Gene London 1931-2020

Gene London, the television personality turned fashion designer who owned one of the world’s largest Hollywood costume collections, has died aged 88. Born Eugene Yulish in Cleveland, Ohio, he presented a children’s television programme on WCAU Channel 10 in Philadelphia from 1959-77.

When the show was cancelled, Gene moved to New York and started a second career as a dress designer, opening a retro boutique, ‘Gene London: The Fan Club’ on West 19th Street in Manhattan. He also worked as a fashion consultant in film, television and theatre, and as a spokesman for Mikimoto jewellery.

After closing his store in 2001, Gene unveiled over fifty costumes from classic movies which he had collected as a hobby and would showcase in exhibitions over the coming years.

In 2011, Gene appeared on Four Rooms, a UK television show about auctions and collectibles, presenting ‘Myself, Exercising’, an original watercolour by Marilyn Monroe. He was offered £150,000 for the painting, but turned it down.

Gene also owned this photo-booth image of a 13-year-old Norma Jeane, which she had sent with a letter to her older half-sister, Berniece Baker Miracle.

A year later, Gene attended a screening of the biopic My Week With Marilyn, showing filmgoers the original dress worn by Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl (one of four copies.)

“‘You can see by this dress that Marilyn’s figure was ample,’ said London pointing to the white gown. ‘She’s very curvy which was the style then, no longer the style now.’

London said he had his eye on this dress when he was buying other costumes from a man in Wisconsin.

‘The one thing he wouldn’t give me was this dress,’ said London, ‘I wanted it the most of all of them.  He said nope, that’s going to my children.’

But London said the grandchild called 25 years later.

‘I adored the way she acted,’ said London about Monroe. ‘I adore the way she sang “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.”  I just love her.  It’s hard to explain why. I just do.'”

ES Updates

The green blouse and black pencil skirt worn by Marilyn in Bus Stop were featured in Designing Hollywood, an exhibition at the Allentown Museum of Art in 2019.

Among the other items in Gene’s collection were an orange camisole worn by Marilyn in a 1953 glamour shoot.

Gene London died suddenly after a fall at his home in Reading, Pennsylvania on January 19, 2020. He is survived by husband John Thomas, and will be buried alongside his parents in Cleveland.

Marilyn Inspires Opera Gloves Trend

In Marilyn’s day, opera gloves were an essential part of any glamour girl’s wardrobe. And now they’re making a comeback, at least on the red carpet. Reporting for Vogue, Alice Newbold notes that “opera gloves owe a lot to Tinseltown. Marilyn Monroe took a pair of shocking pink satin gloves (layered with weighty diamond bracelets) into mainstream media in 1953 with the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

But Marilyn also wore opera gloves in The Fireball (1950) and The Seven Year Itch (1955), in a photo shoot with Gene Lester, and at numerous glitzy events. In 2002, David H. Shayt wrote an article on the subject for the Smithsonian magazine, after a pair of Marilyn’s gloves was anonymously donated to the National Museum of American History.

“‘Decades before stars would not make a public move without the services of platoons of stylists and designers, Marilyn was a truly great stylist,’ writes Meredith Etherington-Smith, director of Christie’s International, the London-based auction house, in The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe. The gloves, she notes, constituted an important element of the Monroe look. ‘She had many pairs of immaculate beige kid[skin] evening gloves, and she always wore dramatic and beautifully made rhinestone earrings which cascaded in flashing rivers of light…. All this was carefully contrived to increase the effect of her uniquely luminous quality.’

The pair ceded to the NMAH Entertainment Collection are evocative emblems of Monroe’s carefully orchestrated image. Exquisitely stitched in soft white kidskin, the elbow-length gloves bear a faintly detectable blue stain, most likely ink, lightly smudged on the outside of a cuff.

This tantalizing imperfection bespeaks a lost history. Whence the stain? Did Monroe perhaps sign an autograph for an adoring fan wearing these gloves? Scribble observations on a program note? Jot down her phone number for an admirer, even a future husband?

Joe DiMaggio? Arthur Miller?

While the story of the intriguing smudge is consigned to oblivion, there is little doubt the gloves possess symbolic significance as well. They function, says costume historian Shelly Foote of the Smithsonian’s Division of Social History, as a talisman of a vanished era: ‘Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy were among the last prominent glove wearers. In the ’50s, high school girls at proms or debutante balls would not be caught dead without gloves on. But after the mid-1960s, they would not be caught dead wearing them.'”

‘The Misfits’ at the Fairfax

The Misfits will be screened at the Fairfax Cinema in Los Angeles from January 31 – February 2nd this week.

SADNESS PREVAILS AT RODEO. MANY DRINKS INVOLVED. SECOND SHOT AT ROMANCE?

“We are always looking for ‘art,’ or for good stories, drama, ideas, content in movies — as we are accustomed to in books. Why don’t we forget literature, and drama, and Aristotle! Let’s watch the face of man on the screen, the face of Marilyn Monroe, as it changes, reacts. No drama, no ideas, but a human face in all its nakedness — something that no other art can do. Let’s watch this face, its movements, its shades; it is this face, the face of MM that is the content and story and idea of the film, that is the whole world, in fact — if you know what I mean.”

