Marilyn, Jayne Mansfield and a Hollywood Taboo

Bathing Blondes: Marilyn in 1962 (left), and Jayne Mansfield in 1963 (right)

In 1962, Marilyn was set to become the first American actress to appear nude in a mainstream movie since Pre-Code days – but following her untimely death, that honour went to another blonde star, Jayne Mansfield, in a film released just a year later, produced independently with Tommy Noonan (who had played Marilyn’s love interest a decade earlier in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.) And as with Marilyn’s shelved nude scene, Jayne’s big moment would make the cover of Playboy.

Although Jayne would reveal more than Marilyn did, both scenes showed the stars bathing (Marilyn in a pool, Jayne in a tub), and discovered by a shy, bespectacled man (Phil Silvers and Noonan respectively.) Kristin Hunt reports on the story behind a Hollywood watershed for Vulture – and if you’d like to learn more about Jayne, read Puffblicity, an illustrated biography by April VeVea, author of MM: A Day in the Life.

Marilyn in ‘The Misfits’ (left) and ‘Something’s Got to Give’ (right)

“Monroe filmed two nude scenes — one for 1961’s The Misfits and one for 1962’s Something’s Got to Give — but neither made it into theaters in one piece. The first scene was cut and the second was a mere fragment of an unfinished movie … The Something’s Got to  Give scene was a little more intentional. Monroe’s character Ellen is supposed to swim nude, as a means to entice her estranged husband Nick from his hotel room. The footage of Monroe skinny-dipping in a pool is now available in multiple YouTube clips, but the movie never screened for era audiences, since Monroe was fired and then died before filming wrapped.

Either scene would’ve made Monroe the first American star to go nude in a Hollywood movie in decades. But in Monroe’s absence, it was Jayne Mansfield who shattered the long-standing tradition. Like Monroe, Mansfield was a buxom blonde with a complicated reputation — but unlike Monroe, she craved the industry’s constant spotlight, and frequently used her body to get it.

While onscreen nudity certainly existed before 1962, it had been outlawed in the U.S. for decades under the Production Code … It was against that backdrop that Mansfield made her topless debut in the 1963 swingers cruise-ship comedy Promises! Promises! The actress was in a bit of a career slump at the time … Mansfield had always been famous for her crass publicity stunts, which often involved her ‘accidentally’ losing her clothing … Those blatant headline grabs had launched Mansfield’s career, landing her a star-making role in the 1956 comedy The Girl Can’t Help It, and they also made her distinct from her blonde-bombshell rival Monroe, who generated tabloid fodder without really trying.

Shortly after Monroe’s 1962 death, The New York Times ran an article explaining why each ‘successor’ to Monroe was an inadequate replacement: Ava Gardner was too reclusive, Kim Novak too serious, Natalie Wood too slight. But the newspaper reserved some of its meanest comments for Mansfield. ‘Jayne Mansfield, whom 20th Century Fox was building as a Love Goddess nominee, suffers from too much publicity and too few roles,’ The New York Times wrote. ‘She has become rather a caricature — like Mae West — and alienates the segment which takes sex seriously.’

If she was already a caricature, it made sense for Mansfield to seek out the absurdity of a sexploitation film. Promises! Promises! was a translation of Edna Sheklow’s 1960 play The Plant, about two couples on a cruise ship who swap partners in a drunken haze, and then have to figure out who fathered which pregnancy. Actor Tommy Noonan purchased the film rights after nearly starring in the stage show, planning to write, direct, produce, and act in the movie.

Tommy Noonan co-starred with both Jayne and Marilyn

Noonan would’ve known as well as anyone the risks of including a nude scene, even within the context of this racy plot … But a code violation didn’t carry the weight it once did, because by 1963, the entire system of censorship was running on life support … Mansfield’s nude scene arrives fairly early into Promises! Promises!, soon after the couples have settled into their cabins. Her screen husband Jeff (Noonan) has just been to see the ship’s medic about his sperm. When he returns — in high spirits, after receiving a placebo from the doctor — he finds Sandy (Mansfield) stepping out of a bath, where she was just cooing the song I’m in Love under a blanket of bubbles. She appears in the doorway, patting down her torso with a towel that does nothing to obscure her chest. The shot lingers for a few seconds before she closes the bathroom door to dress.

