Marilyn’s ‘Niagara’ and the Making of a Style Icon

Writing for fashion bible Women’s Wear Daily, Leigh Nordstrom and Alex Badia have named Marilyn among the most stylish movie icons of the 1950s and 60s, citing Dorothy Jeakins’ Niagara designs, also worn offscreen by Marilyn in 1952, for special praise.

“The sex symbol who revolutionized the Fifties and Sixties had a very well-crafted fashion style. This look from the movie Niagara is a clear example. The wavy, short bleach blonde hair, the hoop earrings, and form-fitting dress with generous cleavage were some of her signatures. What was great about her style was that if you wear it today, it’s still amazing — it’s timeless.”

Why Marilyn’s Prescription is Laughter

Laughter may not cure COVID-19, but it’s a great way to get through lockdown. Look at Marilyn, laughing for Sam Shaw and bringing us springtime in Saturday’s Telegraph.

In the current issue of San Francisco’s Marina Times, Michael Snyder becomes the latest film critic to recommend chasing the blues away with Some Like It Hot.

“In dire times, comedy is needed more than ever. Absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco had it right with his observation, ‘We laugh so as not to cry.’ Even if laughter isn’t really the best medicine in a pandemic, it can’t hurt.

Public gatherings have been restricted and major movie releases are being postponed, so I thought I’d note some vintage, spirit-raising film comedies that should be accessible at home in the digital domain. A sense of humor is incredibly subjective. Still, it would be hard not to chuckle, chortle, or at least smile at some point while watching any of the following.

Director-screenwriter Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as two luckless musicians who need to disappear after witnessing a gangland hit. To escape murderous mobsters on their tail, the guys cross-dress to infiltrate an all-woman band and fall under the spell of one of the gals in the group, played by the bubbly, voluptuous Marilyn Monroe. From silly to sizzling, Some Like It Hot is the real deal when it comes to frantically funny fake femmes …”

And finally, if quarantine is limiting your style choices, you could follow Marilyn’s example and slip into a potato sack (as seen in the latest issue of Yours Retro …)

Thanks to Fraser Penney

When Phil Stanziola Met Marilyn

Phil Stanziola, who passed away recently, worked as a press photographer in New York, the Daily News reports. On September 9, 1954, Marilyn Monroe arrived in NYC to film exterior scenes for The Seven Year Itch. Over the next ten days, she posed for the Ballerina sitting at Milton Greene’s studio on Lexington Avenue; undertook numerous interviews and photo shoots, and hosted a press party at the St. Regis Hotel; took in Broadway shows, and dined out with husband Joe DiMaggio; and shot the movie’s iconic ‘subway scene’. With such a frantic schedule, it’s not surprising to see her kicking off her shoes in her hotel suite for Stanziola’s camera.

Marilyn ‘Jumps’ to the Stars

Philippe Halsman’s celebrity portraits are the subject of the latest issue of Reporters Sans Frontières, with a photo from his Jump! series on the cover, and 11 more pages of Marilyn inside. (She previously covered the December 2012 issue, dedicated to Sam Shaw.)

Here in the UK, Marilyn’s early modelling career is featured in an article about movie stars’ lucky breaks, from the March issue of Yours Retro (with Lauren Bacall on the cover.)

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Marilyn, TIME’s Icon for the Ages

Marilyn has been chosen as one of TIME‘s 100 Women of the Year, in a project marking the magazine’s centenary. She has been selected to represent 1954, the year in which she married Joe DiMaggio; entertained US troops in Korea; filmed There’s No Business Like Show Business and The Seven Year Itch; topped the hit parade with ‘I’m Gonna File My Claim’; and then she left it all behind to study acting, and form a production company in New York.

The photo shown above was taken two years previously by Frank Powolny, but remains one of the most iconic images of Marilyn. Other featured actresses include Anna May Wong, Lucille Ball and Rita Moreno. Aimee Semple McPherson, the evangelist said to have christened Norma Jeane, and Gloria Steinem, the feminist campaigner who wrote a book about Marilyn, are also listed.

