Normani Brings ‘Diamonds’ to Harley Quinn

Rappers Megan Thee Stallion & Normani collaborate on ‘Diamonds’, taken from the soundtrack to Birds of Prey, the new Harley Quinn movie due out in February. We have already seen Margot Robbie recreate Marilyn’s signature number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the upcoming film’s trailer.

Normani goes one step further in her video, though, reworking lyrics from the original song, ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, with a hip-hop twist, and vamping it up in pink. As Brooke Marine reports for W, this is the first time the song has been sampled – and we even hear Marilyn cooing ‘Tiffany … Cartier …’ at the fade-out.

Marilyn and the Fox Blondes

Marilyn with Betty Grable in 1953

Film historian Jeanine Basinger is not a great fan of Marilyn – in her 2008 book, The Star Machine, she made the puzzling claim that Monroe was unpopular with filmgoers, though the statistics tell another story. Marilyn also rates a mention in Basinger’s latest book, The Movie Musical, in the context of Twentieth Century Fox’s long line of blonde musical stars.

Marilyn shoots the ‘Heat Wave’ number for There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)

“A discussion of Fox blondes, from [Alice] Faye to Monroe, defines the Fox musical factory system, but it has to begin with a blonde who started the trend but is seldom included in the pack. She’s a very little blonde: Shirley Temple. All the famous musical Fox blondes overlapped in film … [June] Haver appeared with Monroe in Love Nest (1951) and [Betty] Grable, the most famous musical star of them all, gave a boost to Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953.) The Fox blondes were powerhouses: Temple, Faye, Grable, and Monroe were all top-ten box office draws … Faye is closer in looks to Marilyn Monroe – the big, wide-set eyes, the lush mouth, and the vulnerable look combined with a zaftig body. [Grable was smaller, leaner and zippier – she gave off the energetic zeitgeist of the war years.)

Marilyn Monroe was neither a great singer or a great dancer, but she was good enough. Everyone accepted her breathy vocals as part of who she was, and her dancing was made into far more than it was by the great choreographer Jack Cole. Cole gave her hand gestures, hip movements, and head turns that had rhythm and attracted an audience’s eye …

Monroe was something of a challenge for Twentieth Century Fox. The studio apparently didn’t originally see her as a musical star … Monroe made only two pure musicals for Fox, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954.) She also sang in Niagara (1953), River Of No Return (1954), Some Like It Hot (1959), and Let’s Make Love (1960), usually with some dancing connection …

Monroe as a musical star in a typical Fox musical was not the Monroe who is usually defined as vulnerable, with a sad and wistful quality, a soul yearning for understanding while suffering the cruelties of an uncaring world … In both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and There’s No Business Like Show Business, Monroe was self-confident, playing a woman who knew how to use men if she had to in order to achieve her career goals. Monroe has one enduring solo (with a chorus of men): her immortal ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ …

The best movie by which to evaluate Monroe as a musical performer is There’s No Business Like Show Business. She’s surrounded by top-drawer names who’ve each spent a lifetime in the game … Monroe doesn’t have the musical chops of a single one of these players. She is, however, Marilyn Monroe. What she’s got doesn’t necessarily need musical chops, and she’s not a terrible singer/dancer, just not a highly skilled one … Cole’s choreography is constructed to show off Monroe’s body and to use the audience’s established sense of her as a sex object, but without being offensive about it …

‘After You Get What You Want’ has a bold lyric that feigns innocence … [Monroe] looks nude, and she’s in the best shape of her life … She’s beautiful and young and lush, all pure sex, and yet despite all this, there’s a strange air of innocence about her. That was the thing Monroe had that made her famous. It wasn’t just sexiness, though she had that in abundance …

Monroe’s second song is a full-out production number with elaborate costumes and a chorus of dancers – a Cuban thing with costumes, bongo drums, and palm trees. There’s a full choreography for the ensemble, and it’s too much for Monroe … Monroe handles ‘Heat Wave’, but she didn’t need all the clutter around her.