As the crew filmed, a photographer for Playboy took extra shots to run in the magazine, pocketing them for the eventual publicity campaign. Despite Mansfield’s name, Promises! Promises! was a B-film to its core, shepherded by an actor-turned-auteur who was not quite a household name and who harbored no artistic pretensions. The movie entered markets without MPAA approval or studio backing, which meant it had to rely solely on advertising. You can guess what the publicity team focused on.

Marilyn and Jayne’s nude scenes were (un)covered by Playboy

Playboy published its behind-the-scenes images in the June 1963 issue, promising ‘The Nudest Jayne Mansfield’ on the cover. Enterprising movie exhibitors were only too happy to join in the ogling … But in many cities, the exploitative advertising and lack of MPAA approval were a liability, with censorship boards in Maryland, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and other markets attempting to keep the film out. When the Playboy issues hit newsstands, Hugh Hefner was arrested and hauled into Chicago court for ‘publishing and distributing an obscene magazine.’ The city based its complaint on two ‘particularly obscene’ images showing Mansfield lying naked on a bed with a fully clothed man. The case ended in a mistrial, letting Hefner off the hook.

Though Promises! Promises! made money, it was too crass and too indie to recoup Mansfield’s struggling stardom — and her career never bounced back to its 1950s heights. Critics savaged the film, with Variety calling it unsuitable for ‘anyone whose mentality surpasses that of a 5-year-old.’ But the topless scene did indicate where films were heading in respect to the policy against nudity. The following year in 1964, The Pawnbroker challenged the Production Code with a much more artistic — and much more upsetting — use of nudity through a Holocaust flashback sequence. The film had a celebrated director in Sidney Lumet and a serious method star in Rod Steiger, and due to this pedigree, it had more of a lasting impact than Promises! Promises! could, setting a precedent that would make it easier for movies to include nude scenes.”

Marilyn Featured in University Archives Auction

This signed photo of a young Marilyn (taken in 1947) is among three interesting lots coming up at University Archives on August 22.

Also featured is a type-written letter from Marilyn, allowing her name to be quoted in Green Eyes, a 1957 movie starring Susan Oliver, released as The Green-Eyed Blonde.  Interestingly, Marilyn’s friend Steffi Sidney (daughter of columnist Sidney Skolsky) played a small role in this teen drama set in a home for wayward girls.

“The dialogue which Monroe granted permission to use was for the film, the Green-eyed Blonde: ‘JOYCE: / (before mirror) / How’s my hair? / BETSY: / (genuine admiration) / It’s beautiful, Joyce! / JOYCE: / (preening herself) / It’s kind of the way Marilyn Monroe does hers.’ The film was released by Warner Bros. on December 14, 1957.”

And finally, this 1958 letter to Manhattan department store Bloomingdale’s allowed Marilyn’s secretary, May Reis, to use her charge account.

Mara Lynn’s ‘Diamond’ Role With Marilyn

The actress and dancer Mara Lynn, who had a small part in Let’s Make Love, is profiled in today’s Winchester News-Gazette. Born Marilyn Mozier in Chicago in 1927, she is believed to have attended Winchester High School in Indiana. After studying classical dance with George Balanchine, she found fame on Broadway in Inside USA (1948.) This led to more musicals, and a long career as a dance director and performer in Las Vegas.  She broke into movies with the camp classic, Prehistoric Women (1950), and appeared on television as a glamorous sidekick to comedians Groucho Marx and Milton Berle.

Let’s Make Love is perhaps her most notable film. The article claims that Mara ‘gave acting lessons to Marilyn Monroe at Marilyn’s New York apartment,’ but this seems highly unlikely. She may have helped Marilyn to limber up for her dance numbers, however.

In Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Gary Vitacco-Robles summarises Marla’s brief scene with Marilyn and Yves Montand.

“Clement [Montand] is used to women who are interested in him for his money and is moved by Amanda’s [MM] noble intention. He claims to sell costume jewellery between acting jobs and offers to sell her the diamond bracelet for five dollars. ‘The box looks like it’s worth more than that!’ she says, agreeing to buy it. Another dancer (Mara Lynn) admires the bracelet as a gift for her sick mother, and Amanda graciously offers it to her. Later, the dancer tells Clement her mother is long deceased. To retrieve the bracelet, he explains that its gems were exposed to radioactive atomic rays to produce their sparkle and will make the skin on her wrist peel. Horrified, the dancer removes the bracelet from her wrist, throws it at Clement, and takes back her money.”

