Marilyn Entertains in BBC’s ‘Icons’

Last night, Marilyn was featured alongside Charlie Chaplin, Billie Holiday and David Bowie in the entertainment segment of the BBC series, Icons: The Story of the 20th Century. The episode was presented by actress Kathleen Turner, with biographer Sarah Churchwell and photographer Douglas Kirkland among the guests. Marilyn was nominated as an icon of beauty, glamour and sexuality; or in Turner’s words, ‘the sex symbol who took on Hollywood.’

Her frank admission to having posed for a nude calendar, and later on her triumphant battle with Twentieth Century Fox and setting up her own production company, were cited as exemplifying her refusal to be bound by the limitations imposed on her by an industry which failed to recognise that she could be both sexy and intelligent. Sarah Churchwell praised her ability to spoof feminine stereotypes, with clips from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes showcasing her comedic skill.

The public vote was won by David Bowie, who will now be featured in the series finale. Viewers in the UK (with a current TV licence) can watch the full episode here.

Thanks to Fraser Penney 

Carol Channing 1921-2019

Carol Channing, the legendary Broadway star who originated the role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, has died aged 97.

Born in Seattle in 1921, Carol and her parents moved to San Francisco when she was two weeks old. Her mother Adelaide was of German Jewish descent and her father George was part African-American (on his mother’s side.) A newspaper editor by profession, George was also a Christian Science practitioner and teacher.

At sixteen, Carol left home to major in drama in Bennington College in Vermont. In 1941, she won her first Broadway part as Eve Arden’s understudy in a revue, Let’s Face It! That year she was married for the first time, to writer Theodore Naidish. They divorced after five years.

In 1948, Carol won a Theatre World Award for her featured role in another revue, Lend An Ear. Stacy Eubank noted in Holding A Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, that on June 16, a little-known starlet, 22 year-old Marilyn Monroe, attended the opening night at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood, where she was photographed with director Bill Eythe and actor Bill Callahan.

Marilyn at the ‘Lend An Ear’ LA premiere, 1948

Illustrator Al Hirschfeld published a caricature of Carol as a flapper in the show, the first of many portraits to come. She even credited his artwork with helping her win the part of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Al Hirschfeld’s artwork for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1949)

Jule Styne’s musical adaptation of the 1926 novel by Anita Loos opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in December 1949, running for almost two years. In her 2002 memoir, Just Lucky I Guess, Carol wrote that Loos had told Styne, ‘That’s my Lorelei!’ after seeing Lend An Ear in New York. Styne promptly wrote a new song for Carol, ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.’

Carol as Lorelei Lee

In January 1950, Carol made the cover of Time magazine. She was married again that year, to footballer Axe Carson, and they had a son, Channing Carson. After her third marriage to manager and publicist Charles Lowe in 1956, he was renamed Chan Lowe and went on to become a successful cartoonist.

Darryl F. Zanuck swiftly acquired the film rights to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for Twentieth Century Fox. Carol was duly invited to Los Angeles for a screen test, but it was generally assumed that Betty Grable, the studio’s reigning blonde star of musical comedy, would get the part. In any case, Carol had already decided to take the show to London after the Broadway run ended.

Marilyn in New York, circa 1951

In mid-June of 1951, Marilyn Monroe flew to New York, where she spent several days.  Columnist Dorothy Manners would report that she had been given tickets by Fox to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – perhaps as a warning to Grable, who was then on suspension. ‘Physically, Marilyn fits the bill,’ Manners noted, ‘but whether she is experienced enough to take on a top comedy performance remains to be seen.’