‘Lazy’ is a PhD thesis. It’s played as a rehearsal for a number to be done by Monroe, [Donald] O’Connor, and [Mitzi] Gaynor. Monroe is dressed in tight capri pants, a low-cut V-neck top, and a brightly coloured cummerbund. She lolls on a chaise longue, singing the song in a languid style. While she sings, draping herself around the sofa … the other two dance around her … The less she does, just showing off her body, the more they do, showing off their superb dancing. It’s a musical contrast: sex vs. talent. And it’s devilishly clever from a business point of view …

Marilyn Monroe ended the Fox blonde cycle. She became too big for its limiting label, and the time for the concept was over, as the studio moved towards its death. She was never defined by her musical performances, and her career didn’t impact musical history much, but it did impact the career of the woman originally put under contract to become the next Fox blonde: the talented Sheree North, who is practically unknown today …”

Kylie and Mariah Get Festive With Marilyn

Yet another Kardashian sister made her love for Marilyn public this week, as Kylie Jenner recreated her ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ look for Halloween. (Of course, unlike most of us when we party in fancy dress, Kylie had a stylist on call, as Elle reports.)

Looking onward to Christmas, singer Mariah Carey – arguably the doyenne of celebrity Monroe fans, and the owner of Norma Jeane’s white grand piano since the Christie’s sale of 1999 – has put her own sartorial stamp on another Travilla creation from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, wearing a red gown similar to Marilyn’s in the opening song, ‘Two Little Girls From Little Rock’, in a festive ad for Walker’s Crisps.

Incidentally, Marilyn’s original ‘Little Rock’ costume sold for $250,000 at Julien’s Auctions yesterday …

Margot Robbie’s Diamond Moment

Having recently starred as Sharon Tate in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood, Margot Robbie is no stranger to playing iconic blondes. Now, as she reprises her Harley Quinn role in the forthcoming Birds of Prey, the trailer includes a brief homage to Marilyn’s ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as Dirk Libbey reports for Cinemablend.

“While the context of the shots in the trailer are not clear, as seen in the image above, we see Margot Robbie’s Harley apparently singing and dancing. She’s dressed elegantly, not Harley’s usual style, and has backup dancers, who look like comic book villain thugs, of course. 

There isn’t much of an explanation in the trailer as to how this sequence fits into the larger story. We see Harley Quinn, apparently being beat-up, likely tortured for information, drop her head, and then we see her raise her head in her Marilyn Monroe inspired outfit. If these two shots really are in sequence in the film, and not just in the trailer, then the musical number could be a sort of mental escape for Quinn since she doesn’t like the place where she is in real life.

Since Harley Quinn is supposed to be ‘crazy’ we could potentially see multiple moments like this where the character’s reality and fantasy get more than a little blurry. Will this musical interlude just be a dive into Harley’s psyche that includes a dance number or is there more going on here?”



Leo Robin: The Man Who Made Music For Marilyn

Lyricist Leo Robin, who co-wrote two songs that would bookend Marilyn’s career, is profiled in Variety today.

“The centerpiece of Scott Ora’s cluttered San Fernando Valley apartment is the 1939 Oscar his step-grandfather, the late lyricist Leo Robin, was presented for co-writing ‘Thanks for the Memory.’ Sung by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross in the film The Big Broadcast of 1938, the trophy sits proudly on the piano where Robin worked on some of his biggest hits.

Over the course of 20 years, from 1934 (when the best original song category was introduced and he was nominated for ‘Love in Bloom’) through 1954, Robin, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame who died in 1984 at the age of 84, earned 10 Oscar nominations (two in 1949 alone). 

By 1949, a Hollywood success, Robin returned to Broadway with Jule Styne to create the score for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a vehicle for Carol Channing and later a movie starring Marilyn Monroe, whose [secretary], ironically enough, was Leo’s third wife Cherie Redmond, Ora’s maternal grandmother.  The song became an enduring pop culture staple when Madonna borrowed its imagery for her ‘Material Girl’ video, while Monroe did the same for ‘Thanks for the Memory,’ when she tacked it on to her steamy birthday salute to President John F. Kennedy at New York’s Madison Square Garden.”

Leo Robin married his third wife, long-time assistant Cherie Redmond, in 1979. (Cherie had worked as Marilyn’s Los Angeles secretary from January 1962 until her death eight months later.)

When Marilyn Sings: An Appreciation

Over at the Best American Poetry blog, editor David Lehman gives a timely tribute to Marilyn’s musical legacy.

