An Earl Moran shot of a topless Marilyn in the late 1940s, signed by Hugh Hefner (who purchased Moran’s secret vault for Playboy many years later, after the model’s identity was finally revealed), was sold yesterday at Nate G. Saunders Auctions for $11.794. Several photos by Andre de Dienes were also sold in the event.
Singer Lana Del Rey has referenced Marilyn several times in her lyrics and music videos (see here.) The latest reference appears in ‘patent leather do-over‘, a spoken-word poem posted on Instagram this week, and to be featured in Lana’s forthcoming book, behind the iron gates – insights from an institution (due in 2021.)
“Sylvia, Marilyn, Violet, Diana
All of my kind women who came before me, blonde
I dyed my hair black for you
I turned my back on that black pond
I swear I won’t stop ’til I’m dead
And here I am at 34 – And what for?”
Which movies have today’s filmmakers been watching in quarantine? Michael Mann, director of Heat (1995) and Public Enemies (2009), chose a classic crime drama which also gave Marilyn her first big break. “When was the last time you saw Asphalt Jungle?” Michael asked readers of Vulture.com. “I have seen it about three times. It’s fantastic. It doesn’t [get the respect today that it should].”
From Some Came Running to Irma La Douce, Shirley MacLaine played several roles previously considered for Marilyn.What a Way to Go! was first offered to Marilyn by Twentieth Century Fox and would reportedly have been her next film after the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give.
In the week before she died, Marilyn was said to have attended screenings of films by J. Lee Thompson, who was set to direct. But the main attraction of this vehicle – then titled I Love Louisa – was undoubtedly that it would have rounded off her old studio contract.
Released on this day in 1964, What a Way to Go! featured several of Marilyn’s friends and associates, including former co-stars Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly and Dean Martin, plus Gentlemen Prefer Blondes songwriter Jule Styne (who spoke with Marilyn in her final days), cameraman Leon Shamroy. The film also marked the producing debut of Arthur P. Jacobs, who headed up Marilyn’s team of publicists.
This musical extravagaza, with costumes by Edith Head, seems today like the last hurrah of a beleaguered studio system, but at the time it garnered a very favourable review from the Hollywood Reporter.
“What a Way to Go! is hard to define but easy to recommend; the 20th-Fox presentation is a funny musical comedy, or comedy with music, with all the glamour that Hollywood can throw into one film, and a high-powered cast to light the marquee. The J. Lee Thompson production, produced by Arthur P. Jacobs, is a dazzler. It should be one of the year’s most popular attractions. Thompson directed the pleasantly nutty shenanigans.
Shirley MacLaine is the central figure in the Betty Comden-Adolph Green screenplay, a charmer whose attractions include the Midas touch and the kiss of death. Every man who takes up with her is rewarded by fabulous success. Unfortunately, he doesn’t live long to enjoy it or her. Hence the title. In the midst of wealth and endearing charms, he departs this life. Each time, Miss MacLaine is a rich widow, and each time, increasingly rich.
The story is told in the form of a flashback, with Miss MacLaine trying to give away some $200,000,000. She feels guilt. Rich, but guilty. Since the government won’t take her money, she goes to a psychiatrist … At the end she is reunited with the one man she said she’d never marry, Dean Martin. Bob Cummings plays the psychiatrist who listens to this gaily macabre tale.
The Comden-Green script, inspired by a story by Gwen Davis, is only the thread on which are hung a succession of funny scenes and musical numbers. The production is mounted richly. Sets are big and splendid. Costuming for Miss MacLaine by Edith Head is a major item … In this and other areas, this is the kind of movie Hollywood once made its worldwide reputation on, scorned by the aesthetes, adored by the multitudes.
Miss MacLaine is at her best as the girl who succeeds in getting her husbands’ businesses started without trying at all. She has the figure for the clothes and the sense of fun for the lines. She dances, she sings (on one occasion with another voice, dubbed for humor) and she generally cements the episodic frame … Mitchum is offhand and amusing as the super-rich tycoon. Dean Martin is not as interesting as usual — perhaps the role doesn’t give him a chance to get off the ground. Gene Kelly (who also did the bright choreography) clowns amusingly as a small-time operator who blossoms into the big-time.”
