Aleshia Brevard 1937-2017

Aleshia Brevard, the pioneering transgender actress, model and writer, has died aged 79, reports the Telegraph. She was born Alfred Brevard Crenshaw to Southern fundamentalist parents and grew up in abject poverty on a farm in the Appalachian Mountains. From an early age, Alfred dreamed of movie stars – and at 15 he took a Greyhound to California. So far, so Cherie in Bus Stop – but by the late 1950s, inspired by George Jorgensen aka Christine, America’s first transsexual, Alfred was working as a female impersonator at San Francisco nightclub Finocchio’s, and had begun the surgical  transition process.

Marilyn in 1960

In 1960, during a break from filming The Misfits, Marilyn saw Aleshia impersonate her onstage at Finocchio’s. One of Monroe’s early biographers, Fred Lawrence Guiles, first told the story in Norma Jean (1969.)

“Finocchio’s in San Francisco is one of the few tourist attractions of that city of special interest to show folk. It features some of the best female impersonators in the business. Marilyn had expressed an interest in seeing the show when others of The Misfits company came back talking about the place. Now it had been rumoured that one of the boys was impersonating her. She had seen and laughed at Edie Adams, a good friend, in her celebrated parody of Marilyn, but the Finocchio act was something special she would go out of her way to see.

Everyone in her party was a little tense as they took their ringside table at the club. [Allan ‘Whitey’] Snyder was frankly apprehensive and kept reminding Marilyn that she should keep in mind it was all in fun. And then the breathless moment arrived. The man was gusseted in a skin-tight sequinned gown, a wind-blown platinum wig on his head. The resemblance was uncanny. [Ralph] Roberts observed Marilyn’s eyes widening in recognition, and then she grinned. Her mimic was undulating his lips in the familiar insecure smile and cupping his breasts, taking little steps around the floor, wiggling his rear.

‘You’re all terribly sweet,’ the mimic said in a little-girl voice. Marilyn put her hand to her mouth. ‘I love you all!’ the man was saying as he began to point at the men in the audience in turn. ‘You … and you …’

While Marilyn might have worn her black wig and tried to control the fits of girlish laughter that would give her away, this night she had not wanted anonymity. She had told the others she might leave them later on and wander down to Fisherman’s Wharf to visit DiMaggio’s Restaurant and then perhaps Lefty O’Doul’s. Neither establishment would find a Marilyn incognito especially amusing.

The mimic, discovering his model, could not avoid playing to her. There was a rising buzz of whispers around them as the audience saw the rapt and smiling original. Regretfully, Marilyn suggested they leave. The impersonator rushed to finish his turn. It was a short one anyway. No one could sustain such a parody for very long. As Marilyn and her friends were leaving, the man, blowing kisses to the audience and then to Marilyn removed his silvery wig.”

Aleshia at Finocchio’s

The Telegraph reports that Marilyn wrote in her diary that evening that the experience was ‘like seeing herself on film.’ However, Marilyn did not keep a regular diary and this remark doesn’t appear in her private notes, so it’s more likely that she said this to one of her friends. Aleshia would share her own account in her 2001 memoir, The Woman I Was Not Born to Be: A Transsexual Journey.

“Newspaper columnists touted me as Marilyn’s double. That was flattering, but it was only good publicity. Mr Finocchio paid for such fanfare. I was young, professionally blonde, and sang, ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ in a red knit sweater, but that does not a legend make. I knew the difference. Marilyn was the epitome of everything I wanted to become.

The nation’s favourite sex symbol came to Finocchio’s to catch my act. She must have read the publicity.

‘Marilyn left after your number,’ I muttered to myself.

That was true. I might be reacting to the pre-op medication, but I wasn’t hallucinating. Miss Monroe had watched me perform her song from Let’s Make Love – and fled.

‘Well, I wouldn’t be sittin’ my famous ass in some nightclub watching a drag queen sing my number,’ I mused. ‘Not if I was Marilyn Monroe! No way, darlin’, I’d have better things to do with my life.”

Marilyn and Aleshia

When Marilyn died, Aleshia was recovering from her long-awaited operation and would recall, ‘I felt as though I’d lost a close, personal friend.’ She later became a Playboy Bunny, and appeared in a film produced by Robert Slatzer, a man notorious for his exaggerated stories about Marilyn, claiming they were secretly married and linking her death to the Kennedys.

“Most of my audition time had been wasted by Slatzer’s bragging about his marriage to Marilyn Monroe,” she wrote. “‘Joe DiMaggio maybe; Bob Slatzer, never,’ I thought. My Marilyn, I believed, would never have married the man I personally regarded as a blustering, rotund, B-grade movie maker. I didn’t believe a word he said.'”

