Black Starr Frost: Marilyn and ‘America’s First Jeweler’

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Tiffany’s, Cartier, and Harry Winston are household names – but have you ever wondered about the other companies name-checked in ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’? As Nandini D’Souza reveals in the Wall Street Journal, Black Starr & Frost has an impeccable pedigree – and the brand is due for a relaunch.

“ONLY VIA A BLACK velvet jewelry tray could Mary Todd Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe find a common thread. Mrs. Lincoln once racked up a $64,000 bill for jewels from American jeweler Black, Starr & Frost. Many decades later, the actress name-checked the same company while singing ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her character, Lorelei [in Anita Loos’ 1926 novel] was said to be inspired by one of the house’s clients, Ziegfeld Follies star Peggy Hopkins Joyce.

Though you may not recognize the name Black, Starr & Frost, the jeweler has an undeniably rich and colorful past. It’s one that the current owner and chairman Alfredo J. Molina, who bought the brand in 2006, wants to tap as he works toward his ambitious goal of restoring it to its glory days. ‘We’re America’s first jeweler,’ Mr. Molina said—and repeated during the course of an interview. Of possessing a Black, Starr & Frost gem, he added, ‘It’s owning a piece of history.’

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That’s not hyperbole. The company was founded in 1810 and has operated continuously since—albeit with several name changes along the way. Before the Great Depression, the Black, Starr & Frost store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 48th Street in Manhattan was the place to buy jewelry, table clocks and even class rings.

That does raise the question of why Black, Starr & Frost isn’t an American household name in the vein of Tiffany & Co. Ms. Elkins theorized that the company fell a bit short by not driving innovation: ‘I wouldn’t say they were imitators, but they were doing things that were popular at the time.’

Whether Mr. Molina will fully restore the brand’s luster is yet to be seen. But jewelry brands, perhaps more so than fashion houses, have a solid track record of a second chance.”

Marilyn and the Bullet Bra

89d4cea2d062e0aaa73100b6f64332f5In an article for the Daily Mail about the current revival of vintage-style lingerie, Sandra Howard recalls a youthful encounter with Marilyn. Sandra Howard is a former model, and is now married to the Conservative politician, Michael Howard. She has spoken about her memories of Marilyn before, and fictionalised their meeting in her 2014 novel, Tell the Girl.

“There is one – or rather two – very striking things I remember from meeting Marilyn Monroe.

It was during the early Sixties and I was in California with my first husband [Robin Douglas Home], who was writing a book about Frank Sinatra. I was having the time of my life.

There I was – barely out of my teens – hobnobbing with the likes of Sinatra and meeting all the stars I’d gawped at on the big screen back home.

What did we talk about? I wish I could remember. You see, Marilyn was wearing a silky, clingy, tangerine sweater with cream Capri pants and strappy heels.

But what stood out most of all – what grabbed the attention of everyone in the room, including me, and made us lose all rational thought – were her pointy breasts.

They stuck out like a pair of rockets ready to be launched, upholstered to perfection in the bra shape she made famous: the pointy bullet bra, the shape of the Fifties and Sixties.”

blackandwhite_20_28120_29In private, Marilyn often spurned underwear, but can be seen wearing pointy bras in some professional photos, and during public appearances. According to her friend, Amy Greene, she also wore a bra in bed to keep her bust firm.

The ‘tangerine sweater’ recalled by Sandra Howard is probably the Pucci number worn by Marilyn in this 1962 photo by George Barris. On that occasion, however, she did not appear to be wearing a bra.

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Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday’ Spoof at Superbowl

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Marilyn’s iconic performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ – at the 1962 Madison Square Garden gala honouring John F. Kennedy – has been parodied in a new Snickers ad marking the Superbowl’s upcoming 50th anniversary, reports Adweek. A grouchy ‘Marilyn’ is played here by actor Willem Dafoe. Incidentally, it’s not the first time MM has been referenced at the Superbowl. Back in 2014, footage of Marilyn was used in a Chrysler ad featuring Bob Dylan.

“She’s America’s original sweetheart. But when she’s hungry, Marilyn Monroe takes a turn for the worse. That’s according to Snickers’ new Super Bowl ad teaser, in which she reprises her iconic ‘Happy Birthday’ serenade—to celebrate the Super Bowl’s 50th birthday—but with quite the husky vocal.

