The Village Voice is no longer in print, but much of its illustrious archive remains online – including ‘Blond Lust‘, a piece by Teresa Podlesney from 1993, questioning whether blondness still signified the white feminine ideal, or an increasing freedom of choice.
“Like every other choice we have in the supposedly ‘color-blind’ United States, the choice to be blond should be made so as to prove that one can make it, to prove that one is American. Today’s more effective hair coloring, and the continued mainstreaming of wigs, enable blondness to be achieved by those with even the most resistant hair. Yet the democratization of blondness is not simply the story of perfected cosmetic technology. Blondness is where our changing notions of race and gender come together.
The blondness that attracts media attention today is a blondness that blatantly conjures up images of the 1950s. Madonna and Linda Evangelista, the Kikit and Guess models, are/were all one-tone bleached blonds, their attraction lying precisely in their display of the obviously artificial. This is the key: bottle blonds are not simply women with fair hair. Bleached blonds are a complete and excessively visible package of a femininity considered ‘conventional’ since the height of its expression on the movie screens of the 1950s: dramatic makeup, usually with dark lashes and red lips; large or prominently displayed breasts; highly coded fetish-sexy attire; and, just as taken for granted but ostensibly lying outside of the realm of constructed characteristics, white skin.
The feminine woman was once opposed to the sexual woman, sexuality in this context rendered too savage, too animal-like, the realm of those nonwhite races that had yet to assimilate Christian cultural values. In the ’50s, however, fascination with female sexual behavior — driven by the popularization of Freudian psychoanalysis, the Kinsey report, and the secularization of society — allowed a conflation of femininity with sexuality. For an increasingly image-organized culture, femininity was defined in terms of what was visible, and visibly sexual. Blonds were assured their prominence in this visual reinvention of femininity in 1953, when Marilyn Monroe graced the pages of the first issue of Playboy.“
A letter from Marilyn to Lee Strasberg will be sold online during the Classic Hollywood sale at RR Auctions this Thursday, May 23. While Marilyn talks frankly about her emotional problems and disappointments in life, she also proposed an ambitious plan for her future career. Sadly, her goals would never be realised as she passed away just eight months after the letter was written. It is dated 19 December, 1961, and like other letters from her final years, it was typed (probably by a secretary), and was previously published in the 2010 book, Fragments. Coming from her estate (along with all her personal possessions, 75% was passed on to Lee after she died), it is the first time the letter has gone up for auction with an estimate of $20,000. Further details, including a full transcript, are also available here.
“This is an important personal letter and please don’t start to read it until you have the time to give it your careful thought. This letter concerns my future plans and therefore concerns yours as well since my future development as an artist is based on our working together. All this is an introduction; let me outline the recent events, my ideas and my suggestions.
As you know, for years I have been struggling to find some emotional security with little success, for many different reasons. Only in the last several months, as you detected, do I seem to have made a modest beginning. It is true that my treatment with Dr. Greenson has had its ups and downs, as you know. However, my overall progress is such that I have hopes of finally establishing a piece of ground for myself to stand on, instead of the quicksand I have always been in. But Dr. Greenson agrees with you, that for me to live decently and productively, I must work! And work means not merely performing professionally, but to study and truly devote myself. My work is the only trustworthy hope I have. And here, Lee, is where you come in. To me, work and Lee Strasberg are synonymous. I do not want to be presumptuous in expecting you to come out here for me alone. I have contacted Marlon on this subject and he seems to be quite interested, despite the fact that he is in the process of finishing a movie. I shall talk with him more thoroughly in a day or two.
Furthermore, and this must be kept confidential for the time being, my attorneys and I are planning to set up and [sic] independent production unit, in which we have envisaged an important position for you. This is still in the formative phase, but I am thinking of you in some consultative position or in whatever way you might see fit. I know you will want enough freedom to pursue your teaching and any other private interests you might want to follow.
Though I am committed to my analysis, as painful as it is, I cannot definitively decide, until I hear from you, because without working with you only half of me is functioning. Therefore, I must know under what condition you might consider coming out here and even settling here.
I know this might sound quite fantastic, but if you add up all the possible advantages it should be quite a rewarding venture. I mean not only for Marlon and me—but for others. This independent production unit will also be making pictures without me—this is even required for legal reasons. This will offer an opportunity for Susan if she should be interested and perhaps even for Johnny. And Paula would have a great many opportunities for coaching. As for you, Lee, I still have the dream of you some day directing me in a film! I know this is a big step to take, but I have the wish that you might realize out here some of the incomplete hopes that were perhaps not fulfilled for you, like Lincoln Center, etc.
