Black-Eyed Peas singer Fergie has been widely mocked for ‘trying to do a Marilyn Monroe’ with her jazzy, slowed-down performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the recent NBA All-Star game. As the BBC reports, public criticism has been so fierce that the beleaguered star has now issued a public apology.
Personally, I thought Fergie was probably aiming for a soulful, rather than outright sexy interpretation, although she may have overreached herself in the attempt. But while Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ raised a few eyebrows at the time (and has done so ever since), it ultimately succeeded on its own terms as a playfully flirtatious skit for an informal, if glitzy occasion. Whereas America’s national anthem (not to mention the NBA) has proved to be a far riskier proposition.
Burlesque queen and beauty maven Dita Von Teese has just released her first album, Soundtrack for Seduction. “I’m not a singer,” she tells PAPER magazine. “I am not looking to break into music. I’m not even used to talking about my music and my voice. Still, I’ve always had this fantasy about recording some songs. I remember when I was 18 or 19 and first started posing for vintage style pin-ups, I discovered a compilation record with all of these bombshells on it: Brigitte Bardot, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe. I loved the idea of doing something like that too. I remember hearing that Marilyn Monroe used to record just one line at a time, that she couldn’t really sing either … That kind of gave me the idea that maybe I could do that too.”
“I’m more attracted to glamour than natural beauty,” Dita told The Guardian in 2007. “The young Marilyn Monroe was a pretty girl in a sea of pretty girls. Then she had her hair bleached, fake eyelashes, and that’s when she became extraordinary. It’s that idea of what you’re not born with, you can create.” Dita has also expressed her admiration for Marilyn on Twitter.
However, I don’t agree with Dita that Marilyn ‘couldn’t really sing.’ Unlike many other movie stars of her day (such as Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Kim Novak and Natalie Wood), Marilyn performed her own songs. Her vocal talents were highly rated by leading musicians, including Lionel Newman and Hal Schaefer. But her range was technically limited, and for the most part, her singing was an extension of her acting. In fact, a lot of her movies were made in much the same way – line by line – a process that evolved more from her innate perfectionism than any default in her abilities.
Diehard Monroe fans have noticed a little-known recording by Marilyn in Guillermo Del Toro’s new film, The Shape of Water. Set in the early 1960s, the film stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a laboratory assistant who develops a close bond with ‘Amphibian Man,’ the mysterious creature being held captive in a tank. This plotline is reminiscent of Creature From the Black Lagoon, the monster movie that Marilyn and Tom Ewell go to see in The Seven Year Itch. Afterward, Marilyn (as ‘The Girl’) famously declares: “He wasn’t really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection, you know? A sense of being loved and needed and wanted.”
According to fans at Marilyn Remembered, her voice can be heard in a song accompanying a scene in The Shape of Water, when Elisa’s friend Giles makes a pass at the waiter in a cafe and is asked to leave.. But while Marilyn’s singing voice may be familiar, the song is not.
‘How Wrong Can I Be’ was a song recorded by Marilyn, probably in the late 1940s (around the time Fred Karger coached her for Ladies of the Chorus), but its existence was not widely known until 1995, when it was listed for sale at Sotheby’s of London. Until now, only a 20-second snippet has been released, which you can listen to here.
Unfortunately, it’s not featured on the soundtrack to The Shape of Water, but we finally have an opportunity to listen. Fraser Penney noticed it in the final credits:
And here’s some background information from a 1995 report in the New York Times.
“‘How Wrong Can I Be,’ recorded on a 12-inch acetate disk, was never released. The anonymous seller, whose father was in the music business, was sorting through a stack of his father’s recordings three years ago and noticed one with a hand-written label that read ‘Fred Karger at the piano, Manny Klein on the trumpet, vocal by Marilyn Monroe.’
The ballad, written by Mr. Karger and Alex Gottlieb, tells a story of sorrow and regret, from the point of view of a woman who has ended a love affair out of misguided jealousy.
Heiress and socialite Paris Hilton’s love of Marilyn has been evident since she became a reality TV star in the early 2000s. (Personally, I’ve always thought she resembled one of the ditzy gold-diggers Marilyn played on film than Monroe herself.) Now 36, Paris is a DJ, singer and has even launched her own perfume. Her new, retro-style single, I Need You, was released on St Valentine’s Day, and the accompanying video – directed by fiance Chris Zylka – shows Paris embracing vintage glamour, with at least one Marilyn-inspired costume – more details over at Instyle.