Jonas Mekas

Today in Theatre History: After the Fall

56 years years ago today, on January 23rd, 1964, Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, opened at the ANTA Theatre on Washington Square in New York, as Playbill Vault reports. Miller’s first new play in eight years, After the Fall proved controversial, not least in the casting of director Elia Kazan’s wife Barbara Loden as Maggie, a drug-addicted, suicidal pop singer, reminiscent of Arthur’s ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe. Maggie’s lawyer husband Quentin was played by Jason Robards, not Christopher Plummer (who would finally play Miller’s conflicted hero ten years later, opposite Faye Dunaway in a TV movie of the same.) After the Fall ran for 208 performances, and remains one of Miller’s more frequently revived plays. You can read more about the play and its links to Marilyn here.

Marilyn Inspires Artist Dan Cooney

Comic book artist Dan Cooney, whose graphic novels include the upcoming second volume in his Tommy Gun Dolls series, has included this drawing of Marilyn (after a 1953 photo by Alfred Eisenstadt) among other portraits of Hollywood icons and book illustrations on display in Cooney’s first public exhibition at the Oak Bluffs Library in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, as Gwyn McAllister reports for the MV Times.

Marilyn Funko Pop Due in Spring

After launching a limited edition Marilyn figurine in their Hollywood store last year (see here), Funko Pop have announced a new model inspired by The Seven Year Itch to be launched this Spring as Sean Fallon reports for the Comic Book website. The black-and-white version, due in May, is also limited edition (pre-order here), but the colour doll will be mass-produced, and is available in April (pre-order here.)

Thanks to Megan

Marilyn and the Polka Dot

As Shelby Rowe Moyer notes in her ‘History of the Polka Dot’ for South Sound magazine, Marilyn wore a number of polka-dot dresses (and a bikini) to great effect. Originally known as Dotted Swiss, the print took off during the Industrial Revolution and later renamed after the Polka, a Czech peasant dance popularised in the 1830s.

In 1926, the year Marilyn was born, Norma Smallwood seized victory in the Miss America contest wearing a polka-dot bathing suit, and launched a fashion craze. In 1952, Marilyn wore an ivory rayon Ceil Chapman dress with oversized red polka dots while visiting Atlantic City, where she greeted contestants in that year’s Miss America pageant. A year prior, she had caused sensation on the Love Nest set by sporting a bikini with hot pink polka-dots designed by Renié, and considered daring for the era.

The white cotton halter-neck sheath dress that Marilyn wore to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1953, designed by Dorothy Jeakins, wasn’t quite ‘polka-dot’ but spotted with eyelets. Marilyn makes her first entrance in The Seven Year Itch (1955) wearing a polka-dot dress, one of Travilla’s spectacular designs for the film. And finally, she wore a blue polka-dot sundress for a photo shoot with Sam Shaw in 1957.

Bill Ray, Marilyn’s ‘Mr President’ Photographer, Has Died

LIFE magazine photographer Bill Ray, who got the scoop of a lifetime when he captured Marilyn’s singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ at Madison Square Garden in 1962, has died aged 83, the New York Post reports.

Born in Shelby, Nebraska, Bill joined the Omaha Camera Club aged eleven and built a professional darkroom in his family home. At seventeen, he got his first newspaper job in Lincoln; and in 1957, after excelling in a photographic workshop in Hannibal, Missouri, he moved to New York to work for LIFE. During the 1960s, he worked extensively in Paris and Hollywood.

Bill and his wife of 62 years, Marlys Ray, lived in an apartment overlooking Central Park in Manhattan. He died of a heart attack on January 8, 2020.

“‘It had been a noisy night, a very ‘rah rah rah’ kind of atmosphere. Then boom, on comes this spotlight. There was no sound. No sound at all. It was like we were in outer space. [Marilyn’s dress] was skin-colored, and it was skin-tight. It was sewn on, covered with brilliant crystals. There was this long, long pause … and finally, she comes out with this unbelievably breathy, ‘Happy biiiiirthday to youuuu,’ and everybody just went into a swoon. I was praying [that I could get the shot] because I had to guess at the exposure. It was a very long lens, and I had no tripod, so I had to rest the lens itself on the railing, and tried very, very hard not to breathe … If you got a picture from the front, everybody else would have it on the front page the next day and it wouldn’t be good for LIFE. You always needed something different. I had this idea that if I got way up I could shoot over Marilyn’s shoulder and have Kennedy in the picture. There was one slightly before that’s a little blurry because of the 300 mm lens. Shortly thereafter the lights went out and she disappeared, and the next thing I knew JFK was up on the stage. If I’d been luckier, there would have been a tiny bit of light that would have spilled onto Kennedy, who was over her shoulder between the podium and her head. ”

Bill Ray

Eminem References Marilyn, Hitchcock and Tate

Rapper Eminem’s surprise new ‘horrorcore’ album, Music to Be Murdered By, is supposedly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, but its violent, misogynistic themes are nothing new. In a post cataloguing the album’s cinematic references, Screen Rant‘s Q.V. Hough notes that among the new tracks, ‘Little Engine‘ includes a sampled intro from Hitch himself, plus a nod to murdered actress Sharon Tate and a drug-fuelled allusion to Marilyn (‘I’m losin’ control / Heroin and blow, Marilyn Monroe …’) Neither is very accurate, as Tate was stabbed to death, not shot as Eminem claims; and Marilyn never used heroin or cocaine (blow.) Both women deserve better.