“In 1954, Marilyn Monroe—already a sex symbol and a movie star—posed on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in New York City, for a scene intended to appear in her 1955 film The Seven Year Itch. The breeze blowing up through a subway grate sent her white dress billowing around her, an image that lingers today like a joyful, animated ghost. Monroe was a stunner, but she was also a brilliant actor and comedian who strove to be taken seriously in a world of men who wanted to see her only as an object of desire. Today, especially in a world after Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, she stands as a woman who fought a system that was rigged against her from the start. She brought us such pleasure, even as our hearts broke for her.”

Stephanie Zacharek

‘Joe and Marilyn’ Author Roger Kahn Dies at 92

Roger Kahn, considered America’s greatest baseball writer, has died aged 92, the Los Angeles Times reports. His most famous book was The Boys of Summer (1972), in which he recalled his early days as a Dodgers fan. He also published Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love in 1986. The first stand-alone book on the explosive DiMaggio romance, it was a bestseller – although his portrayal of Marilyn was considered sleazy by some readers and critics, and her renewed friendship with Joe in her final years is omitted entirely.

“The problem with Joe & Marilyn is basically a problem with Joe and a problem with Marilyn. She slipped away, leaving friends who still protect her and others who gossip about her, and he has declined to speak from his heart.

As a young reporter, Mr. Kahn had an entire clubhouse of athletes, sitting in front of their lockers, day after day, telling their stories. In this book, subtitled ‘A Memory of Love,’ Mr. Kahn had to rely too often on second-hand stuff – the cottage industry of books about Miss Monroe as well as ‘people in DiMaggio’s close circle’ and ‘persistent reports’ and ‘stories’ and ‘legends.’

Roger Kahn did meet her once, at an impressionable age, during a publicity party for one of her movies. When he mumbled something about having covered the Yankees for a newspaper, she looked right through him, he recounts. That brief encounter inspired Mr. Kahn to describe her frequently as a sexually compelling woman, ‘that phenomenon of innocence and lust, blond hair and parted lips, the squirming nude on the calendar who aspired to play a Dostoevski heroine.’

He traces her path through the seamy casting calls, repeating the gossip that Marilyn did this or that for certain Hollywood figures, and repeating the saucy lines that Marilyn may or may not have said … Mr. Kahn also finds an ‘attractive, dark-haired New York lady who had dated Joe’ to tell this story: ‘Before we went out, mutual friends gave me a little list of things I was never to bring up. Marilyn, of course. Sinatra. The Kennedys. Johnny Carson.’

Toward the end, Mr. Kahn writes: ‘What went so wrong so quickly? He was neat. She was sloppy. He was repressed. She was hyperactive. Each was willful. Each had a temper. Each was a star. Stars in collision.’

At another point, Mr. Kahn defines the problem in rather turgid prose: ‘Exactly what happened to the abandoned child called Norma Jeane in the casual way stations where she had to live carries us onto the turf of novelists.’ The critic and observer in Mr. Kahn may sense that it is time to leave Miss Monroe and Mr. DiMaggio to the novelists and the poets.”

George Vecsey, New York Times, November 24, 1986

From Stage to Page: ‘Norma Jeane Baker of Troy’

Anne Carson’s verse play, Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, baffled New York’s theatregoers in 2019. The script has now been published, though I must admit I was rather underwhelmed. But art critic Audrey Wollen, who wrote a perceptive essay last year about images of Marilyn reading, has contributed an intriguing analysis of the play in the February/March issue of Book Forum.

“As legends, the parallels between Marilyn and Helen are obvious. They are both superlative in their femininity, girl-ness at god level, with beauty that made them special and made them suffer. Marilyn never directly caused any international conflicts (despite that little JFK subplot), but she has still become a cautionary tale, although what exactly we are cautioned about is unclear. (Personal despair? Public sexuality? Tomato, tomato.) And while she eventually identified as a leftist, officially un-American, her image was often wedded to America’s wars. In fact, her entire career is owed to it: She was discovered as a model while working in a factory assembling drones during World War II, smiling wide next to heavy, morbid machinery. Her ‘bombshell’ moniker greased the association, her name slipping between sex, death, and nation. By the time she visited the American troops in Korea in 1954, a hundred thousand soldiers came out to express their desire and, by extension, their allegiance. Like Helen, she was what they were fighting for.

