Emily Berl’s Multitude of Marilyns

Hanna Nixon, UK (after Earl Baron’s Marilyn)

Los Angeles-based photographer Emily Berl has been working with Marilyn lookalikes in Tinseltown and far beyond for several years (see here.) Her portraits are now collected in a stunning monograph, and Monroe fans will notice many familiar faces striking classic poses in new settings, and a selection of images posted today on The Cut shows that there was a great deal more variety to Marilyn’s style than is generally acknowledged. Marilyn is quite an expensive book ($98) but the quality is well worth the price, for collectors and art-lovers alike.

“One of the things I have had to come to terms with this project is that it kind of dances with a lot of clichés, like the Hollywood dream, but I’ve realized I’m into that. I think even though they’re clichés, they’re kind of important. They’re not necessarily a bad thing.”

Nadine Banville, Canada (soon to appear in a new movie, ‘Reliving Marilyn’)
Debra Bakker, Netherlands (wearing a dress similar to Marilyn’s in ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’)

Sunny Thompson on ‘Becoming Marilyn’

Becoming Marilyn Monroe, the new documentary about Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show (Marilyn: Forever Blonde), is set to have its world premiere at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs on April 10. Sunny recently spoke about her long-running stage role with Bruce Fessier of the Desert Sun.

“Why is Marilyn still fascinating more than 55 years after her death?

I think it has a lot to do with her softness. You can see it in her eyes in all of her photos … I have met young girls who came to the play and said they were big Marilyn fans and yet they had never seen a movie with Marilyn in it.  Only her photos! They had fallen in love with an image.

After 10 years, what did you learn that was most interesting about her?

Maybe how absolutely terrified she was facing the press and yet how charming and witty she was at answering their questions, like coming up with something engagingly clever.

Have you learned to turn the Marilyn character on and off the way Marilyn did?

Funny you mention that because I think I might have an inkling as to how Marilyn must have felt around people. She couldn’t really just be herself … People come up to me and say ‘You play Marilyn Monroe?’ And if I just say yes, they are disappointed. But if I light up and sparkle a bit, and give them a little Marilyn look, then they go away happy.

How would you describe Marilyn’s state of mind on the last day of her life? 

I lived that day on stage hundreds of times and I always felt Marilyn was feeling unloved and disillusioned. I play her reliving her life before an audience and deathly afraid that when her looks go and her body goes she will be nothing! I want to believe she didn’t purposely take her own life.”

‘Avatar Marilyn’ Created at Pinewood

Monroe impersonator Suzie Kennedy has been transformed into an ‘avatar’ for a new film project, as Lauren Probert reports for The Sun.

“Suzie spent hours having her face and body scanned to produce a ‘digital double’ which will play the part of the troubled star in the movie. The project is the brainchild of London producer and writer Chris Ongaro. He teamed up with writer Kim Fuller, who penned the Spice Girls movie Spice World, produced by his brother Simon, the band’s manager.

To make the digital Marilyn, Suzie had more than 3,000 photos of her face and body taken, working with Amanda Darby, head of Pinewood 3D. She had to stand on a platform surrounded by 181 cameras snapping every inch of her. Markers were drawn on her face and another 60 cameras were used to pick up her facial expressions. She then had a motion capture session with Phil Stilgoe of Centroid, experts in the field, in which she moved about in a bodysuit with a helmet and camera attached to map all her movements.

Kim [Fuller] said: ‘Marilyn Monroe is a an iconic figure and we’re giving her a 21 century digital makeover. This is a very exciting project and it will be as much Marilyn as it is possible to be without her actually being there. As she’s digital, you can do anything. You have a lot of license dramatically. We want to do a movie which re-interprets her in a modern context and shows she is still relevant. She was a massive glamour star and was exploited. If she was around today, there would be a lot of #MeToo.’

The Marilyn Monroe project is in its early stages but there are already plans for films with celebrities who are long dead. Chris [Ongaro] said: ‘’There is very keen interest in Hollywood in the concept of bringing dead celebrities back to life. It’s an exciting time. Al Capone is next.'”

Ariel Pink Plays Marilyn’s Ghost in Music Video

A ghostly Marilyn Monroe (in drag) features in a Hollywood-themed new music video, as Randall Roberts reports for the Orlando Sentinel.

“Ssion featuring Ariel Pink, “At Least the Sky Is Blue” (Dero Arcade). The multi-disciplinary artist born Cody Critcheloe, who performs as Ssion, has carved a fascinating life for himself. As a video director, he’s worked with such acts as Peaches, Kylie Minogue, Santigold and Perfume Genius; as a bandleader and producer, he crafts dense, slightly off-balance club tracks.

For his new ‘At Least the Sky Is Blue’ video, which is taken from his forthcoming album ‘O’ (May 11), he and collaborator Ariel Pink portray characters in a VCR-tinted set piece featuring a Mercedes convertible cruising through the city. Dressed in drag as the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, Pink appears as a vision being pushed along the sidewalk in a wheelchair.”

