Film historian Karina Longworth, who recently devoted three episodes of her ‘You Must Remember This’ podcast to Marilyn (which I’ll be reviewing soon), has compiled a list of ‘9 Movies You Need to Watch To Understand Old Hollywood‘ for Harper’s Bazaar. All nine films can be streamed via Warner Archive. Her choices, including Jean Harlow’s Bombshell (1933), are interesting. Last on the list is The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), which is surprising because it’s not really a Hollywood film, and Longworth considers it ‘boring.’
She compares it unfavourably to Bus Stop, stating that Marilyn produced both films, but in fact, Showgirl was her company’s only production to date. Although rather slow-paced, ithas plenty of old-world charm, and even Sir Laurence Olivier would later admit that “Marilyn was quite wonderful, the best of all. So what do you know?”
“This is definitely one of my least favorite Marilyn Monroe films, but it’s a fascinating period in her life. It was a very troubled production … though she did it through her production company, she had a very difficult time wielding power … Because this was such a pivotal point in Marilyn’s career, this is the artifact that comes out of that—out of a lot of struggle and sadness … her performance in [Bus Stop] is super great, and she was really excited about it because it was a way of her depicting her struggle in this industry where men are objectifying her. To go from that to The Prince and the Showgirl is kind of a letdown.”
Over at Refinery 29, Valis Vicenty investigates how Marilyn’s beauty tips hold up today – saying ‘yes’ to bedroom eyes and contoured lips, but ‘no’ to Vaseline. The article rather overestimates the influence of Max Factor – Marilyn perfected many of her unique flourishes by herself, or with Fox makeup man Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder – but is otherwise an interesting look at how new technologies have streamlined our routines.
Blogger Caroline Colvin takes a closer look at Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in her RomCom of the Week series, arguing that its portrayal of female sexuality is far more progressive than early critics realised.
“When the film first came out, critics berated Lorelei and Dorothy (and by extension, Monroe and Russell) for their sexual confidence. Their forwardness, by modern standards, however, is considered praiseworthy. It’s two sides of the same coin: either the women’s sexiness makes them solely objects for male consumption or their fearless sex appeal is a mark of empowerment, making them subjects, autonomous, active players in their own adult lives.
Are Dorothy and Lorelei villains of female sexuality, preying on and victimizing men? Or are they modern-day heroes for finessing the patriarchal, capitalist framework they’re living in?
Often, the process of unpacking gendered implications in film is like looking for a diamond in the rough. And as seen with with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, sometimes, it takes a little extra sifting.”
In an interesting article for Broadly, Mitchell Sunderland explores the bizarre phenomenon of #ThugMarilyn – the images of a tattooed, gun-toting MM which adorn unofficial t-shirts, phone covers and social media pages, yet are the antithesis of the real Marilyn’s sweetly sexy persona and her gentle, introspective private self. While some fans clearly feel this makes her more relatable, to me #ThugMarilyn is as mythical as the ‘dumb blonde’ character she sometimes played in movies. Furthermore, I’m not sure Marilyn would have wanted to be associated with violence and crime.
“Marilyn Monroe has lost her edge. Her sexual roles and nude Playboy pictorial made her one of the most controversial women of the 20th century, but the masses turned her once forbidden image into a backdrop for inspirational quotes posted on Pinterest and Instagram.
#ThugMarilyn posts cover Monroe in a 20th century aesthetic that opposes the sanitized version of her that appears on dorm room posters and alongside inspirational quotes, but it’s questionable how the hashtag associates tattoos and basketball jerseys with a dangerous coolness.
But the images of Monroe and Los Angeles have always been open to interpretation: Monroe played comedic roles while suffering from depression in her off time, and the underground has always lurked under the surface and around the corner from movie studio lots … Despite the dull quotes that millennials now attribute to her name, the underworld and hustling has always defined Monroe as much as her movie stardom—just like Los Angeles itself.
As much as #ThugMarilyn drawings rely on glaring stereotypes, their creators believe they’re bringing authenticity to Monroe’s life and legacy, which contain multitudes and contradictions. Monroe never flashed guns or paid for a tattoo sleeve, but her public persona consisted of playing dumb blonde comedic roles while navigating a tragic personal life and a sexuality the public deemed controversial.”
Movie website Cheat Sheet has compiled a list of Marilyn’s best films. It includes some great picks, but I think The Prince and the Showgirl, and maybe Clash By Night should be up there too. Which are your favourites?
In an article for Film School Rejects, Angela Morrison asks why Marilyn’s acting achievements are still so often overlooked, and examines how her career was impacted by typecasting.
