A month-long retrospective dedicated to Hollywood’s greatest blonde icons – Marilyn and Marlene Dietrich – is now in progress at MIC: The Interactive Cinema Museum in Milan, Italy. Still to come are The Seven Year Itch (August 6); There’s No Business Like Show Business (August 9); Let’s Make Love (August 10); Bus Stop (August 12); Niagara (August 13); Don’t Bother to Knock (August 16); How to Marry a Millionaire (August 19); Bert Stern: Original Madman (August 20); Monkey Business (August 23); Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days (August 24); Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (August 26); and Some Like It Hot (August 27.)
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.”
Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose flamboyant lifestyle and many husbands made headlines for nearly eighty years, has died of a heart attack at her home in Bel Air, aged 99.
The second of three daughters, Sári Gábor was born in Budapest on February 6, 1917 (although she later claimed the year was 1928.) She made her theatrical debut in a Viennese operetta at seventeen, and was crowned ‘Miss Hungary’ two years later. Her first marriage, at twenty, was to politician Burhan Asaf Belge.
In 1942 she married the American hotelier, Conrad Hilton. During their five-year marriage she gave birth to a daughter, Francesca, and co-wrote an autobiographical novel, Every Man For Himself. In 1949 she rejected the lead role in a film adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and married the British actor, George Sanders.
In 1950, Sanders was cast as the acerbic theatre critic Addison DeWitt in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic Broadway satire, All About Eve. Among his illustrious co-stars was Marilyn Monroe, as a beautiful young starlet who accompanies DeWitt to a party hosted by ageing star Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis.)
In her 1954 memoir, My Story, Marilyn remembered being seated next to Sanders during lunch at the studio, when a waiter called him to the telephone. On his return, a pale, nervous Sanders quickly paid for his meal and left. That afternoon, his stand-in asked Marilyn to keep her distance.
“I turned red at being insulted like this but I suddenly realised what had happened,” she wrote. “Mr Sanders’ wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor, obviously had a spy on the set, and this spy had flashed the news to her that he was sitting at a table with me, and Miss Gabor had telephoned him immediately and given him a full list of instructions.”
But Zsa Zsa’s jealousy was soon reignited at a Hollywood party. “George went straight over to say hello to Marilyn, but Zsa Zsa got no farther than the door,” photographer Anthony Beauchamp recalled in his autobiography, Focus on Fame. “She too had spotted Miss Monroe, and she turned on me like an infuriated Persian kitten. In a voice that echoed across the room, and with the well-known Gabor intonations, she exploded in indignation: ‘How can you ‘ave this woman in your ‘ouse, I will not stay in the room wis her!’ Nor did she. Zsa Zsa when she gets going is quite powerful – in lungs, accent and gesture.”
“Poor Marilyn was sitting quietly in a corner, making trouble for no one except perhaps for half a dozen men and their wives,” Beauchamp added wryly. “Zsa Zsa swept into a bedroom closely followed by her mother where they sat it out until George was ready to go home.”
Zsa Zsa made her movie debut in the 1952 musical, Lovely To Look At. Her next film, We’re Not Married!, was an anthology about a justice of the peace who accidentally marries several couples on Christmas Eve, two days before his license becomes valid. Marilyn starred as a beauty queen in one episode, and Zsa Zsa played the gold-digging bride of Louis Calhern in another. (Back in 1950, Marilyn had played Calhern’s mistress in The Asphalt Jungle.)
In November 1952, Look magazine further exposed what Marilyn called “the one-sided Gabor feud” by publishing ‘What’s Wrong With American Men?’, an article penned by Zsa Zsa, with marginal notes by Marilyn highlighting their very different attitudes towards the opposite sex (click on the photos below to enlarge.)
Zsa Zsa went on to play roles in Moulin Rouge, The Story of Three Loves and Lilli. After she divorced Sanders in 1954, he went on to marry her sister, Eva. Nonetheless, Zsa Zsa would often describe him as the love of her life.
In the late 1950s, she starred in two cult B-films (The Girl in the Kremlin and Queen of Outer Space), as well as taking in a cameo role in Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Touch of Evil. She continued working in the theatre and was regularly seen on television.
Her sixth marriage was to Barbie doll designer Jack Ryan, and her eighth (to a Mexican actor) was annulled after just one day. In 1986, she joined the ranks of royalty by marrying Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, a German-American entrepreneur who had paid Princess Marie Auguste of Anhalt to adopt him six years earlier.
In 1989, Zsa Zsa was arrested for slapping a Beverly Hills policeman after he stopped her in her car for a traffic violation. She later recreated the incident in one of her last films, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991.)
“Marilyn was a very dull girl,” Zsa Zsa told Playboy (as quoted in The Unabridged Marilyn, 1987.) “She thought that if a man who takes her out for dinner doesn’t sleep with her that night – something’s wrong with her.” She went on to claim that she and Sanders had once counted four men visiting Marilyn’s hotel room in one evening during filming of All About Eve, a tale that is probably apocryphal. “That’s a terrible thing to say about somebody whom the whole country admires,” she admitted.
By 2011, Zsa Zsa had mellowed considerably. “In the beginning I didn’t like her because she was flirting with my husband,” she said, while opening a trunk owned by Marilyn during a fan contest at Planet Hollywood. “We had lunch and we talked it over, and she was very nice and she never flirted with him again.”
Zsa Zsa’s final years were marred by ill-health, and legal and financial problems. When her estranged daughter Francesca died in 2015, Zsa Zsa was too frail to hear the news. She is survived by her last husband, with whom she lived for thirty years.