‘Since we’re kicking-off the 50th celebration of one of the world’s most iconic events, it seemed only fitting to cast Marilyn Monroe, a Hollywood icon with global appeal, to help us celebrate’, says Snickers brand director Allison Miazga-Bedrick. ‘But this is just a small glimpse of what America should expect from Snickers on Super Bowl Sunday. As always, the ad will feature a funny surprise that we’re confident will satisfy fans hungry for a laugh.’

Snickers confirmed the Super Bowl spot continues the brand’s ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’ positioning, which launched with the Betty White spot on the 2010 Super Bowl. The 30-second spot, from BBDO New York, will air in the first quarter of the Feb. 7 telecast.”

Marilyn and Arthur in Brooklyn

by_sam_shaw_01In 1955, Marilyn famously told broadcaster Dave Garroway that she hoped to retire to Brooklyn. Her friend, poet Norman Rosten, lived at Brooklyn Heights. Brooklyn was also the childhood home of playwright Arthur Miller, who became her third husband in 1956. In an article for the New York Times, Helene Stapinski explores Miller’s lifelong connections to Brooklyn.

“Miller was born in Manhattan and lived as a boy in Harlem in a spacious apartment overlooking Central Park. His father, Isidore, a Jewish émigré from Poland, owned a clothing business that allowed the family a certain level of luxury: three bathrooms, a chauffeur-driven car and a summer place in Far Rockaway.

Before the stock market crash, the business began to fail, and so, in 1928, Isidore and his wife, Augusta — Izzie and Gussie — moved the family to the borough of churches and cheap rents. After a short stint at 1277 Ocean Parkway, the Millers bought for $5,000 a six-room house on East Third Street and Avenue M in the Parkville section, a couple of blocks from Gussie’s family.

After graduating and marrying his college sweetheart, Mary Slattery, Miller returned to Brooklyn in 1940 and moved in with her and her roommates in a seven-room apartment at 62 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, an impressive Queen-Anne-style building.

After some financial success with All My Sons, Miller, by then the father of two children, Jane and Robert, bought a four-story brownstone at 31 Grace Court in 1947. The Millers rented out the bottom two floors to the president of the Brooklyn Savings Bank.

Death of a Salesman, which traces the last day in the failed life of an aging, regretful man, was conceived and finished on Grace Court, though the first draft was written in the family’s new country house in Roxbury, Conn., in a studio Miller built himself.

While living on Grace Court, Miller took long walks over the Brooklyn Bridge and under it, to the working docks where he noticed graffiti that said, ‘Dove Pete Panto,’ Italian for ‘Where Is Pete Panto?’

Mr. Panto had been battling the International Longshoremen’s Association, and disappeared, his body eventually turning up in New Jersey. Miller read about Mr. Panto’s case in the press and tried talking to the longies, or longshoremen, on Columbia Street in Red Hook to write a screenplay.

Miller's home at the time he first met Marilyn
Miller’s home in 1951, when he first met Marilyn

From his waterfront research, Miller wrote The Hook, a screenplay based on Mr. Panto’s life, which he pitched in Hollywood with Elia Kazan in 1951. The screenplay was never produced, but he met Marilyn Monroe on that trip west.

That same year, Miller, tired of being a landlord, sold the Grace Court house to W.E.B. Dubois. He moved with his family to their final home together at 155 Willow Street, a Federal-style, red brick house two blocks from where Truman Capote would soon live.

In his top-floor office, Miller wrote The Crucible and an early version of A View From the Bridge. Trying to be a good husband, and guilty about his feelings for Monroe, Miller installed kitchen cabinets and a tile floor in the hallway.

Miller's first wife, Mary Slattery, and their children, Bobby and Jane, remained at their Willow Street home after the divorce
Miller’s first wife, Mary Slattery, and their children, Bobby and Jane, remained at their Willow Street home after the divorce

According to Miller, the marriage was already floundering when he met Monroe. He moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan in 1955, where he spent time in a West Side brownstone and in Monroe’s Waldorf Tower apartment. They eventually moved to a house in Roxbury.

In the spring of 1956, he briefly took up residence in Nevada, divorced his wife and promptly married Monroe. Their marriage lasted five turbulent years, during which he wrote the screenplay for the film The Misfits for her.