Nonetheless, Slatzer gave Aleshia a part in his 1970 film, Bigfoot – as a seven-foot mother ape! “A munchkin from The Wizard of Oz would play my Sasquatch child,” Aleshia cringed. “There would be no Academy Award for this acting stint. In film history, no Sasquatch has ever received the coveted statuette. The only appeal to the potboiler was its cast. John and Chris Mitchum, brother and son of screen luminary Robert Mitchum, were in the debacle … John Carradine taught me to play poker – and I paid dearly for the privilege.” After enduring long days in full gorilla makeup without filming a scene, Aleshia contacted her agent and, much to Slatzer’s chagrin, the Screen Actors’ Guild intervened.

Aleshia went on to work in television, and after earning a master’s degree, she taught film and theatre studies to supplement her income. She was married four times, and followed her successful autobiography with a novel and further memoir. After her death on July 1, author Gary Vitacco-Robles, who interviewed Aleshia for his 2014 biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, paid tribute on Facebook: “She was a brave and lovely woman. May Aleshia’s memory be eternal.”

Bella Thorne Mimics Kirkland’s Marilyn

Posing as Marilyn is becoming a rite of passage for ex-Disney starlets: following Dove Cameron’s recent lead is Bella Thorne, in a new shoot by Mona Kuhn for Harper’s Bazaar, channeling Douglas Kirkland’s legendary 1961 session. Madonna and Christina Aguilera are among earlier stars who’ve paid homage; Kirkland has himself recreated the scene with Angelina Jolie. Over at Yahoo Style, Hayley Fitzpatrick looks back on other celebrity tributes to Marilyn, both in and out of those silky sheets.

Kendall Jenner Shows ‘Love’ For Marilyn

After a recent mini-movie starring Kate Upton, UK fashion magazine LOVE has unveiled another Marilyn-inspired clip, featuring the model and young Kardashian sister, Kendall Jenner. Shot by photographer Rankin and apparently inspired by Marilyn’s late collaboration with Bert Stern, the effect is more Lolita than Let’s Make Love; but Kendall exudes a playful innocence here, keeping her hair brunette a la Norma Jeane, and (perhaps wisely) miming to Marilyn’s voice rather than attempting a full impersonation.

She’s not the first in the Kardashian clan to be linked with MM – eldest sister Kim was compared to Marilyn by husband Kanye West (of course, he’s biased), while Khloe received some iconic Monroe prints from the family matriarch, Kris Jenner, last Christmas. ‘What would Marilyn Monroe have made of it?‘ asks WWD‘s Samantha Conti – and that, of course, is anyone’s guess.

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962

Danica Kennedy: ‘I Was a Marilyn Lookalike’

In an interview for Cosmopolitan, TV presenter Danica Kennedy looks back on her stint as a Marilyn lookalike at Universal Studios.

“For wardrobe, all of the Marilyn impersonators always wore that classic white dress from The Seven Year Itch. That includes pantyhose, Spanx shorts for when the fan blew up our skirts, and this corset bustier that was totally crazy … I would step on a platform and a fan would blow my skirt up. Then I’d have to say, ‘Oops!’

When you play somebody for two years, sometimes their characteristics can blur into your personal life accidentally. If I’m out and drinking champagne, which was Marilyn’s favorite, I’ll accidentally slip into using my sexy baby voice. It’s so awkward, especially since I’m not trying to be Marilyn.

I don’t think playing Marilyn has affected my psyche, but that’s probably because I never took playing the character too seriously. But when people want to debate with me about how she died or what she was like, I find myself standing up for her … We have all been through tough times, and her story is so tragic yet relatable.”

Marilyn Impersonator Slams Unauthorised Stamps

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In one of this month’s more peculiar stories, Page Six reports that Marilyn impersonator Jimmy James has threatened legal action over a series of stamps issued in the Central African Republic, supposedly depicting Marilyn but using images of Jimmy, who impersonated her during the 1980s and 90s. James is much admired within the Monroe fan community, and was a guest speaker at the 2014 memorial service. Images of impersonators have been used before on unofficial Marilyn-themed merchandise, much to the frustration of fans – but Jimmy James is the first impersonator to respond publicly to this growing problem.

“The image on the stamp of James as Marilyn in a pair of glasses seems to be taken from a 1991 ad James did for the brand L.A. Eyeworks. (The cool 1980s and 1990s campaign included 200 others such as the actual Grace Jones, Frank Zappa, John Lydon, RuPaul, David Hockney and Bryan Ferry.)

As far as the image on the African stamp, James’ power attorney Mark Jay Heller told us: ‘Although the recognition and inclusion of a transgender model in this collection of [Monroe] stamps is appreciated . . . the publisher . . . has not only failed and omitted to secure’ James’ consent, ‘but has also failed to compensate him.’

Reps for Monroe’s estate, L.A. Eyeworks and the Central African Republic’s New York consulate did not get back to us. The image in question seems to have been taken down from a website for the country’s stamps.”