So I don’t know how else to persuade you. I need you to study with and I am not alone in this. I want to do everything in my power to get you to come out—within reason—as long as it is to your advantage as well as mine. So, Lee, please think this over carefully; this is an awfully important time of my life and since you mentioned on the phone that you too felt things were unsettled, I have dared to hope. I have meetings set up with Marlon and also with my attorneys and will phone you if there are any important new developments. Otherwise, please get in touch with me.”
Also on offer, the 1952-53 editions of Who’s Who in Hollywood, autographed by a multitude of stars, are a treasure trove for movie buffs. Marilyn is listed in the category ‘Super Stars: The Younger Set.’ (EDIT: unsold)
The lamp seen in the restaurant scene from How To Marry a Millionaire (here, with Alex D’Arcy) was used as a prop in other Fox movies, including The Girl Can’t Help It, starring that other fifties blonde, Jayne Mansfield. (EDIT: Unsold)
Over at Garage Magazine, Tatum Dooley traces the origins of Marilyn’s famous quote regarding her favourite perfume…
“When asked what she wore to bed, Marilyn Monroe famously replied, ‘I only wear Chanel No. 5.’
The quote originates from a retelling by Monroe to Life Magazine in April 1952. The question wasn’t posed by Life; instead Monroe offered it up as a anecdote: “Once this fellow says, “Marilyn, what do you wear to bed?’ So I said I only wear Chanel No. 5.”‘
Monroe is the subject of the second advertisement in a multi-part campaign, titled ‘Inside Chanel,’ levied by the brand. The ad, at just over two minutes, makes Monroe a posthumous face of the venerable perfume. ‘We may never know when she said the phrase for the first time,’ the video states about Monroe’s famous reference to the perfume, going on to cite all the times they have proof it happened: April 7th, 1952, in Life Magazine. October 1953, at a photoshoot for Modern Screen. April 1970, Marie Claire.
‘°5, because it’s the truth… and yet, I don’t want to say nude. But it’s the truth!’
Niagara was released in the U.S. 66 years ago, on January 21, 1953. Despite its success at the box-office, Marilyn would never play such a villainous role again. But while Niagara is now considered an important film noir – in the genre’s latter phase, and one of the few made in Technicolor – the Hollywood Reporter‘s original review, reposted here, was one of the first to recognise Marilyn’s dramatic achievement.
“Around the scenic splendor of Niagara Falls, Charles Brackett has produced and co-scripted a gripping murder melodrama that is loaded with sex and suspense. With Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten and Jean Peters turning in superb performances that help maintain a mood of dynamic tension, Niagara should pile up huge grosses for 20th-Fox.
Henry Hathaway makes wonderful use of the falls to heighten the suspense and to add pictorial beauty to the production which gains additional exploitation value by its locale, never before used as the focus for a motion picture plot. Those who have never been to Niagara will be fascinated by the exciting shots of the falls, the awesome grandeur of which has been thrillingly captured by Joe MacDonald’s fine photography.
Hathaway draws splendid performances from his cast and maintains a taut, spicy tempo that grips the attention consistently. Miss Monroe turns in her finest acting performance yet, adding to her acting laurels by playing a sexy tart with a provocative abandon that has a powerful impact … Sol Kaplan’s music, directed by Lionel Newman, helps heighten the mood of suspense, with other technical functions on the high-quality level one expects from 20th-Fox productions.”
The legendary Moon of Baroda diamond – valued by its current owner at between $500,000 and $750,000 – is now on display at Christie’s in Los Angeles until October 20, and will be auctioned in Hong Kong on November 27 alongside a signed photo of Marilyn wearing it, as Jordan Riefe writes for the Hollywood Reporter.
“‘It’s gorgeous,’ said Marilyn Monroe when first gazing upon the Moon of Baroda; not a heavenly body to match her own, but a diamond, a rare 24.04-carat canary yellow gem pulled from the legendary Golconda mine, outside Hyderabad, in 16th-century India.
Monroe was on a publicity tour for her breakout 1953 comedy Gentleman Prefer Blondes with its unforgettable song, ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ when the Moon of Baroda became her best friend, on loan from Meyer Jewelry Company in Detroit.
Meyer Rosenbaum loaned it to the legendary actor for publicity purposes surrounding Howard Hawks’ classic comedy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, co-starring Jane Russell, and photos of Monroe wearing it went viral.
What won’t add to its price is a rumored curse alleging that if the gem travels overseas, bad luck will come to its owner. Its 19th century stint in Austria ended with the death of Maria Theresa, and others claim that Monroe’s fortunes took a southward turn after wearing it in 1953, when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes launched her to stardom.”
UPDATE: The Moon of Baroda diamond has been sold at auction in China for $1.3 million – more than double its low estimate, as Christie’s reports.