In her autobiography, Carol claimed that Marilyn was instructed to see the play every night for a month, which is doubtless an exaggeration given Marilyn’s busy schedule. Chronically shy, Marilyn never ventured backstage. “Our orchestra never saw anyone that beautiful before,” Carol recalled. “For the first time they were all looking at Marilyn instead of our conductor…”

That November, after Blondes finally closed, the New York Post‘s Earl Wilson reported that Marilyn hoped to play Lorelei on the screen. In his 1992 biography of Monroe, Donald Spoto wrote that Fox informed Marilyn the part was hers on June 1, 1952 (her 26th birthday.) Nonetheless, the studio kept up the intrigue for several weeks before announcing it to the press, still claiming that Grable would star, with Marilyn turning brunette to play Lorelei’s friend Dorothy.

When the news broke on June 23, Hedda Hopper wrote that Carol had responded with a 200-word telegram to Fox, while Grable denied asking Zanuck for the part. Marilyn was now the studio’s rising star, but as Stacy Eubank observes, she was still on a standard contract and would cost Fox far less than either Grable or Channing.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a golden opportunity for Marilyn, and a huge success when it opened in 1953. “I was heartsick over the whole thing, of course,” Carol admitted, and she also felt that Jack Cole’s flamboyant choreography “completely upstaged” the lyrics.

Carol with Yvonne Adair as Dorothy

“I do think it was one of her best movies,” Carol reflected on Marilyn’s performance. “Not funny, however. They didn’t use one word of Anita’s original book, which was hilarious and which was what constantly kept the stage musical on a higher level. Anita didn’t write the musical’s book. So where they didn’t insert the original book it was mundane. It was the stock formula for a dated Broadway musical. I followed Anita’s original Lorelei character ferociously…”

“You can cast Lorelei two ways,” Loos explained. “With the cutest, prettiest, littlest girl in town, or with a comedienne’s comment on the cutest, prettiest, littlest girl in town. I wrote her as a comedy, and Broadway is attuned to satire.” Carol’s broader interpretation was perfect for the stage, whereas Marilyn brought a softer, more innocent quality to Lorelei.

During the 1950s, Carol replaced Gracie Allen as a comedy foil to George Burns. “Finding roles that suit the strange and wonderful charms of Carol Channing has always been a problem to Broadway showmen,” a 1955 cover story for LIFE read. “She looks like an overgrown kewpie. She sings like a moon-mad hillbilly. Her dancing is crazily comic. And behind her saucer eyes is a kind of gentle sweetness that pleads for affection.”

Her next great role was in Hello, Dolly! (1964.) She befriended Broadway newcomer Barbara Streisand, only to lose out again when the younger actress was cast in the film adaptation. A registered Democrat, Carol campaigned for Lyndon B. Johnson and was a favourite of his wife, Lady Bird. In 1966, she won the Sarah Siddons Award, and finally achieved movie stardom alongside Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), winning a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress, and an Oscar nomination.

In 1970, Carol became the first celebrity to perform at a Super Bowl halftime. Three years later, she was revealed to have been on disgraced president Richard Nixon’s Master List of Political Opponents – which she quipped was the highest accolade of her career.

With Peter Palmer in ‘Lorelei’, 1974

The 53-year-old revisited her early success in Lorelei (1974), a reworking of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes featuring songs cut from the original play, and broke box-office records by selling out for six consecutive days in just 24 hours. She also frequently appeared on television, including a 1987 Jules Styne special in which she performed ‘Little Girl From Little Rock.’

Carol Channing in 2013

In 1998, Carol separated from her husband of forty years, Charles Lowe. He passed away shortly afterwards. She would marry once more in 2003, after rekindling her romance with high-school sweetheart Harry Kullijian. He died in 2011. Carol maintained her faith in Christian Science, followed a strict organic diet and swore off alcohol.

Marilyn (left) and Carol (right), by Al Hirschfeld

A much-loved resident of Rancho Mirage, California, Carol had a star dedicated to her on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2010. She returned two years later to honour Marilyn Monroe, praising her “brilliant and unique” performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Carol also attended a farewell party for Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn‘, when it left Palm Springs for the East Coast in 2014.