Hollywood’s voiceover artists are featured in the May issue of Yours Retro, including Marni Nixon who helped Marilyn hit the high notes on ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ in the soprano introduction and again near the end. For the most part, though, the voice you’ll hear on that classic track from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is Marilyn’s.
Thanks to Fraser Penney
Jasmine Chiswell, a Scottish film producer and vintage style influencer, is living the dream of many a Monroe fan – she has moved into the Castilian Drive address in Los Angeles which Marilyn rented for six months in 1952 as a hideaway for herself and Joe DiMaggio. As the Daily Record reports, Jasmine frequently posts video tours from home. Although she’s described in the article as a Monroe impersonator, Jasmine is also inspired by other bombshells (like Betty Grable, Marilyn’s co-star in How to Marry a Millionaire.) You can read more about the house here, and follow Jasmine here.
With cinemas currently closed, there’s a shortage of current movie news. In a blatant attempt to fill the gap, an article rehashing conspiracy theories about Marilyn’s death has been posted on the Film Daily blog. But its credibility is blown by the inclusion of a photo of President John F. Kennedy with another blonde actress and singer, Dorothy Provine – in costume for her TV series, The Roaring 20s, which ran from 1960-62.
A quick internet search indicates this isn’t the first time Dorothy has been mistaken for Marilyn, despite there being little resemblance beyond their hair colour. But the Divine Marilyn blog correctly identified Dorothy back in 2015, with a post showing photos of President Kennedy meeting famous women of the era. For an informed read on Marilyn’s tragic death, try David Marshall’s The DD Group or Donald McGovern’s Murder Orthodoxies.
Actress Shirley Knight has died aged 83, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Born in Kansas, she wanted to be an opera singer but caught the acting bug after director Joshua Logan came to her hometown and hired Shirley and her family as extras on his movie, Picnic (1955), and allowed her to watch Kim Novak and William Holden at work.
Shirley’s first big break was on Broadway in 1960, when Elia Kazan directed her in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. In 1962, she starred opposite Paul Newman in Sweet Bird of Youth, the big-screen adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play, winning a Best Supporting Actress nomination and becoming one of Williams’ favourite actresses. Then in 1964, she asked to be released from her Warner Brothers contract and moved to New York, where she joined the Actors’ Studio.
Alternating work in the theatre with film roles, Shirley appeared in The Group (1966), Petulia (1968), and The Rain People (1969), which director Francis Ford Coppola wrote for her. After a ten-year marriage to actor Gene Lersson, she married the English writer John Hopkins in 1969, dividing her time between America and the UK.
In 1976, she won a Tony award for her role as Carla, a failed Marilyn Monroe wannabe, in Robert Patrick’s play, Kennedy’s Children, which centred on a group of disillusioned activists meeting in a bar. She reprised the role in a 1982 TV movie of the same name, co-starring Jane Alexander, Lindsay Crouse and Brad Dourif.
Despite turning down the role of Sue-Ellen Ewing in Dallas, Shirley later won three Emmys for her television work, appearing in shows like NYPD Blue, Thirtysomething and Desperate Housewives. Her later films included As Good As It Gets (1997), and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009), written and directed by Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur Miller.
In recent years, Shirley was working on a memoir, and enjoyed caring for her rescue dog. She died of natural causes on April 22, 2020 at her daughter’s home in Texas. Due to public restrictions over coronavirus, her memorial service will be held in 2021.
Actress Jennifer Tilly, best-known for her recurring role in the Child’s Play movies, was Oscar-nominated for Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway (1994), has guest-starred in TV sitcoms Cheers and Frasier, and is a professional poker player. In an interview with Closer Weekly, she talks about her distinctive voice, similar to Marilyn’s breathy tone in films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot (although Jennifer’s is pitchier, like Judy Holliday’s in Born Yesterday.)