Two academic studies make significant references to Marilyn this autumn. From Reverence to Rape, Molly Haskell’s feminist critique of Hollywood, is now in its third edition. Haskell writes well about how typecasting hindered Marilyn’s career. In Modern Acting: The Lost Chapter of American Film and Theatre, Cynthia Baron considers the influence of the Method on her performances. Adrienne L. McLean also mentions Marilyn at the peak of her glamour in Costume, Makeup and Hair, the latest in Rutgers’ Behind the Silver Screen series.
On a lighter note, Marilyn is among the bevy of bombshells featured in Richard Koper’s Fifties Blondes, and the stories behind some of herfavourite Hollywood haunts are revealed in L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a coffee-table tome by George Gerry.
“Having been a fan of the legend that is Marilyn Monroe since an early age, it seemed whoever I interviewed had either met / worked and known something about her during my journalistic career. As the years went on I noticed this even more, to the point I was lucky enough to meet and interview some very famous people whom have not had their ‘Marilyn’ stories told before. I started with a trusty cassette player, which along the way had me meeting the likes of Sir Lawrence Oliver, Charlton Heston and even Sir Norman Wisdom. What is fascinating when reviewing the tapes – along with never broadcast interviews with Tony Curtis, Mickey Rooney and Debbie Reynolds to name just a few – is how revealing the whole conversations are. I urge everyone to take a look at the book if you’re a true Marilyn fan, as it will give you a rare insight into her final months: and as Ricci Martin (Son of Dean) who met Marilyn many times told me, ‘it’s the biggest story in the world of showbiz ever and yes I was party to it in many ways which is frightening.'”
Recent updates to the Immortal Marilyn website include a sensitive piece about Marilyn’s endometriosis and miscarriages; profiles of her contemporaries, Anita Ekberg and James Dean; a vintage piece from Uncensored magazine, about Marilyn and Frank Sinatra; an interview with Marilyn collector Sirkku Aaltonen; and a new regular feature, the weekly news roundup.
“The locks from the estate of Monroe super-fan Frieda Hull, who had obtained the hair from the Tinseltown starlet’s hairdresser, sold for a whopping $70,000 combined. Julien’s originally expected the hair to sell for only a few thousand dollars.
One of the bidders on Monroe’s golden tresses was Remi Gangarossa, a 31-year-old Chicago financial professional. Despite his relatively young age, Gangarossa told CNBC he’d been ‘infatuated’ with Hollywood and one of its most tragic icons for most of his life.
Fate may have intervened to grant Gangarossa one of his biggest wishes. He explained that Julien’s was originally scheduled to auction a slate of Monroe’s former property in November, but decided to auction just a few of her items off in a separate event, which took place last weekend.
The Chicago resident said he had already received offers to buy the hair, but ‘I said absolutely not,’ Gangarossa told CNBC. ‘It’s an interesting thing to know my investment was worth it, but it’s not for sale.'”
Unfairly dismissed as the poor man’s Monroe, Jayne Mansfield was a star in her own right and, like Marilyn, far more talented and intelligent than she was given credit for. April VeVea (author of Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life) is currently writing a book about Jayne, and compares the iconic blondes in an article for Immortal Marilyn.
In an article for The Australian, Philippa Hawker charts the history of blondes in cinema -arguing that Marilyn continues to leave her mark on the evocation of blondeness.
“In cinema — not to mention fairytale, myth, art, literature, politics and the realm of popular culture in general — the image of the blonde or the fair-haired woman has carried a strong symbolic charge. It can be identified with innocence and purity but also with artifice and duplicity. It can suggest bounty, dazzle and allure, the implication that all that glisters is not necessarily gold. It can convey a heightened sense of spectacle. It is almost always associated with a notion of the feminine. The figure of the blonde is one of Hollywood’s most potent emblems and exports, and it has had an influence on other movie cultures over the years.
In cinema, the figure of the blonde often appears alongside the contrasting figure of the brunette; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, is probably the most engaging example…
And, of course, there is Monroe, defining Hollywood blondeness, and to some degree transcending it by sheer effort of will. Her body of studio work is surprisingly confined: only once, in Clash by Night (1952), in which she portrays a cannery worker, did she play a character with an ordinary job. In her major roles she was always a variation on a gold-digger or a stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’ — yet she managed to subvert the stereotyping or deepen its implications, no matter what the challenge was off-screen. In The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), on what was reportedly a chaotic and troubled set, she gives an effortlessly appealing performance in an unlikely period piece: it is her co-star, Laurence Olivier (also her director), who appears awkward and uncomfortable.
Monroe, one way or another, continues to leave her mark on the evocation of blondeness. In the 80s, Madonna did her best to own it, restaging Monroe’s ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number, rifling through the Hollywood cultural dress-up box for a variety of shades and identities. Her video clip for ‘Vogue’, directed by David Fincher, explicitly raids both classic Hollywood portraiture and the vogueing phenomenon of the gay club.”
The Life archive has taken a look back at the career of actress Sheree North, who replaced Marilyn after she refused to appear in Fox’s How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955.) The parallels between them are also noted in a separate article by Jen Carlson for LAist.com.
Monroe didn’t take the threat very seriously, telling columnist Earl Wilson rather impishly, “Sometimes I kid the fans. They say, ‘Oh, you’re Marilyn Monroe!’ I say, ‘Oh no, I’m Mamie Van Doren’ – or, ‘Sheree North’ – if I’m in a real hurry.”
Six years Marilyn’s junior, Sheree was groomed by the studio as a stand-in for their rebellious star. This was not her decision, as she had no wish to dethrone MM. She later became a respected character actress, even playing Gladys Baker in the TV movie, Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980.)
In 2008, three years after her death, a photo of Ms North being dressed for her role in How to Be Very Very, Very Popular by costume designer Travilla was misidentified as Marilyn in a number of leading newspapers, including the Telegraph.