Canadian-American musician Meghan Remy aka U.S. Girls is about to release her sixth studio album. In an interview for The Ringer, Meghan takes Lindsay Zoladz on a sightseeing tour of New York, including the subway grate on Lexington and 52nd Street where Marilyn shot an iconic movie scene, while her marriage fell apart.
“The night that iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe was taken—you know the one: stilettos on a subway grate, billowing white dress—Monroe and her husband Joe DiMaggio got into a screaming match. The fight was partially about the photo itself: While shooting The Seven Year Itch, the studio had savvily leaked Monroe’s whereabouts to the press, and by the time Billy Wilder was ready to roll camera on what would become the most notorious scene in the movie, several thousand onlookers had shown up to watch. (They were almost all men, but I hardly need to tell you that.) DiMaggio was there, and he wasn’t too keen on what he took to be his wife’s public exhibitionism. When she showed up to set the next morning, Monroe’s hairdresser applied foundation to hide fresh bruises. She filed for divorce from DiMaggio before The Seven Year Itch wrapped.
‘We’re constantly presented with this smiling Marilyn,’ says Meg Remy, the singer and eccentric creative mastermind behind the band U.S. Girls. ‘But for some reason, when you have all the information, it just feels so heavy.’
I should mention that Remy is speaking into a headset, as she drives a rented, 15-seat van deftly through the streets of Manhattan. In anticipation of the release of U.S. Girls’ new album In a Poem Unlimited—the most ambitious and, as it happens, best album of Remy’s decade-long career—her label suggested a listening party for fans and members of the press. Remy asked around enough to learn what a listening party was, and, ever the DIY-minded eccentric, then decided it just wasn’t her style. What she came up with instead was this: a van tour of ‘sites of injustices in New York City,’ written and narrated by Remy herself, while we listen to the new album in the background.”
The iconic photo of Marilyn with Ella Fitzgerald at the Tiffany Club in 1954 graces the cover of a 10-disc CD boxset from the Document Records label, Milestones of Jazz Legends: Female Jazz Singers. Sadly, Marilyn’s own recordings aren’t included, but with twenty albums by the likes of Ella, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Abbey Lincoln and more, it’s great value and a perfect introduction to the elegant sound of a bygone era.
Cuban-American Singer Camila Cabello, who is promoting her debut solo album after leaving girl group Fifth Harmony, performed a new track, ‘Never Be the Same’, on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. ‘Cabello turned up the heat with her smouldering delivery as a dizzying montage – we see clips of Marilyn Monroe, brutal storms, spiral galaxies and so much fire – lit the backdrop,’ Billboard reports. The footage of Marilyn blowing a kiss to the camera was filmed when she arrived in New York’s Idlewild Airport to film The Seven Year Itch in September 1954, and is also captured in an iconic photograph by Arthur ‘Weegee’ Fellig.
The author and music historian Richard Havers died on New Year’s Eve aged 66 after a short illness, Jazz FM reports. He was known for his books about the Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, and highly regarded volumes on jazz record labels Verve and Blue Note.
Must Close Saturday: The Decline and Fall Of The British Musical Flop, a new book by Adrian Wright, covers the short-lived 1983 show, Marilyn! The Musical. It failed to win over critics and closed after 156 performances, but its talented star, Stephanie Lawrence, won critical acclaim and that year’s Best Actress award from the Variety Club of Great Britain, as well as a nomination for the Society of West End Theatre awards (now known as the Laurence Olivier awards.)
“The show was intended as a tribute to another popular icon who died young, but it failed to capture the public imagination,” Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian. “The one person who emerged with credit was Stephanie Lawrence. She not only captured the externals of Marilyn Monroe – the wiggle, the walk, the passionate pout, the vocal breathiness – but conveyed the carmined innocence and soft vulnerability within. It should have been her passport to fame but the show failed to live up to its star.”
Her performance is fondly remembered by Monroe fans, and in 1995, she released an album, Marilyn: The Legend, featuring songs from the musical as well as covers of Monroe tracks. Stephanie, who also starred in more successful musicals including Evita, Starlight Express and Blood Brothers and acted on film and television, died suddenly in 2000. Michael Billington described her as “an actress of rare glamour” and “a pillar of British musical theatre”, who nonetheless “never fully achieved the 40-carat stardom that came to her no-more talented peers.”