“What frequently happens when actors play the same types of characters over and over again is that audiences assume that the actor is their character in real life … many people believe Marilyn Monroe was genuinely being herself onscreen. This is inaccurate and does not give her very much credit for the hard work that went into her performances.
She essentially played the same character in all of her comedies, but brought a unique spin to each story … Flashes of her dramatic talents are visible in some of her early roles, such as her emotionally damaged babysitter in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), and and her femme fatale in 1953’s Niagara (one of my personal favorites of her performances).
Her final performance as Roslyn in John Huston’s The Misfits (1961) is just as powerful as Bus Stop, although perhaps more depressing … she was no longer playing young and naive ‘starlets’, but was instead portraying complex women. It takes talent to play both comedy and drama; however, dramas such as The Misfits require a different kind of depth than comedies such as Some Like It Hot (1959).”
A lavishly illustrated article about the photographer and artist Earl Moran’s risqué work with a young Marilyn in the 1940s has been posted at Messy Nessy Chic. The photos were used as a basis for his illustrations, and the model’s true identity remained a secret until the 1980s – proving that Marilyn’s more famous calendar for Tom Kelley wasn’t her first experience of posing au naturel.
“In 1946, a nineteen year-old aspiring actress in Hollywood was in need of a job, and fast. Born Norma Jean Dougherty, destined to become Marilyn Monroe, but in between, for those not-so-squeaky-clean modelling jobs, she preferred to go by Mona– with a going rate of $10 an hour.
The famous artist and the unknown aspiring actress struck up an unlikely friendship and for the next four years, Marilyn would pose regularly for Earl, and she credited him with making her skinny legs look better than they were in real-life.
But with some of Moran’s illustrations the then little known actress’s body seems to have ended up with a not-so-familiar face to the iconic one we’ve come to know so well. Combining poses and facial expressions from more than one model was common practice for pin-up artists. The late artist’s surviving and most accurate depictions of Monroe are of course now considered his most valuable.”
April VeVea (author of Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life) has created a new blog, Classic Blondes – dedicated to Marilyn and her contemporaries. In her latest post, April examines the longstanding assumption that Marilyn’s talents were wasted due to her being typecast in ‘dumb blonde’ roles at Twentieth Century Fox.
“With the exception of Bus Stop, Marilyn’s dramatic roles were NOT making nearly as much as her comedic roles. Fox wasn’t going to throw money into pictures so Marilyn could play in serious roles when they could have hits if she stuck to her comedic skill set. The public was the ultimate typecaster of Marilyn, not Fox … Marilyn actually had a pretty diverse career. Her pictures were evenly spread out between serious and comedic and she shone brightly in most. Her ability to keep herself at a 50/50 split once achieving stardom is amazing. That deserves praise and recognition.”
In another article, April compares Marilyn’s career to that of another fifties bombshell, Jayne Mansfield.
“While Jayne’s movies never grossed as highly as Marilyn’s, it’s safe to say that she was a solid earner for Fox when she was in her element. People wanted to see Jayne in glitz and glamour but her movies also needed to have a solid story line, like Marilyn’s … Jayne wasn’t a bad actress nor was she ‘over’ before she hit 30. She was just promoted incorrectly by Fox and dumped when Marilyn went back to her niche.”
Marilyn’s hilarious performance as the wide-eyed trickster Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is lauded today in ‘100 More Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy’, a virtual timeline for the Vulture website.
“Dumb-blonde jokes can be traced back as far as the 18th century, but it was Marilyn Monroe’s portrayal of Lorelei Lee that cemented them in modern pop culture. During this big dance number, Monroe’s iconic look, bleached-blonde and adorned in a thick diamond choker with a tight bright-pink dress, creates the prototype for a dumb blonde. She needs to be flamboyantly feminine, and speak softly and vapidly. As she says in the movie, ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.’ Monroe’s quick quips of feigned ignorance are supported by the groundedness of Dorothy Shaw, played by Jane Russell, in a rare-for-the-time female comedy duo. Helmed by Howard Hawks, a director famous for his ‘Hawksian’ tough-talking woman, the movie demonstrates comedy through the actress’s use of sexual agency. Monroe’s femininity is not an object but a tool to get what she wants — famously, diamonds. The sheer size of Monroe’s performance defined this fundamentally American archetype. Without her, there would be no Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Cher in Clueless, or Elle Woods of Legally Blonde.”
In a new series about Marilyn’s contemporaries for Immortal Marilyn, Leslie Kasperowicz profiles Gene Tierney, the beautiful star of Laura. Gene found fame during the 1940s at Marilyn’s home studio, Twentieth Century-Fox. Her first husband was Oleg Cassini, one of Marilyn’s favourite designers (you may recognise Gene’s red Cassini dress in this photo, as it was also worn by Marilyn.)