‘Some Like It Hot’ in Ithaca

Marilyn with Tony Curtis as ‘Josephine’

“This is Monroe in one of her steamiest performances alongside two of the most talented actors of their generation. Ranked the funniest American movie of all time by the American Film Institute, and it’s true!”

Sunday, August 22 at 7pm and Tuesday, August 24 at  9:30pm at the newly reopened Cornell Cinema

Mad Men: ‘Dr Faye Miller’ and Marilyn

It’s 1964 and Marilyn Monroe has been dead for two years, but on Madison Avenue her memory is still very much alive. A new character, Dr Faye Miller, is introduced in the latest episode of Mad Men, ‘Every Wall Glares Like a Glass Ceiling’ (Season 4:4.)

Reviewing the episode for the Vanity Fair blog, James Wolcott wrote:

“Don and Roger field short hops from their Lucky Strikes client (regarding new restrictions on cigarette advertising), interrupted by questions over the Pond’s Cold Cream focus group being held in Joan’s office, much to Joan’s chagrin, which she manages to express without a single facial move, entirely through inflection and the No drama eloquence of her wrists.

The focus group is led by Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), the blonde psychologist and motivational researcher who appears to be intended as a younger, dishier model of the impeccable Dr. Joyce Brothers, TV’s original princess of pop psychology. Yet I may be doing Dr. Brothers an injustice, because during the 60s her braininess was supposedly driving quite a classy chassis. ‘She looks like Loretta Young, walks like Marilyn Monroe, and talks like Dr. Freud,’ purred a publicity handout at the time. Actually, I seem to recall Dr. Brothers looking and walking more like June Allyson and talking more like a sensible sedative, but perhaps when she presented herself in a roomful of male execs back then, she exuded the porcelain sex-pow that Dr. Faye Miller projects.”

‘Faye Miller’ was one of the many pseudonyms used by Marilyn when she checked into hotels and airports incognito. Miller was, of course, the surname of her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller.

Marilyn used the name in February 1961, just after her divorce from Miller, when she entered the Payne-Whitney Psychiatric Hospital. When Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr Marianne Kris, persuaded her that she needed treatment, Marilyn was unaware that it was a secure unit.

Marilyn’s stay lasted just four days, and it seems her disguise didn’t work as she later told friends of being stared at constantly by patients and staff.

Her experience was traumatic and she blamed Dr Kris, though curiously the analyst was not removed from Monroe’s 1961 will. Weeks before her death in 1962, Marilyn approached her lawyer, Milton Rudin, about changing the will but he did not act in time.

It was Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn’s second husband, who came to her rescue and had her transferred to Columbia Presbyterian, a general hospital where she recuperated in private.

Actress Cara Buono remained tight-lipped about the significance of her character’s name, suggesting to Entertainment Weekly that the MM reference may be explained later:

“Your character’s name, ‘Faye Miller,’ was also the pseduonym Marilyn Monroe used when she checked into a mental facility. What’s the significance there?

‘Well, all that information is revealed bit by bit…we’ll find out if that has any meaning. I wondered how this [interview] would be because we can only talk about the two episodes I’ve been in that already aired. But, yeah…Matt Weiner is such an amazing storyteller and I think everything is deliberate, or not. You find out what everything means — if not in this season, then in another season. Sometimes you’ll have to go back to season 1 or season 2 and think, ‘oh I remember that, that’s what this person meant…’ There’s much more to be revealed, I think.'”

Mariella’s Marilyn: ‘Blonde on Blonde’

Photo by Rupert Hartley

Broadcaster and journalist Mariella Frostrup has told the Radio Times that after presenting the BBC Radio 2 series Blonde on Blonde in 2009 (profiling three iconic blondes, Doris Day, Diana Dors and Marilyn Monroe), made her realise how little the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype has progressed over the years. (Unfortunately, Blonde on Blonde is not currently available on BBC i-Player. It was an interesting series, despite some factual errors. If it is repeated anytime I will mention it here.)

The broadcaster, 47, said she “would have thought twice” about going blonde at 16, when her father’s death left her grey, if she had “known then what my shade of choice suggested to the world”.

“Few women may be born blonde but that hasn’t stopped it becoming a noun. In blonde world whether you’re a brain surgeon, a lapdancer or an oligarch’s wife, it’s all the same. Blonde is the description – anything else merely informs us of the variety. Pinch me if I’m living in the 21st century.”

Of famous blondes like Monroe, Frostrup commented:

“Beneath the make-up and beyond the studio publicist’s spin a sorrier bunch of women you couldn’t stumble across… like so much else in their lives their most celebrated asset, their platinum locks, were fake. Perhaps it was the shadow of that deception, one of the many required to qualify as screen sirens, that saw so many of their dreams end in tragedy.”

