When ‘Rivals’ Meet: Marilyn and Jane in Semiahmoo, WA

When pin-up queens Marilyn and Jane Russell teamed up for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, reporters predicted a mighty feud – but they quickly struck up a close bond, onscreen and off, and many fans consider Jane the best co-star Marilyn ever had. As the Northern Light reports, at the Semiahmoo Resort near Blaine, Washington State on January 29 from 7-9 pm, Ron Miller, author of Conversations With Classic Film Stars, will consider their pairing in the second part of his free film series ‘When Rivals Meet’, alongside Fred Astaire vs Gene Kelly, Bette Davis vs Joan Crawford, and others.

Normani Brings ‘Diamonds’ to Harley Quinn

Rappers Megan Thee Stallion & Normani collaborate on ‘Diamonds’, taken from the soundtrack to Birds of Prey, the new Harley Quinn movie due out in February. We have already seen Margot Robbie recreate Marilyn’s signature number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the upcoming film’s trailer.

Normani goes one step further in her video, though, reworking lyrics from the original song, ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, with a hip-hop twist, and vamping it up in pink. As Brooke Marine reports for W, this is the first time the song has been sampled – and we even hear Marilyn cooing ‘Tiffany … Cartier …’ at the fade-out.

Marilyn Inspires ‘Summer Camp’ Romance

Marilyn’s iconic role as Sugar Kane is one of the inspirations behind ‘Women in Love’, the new single from British indie-pop duo Summer Camp‘s upcoming second album, Romantic Comedy. Singer Elizabeth Sankey has also directed a documentary of the same name, which you can read about here.

“‘Women In Love’ is about falling for a woman who is packed full of idiosyncrasies and complexity. Obviously the manic pixie dream girl trope of rom coms has been discussed in great detail, but for us this song is less about those more modern heroines, and more about the classic rom com queens who completely befuddle and complicate the lives of the men who are attracted to them. It’s Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, and Goldie Hawn in The Housesitter. It’s about how their love interests feel so lucky to be adored by such strange, complicated, and surprising women.'”

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Marilyn’s Last Screen Test

David Thomson is another film critic who doesn’t rate Marilyn’s screen performances all that highly, but often feels compelled to write about her. He provided an introduction for Anne Verlhac’s MM: A Life in Pictures (2007), and also mentions Marilyn in his 2012 book, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us. In it, he credits most of her best work to her directors, and even suggests Michelle Williams did a better job of being Marilyn than she did (in My Week With Marilyn.) Nonetheless, he can’t deny her enduring appeal…

“She was always in her glory in stills, like a kid raised on fan magazines and their suspended moments of desire and splendour. When she moved on film, in real time, she often became more awkward and exaggerated. But she was enough of a pin-up girl – and there was a luxuriant but tasteful spread for a nude calendar – that she was signed up by Twentieth Century Fox. They decided to call her Marilyn Monroe. She was one of the last studio fabrications and she would die still attached to Fox in anger, grief and litigation.

She would marry Joe DiMaggio, the model of baseball, and then Arthur Miller, the intellectual, leftist playwright. It was a search for happiness, but a kind of nationwide casting, too. There were also affairs … Norman Mailer never quite got over the frustration that he was not included and he wrote a rhapsody to her that was driven by his never knowing her.

What was she like on-screen? More or less, fifty years after her death, everyone has seen some of Marilyn’s films. A lot of them were thankless studio assignments. In many she is being mocked by her own pictures … Studios no longer had reason or the skills to look after their wayward stars, and no one ever knew how to plot a career line for Monroe, or have her remember it …

Marilyn Monroe was never in charge, and that is why the public felt a helpless publicity at the news of her suicide …. Her actual achievement, in stills and movie moments, was slight compared with the work of Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, or Meryl Streep. But if anyone today is asked to do a painting of the history of the movies (or a book jacket), chances are they do Chaplin tipping his hat to Marilyn, with her standing over that subway grating in New York, where the rush of a passing train turned her white skirt into a parachute. She taught us to see that great images were lost children, and we walk on in dismay …”

Thomson also writes at length about Some Like It Hot, and the hair and wardrobe tests filmed with Marilyn for the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, which are in some ways more haunting than the scenes she completed (perhaps because she was unhampered by the dated script.)

“The test is in colour but silent. She wears a white dress with a black floral pattern and she is talking to the director George Cukor. She is herself, not the character for the film, and as beautiful and confident as she ever managed on film, as if aware it was her best shot. Some said that, in the last couple of years, Monroe was so drugged that she had difficulty focusing her eyes. That doesn’t show in this test. She is presence itself and suggests she might have been a smart woman and not just ‘Marilyn’.”

Marilyn and the Fox Blondes

Marilyn with Betty Grable in 1953

Film historian Jeanine Basinger is not a great fan of Marilyn – in her 2008 book, The Star Machine, she made the puzzling claim that Monroe was unpopular with filmgoers, though the statistics tell another story. Marilyn also rates a mention in Basinger’s latest book, The Movie Musical, in the context of Twentieth Century Fox’s long line of blonde musical stars.