The ‘baby voice’ or ‘ditz voice’ Marilyn developed helped to conceal her occasional stutter, and many close to her, like director John Huston, noticed that her natural voice was quite different. If you listen carefully to her delivery in other films, you’ll hear subtle variations on those familiar girlish tones. Learn more about Marilyn’s voice here.
“You have a distinctive voice. Would you say it was more a help or a hindrance?
When I started, I was doing this breathy Marilyn Monroe, little girl thing, but it was sort of a trick voice. It was a weird crutch, like I couldn’t act without it. And when I did [1994’s] The Getaway, the director cleared the set and said, ‘I want you to talk in your normal voice.’ And I said, ‘I literally cannot.’ He’s like, ‘Of course you can — that voice you were talking in before you started acting.’ And I said, ‘All the attributes I plug into the characters, this is the voice that comes out, I can’t force it.’ But now I have more of a husky, wispy voice, a lot lower. It’s a good voice for cartoons. I play Bonnie on Family Guy, and a  series based on Monsters, Inc., [Disney+’s] Monsters at Work, so I’m doing a lot of that voice now.”
Laurette Luez, a Hawaii-born actress of Portuguese-Australian parentage, seated to Marilyn’s left in these 1949 photos by Philippe Halsman (for a LIFE magazine story, ‘Eight Girls Try Out Mixed Emotions’), is the subject of an interesting profile by Kristin Hunt for JSTOR. (Hunt previously wrote about Marilyn’s nude scene in Something’s Got to Give for Vulture.)
Like Marilyn, Laurette was a successful pin-up model, and in their acting careers, both were subjected to typecasting – Marilyn as a dumb blonde, Luez as a dusky temptress – but like other women of colour, Laurette was sidelined in Hollywood and is now all but forgotten.
In the article, it’s noted that she claimed to have given Norma Jeane her stage name. This is unlikely, however, as Marilyn herself created it with talent scout Ben Lyon in 1946. It’s also said that the starlets studied together, probably at the Actors’ Lab or with studio coach Helen Sorrell. They were first photographed by LIFE‘s Loomis Dean in 1948 with actor Clifton Webb in a rather obscure promotional shoot for his film Sitting Pretty (although neither played a role in it.)
“Laurette Luez first appeared onscreen as a dancing Javanese girl in 1944’s The Story of Dr. Wassell. Two years later, she was cast as a member of the Thai royal court in Anna and the King of Siam, and in 1950 as Laluli, the Indian ‘flower of delight,’ in the Rudyard Kipling epic Kim. For the 1960s films Man-Trap and Flower Drum Song, she played Mexican women. She was Persian in The Adventures of Hajji Baba, an indigenous African in Jungle Gents, and Egyptian in Valley of the Kings.
Like many actresses of her day, Luez was expected to be a one-size-fits-all ‘exotic,’ a beautiful siren in skimpy clothing who could be from almost anywhere—just not here. These roles provided a way for Hollywood to sexualize women with few repercussions from censors or moral crusaders, and they were practically the only parts in which Luez was cast during her 20 years in the industry.
The two actresses were linked again in 1953, when the trade paper Modern Screen wondered if Luez could be the heir to Monroe’s “sex stardom.” But in truth, their careers looked nothing alike … With the occasional exception—most notably, the United Artists noir D.O.A.—her credits consist solely of exoticized, eroticized women, who only get a name if they’re lucky. It was a fate that befell several actresses who couldn’t or wouldn’t pass for white, since there was a market for this type of stock character.
Luez still made occasional headlines throughout the 1950s, either for her latest movie or for her latest breakup. She was married four times, and briefly engaged to producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. But by the mid-1960s, the work had completely dried up. Luez packed up her family and moved to Florida. Despite the repeated insistence from the press that she was on the cusp of stardom, the actress got trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle: she played the roles she was offered, and Hollywood saw her as nothing else.”