HMV is a British retail institution, serving music lovers since 1921. Sadly, in recent times it has struggled to keep up with an ever-changing market, and is currently seeking new owners after going into administration last month. It’s still trading however, so why not support this high-street stalwart and treat yourself to this DVD boxset, exclusive to HMV and featuring twelve Marilyn movies, reduced from £39.99 to a bargain £24.99? (More details here.)
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
“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.
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.’
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.
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.
The 60th anniversary tributes to Some Like It Hot have already begun, with a look behind the scenes published in the Christmas 2018 issue of US weekly Closer (with Kathie Lee Gifford on the cover.) If you missed out, just click to enlarge the photo below. (It was posted on the Marilyn Remembered Facebook group by Christopher Lentz, author of My Friend Marilyn, a novel set at the Hotel Del Coronado during the legendary shoot.)
Another review for the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot (see my photos of the booklet, above) is posted today on Daniel S. Levine’s Movie Mania Madness blog, this time with a special focus on the extras.
“Some Like It Hot works for me. It’s not as polished and perfect as The Apartment, as snappy as The Major and The Minor or as hopelessly romantic as Sabrina. But it doesn’t have to be. Rather, it is a successful mix of everything that made Wilder’s best movies work, minus the biting cynicism of The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard or Ace in the Hole.
Criterion replaced the MGM/UA commentary that included interviews with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis with the 1989 commentary the label recorded for its laserdisc release. This one features Howard Suber breaking down the film and explaining why it works. It includes brief remarks from Lemmon. For the most part, it’s a good track, although Suber seems a little too obsessed with Monroe.
The 2-disc DVD also included galleries and an interactive pressbook, which are also not included here. However, considering how in-depth everything we do get is, those do not feel like big omissions. There’s a lot crammed onto this disc, ensuring that fans of the film will still want it even if they have previous editions.”
Reviewing the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot for Screen Anarchy, J. Hurtado says it’s still one of the funniest films ever made (although needless to say, I strongly disagree with his opinion that Marilyn was “more phenomenon than actress.”)
“At a little over two hours, Some Like It Hot seems like it’d be a bit long for a comedy, especially in 1959, but Wilder & Diamond’s script leaves no room for dead air as the witty dialogue and continuous hijinks keep the party rolling at a breakneck pace. While Curtis and Lemmon were consummate performers even back then, with well-practiced delivery that really complimented the dialogue, Monroe was more of a phenomenon than an actress. However, with the expert direction, and apparently infinite patience, of Wilder, she is able to deliver one of her best on screen performances here, not to mention the fact that she was styled to the nines in some of the most amazing wardrobe ever seen on the big screen.”
Scotland’s Weekly News has always been a friend to Marilyn – and in its first issue of 2019, predicts that the 60th anniversary of Some Like It Hot‘s release will make headlines this year. The comedy classic had its US premiere in March 1959, and opened in London on May 14th.
As another year draws to a close, the Washington Post‘s critics are debuting what was the greatest year for movies. For Scott Tobias, it’s 1955: and while he doesn’t mention The Seven Year Itch, it was one of the year’s biggest hits – and a shining example of the Cinemascope era.
“In the story of world cinema, the 1950s may seem like a transitional decade between Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ and the more troubled, revolutionary visions of the French New Wave or the American film-brat renaissance of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. But it was an extraordinarily vibrant moment, steeped in post-war cynicism and emotional intensity as well as the eye-catching showmanship of VistaVision, Technicolor and CinemaScope. And no year crystallized these developments quite like 1955 … Above all, 1955 stands out for bright, expressive colors, when filmmakers took advantage of film stocks and processes that could render emotion with visual pop … There was no fuller year to be a moviegoer.”
Marilyn is featured again in the latest issue of UK nostalgia magazine Yours Retro, with ‘The Curse of The Misfits’, a two-page article by Hannah Last, included with other pieces about Elvis Presley and his mother, the greatest Hollywood musicals, and cover girl Natalie Wood. (My only criticism of the article is that it repeats the unfounded allegation that Arthur Miller became involved with his third wife, Inge Morath, on the Misfits set. In fact, their relationship began with a chance reunion in New York in 1961.)
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.”