Over at Classic Movie Hub, Sara and Cynthia Brideson – authors of Ziegfeld and His Follies, a new biography of the great Broadway producer – profile Marilyn Miller, one of his most popular stars. Miller would posthumously inspire Marilyn Monroe’s stage name, as the young Norma Jeane reminded talent scout Ben Lyon of her. Some years later, during her marriage to Arthur Miller, Monroe’s legal name was Marilyn Miller.
“In the 1920s there were two types of girls in the movies. First, there were the angelic waifs. Second, there were the flapper girls brimming with ‘It.’ One diminutive, blonde actress embodied both types. She was at once traditional and defiant of old conventions. She bobbed her hair and was never dependant on a man for money, but she enjoyed receiving the conspicuous gifts Stage Door Johnnies lavished upon her. She gave up dozens of marriage offers from wealthy middle aged men, favoring the old adage that marriage must be based on love. Who was this girl?
Her name was Marilyn Miller. At the peak of her success between 1918 and 1928, she personified the youth of the Jazz Age. She began as a sprite-like ballerina in the Ziegfeld Follies and came within a hair’s breadth of being cinema’s new ‘It’ girl before her tragic, premature death. Marilyn Miller, though almost forgotten today, is as much the tragic heroine of the Jazz Age as Jean Harlow was of the 1930s and Marilyn Monroe was of the 1950s.
Following her passing, Hollywood made two attempts at preserving the memory of Ziegfeld’s greatest star; first in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), a film celebrating the music of Jerome Kern in which Judy Garland admirably portrays Marilyn in three musical numbers, and second in a highly fictitious biopic entitled Look for the Silver Lining starring June Haver. Neither come close to conveying the real Marilyn—an actress ‘intended only to smile’ but was, in reality, a complicated, willful woman. In the words of a friend, she always ‘…seemed so happy…that no one suspected the depth of her feelings and her capacity…for pain.’ On stage, and indeed, in the precious few films that document both her flaming youth and elfin charm, Marilyn epitomes a pretty girl who, like a melody, haunts you night and day.”