The play ends with language hardening its shell into event again. The kernel of the story that Carson wants to tell is sung early on: ‘Rape is the story of Helen, Persephone, Norma Jeane, Troy. War is the context and God is a boy. . . . Truth is, it’s a disaster to be a girl.’ At the story’s close, an earthquake hits Los Angeles, causing a tsunami to flood the entire city: ‘Aristotle thought earthquakes were caused by winds trapped in subterranean caves. We’re more scientific now, we know it’s just five guys fracking the fuck out of the world while it’s still legal.’ The light changes, ‘like morning at midnight,’ and our heroine leaves the hotel for the first time, sailing on a war boat through Hollywood’s sunken ruins. Like Euripides, Carson closes the curtains on the wide, open sea. Another fantasy floats to the surface, another absolution: Norma Jeane escapes, inheriting Helen’s endlessness. The clouds watch from above, in sisterhood.”

Mystery Solved: Marilyn on New Year’s Eve, 1948

This stunning photo is part of a set taken by Peter Stackpole for LIFE magazine during a party at the Beverly Hills home of producer Sam Spiegel on New Year’s Eve, 1948, posted on Twitter. Marilyn was still a long way from stardom, having only two bit parts and a lead in a B-movie (Ladies of the Chorus) to her name. It is thought that Spiegel invited her as a pretty starlet, probably at the instigation of Marilyn’s well-connected friends, John Carroll and Lucille Ryman, who were managing her career.

Among the guests were some of Hollywood’s biggest names: James Mason, Glenn Ford, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Shirley Temple, Danny Kaye were among them, as well as George Sanders (Marilyn’s future co-star in All About Eve), his wife-to-be Zsa Zsa Gabor, and four of Marilyn’s future directors; John Huston, Henry Hathaway, Jean Negulesco, and Otto Preminger.

Huston wanted to test Marilyn for We Were Strangers (1949), but Spiegel vetoed it, opting for the more bankable Jennifer Jones instead. The director would later give Marilyn her breakthrough role in The Asphalt Jungle (1950.)

In the photo shown above, Marilyn wears the strapless gown seen in her brief appearance in Love Happy (1949), and a separate set of photos taken by J.R. Eyerman for LIFE in 1949, showing her rehearsing with vocal coach Phil Moore. She had also worn the dress in March 1948, during her performance in Strictly for Kicks, a revue staged at Twentieth Century Fox. Notably, she was one of the only female guests at Spiegel’s party not wearing any jewellery (suggesting that for Marilyn, ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ was just a song.)

Two other photos from the party (found by another fan on the Getty Images website) show Marilyn dancing in a crowd, and chatting with two men.

Here’s Marilyn again; plus another dancefloor photo with Marilyn to the left, Danny Kaye in the middle and George Sanders on the right (possibly with Zsa Zsa!)

Another photo shows Marilyn dancing with her former beau, musician Fred Karger. Their stormy romance, which began on the Ladies of the Chorus, was coming to an end, but Marilyn remained close to the Karger family for the rest of her life. Interestingly, his watch may have been Marilyn’s Christmas present to him, which took her two years to pay off. She left her name off the engraving so his next girlfriend wouldn’t know it came from her.

It has been said that Marilyn met agent and lover Johnny Hyde that night (although photographer Bruno Bernard has claimed they were introduced a few months later, in Palm Springs.) I haven’t found any photos of him with Marilyn at the party; however, he can be seen in the photos shown above. (They would be snapped together at another New Year’s Eve party a year later.)

And finally, here’s the LIFE article about the party, although Marilyn isn’t featured in it. In 1957, Peter Stackpole would photograph Monroe again at the peak of her fame, with husband Arthur Miller at the ‘April in Paris Ball’ in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.)

Thanks to Everlasting Star