Category Archives: Tributes

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.”

Immortal Marilyn at Memorial Week

In addition to the Marilyn Remembered itinerary for this year’s memorial week, sister group Immortal Marilyn is also organising a programme of events to commemorate the 55th anniversary of her death, including a pool party on August 2 at the Avalon Hotel (where Marilyn shot her famous Life magazine cover with Philippe Halsman back in 1952), and on August 4, a sunset dinner and toast at the Santa Monica Pier, a favourite haunt from childhood to one of her photo shoot with George Barris in 1962. There is also a tour of Marilyn’s Hollywood from LA Woman Tours on August 1, and of course, the annual service at Westwood Memorial Park on August 5 – more details here.

Marilyn Returns to the Chinese Theater

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will be screened at the TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman’s Chinese) on Thursday, August 3, as part of the memorial week activities organised by Los Angeles-based fanclub Marilyn Remembered to commemorate the 55th anniversary of her death. George Chakiris, who danced with Marilyn in the classic musical comedy, will be a special guest. Tickets are going fast, so if you’d like to attend, book here.

Marilyn herself visited the Chinese Theater many times as a child, and famously signed her name in cement outside the venue alongside co-star Jane Russell shortly after the enormous success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953. The original, rather risqué costume for her signature ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number, and another Travilla gown (not seen in the movie, but subsequently worn by Marilyn at public events) will be displayed on the night, courtesy of collector and Marilyn Remembered founder Greg Schreiner.

For more information on the Marilyn Remembered itinerary for this year’s memorial week, click here.

Marilyn Lights Up Paris Film Festival

Artist Lucille Clerc‘s gorgeous rendering of Marilyn – inspired by Milton Greene’s ballerina sitting – adorns posters for this year’s Champs Elysees Film Festival, celebrating independent French and American cinema. (And while you’re in Paris, don’t forget to see Bert Stern’s photos of Marilyn at DS World.)

Thanks to Chris at Club Passion Marilyn

Artists’ Birthday Tributes to Marilyn

Marilyn is the perfect muse, so it’s no surprise that artists would pay tribute on her 91st birthday. David Bromley, whose paintings of MM were exhibited in Los Angeles last summer, had some wise words to offer on age and immortality in this Bert Stern-inspired tribute.

Daniel Acosta profiled Marilyn’s subtle transformation from role to role, while Alejandro Mogollo looked to near-sighted Pola in How to Marry a Millionaire for inspiration.

Marilyn Lights Up the Empire State

Cecil Beaton’s ethereal 1956 portrait of Marilyn – which she kept framed in her New York apartment, on top of her famous piano – was one of many iconic images projected onto the Empire State Building this week, marking the 150th anniversary of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Among her contemporaries, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn were also featured.

Marilyn in ‘Classic Film’ Special

A four-page spread is devoted to Marilyn in Classic Film:  Your Essential Guide to Retro Cinema, a one-off special from UK magazine Total Film. “Though she may be plastered on everything from commemorative plates to clothes, Monroe is worth checking out on celluloid,” the article begins. “An underrated comedienne, a seductive on-screen femme fatale and a mesmerising star, she left an indelible impression on cinema and popular culture. Miss Monroe, we salute you!”

Released last month, you can still buy it at good newsagents or online (I found it here.) The large-format edition looks back at more than a century of movie history, although the focus is mainly on the 1950s onwards. There are some interesting quotes about Marilyn from her directors and co-stars, as well as more recent acolytes like Michelle Williams and Naomi Watts. Unfortunately, two of the quotes attributed to Marilyn are fake – can you spot them?

Thanks to Fraser Penney 

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