According to Frostrup: “Being blonde means never saying you don’t understand unless you want to be predictable. Being blonde means always trying to tell the blonde joke first.” She added: “Our roots are often only skin deep and, despite assumptions to the contrary, proven side effects don’t include brain impairment.”

She cited Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton and the pop singer Lady Gaga as examples of women who combine blonde with brains. And she quoted Dolly Parton, who famously said: “I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb – and I’m not blonde either.”

It’s not the first time Frostrup has spoken out about sexism and ‘blonde prejudice’. “Men are hideously predictable,” she told the Radio Times back in 1998. “They all want blondes with big breasts. Men expect a sweet, cute blonde and get me. They have a problem with women who are bright and good-looking. Women, on the other hand, would welcome the combination in men, given the opportunity.”

Jolie Casts Doubt on Marilyn Role

“‘It’s really funny because I have just heard about this for the first time today,’ Angelina Jolie told Sky News, regarding her rumoured role as MM in an upcoming film of Andrew O’Hagan’s novel, Maf the Dog. ‘It’s news to me. I’m flattered – I suppose!'”

Video

Jolie, Clooney Tipped for ‘Maf the Dog’

Photo by Douglas Kirkland

Andrew O’Hagan’s comic novel, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe, is set for Hollywood, according to today’s Guardian.

A few years ago, Douglas Kirkland recreated his 1961 Monroe photo shoot with Angelina Jolie, to stunning effect. While I do wonder if Jolie can recapture Marilyn’s fragile charm, she is a gifted actress and Hollywood’s biggest star right now. (Her performance in Life Or Something Like It, back in 2002, drew comparisons to Monroe in some quarters.)

Screen adaptations of two other Marilyn-related books, My Week With Marilyn and Blonde, are also rumoured to be in the pipeline.

Marilyn, Howard Hawks and ‘Blondes’


“Playing up the usual style gap between Monroe’s acting and everyone else’s, and playing down her often-cited vulnerability, Hawks oversees a remarkable comic performance, with terrific line readings like beat poetry (‘Sometimes Mr. Esmond finds it very difficult to say no to me’) and bits of business that hint at a bizarre inner life (confronted for the first time with a diamond tiara, Lorelei can barely restrain her hands from pouncing inappropriately; after the tiara’s departure, she happily improvises a scenario of future possession, using a napkin ring encircled by a necklace as a stand-in).”

Dan Sallitt

Lois Banner on Marilyn’s American Beauty

Marilyn by Richard Avedon, 1957

From American Beauty by Lois W. Banner (1983)

“The most important film representative of the 1950s voluptuous woman was Marilyn Monroe, who differed from the others by combining with sensuality strains of childishness reminiscent of the adolescent stars. She thereby created a powerful combination that encompassed the era. Technically unschooled and often intellectually vacuous in her film characterisations, she nevertheless possessed both the shrewdness of the classic chorus girl (a character she often portrayed in film roles) and the intuitive genius of a child, able to see more clearly to the heart of a matter than others more sophisticated around her. As a down-and-out member of a seedy female band in ‘Some Like it Hot’, she taught fleeing mobsters Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon the meaning of friendship and love; as a chorus girl in ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’, she taught the same lesson to Laurence Olivier, the head of a fictional kingdom. Most of the other voluptuous film stars had dark hair, but Monroe’s was peroxided a light blonde – a colour that invoked traditional images of angels and virtuous women, reflected the light locks of the era’s adolescent film stars, and both legitimised and heightened her sensuality.

Previous exemplars of female sensuality had also had blonde hair: one thinks of the British Blondes in the 1860s and Jean Harlow in the 1930s. But Monroe differed strikingly from the Lydia Thompson troupe and from Harlow. They were tough, wisecracking, even masculine in type. With a slight, lisping voice, a soft curvaceous body, and a seriousness about life, Monroe projected an intense femininity and an inner vulnerability. Her sensual posturings were reminiscent of Mae West, although with no hint of the parody that West intended. Monroe regarded her body with dead seriousness. Long before she was acclaimed as movie actress and sex queen, she had posed for the first nude centrefold in ‘Playboy’ magazine, destined to become a trendsetter in liberalised sexuality and a showcase for the bodies of beautiful women. [Actually, Monroe had posed for a trade calendar – the shots were acquired by Hugh Hefner four years later, after her rise to fame.]

Monroe’s popularity ensured the triumph of the vogue of dyed blonde hair, which cosmetics companies had been promoting. Sales of hair colouring soared; platinum blondes seemed everywhere. The widespread dying of hair to be light blonde indicated women’s acceptance of a model of looks and behaviour that had them be feminine, sensual, and unintellectual. Women were to seem like children, expressing their adulthood primarily through their sexuality. The ‘dumb blonde’ who ‘had more fun’ now became the dominant image of beauty for American women.”

Dr Banner is currently working on two new books about Marilyn.

Read my comparison of Monroe and Harlow, ‘American Bombshells’.