Marilyn shoots the ‘Heat Wave’ number for There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)

“A discussion of Fox blondes, from [Alice] Faye to Monroe, defines the Fox musical factory system, but it has to begin with a blonde who started the trend but is seldom included in the pack. She’s a very little blonde: Shirley Temple. All the famous musical Fox blondes overlapped in film … [June] Haver appeared with Monroe in Love Nest (1951) and [Betty] Grable, the most famous musical star of them all, gave a boost to Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953.) The Fox blondes were powerhouses: Temple, Faye, Grable, and Monroe were all top-ten box office draws … Faye is closer in looks to Marilyn Monroe – the big, wide-set eyes, the lush mouth, and the vulnerable look combined with a zaftig body. [Grable was smaller, leaner and zippier – she gave off the energetic zeitgeist of the war years.)

Marilyn Monroe was neither a great singer or a great dancer, but she was good enough. Everyone accepted her breathy vocals as part of who she was, and her dancing was made into far more than it was by the great choreographer Jack Cole. Cole gave her hand gestures, hip movements, and head turns that had rhythm and attracted an audience’s eye …

Monroe was something of a challenge for Twentieth Century Fox. The studio apparently didn’t originally see her as a musical star … Monroe made only two pure musicals for Fox, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954.) She also sang in Niagara (1953), River Of No Return (1954), Some Like It Hot (1959), and Let’s Make Love (1960), usually with some dancing connection …

Monroe as a musical star in a typical Fox musical was not the Monroe who is usually defined as vulnerable, with a sad and wistful quality, a soul yearning for understanding while suffering the cruelties of an uncaring world … In both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and There’s No Business Like Show Business, Monroe was self-confident, playing a woman who knew how to use men if she had to in order to achieve her career goals. Monroe has one enduring solo (with a chorus of men): her immortal ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ …

The best movie by which to evaluate Monroe as a musical performer is There’s No Business Like Show Business. She’s surrounded by top-drawer names who’ve each spent a lifetime in the game … Monroe doesn’t have the musical chops of a single one of these players. She is, however, Marilyn Monroe. What she’s got doesn’t necessarily need musical chops, and she’s not a terrible singer/dancer, just not a highly skilled one … Cole’s choreography is constructed to show off Monroe’s body and to use the audience’s established sense of her as a sex object, but without being offensive about it …

‘After You Get What You Want’ has a bold lyric that feigns innocence … [Monroe] looks nude, and she’s in the best shape of her life … She’s beautiful and young and lush, all pure sex, and yet despite all this, there’s a strange air of innocence about her. That was the thing Monroe had that made her famous. It wasn’t just sexiness, though she had that in abundance …

Monroe’s second song is a full-out production number with elaborate costumes and a chorus of dancers – a Cuban thing with costumes, bongo drums, and palm trees. There’s a full choreography for the ensemble, and it’s too much for Monroe … Monroe handles ‘Heat Wave’, but she didn’t need all the clutter around her.

‘Lazy’ is a PhD thesis. It’s played as a rehearsal for a number to be done by Monroe, [Donald] O’Connor, and [Mitzi] Gaynor. Monroe is dressed in tight capri pants, a low-cut V-neck top, and a brightly coloured cummerbund. She lolls on a chaise longue, singing the song in a languid style. While she sings, draping herself around the sofa … the other two dance around her … The less she does, just showing off her body, the more they do, showing off their superb dancing. It’s a musical contrast: sex vs. talent. And it’s devilishly clever from a business point of view …

Marilyn Monroe ended the Fox blonde cycle. She became too big for its limiting label, and the time for the concept was over, as the studio moved towards its death. She was never defined by her musical performances, and her career didn’t impact musical history much, but it did impact the career of the woman originally put under contract to become the next Fox blonde: the talented Sheree North, who is practically unknown today …”

Eve’s Misfit Marilyn in the FT

Seven years after Eve Arnold’s death aged 99, Josh Lustig looks at her photos from The Misfits in today’s FT Weekend magazine (sold with the Financial Times.)

“Unlike many photographers who spent time with Monroe, Arnold was rooted firmly in documentary and photojournalism … Arnold’s photographs are striking for the way she captures these legends of the silver screen as lonely, troubled individuals. She strips away their movie stardom and reveals them as fragile, vulnerable. Even when photographed together, everyone seems to inhabit their own world, disconnected from one another, lost in the desert.”

Marilyn Brings ‘Itch’ Back to Bartlesville

The Seven Year Itch opens in Times Square, NYC, 1955. A similar model of Marilyn was used to promote the film in theatres nationwide.

The Seven Year Itch will be screened at noon on January 6 in the Bartlesville Area History Museum (BAHM) at City Hall in Washington County, Oklahoma, as a new exhibition, Vaudeville to Cinema opens, Bartlesville Radio reports. (You can read more about the film’s massive publicity drive in Michelle Morgan’s book, The Girl.)

“According to Debbie Neece, BAHM Collections manger, ‘The Seven Year Itch is a 1955 American romantic comedy film based on a three-act play with the same name by George Axelrod. The film was co-written and directed by Billy Wilder, and stars Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell, who first played the part of Richard Sherman, in the three-act play on Broadway.  A massive promotional event took place in Bartlesville announcing Marilyn Monroe in ‘The Seven Year Itch. The bigger than life-sized fifty-two foot cardboard cutout of Marilyn Monroe stood taller than the Osage Theater marquee at 316 S. Johnstone Avenue and the movie drew full house showings.”

January With Marilyn in Utah

Marilyn with director John Huston during filming of The Misfits, 1960

The Utah Theatre in Logan is devoting this month to Marilyn, with screenings of The Misfits this week, followed by Bus Stop from next Wednesday, and The Seven Year Itch, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and There’s No Business Like Show Business afterwards.