Miller remained close to his children, who continued to live on Willow Street with their mother.

Arthur Miller's childhood home. Marilyn visited his parents there...
Arthur Miller’s childhood home. Marilyn visited his parents there…

After he married Monroe, Miller took her to meet his parents in the house where he had grown up. His sister remembers the neighborhood children climbing on one another’s shoulders to peek through the windows for a look.

‘My mother would open the window and yell at them to go away,’ Ms. Copeland said.

Though Miller moved out of New York and lived in Roxbury for the rest of his life, his work and characters still have that accent that can be found only in Brooklyn, along with particulars of the borough: the Brooklyn Paramount, the bowling alley on Flatbush Avenue, St. Agnes Church and Red Hook, ‘the gullet of New York.'”

Russell Young’s Marilyn in London

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Pop artist Russell Young’s latest exhibition, Superstar, draws on two iconic beauties from different eras – Marilyn, and British model Kate Moss – and is on display at London’s Halcyon Gallery until February 14. James Fisher reviewed it for The Upcoming.

“Art, like every other aspect of modern culture, is subject to the fashion of the day. Luckily for Russell Young, the current fashion appears to be pop art. His latest solo exhibition,Superstar, is another wonderful example of a genre that seems to be moving from strength to strength.

Superstar is described as an ‘exploration into the visual nature of fame and celebrity’ and it certainly fulfils its promise …  From humble beginnings in North Yorkshire, he moved to London and then the US, where he began to fully focus on his art in the year 2000. He describes how watching a film of Marilyn Monroe in his younger years in England motivated him to seek out new adventure in his later life. It was that sense of silver screen wonder, beautifully captured in this exhibition …

Taking inspiration from the great pop artists of the 60s and 70s, Young leans heavily on the screen printing process … Young’s use of colour creates an atmosphere of 60s grandeur, with colours named Vegas and California Gold allowing us to briefly imagine those places at the time. This is not just a celebration of fame, however, but also a reminder of its lows. Marilyn Crying shows us the human side of celebrity; there’s no diamond dust here, just a girl with the world’s eyes upon her, showing us a brief moment of real emotion … We are presented with a celebration of a period arguably started by Monroe and finished by Moss and this is undoubtedly one of the finest exhibitions of its kind.”

Fake James Dean/Marilyn Image Debunked

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In a post debunking fake, Photoshopped images, Gizmodo’s Matt Novak points out a frequently circulated image of Marilyn, supposedly with James Dean. In fact, she was photographed alone by Ed Feingersh in 1955, smoking a cigarette on a balcony overlooking a New York street. The photo of Dean appears to have been taken while filming East of Eden. While the two iconic stars have often been compared, actually they only met on a handful of occasions and were not close friends.

‘The Poster People’: David Bowie and Marilyn

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One of the few modern stars to achieve mythological status on a par with MM, David Bowie died this week. The above photo was taken in 1975, when Bowie was living in Hollywood, by Tom Kelley – most famous as the photographer of Marilyn’s ‘red velvet’ nude calendar.

Back in November 1972, Bowie released ‘The Jean Genie‘, which includes the line ‘Talkin’ ’bout Monroe and walking on Snow White’. The single reached No 2 in the UK, and also features on Bowie’s 1973 album, Aladdin Sane. A film clip was also released, portraying Bowie as his Ziggy Stardust persona, and model Cyrinda Foxe (in whose apartment the song was written) as a ‘consort of the Marilyn brand.’

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Dean Martin’s former wife and a friend of Marilyn, Jeanne Martin, compared her with Bowie in an interview with Anthony Summers for his 1985 book, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. Jeanne captures the chimeric nature of our most beloved stars, but as Summers admitted, Marilyn ‘was much more than a Poster Person’ – and so, of course, was David Bowie.

“I call them the Poster People. They’re the most durably famous, yet in many cases they have nothing to them. You find them only through the roles they play in their films. I am not an uncompassionate person, but look at the way they were. The Montgomery Clifts, and the Marilyn Monroes, Elizabeth Taylor and David Bowie. In life they attract each other. They meet socially, they rush straight at each other, but they have nothing that means anything to mortals. History jettisons them forward into time, and I find their portraits on my son’s bedroom wall, pale and beautiful, but lost to reality.”

Thanks to Fraser Penney