‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ at 56

This rare photo was taken by a fan after Marilyn sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, 56 years ago today.  Marilyn looks far younger than her thirty-five years, and the dress worn by her loyal publicist Pat Newcomb can be seen close behind. Over at Getty Images, Bill Ray – the LIFE magazine photographer who covered the event – shares memories of that legendary evening.

“A quick scan of the program for ‘New York’s Birthday Salute to President Kennedy’ on May 19, 1962, reveals a veritable who’s who of Old Hollywood: Jack Benny, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Danny Kaye. And there, nestled between Peter Lawford and Jimmy Durante, an unmissable entry: Marilyn Monroe. No explanation. No footnote.

‘You could have heard a pin drop,’ recalls Bill Ray … who made the now-iconic image of the actress from behind. ‘I think people were stunned when she finished.’

Due to the disparate lighting conditions — Monroe in a bright spotlight, Kennedy in total darkness — Ray’s dream of getting the two in the same picture didn’t come to fruition. ‘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.'”

Marilyn’s 90 Years Without Oscar

Anticipating this year’s Oscar ceremony, the current issue of Entertainment Weekly (dated February 23-March 2) features extensive coverage of the Academy Awards’ 90-year history. Of course, Marilyn never won an Oscar, nor was she even nominated. But her role in Some Like It Hot, which won her a Golden Globe, is mentioned in a list of legendary ‘Oscar disses.’

Although Some Like It Hot is her best-known film, Marilyn’s screen time was less than her co-stars. Were it not for her top billing, her performance would arguably be more suited to the Best Supporting Actress category. Marilyn’s bombshell image and flair for comedy both worked against her being taken seriously by the Hollywood establishment. But perhaps the most decisive factor was her rebellion against Twentieth Century Fox.

After winning her contractual battle with the studio, her acclaimed comeback in Bus Stop (1956) was overlooked by the Academy – a snub she never forgot. Her next performance, in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), won awards in Europe, while her last completed film, The Misfits (1961), was also her most mature dramatic role. But at the time, neither were particularly well-received in the US.

In 1964, columnist Sheilah Graham petitioned unsuccessfully for Marilyn to be given a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award. However, this is not standard practice within the Academy and thus is highly unlikely to happen now. Nonetheless, Marilyn’s films remain hugely popular and for many, she is the most enduring symbol of movies and glamour – proof, if proof were needed, that you don’t need an Oscar to be a legend.

Spend St. Valentine’s Day With Marilyn

Some Like It Hot is free to stream on Amazon Prime today (US only.) But while it may have the perfect blend of love and laughs for St. Valentine’s Day, it was inspired by a very different event, as Jack Matthews writes for Gold Derby.

“Let’s face it, Valentine’s Day, more than just about any other day with a title, is a mass marketing scheme playing lovers for suckers, a bonanza for Hallmark Cards and Whitman’s Samplers and one that probably creates as much heartbreak as romantic goodwill. I’m not the sentimental type, but I do have an enormous fondness for one movie in which Valentine’s Day plays a prominent role.

It’s not about mass marketing, but mass murder, and based in fact.

In the early scenes of Some Like it Hot, the 1959 Billy Wilder masterpiece that is consistently chosen by critics and film people as the best comedy ever made, a pair of itinerant Depression Era musicians witness the gangland execution of seven men in a Chicago garage and spend the rest of the movie on the run from the mob.

In real life, the massacre resulted from a territorial feud between the Italian mob led by Al Capone and the Irish gang of Bugs Moran. In the movie, the shooting is carried out by the gang of Spats Colombo (George Raft), who coincidentally encounters the two witnesses, now undercover and in drag in an all girls’ band at a beachside resort in California.

Some Like it Hot received six nominations, including two for Wilder’s script and direction and one for Jack Lemmon as the bass player who gets all too comfortable in high heels. Tony Curtis, equally hilarious as the band member smudging his lipstick on the saxophone, should have received one, as well.

In fact, If time could actually fly, it would go back to 1960 and right the wrongs done to both Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, who is wonderful as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, a singer hoping to marry well but falling instead for Curtis’ Cary Grant-impersonating phony billionaire.”

Happy Birthday, Mister Lemmon

Marilyn with Jack Lemmon (centre) and Tony Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot’

Jack Lemmon was born on this day in 1925. Today, Hannah Gatward has posted a selection of Lemmon’s best films on the BFI blog – and unsurprisingly, Some Like It Hot is right up there.

“The first of seven films with Billy Wilder, and Lemmon’s most iconic comedic performance. On the run after witnessing the St Valentine’s Day massacre, musicians Jerry (Lemmon) and his partner Joe (Tony Curtis) disguise themselves as women and escape in an all-girls band, befriending Marilyn Monroe’s magnificent Sugar Kane along the way. It’s timeless farcical fun, with every scene expertly executed. One of the film’s greatest joys is the way Lemmon immerses himself into his alter ego Daphne – his enthusiasm is infectious.”

Meanwhile, the ever-popular Some Like It Hot will be screened soon in two very different, yet fitting venues: firstly, at the Pickwick Theater in Chicago’s upscale Park Ridge district on February 13 (the movie’s storyline begins in Chicago); and secondly, at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, New Jersey on February 14 (Some Like It Hot also features the notorious St Valentine’s Day Massacre as a plot device.)

66 Years Ago: Marilyn at the Henrietta Awards

As this year’s awards season gets underway, the Hollywood Reporter looks back at the ‘Henrietta’, Marilyn’s first major acting award, which she collected on January 8, 1952.  Escorted by Fox publicist Roy Craft, Marilyn wore her notorious Oleg Cassini dress, and was the belle of the ball. The photo shown above was taken by Loomis Dean for Life magazine – and here’s a few more…

“The actress had only starred in a dozen or so minor movies when she received the award from the now-defunct Foreign Press Association of Hollywood in 1952.

In 1950, what’s now called the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had a split-off group called the Foreign Press Association of Hollywood. (The dispute was over some of the original organization’s members not being professional journalists.) The FPAH is now mostly forgotten, save for one memorable act: It gave Marilyn Monroe her first major award in 1952 at Santa Monica’s Club Casa del Mar. (That seaside brick building is now the Hotel Casa del Mar.)

The Henrietta — named after FPAH president Henry Gris — was shaped like a tall, nude woman holding a flower. The group had the prescience to choose Monroe for its International Stardom Award, given to the ‘best young box-office personality.’ (They gave the same award that night to Tony Curtis.) Monroe, then 25, had done a dozen or so minor films, with her standout turn being a small role in John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle.”

 

Merry Christmas to All Our Readers

“Marilyn flew East for Christmas with the Greenes. She was, in fact, escaping from Hollywood and Twentieth Century-Fox, with a bafford press in pursuit. ‘That put us into a little cadre of sort of road-company secret service agents,’ recalls [Judy] Quine, ‘because the whole thing was so hush-hush – where she was, how she was.’ Aware of Milton’s involvement, the press staked out his Lexington Avenue studio, his pied-a-terre on Sutton Place South and the Weston house on Fanton Hill Road. The Greenes outmanoeuvred them by meeting Marilyn’s flight and heading straight for Connecticut. They stopped outside the village of Weston, deposited their precious cargo in the trunk and smuggled her past the paparazzi crowding their driveway.”

From Milton’s Marilyn (1994)