“Listen to her sing ‘I’m Through with Love,’ or ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You,’ ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ or ‘Bye Bye, Baby’ — but listen to the songs without looking at the visuals. You’ll hear a melodious voice of limited range, thin but accurate, with a husky low register, a breathy manner, and a rare gift of vibrato. When her voice trembles over a note — over ‘you’ or ‘baby’ — the effect is seductive and yet is almost a caricature of the seductress’s vamp. The paradox of her singing is that she reveals her sexual power and flaunts her vulnerability — to flip the usual order of those verbs. She can be intimate and ironic at the same time.

Compare her version of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ with Carol Channing’s definitive Broadway treatment … Monroe’s treatment of ‘Diamonds’ may not be as effective as Channing’s in its service to Leo Robin’s marvelous lyric for Jules Styne’s delightful tune. But Monroe’s version is younger, friskier, sexier. When she sings it, the song is about her.

Nowhere is she better than ‘I’m Through with Love,’ which she sings in Some Like It Hot. Gus Kahn’s lyric, which rhymes ‘I’m through’ with ‘adieu,’ is as apt for Marilyn as ‘Falling in Love Again’ was for Marlene Dietrich. In ‘I’m Through with Love,’ the singer feigns nonchalance, affects an uncaring attitude. But melodically during the bridge, and lyrically in the line ‘for I must have you or no one,’ the song lets us know just how much she does care.”

Camila Morrone Inspired By Marilyn

When Argentine actress Camila Morrone turned out for the Cannes premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood this week, she wore a Bvlgari Cinemagia necklace – inspired by Marilyn’s performance of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as Nafeesa Saini reports for Prestige Online. Although rising star Camila, there to support boyfriend Leonardo DiCaprio, has been compared to screen goddess Sophia Loren, she eschews glamour in her latest film, Mickey And The Bear. But as a recent AFP interview reveals, her Monroe homage is no accident…

“Morrone looks up to Charlize Theron — another former catwalk beauty, who won an Oscar for Monster — though she has a soft spot for Marilyn Monroe who ‘never stopped trying to be a good actor… All she wanted was for someone to say she had talent.'”

When Jack Cole Made Magic With Marilyn

Marilyn rehearses ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ with Jack Cole for ‘Let’s Make Love’ (1960)

Dance critic Debra Levine, who is writing a biography of choreographer Jack Cole, has talked about his work with Marilyn on ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ to Vincent Dowd for BBC News.

“‘With Marilyn he was working with a great star who wasn’t really a dancer. Yet he makes her move superbly. He knew that Marilyn totally understood her own sexuality and sensuality. He took that and surrounded her with men … Marilyn was so feminine in that number and he let her float on top of that, with just tiny shrugs of the shoulder or a little turn of the neck. It’s one of the great movie dances.’

Levine refers to Cole’s work with Monroe as micro-choreography. ‘There are studio stills from Twentieth Century-Fox which show Jack directing the whole sequence, even though in theory it’s a Howard Hawks film.’

‘It’s fascinating too that there are shots of Marilyn rehearsing with Gwen Verdon, who for years was Jack’s assistant and who in some ways was his muse. Marilyn and Gwen Verdon practised the hell out of it.'”

Marilyn works with Cole and his assistant Gwen Verdon on ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1953)

Carol Channing 1921-2019

Carol Channing, the legendary Broadway star who originated the role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, has died aged 97.

Born in Seattle in 1921, Carol and her parents moved to San Francisco when she was two weeks old. Her mother Adelaide was of German Jewish descent and her father George was part African-American (on his mother’s side.) A newspaper editor by profession, George was also a Christian Science practitioner and teacher.

At sixteen, Carol left home to major in drama in Bennington College in Vermont. In 1941, she won her first Broadway part as Eve Arden’s understudy in a revue, Let’s Face It! That year she was married for the first time, to writer Theodore Naidish. They divorced after five years.

In 1948, Carol won a Theatre World Award for her featured role in another revue, Lend An Ear. Stacy Eubank noted in Holding A Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, that on June 16, a little-known starlet, 22 year-old Marilyn Monroe, attended the opening night at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood, where she was photographed with director Bill Eythe and actor Bill Callahan.