A Night With Marilyn and Diana

Two of the last century’s most iconic beauties, Marilyn and Princess Diana are the dual subjects of The Princess and the Showgirl, a new performance piece reflecting on the pressures of fame. The show is part of A Night With Thick & Tight, a triple bill created by dancers Daniel Hay-Gordon and Eleanor Perry, to be staged in the Lillian Bayliss Studio at Sadlers Wells from January 17-19 during the London International Mime Festival. (The title is, of course, a pun on The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn’s only film made in England.)

Did Rock Hudson Reach Out to Marilyn?

In some ways, Rock Hudson was Marilyn’s male counterpart as a misunderstood sex symbol of 1950s Hollywood.  They partied together at the How to Marry a Millionaire premiere in 1953, and in 1962 Rock would present Marilyn with her final award at the Golden Globes. Sadly they never worked together, but Rock was the initial favourite for her leading man in Bus Stop; and in 1958, she was considered for Pillow Talk before deciding to make Some Like It Hot instead. (Doris Day got the part, the beginning of a great comedy partnership with Rock.)

Until now, it has been unclear how well the two stars knew each other (although a recent hack tome made the unlikely claim that Marilyn and Rock were lovers – as we now know, Hudson was gay.) In a critically praised new biography, All That Heaven Allows, author Mark Griffin draws on interviews with Rock’s secretary, Lois Rupert, who claims they often spoke on the phone. Although the frequency of their conversations may be questioned, the obvious affection of their Golden Globes photos combined with this information could suggest that Rock was one of the few Hollywood figures trusted by Marilyn in her final months – and Griffin also reveals that Hudson generously donated his fee for narrating the 1963 documentary, Marilyn, to a cause very close to her heart.

“It was while he was on location for A Gathering Of Eagles that Rock received word that a friend had died. As Lois Rupert recalled, ‘Rock met me at his front door with the news … “Monroe is dead” is all he said.’

Only five months earlier, Rock and Marilyn Monroe had posed for photographers at the annual Golden Globes ceremonies. In images captured of the event, Monroe, who was named World Film Favourite, is beaming as Hudson enfolds her into a protective embrace. With a shared history of abuse and exploitation, it was inevitable that these two should be drawn to each other. Recognising that he posed no sexual threat to her, Monroe had latched on to Hudson and had lobbied for Rock to co-star with her in Let’s Make Love as well as her uncompleted final film, Something’s Got to Give.

Lois Rupert remembered that in the early 1960s, Rock regularly received late-night distress calls from Monroe as well as another troubled superstar. ‘If it wasn’t Marilyn Monroe crying on his shoulder, then it was Judy Garland,’ Rupert recalled. ‘It was almost like they took turns. Marilyn would call one night and Judy the next. He was always very patient, very understanding with both of them, even though he wasn’t getting much sleep. I think he liked playing the big brother who comes to the rescue.’

Within ten months of Monroe’s death, 20th Century-Fox would release a hastily assembled documentary entitled Marilyn. Fox had initially approached Frank Sinatra about narrating, but when the studio wasn’t able to come to terms with the singer Hudson stepped in. Hudson not only provided poignant commentary – both on and off camera – he donated his salary to help establish the Marilyn Monroe Memorial Fund at the Actors Studio.”

Marilyn and the BBC Icons

Marilyn is one of just 28 people nominated by an expert panel for the new BBC TV series, Icons: The Story of the 20th Century.  This 8-parter invites viewers to vote for the greatest icon of them all. Also in the entertainment category are Charlie Chaplin, Billie Holiday and David Bowie. All four will be featured in the second episode, on BBC2 at 9 pm on Tuesday, January 15, with actress Kathleen Turner among the advocates; and the result will be announced the following day on The One Show (on BBC1 at 7 pm.) The live final is scheduled for February 5 at 9 pm on BBC2.

Marilyn Slept Here: Sinatra, Crosby Homes for Sale

Unlike her celebrity peers, Marilyn preferred to live modestly. Nonetheless, you may recall that a Los Angeles home she shared with Joe DiMaggio was recently put on the market (see here) – and it has now been joined by two luxury estates with connections to Marilyn. As reported in Architectural Digest, Frank Sinatra’s former Los Angeles home is on sale for $12.5 million.  (It was last put up for sale in 2012, as reported here.)