Ted Ryan, official historian for Coca Cola, has been showing The Mirror‘s Emily Setter around the company archive in Atlanta, Georgia. Of particular interest was this rare photo of Marilyn…
“Lolling on a sun lounger in a Coca-Cola red swimsuit and sky-high glass stilettos strapped on with red ribbons, Marilyn Monroe looks the real thing. America’s brightest star fizzed as she posed for a glamorous advertisement for America’s coolest drink in these never seen before images from 1953. Incredibly, for a reason now lost in the mists of time, Marilyn’s sizzling Coke campaign never saw the light of day. Until now.
‘Why wouldn’t you want one of the hottest celebs in the world agreeing to appear with your product?’ laughs Ted Ryan. ‘Why was she not used? The ad was being done on spec, but it was never accepted by the company. We just don’t know why.’
Coca-Cola only learned of the candid behind-the-scenes shots by celebrity photographer Harold Lloyd last year after they were found in, of all places, the archives of NASA. Naturally, Coke snapped them up, and is today letting the Mirror publish them for the first time.”
However, this is not the full story, as ES Updates has previously revealed. Marilyn was actually filming a PSA for the US Air Force (not NASA) at Greenacres, the Beverly Hills estate of former silent comedian Harold Lloyd, whose own glamour shots were published in the 1992 book, 3-D Hollywood.
“She visited in 1953 with Jean Negulesco, supposedly to film a dream sequence for How to Marry a Millionaire. This never transpired, but footage of a seductive Marilyn purring ‘I hate a careless man’ was used in ‘Security Is Common Sense’, a PSA for the US Air Force, warning servicemen against revealing military secrets in letters home.
Studio contract stars like Marilyn were routinely asked to endorse products, although she would do so less frequently in later years … the Lloyd shoot does not appear to have been directly connected to Coca Cola – but the tacit promotional value was clearly welcomed, and it has since become part of their glamorous legacy.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was first released in the US on July 15, 1953 – exactly 65 years ago today. In many ways it’s the definitive Marilyn Monroe movie – although Some Like It Hot is better-known, she truly dominates the screen as Lorelei Lee. Her unforgettable performance of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ inspired Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’, and her comedic partnership with co-star Jane Russell is peerless. For all those reasons (and many more), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes still feels timely and relevant today.
Over at Marilyn Remembered, Lorraine Nicol celebrates this happy anniversary; and you can read my review of the 2010 big-screen reissue here.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, both of which turn 65 this year, will be screened as a double bill on June 5th at the Royal Theatre, NoHo 7, and Playhouse 7 in Los Angeles, as part of the Laemmle Anniversary Classics series. The Royal screening of Blondes will be introduced by Debra Levine, editor of Arts Meme and an expert on choreographer Jack Cole.
On July 8, 1953, Frank Powolny photographed Marilyn wearing one of the world’s largest diamonds, the so-called ‘Moon of Baroda’. It was then owned by Meyer Rosenbaum, a jeweller from Detroit, and was loaned to Marilyn for the shoot, in which Sidney M. Brownstein, president of the Jewellery Academy, presented her with a special award for her role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, proclaiming her ‘the best friend a diamond ever had.’
But as the Times of India reports today, the Barodian royal family want their precious jewellery – also including the world’s most expensive pearl carpet, the ‘Star of the South’ – to be returned home for a public exhibition.
The Moon of Baroda was last displayed at the Antwerp World Diamond Centre in 2008. In 2012, a ‘Mr Matsuki’ appeared on a Japanese television show with what he claimed was the legendary gem. It was authenticated and valued at 150 million yen.
The Mad About Marilyn fan club chronicled the Moon of Baroda’s history in 2013, including a bizarre rumour that Marilyn fell victim to the diamond’s curse.
Reality TV star Kim Kardashian made a social media faux pas when she posted a fake topless photo of Marilyn on Instagram today, reports The Blast (I’ve posted the original above, taken during a 1953 photo session with Bert Reisfeld.) While it’s very annoying, I don’t blame the gullible fans who post these fakes as much as the self-proclaimed ‘artists’ who inflict these fakes on the world in the first place. This is actually one of the tamer creations – websites like Ebay are ridden with badly Photoshopped, semi-pornographic renderings of Marilyn.
“The Blast tracked down Jeffrey Yarber, the artist behind the piece, who tells us the ‘photograph’ is one of thousands of celebrity fantasy artworks he has digitally created and sold over the years. In other words, he created the photo, it isn’t an actual topless Monroe photoshoot.
Kim’s hardly the first to share the Marilyn portrait, and Kardashian is so art savvy that she probably knew it wasn’t genuine, but tons of people thought it was legit.
As for the faux photo, Yarber says, ‘Fakes is a genre, I, and about four other fellows, originated. My artworks are marketed around the world, and are offered in just about every medium there is.’
Yarber tells us people — including respected galleries — often mistake his prints for originals, but he doesn’t like to correct them, adamant that his pieces are ‘virtually real, depicting the actual subjects in actual settings, without flaw.'”