Paris Hilton’s Marilyn-Style Valentine

Heiress and socialite Paris Hilton’s love of Marilyn has been evident since she became a reality TV star in the early 2000s. (Personally, I’ve always thought she resembled one of the ditzy gold-diggers Marilyn played on film than Monroe herself.) Now 36, Paris is a DJ, singer and has even launched her own perfume. Her new, retro-style single, I Need You, was released on St Valentine’s Day, and the accompanying video – directed by fiance Chris Zylka – shows Paris embracing vintage glamour, with at least one Marilyn-inspired costume – more details over at Instyle.

Halsey’s Blonde Inspiration From Marilyn

US singer-songwriter Halsey’s new look has been compared to Marilyn’s  after bleaching her hair blonde and cutting it in a curly blonde pixie ‘crop’ in time for P. Diddy’s New Year’s Eve party in Miami, as noted by Jacqueline Laurean Yates at Yahoo Lifestyle. This week, she performed at a New York gala for the AIDS charity, AmFAR, in a ‘nude’ dress that drew comparisons to Marilyn’s ‘birthday dress’, worn for her performance at the John F. Kennedy gala in 1962, as Mary Anderson reports for The Revelist. (And while Halsey’s revealing attire makes that iconic garment look positively demure, it’s worth remembering that Marilyn’s glamorous style was also deemed as ‘scandalous’ back in the day.)

Sally Kirkland Inspired By Marilyn

Actress Sally Kirkland began her career just after Marilyn died, in 1963. She played small roles in some notable films, including The Sting, The Way We Were, A Star Is Born and Private Benjamin, before earning an Oscar nomination for Anna (1987.) She later played Marilyn in The Island, a 1998 comedy which imagines a young man finding Monroe and John F. Kennedy still alive and well on a desert island (which sounds rather like a bizarre sequel to Something’s Got to Give.)

Now 76, Sally has unforunately suffered a head injury after falling during a radio appearance, and is now in hospital undergoing surgery but is expected to make a full recovery. In a 2016 interview with Jeff Cramer for his Stone Cold Crazy blog, she revealed that Marilyn had been an important influence on her career. (The story that Shelley Winters told Sally about Marilyn’s ‘fuck-me shoes’ should probably taken with a large pinch of salt, as Shelley was prone to exaggerate. As far as I know, the phrase was popularised during the 1990s.)

“I stopped being shy sometime in the early ’60s,with what’s called ‘the private moments’ at the Actors Studio where I do my imitation of Marilyn Monroe on the calendar. I would find some way to take my clothes off in a private moment, and with Lee Strasberg’s support. Pretty soon, everybody in the Actors Studio was waiting for me to take my clothes off.

I was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and also at 18 I had met Shelley Winters who took me under her wing, adopted me. She had lived with Marilyn. So she gave me Marilyn’s shoes that were open toe, open back and they were called ‘Fuck Me Shoes’ according to Shelley. Marilyn’s Fuck Me Shoes. I wore them everywhere. I wore them absolutely everywhere and that gave me the power of being Marilyn Monroe. It also gave me the power to take off all my clothes.”

Greta Thyssen 1927-2018

The Danish-born actress turned artist Greta Thyssen – who made her Hollywood debut as a body double for Marilyn in Bus Stop, before finding fame in her own right, and dating Cary Grant – has died aged 90, as Rhett Bartlett writes in the Hollywood Reporter. Greta’s film credits include Accused of Murder (1956), Terror Is A Man (1959), Three Blondes In His Life (1961), and Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962), but she is perhaps best-known for a series of comedy shorts made with the Three Stooges.

“Born in Hareskovby, Denmark, Thyssen was named Miss Denmark in the early 1950s. She soon left Europe, via Paris, for Hollywood.

With measurements of 39-24-36 or 40-21-35 — depending on which men’s magazine one came across — Thyssen was just right as a body double for Monroe during the filming of the romantic comedy Bus Stop (1956).

Thyssen’s movie career ended in 1967 after she decided to raise a family with her third husband, Theodore Guenther, a mining engineer. He died in 2000.

In retirement, she became as an artist in New York, painting representational nude figures against surrealistic allegory backgrounds, at the Art Students League.”

Greta shared her memories of Marilyn in a 2010 interview with Mark Voger for NJ.com

“Q: You made your film debut in Bus Stop (1956), and you doubled for Marilyn Monroe. Did you get to know Marilyn a little?

A: Yes, I did. And that was a time when they were really hard on her. I felt so upset for her, because everybody was speaking behind her back.”

Marilyn and Marlene in Milan

Marilyn with Marlene Dietrich, 1955

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.)