Here are some other examples of the stamps, featuring artwork of Marilyn. Another series shows her with Elvis Presley, though it is still unclear whether they ever met.

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Gretchen Mol: Starting Out With Marilyn

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Gretchen Mol, who starred in The Notorious Bettie Page and TV’s Boardwalk Empire, has talked about her early days as an aspiring actress in an interview with  Backstage.

“I remember when I took my résumé into William Morris Agency and they kind of snickered at my special skills section. Like, ‘We gotta get rid of this.’ The one that did get me my first summer stock job was I had ‘Marilyn Monroe impersonation,’ and a director said, ‘Can you sing your song as Marilyn Monroe?’ It was ‘Unusual Way,’ from Nine. I did it. I really did not have the impersonation down that well. [Laughs.] I didn’t expect to be called out on it! I remember when I walked out he said, ‘You aren’t afraid and that’s gonna really help you in this business.’ Along the way, you need people to believe in you or see something in you and then tell you, so you feel you’re on the right track. Those kinds of moments are so important when you’re starting out. And I remember that so well, walking out thinking, Whether I get that job or not, I feel like it couldn’t have gone better.”

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Gretchen was also (albeit inaccurately) compared to Marilyn after playing a woman involved with John F. Kennedy in An American Affair (2009.)

“Her first, semi-nude scene in An American Affair is reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic photo shoot with Bert Stern in 1962, taken shortly before her death, a year before this story begins. Monroe was also alleged to have been a lover of John F. Kennedy, and even played a similarly-named character, Claudia Caswell, in All About Eve (1950.)

Blonde, free-spirited and sexy, with a messy love life – it would be easy to assume that Catherine Caswell is a version of Monroe herself. However, the resemblance is only skin-deep. Monroe’s dalliance with Kennedy has long been the subject of gossip, but the truth of the matter is still uncertain.

After further investigation into Kennedy’s many extra-marital affairs, it becomes clear that Catherine Caswell is more closely modelled on another of his mistresses, Mary Pinchot Meyer …. Meyer was smart, liberal and probably one of the few women whom Kennedy treated as an intellectual equal. They met at least thirty times, and their relationship is generally considered to be one of the most significant in Kennedy’s fast-paced life.”

Frank Ocean Meets Marilyn in Calvin Klein Ad

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Rapper Frank Ocean stars in a mysterious new commercial for Calvin Klein mens’ underwear – with a brief appearance by a Marilyn lookalike, as Dee Lockett reports for Vulture. (Interestingly, Frank recorded an unreleased demo, ‘Marilyn Monroe‘, back in 2014.)

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“Ocean starts off dressed casually in an all-black tee and pants while appearing as the ‘special guest’ on Talk Calvin. But in the room, he watches himself on TV while wearing a black-and-white suit and no shoes.

Suddenly, he’s escaped! To the hallway! With … a Marilyn Monroe impersonator? We must be in Vegas:

‘You sort of, like, romanticize something that’s in the past, which is fantasy because it’s not exactly how it went down. Fantasy plays, like, the role of, uh, almost like a supplement. Draw on fantasy to make things hyperreal, I guess … saturate the colors.’

We see Ocean end up with a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, waxing poetic about romanticizing the past. In a flashback, he’s all alone in that TV studio. Flash forward and he sees Monroe on the blue couch where he once sat. A separate ad reads: ‘I feel loved in #mycalvins’ underneath a still of Ocean and Monroe.”

Vintage Life: The Myths of Marilyn

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Burlesque model October Divine poses as Marilyn on the cover of Vintage Life‘s March issue, out now in the UK. Inside there’s an interesting article by Haili Hughes, debunking some of the myths about Marilyn – such as her weight, and the ‘dumb blonde’ image.

Unfortunately, Haili does fall prey to one myth – that Marilyn had a genius IQ of 169. While her intelligence is not in question, there is no evidence that she was ever tested!

The spread also includes photographs of pin-up models Peggy Soo and Dolly Divine in classic Marilyn poses, shot at the My Boudoir studio.

Loni Venti’s Week With Marilyn

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In a fun article for Cosmopolitan, beauty editor Loni Venti describes her efforts to ‘live as Marilyn’ for a week – adopting her hair, make-up and fitness regime, and recreating some of her most iconic images.

“When the weekend came, I was definitely glad to go back to being Loni. It felt so good wearing my own clothes and makeup, eating less ‘bizarre’ foods, and working out in normal gym gear. But I will be taking some parts of this Marilyn experience with me. I’ll definitely be adding some more body-hugging silhouettes to my wardrobe. I’m totally stealing her amazing makeup tricks (although probably just for special occasions). But most of all, this project showed me how liberating it is to be fearless. If I, as Marilyn, could ditch my self-consciousness to experiment with new looks, pose for a (sometimes revealing) photo shoot, and burst into song in public among strangers, why couldn’t I do it as Loni? I can and I will.”