Marilyn, Billy and the Fabulous Fifties

As part of an ongoing series for The Guardian, Wendy Ide names the 1950s as her favourite decade in film.

“Marilyn Monroe was the blond bombshell of choice – although for a while it looked as though Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday) might be a contender – and became a global icon. Hers was a career that played out almost entirely during the 50s. A supporting role in All About Eve led to a studio contract and a star-making double whammy of Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Highlights of her decade, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot, saw her teamed with director Billy Wilder …”

And over at Film School Rejects, Will DiGravio argues that the comedy classic, alongside other greats like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Hawks’ Rio Bravo, makes 1959 the best year in movies.

“Today, it seems as though many know Monroe only for her beauty, not as the greatest comedic actress of all time. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are hilarious in the film as two musicians pretending to be women in order to play with a female band in Florida and escape the Chicago mob after they witness a murder. Yet, their performances pale in comparison to Monroe’s, whose comedic timing and delivery is so effortless it is easy to under-appreciate her brilliance.”

Marilyn: Face of the Fifties

Marilyn by Ed Clark, 1950

Marilyn has been chosen as the face of the 1950s in a Marie-Claire article about changing beauty trends over the decades.

“Elegant hair updos are making a comeback on the fashion week catwalks, but their history is firmly rooted in 1950s fashion. Few beauty muses are more iconic than Marilyn Monroe, whose hourglass figure was the most desired female shape of the decade. She’s probably also a big reason why the best red lipstick is such a timeless classic beauty look.”

Tribute to a Misfit

Marilyn filming The Misfits, 1960

Film critic Mick LaSalle pays tribute to Marilyn in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Marilyn Monroe has been dead all my life, or at least all my conscious life. Yet even so, the idea still doesn’t sit right. ‘Marilyn Monroe is dead.’ That’s like saying life and joy and sex and fun are dead. How screwed up does the world have to be that it can’t even keep Marilyn Monroe alive?

One crucial aspect of her appeal, intrinsic to that combination of physical beauty and spirit that she was, is this: Marilyn makes people watching her feel that, if she knew them, she would like them. But no, it’s more than that. She makes them feel that she would see them and their true worth, their true virtue. It’s not just men who feel this. Women feel it, too, and like her. So do children.

But the times in which she lived didn’t help at all. What a wretched irony that perhaps the most desirable woman to breathe air, at least since the invention of photography, came to prominence in the one decade most likely to suffocate her, the 1950s. The ’20s, the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’60s – anything would have been better than the ’50s, with its thuggishness and prurience, its puritanism and giddy lewdness.

Even worse is the toll that the era’s guilty lust and judgment took on her. Go to YouTube, and watch Marilyn’s press conferences. Watch her eyes – as sensitive as a snail’s feelers – as they gauge, millisecond by millisecond, every hint of hostility and condescension, every tonal implication that she was some kind of idiot.

Yet if only she could have held on a few years longer. Politics, culture and social and sexual morality were about to move in her direction, to tell her, ‘Hey, kid, you’re not the one who’s crazy.’ And the aging that she dreaded? She had nothing to fear. Already in her last photos you can see what Marilyn was going to look like at 45, 50, 55. … She would have been lovely and so wise for having survived the wars.

No, in a better world, Marilyn Monroe would not be dead 50 years ago. She would be 86 years old, perhaps only now putting her affairs in order, and looking back on a life of triumph. That’s the life we keep wanting to give her, every time we see her onscreen. It’s the life that she deserved.”

‘Blondes’ and the Fifties

Kathleen Strecker reviews Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for Oregon’s Coast Review, and ponders what this seemingly escapist comedy might reveal about the time in which it was made:

“The film opens with a cabaret number by Monroe and Jane Russell, clad in red sequined getups – and feather-bedecked hats, of course – that by today’s standards would be laughable, but were apparently hotter than hot back then. That’s what intrigues me so much about entertainment from that era: It seems like such a different world. The culture of the 1960s, even though I was born four-fifths of the way through that decade, feels familiar, accessible … anything further back might as well have happened on a different planet.”