Marilyn stayed in Sinatra’s guesthouse (shown at top) in 1961. They were having an on-off relationship, and Frank was abroad on tour. She later spent a few months renting an apartment in the Doheny Drive complex he owned, as a neighbour to his secretary, Gloria Lovell.

“Old Blue Eyes himself lived in the sprawling home in the 1950s and 60s and frequently hosted his famous friends … the home seems preordained to shelter celebrities from the Hollywood hullabaloo, as it rests at the end of a near mile-long driveway atop a private promontory that overlooks the vast 1,325-acre Chatsworth Reservoir nature preserve.

Constructed in 1949 by William Pereira, Byrdview is only one of four homes the famed architect designed. Sitting on seven acres, the midcentury-modern house comprises three structures: the main house, a guest house (with its own pool), and a cabana … Outdoors, beyond the pool, there’s a parking space for 100 cars and enough agricultural-zoned acreage that, should the new owners like their wines, a vineyard could be built.”

Secondly, the Rancho Mirage estate of Bing Crosby (near Palm Springs), where Marilyn and John F. Kennedy were among the weekend guests during the March 1962 Democratic Convention, is on sale for $5 million ( although the property has been available for some time, as reported here.) This is the only verified occasion when Marilyn and the president spent a night at the same address, and rather predictably, it’s being promoted as ‘the tryst house’, according to Bloomberg. (Incidentally, Sinatra had hoped to host Kennedy and was reportedly furious that he chose Crosby, a Republican, instead!)

“The 6,700-square-foot estate, spread across more than an acre, was built for the crooner and his second wife, Kathryn, in 1957. The single-story home, with a 1,400-square-foot master suite along with four other en-suite bedrooms, has been on and off the market since 2010, when it was first listed for $3.4 million. It’s also been available for rent through Airbnb for $3,400 a night.”

A ‘Likely’ Pair: Marilyn and Carl Sandburg

Photo by Arnold Newman, 1962

In an article for Vintage News, Barbara Stepko takes a closer look at Marilyn’s touching friendship with the Chicago poet and Lincoln’s biographer, Carl Sandburg. (She also notes that Sandburg was not the only intellectual charmed by Marilyn: after meeting her at a party in 1960, Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov described her as “gloriously pretty, all bosom and rose.”)

Photos by Len Steckler, 1961

“When she and Sandburg first met is a matter of some debate. Some believe it was in 1958, during the filming of Some Like It Hot. Others say it was two years later, when an 82-year-old Sandburg, working in Hollywood at the time, was temporarily given the actress’s dressing room to use as an office.

Monroe introduced herself and the two immediately hit it off. The two would meet up again at the New York apartment of photographer Len Steckler in December 1961, then a month later at the home of Hollywood producer Henry Weinstein, with photographer Arnold Newman and others in attendance. A Look Magazine tribute to Monroe which Sandburg had written after her death was accompanied by photos from both photographers.

What Monroe found in Sandburg was someone who could see beyond her glamorous image and like her for herself. Sandburg, for his part, was impressed with the actress’s down-to-earth personality, citing ‘a vitality, a readiness for humor.’ He also appreciated that Monroe, like himself, had come up the hard way.

Monroe was eager to pick Sandburg’s brain, the two of them discussing a wide range of topics. Although the actress was a bit out of her depth when it came to science and economics, she was well-versed when it came to current events and, naturally, Hollywood. (At one point, both of them would sing the praises of Charlie Chaplin.)”

Jack Allen To Sell Marilyn’s ‘Down Boy’, and More

Marilyn By Moonlight author Jack Allen is selling off some items from his collection in the Essentially Marilyn auction on December 11 at Profiles In History – including photographs and the unreleased song, ‘Down Boy‘, as Mike Szymanski reports for The Art of Monteque. (The auction also features the spectacular collection of Maite Minguez Ricart – more details here.)

