Marge Simpson in every woman and with this tribute I wanted to ignite the magic that is in every women; the strength, femininity, elegance, eroticism and beauty,’ Palombo told us. ‘I made a strict and careful selection of what, in my opinion, has really influenced the style of the last 100 years. Each of these dresses really changed the course of the history of costume, giving a new aesthetic vision that has anticipated major changes in our society. We may not consider these clothes as art, but the aesthetic vision that they emanate has played an important role in giving strength to the path of emancipation of women since 1900. In many cases it’s the dress that has transformed a woman into an icon, but in many others, it’s the personality of the women that has enlightened the dress.'”

UPDATE: Here’s another famous MM pose, based on Ed Feingersh’s 1955 photo of Marilyn dabbing on her favourite perfume, Chanel No. 5…

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American Beauty in London

Yesterday, millions of Americans marked a painful anniversary – it is now fifty years since the assassination of President Kennedy. How fitting then, that this patriotic vision by street artist Pegasus is his latest tribute to Marilyn spotted on the streets of London. (You can find her outside Soho Skin on Silver Street, W1.)

I have posted some close-ups below, along with some earlier Marilyns by Pegasus. I first saw them on on his Facebook page this morning, with a caption many of us will agree with:  “The most beautiful woman this world has ever seen…mind body and soul!”