Marilyn at the Diner in ‘LA Overnight’

Marilyn is referenced in Los Angeles Overnight, a new thriller starring Arielle Brachfeld which opens in the US and online tomorrow, as reviewed by Frank Schek in the Hollywood Reporter. (Actress Sally Kirkland, who has a cameo role, previously played an older MM in The Island, while another of the cast, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, encountered Marilyn at the Actors Studio.)

“Arielle Brachfeld (whose extensive screen credits include the likes of Chemical Peel and Snake OuttaCompton) plays the central role of Priscilla, an aspiring actress who supports herself waitressing at a low-rent diner in which the servers wear Marilyn Monroe wigs … Brachfeld is appealing as the innocent heroine turned unlikely femme fatale.”

‘Becoming Marilyn Monroe’ in Palm Springs

Of all the Marilyn-inspired plays staged in recent years, Marilyn: Forever Blonde – a one-woman show starring Sunny Thompson – is perhaps the only one to win the hearts of fans as well as critical acclaim. And now Becoming Marilyn Monroe, Tammy Plimmer’s new hour-long documentary about the making of a star tribute, will have its premiere on April 10 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, as part of the American Documentary Film Festival.

“In 1952, a 10-year-old boy falls in love with a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a magazine. 47 years later he marries her. This improbable true story of a successful producer of musical revues who discovers a young girl from a small town in Northern Minnesota, marries her, and makes her the star of his one-woman theatrical tribute to Hollywood’s most famous star, Marilyn Monroe. This results in an award-winning, critically-acclaimed theatrical play with music, Marilyn Forever Blonde.”

Marilyn and the Presidents Club Scandal

Images of Marilyn have been used to promote a controversial gala held last night at London’s Dorchester Hotel for the Presidents Club, a men-only organisation, as Martin Belam reports for The Guardian. Female staff at the most recent ball have complained of groping and sexual harassment, leading to calls for better protection of workers in the hospitality trade. It’s unclear whether the use of Marilyn’s image has been approved by her estate, but regardless, this is yet another example of corporate branding at its most crass.

However, Monroe impersonator Suzie Kennedy, who has performed at a past gala, takes a different view, as she told LBC Radio‘s Shelagh Fogarty today…

“It was three years ago. It’s rich men having a night out. They are usually very powerful in business and are very generous to the charities. The charities need these balls to happen.

Everybody at that job was told what the job is. It’s a businessman’s night out. Everyone’s going to drink, they are going to have cigars, they are going to have fun.

I didn’t see any of the girls thinking ‘Oh no, I have to wear this’. They were fine with wearing it. In nightclubs in London, girls are wearing a lot less.”

Trans Teen Inspired by Marilyn in ‘Freak Show’

Following the recent news of Laurie Simmons impersonating Marilyn in My Art, another movie referencing MM hits screens online and in limited theatrical release in the US today. Freak Show, a comedy about Billy, a trangender teen (played by Alex Lawther), is the directorial debut of Trudie Styler – who you may know better as the wife of rock star Sting.

“Encouraged in adolescence by his bosomy, vodka-swigging, self-indulgent mother (a small but rich performance by Bette Midler), Billy (Alex Lawther) quotes Oscar Wilde and drifts easily into the kind of swishy son for whom his disillusioned father slowly abandons hope. Delighted when his parents split, Billy and his mom become soul mates for seven glorious years, but when she disappears one day into rehab hell, the boy confiscates her gowns, shoes and gaudy makeup, and moves with his father (Larry Pine) from Darien to a fresh hell of his own in a hostile red state where he shows up on the first day of high school dressed like Marilyn Monroe.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer

Watch the trailer here

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.”

Dusty Mae Steps Into Marilyn’s Wardrobe

Drag artist Dusty Mae has posed for a tribute shoot with photographer Joseph Adivari, wearing Marilyn’s own clothes (courtesy of collector Greg Schreiner), reports Out magazine.

“I’ve always believed that she has endured because of her authenticity and personality. Beauty can make someone famous, but it can’t make them into a cultural icon who is still celebrated over 50 years after their death. She had almost no family, and she struggled with poverty, abuse, sexism, and much more, yet she never let it stop her, and she still became Marilyn Monroe. Everyone who knew her talks about how she always came from a true place of love and generosity. If someone said, ‘Oh I love your sweater!’ she would give it to them without a second thought. She wasn’t materialistic, even though people might assume she was. My friends and I love to imagine what Marilyn Monroe would have been like in the 70s and 80s. She had the ability to reinvent herself, which is why so many people see parts of themselves in her, or feel that they identify with her on a deeper level. I think the world really missed out on some amazing things because of her death, but it speaks to her talent as an actress, and charm as a person, the fact that she is still celebrated today, and will be remembered forever as a definitive icon of the silver screen.”