“When Jack Allen first fell in love with Marilyn Monroe, it was while watching her in the 1953 movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes where she plays an ambitious showgirl … ‘Here was a girl full of naïve innocence and you could really tell that she loved performing and that she really wanted to make it,’ says Jack. ‘In a lot of ways that is the story of Hollywood.’

Jack worked on some of the photo displays and books with [Andre] de Dienes’s widow after he died in 1985, and as a payment for his work, he received some of his original photos.

‘I was most fascinated with the “End of Everything” photo session that he took near Zuma Beach in Malibu,’ Allen recalls. ‘She was troubled at the time, and it has an almost religious feeling to them.’

What the auction house doesn’t explain in the description of the photographs is why they will have a faint scent of dirt or earthiness to them. After a terrible rainstorm in Los Angeles in the 1950s, a mudslide buried and destroyed many of the photographer’s collection in his house, and out of frustration he simply buried most of his collection in the backyard. A year later, LIFE magazine editors asked about some Monroe photos, and he literally dug them up from his backyard, and in the middle of the mess, salvaged a few of the gelatin silver prints.

Marilyn with boxer Max Baer

In another signed 8×10 photograph expected to fetch between $6,000 and $8,000, Marilyn signed it to former Heavyweight Champion of the World Max Baer, writing: ‘To Max, My body guard, Love Marilyn Monroe.’ Baer was a fighter-turned-actor and longtime admirer of the starlet, and visited her on the set of Some Like it Hot.

When studios made movies, they often pressed a record — and it was usually one-sided — of each of the songs used in the film, so when dubbing or playback was necessary while they were filming, they could use the record. So, these records actually played while the stars recreated the scenes, or filmed the dance numbers or lip synced the songs.

Jack found the heavy 78 acetate records on eBay as part of an estate of a 20th Century-Fox craft service worker who took the 12-inch records when they were abandoned by the studio after the filming of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Jack bid on the records in 2005, thinking they would be a fun piece of Hollywood history to have to one of his favorite films. The records were stained and scratched, but kept in their vintage sleeves from the studio … But, Jack noticed a recording ‘Down Boy‘ also penned by the legendary Hoagy Carmichael that featured only Marilyn and a soft piano accompaniment.

‘I realized that this was a song that was actually mentioned in the script, but it was never used in the movie,’ Jack recalls. ‘It was like finding a treasure. No one had ever heard this recording of Marilyn before.’

The song is upbeat and whimsical and planned for when a diamond dealer played by Charles Coburn is getting fresh with Marilyn’s character Lorelei. She sings to the men like they are a pack of hungry dogs, saying ‘Down Boy‘ to them. Marilyn sang the song with a swing temp in the key of A and B-flat.”

From Marilyn to the ‘Material Girl’

Madonna’s 1985 video for ‘Material Girl’ – in which she recreated Marilyn’s ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ video from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – tops a chronological list of videos referencing Hollywood classics, compiled by Kyle Munzenrieder for W magazine.

“Like so many other pages in the modern pop star playbook, this one was polished and perfected by Madonna. The second single off her star-cementing second album Like a Virgin, ‘Material Girl’ is among a handful of the star’s hits she didn’t co-write herself. At the time she seemed pretty eager to point out that she herself was not actually that materialistic when it came to finding a man (she had been dating broke musicians, DJs and artists on the Lower East Side just a few years before), and wanted to frame the song as something cheeky and ironic. So she adapted the guise of Marilyn Monroe’s unabashed gold digger character Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and recreated the ‘Diamonds are a Girls Best Friends’ scene, and the balanced it with scenes of her off the set.

This wouldn’t be the last time Madonna paid homage to specific movies in her music videos, but it may be her poppiest. Later in her career she’d stick to recreating film school syllabus canon like Metropolis and Maya Deren’s At Land.”