Marilyn at the ‘Lend An Ear’ LA premiere, 1948

Illustrator Al Hirschfeld published a caricature of Carol as a flapper in the show, the first of many portraits to come. She even credited his artwork with helping her win the part of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Al Hirschfeld’s artwork for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1949)

Jule Styne’s musical adaptation of the 1926 novel by Anita Loos opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in December 1949, running for almost two years. In her 2002 memoir, Just Lucky I Guess, Carol wrote that Loos had told Styne, ‘That’s my Lorelei!’ after seeing Lend An Ear in New York. Styne promptly wrote a new song for Carol, ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.’

Carol as Lorelei Lee

In January 1950, Carol made the cover of Time magazine. She was married again that year, to footballer Axe Carson, and they had a son, Channing Carson. After her third marriage to manager and publicist Charles Lowe in 1956, he was renamed Chan Lowe and went on to become a successful cartoonist.

Darryl F. Zanuck swiftly acquired the film rights to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for Twentieth Century Fox. Carol was duly invited to Los Angeles for a screen test, but it was generally assumed that Betty Grable, the studio’s reigning blonde star of musical comedy, would get the part. In any case, Carol had already decided to take the show to London after the Broadway run ended.

Marilyn in New York, circa 1951

In mid-June of 1951, Marilyn Monroe flew to New York, where she spent several days.  Columnist Dorothy Manners would report that she had been given tickets by Fox to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – perhaps as a warning to Grable, who was then on suspension. ‘Physically, Marilyn fits the bill,’ Manners noted, ‘but whether she is experienced enough to take on a top comedy performance remains to be seen.’

In her autobiography, Carol claimed that Marilyn was instructed to see the play every night for a month, which is doubtless an exaggeration given Marilyn’s busy schedule. Chronically shy, Marilyn never ventured backstage. “Our orchestra never saw anyone that beautiful before,” Carol recalled. “For the first time they were all looking at Marilyn instead of our conductor…”

That November, after Blondes finally closed, the New York Post‘s Earl Wilson reported that Marilyn hoped to play Lorelei on the screen. In his 1992 biography of Monroe, Donald Spoto wrote that Fox informed Marilyn the part was hers on June 1, 1952 (her 26th birthday.) Nonetheless, the studio kept up the intrigue for several weeks before announcing it to the press, still claiming that Grable would star, with Marilyn turning brunette to play Lorelei’s friend Dorothy.

When the news broke on June 23, Hedda Hopper wrote that Carol had responded with a 200-word telegram to Fox, while Grable denied asking Zanuck for the part. Marilyn was now the studio’s rising star, but as Stacy Eubank observes, she was still on a standard contract and would cost Fox far less than either Grable or Channing.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a golden opportunity for Marilyn, and a huge success when it opened in 1953. “I was heartsick over the whole thing, of course,” Carol admitted, and she also felt that Jack Cole’s flamboyant choreography “completely upstaged” the lyrics.

Carol with Yvonne Adair as Dorothy

“I do think it was one of her best movies,” Carol reflected on Marilyn’s performance. “Not funny, however. They didn’t use one word of Anita’s original book, which was hilarious and which was what constantly kept the stage musical on a higher level. Anita didn’t write the musical’s book. So where they didn’t insert the original book it was mundane. It was the stock formula for a dated Broadway musical. I followed Anita’s original Lorelei character ferociously…”

“You can cast Lorelei two ways,” Loos explained. “With the cutest, prettiest, littlest girl in town, or with a comedienne’s comment on the cutest, prettiest, littlest girl in town. I wrote her as a comedy, and Broadway is attuned to satire.” Carol’s broader interpretation was perfect for the stage, whereas Marilyn brought a softer, more innocent quality to Lorelei.

During the 1950s, Carol replaced Gracie Allen as a comedy foil to George Burns. “Finding roles that suit the strange and wonderful charms of Carol Channing has always been a problem to Broadway showmen,” a 1955 cover story for LIFE read. “She looks like an overgrown kewpie. She sings like a moon-mad hillbilly. Her dancing is crazily comic. And behind her saucer eyes is a kind of gentle sweetness that pleads for affection.”

Her next great role was in Hello, Dolly! (1964.) She befriended Broadway newcomer Barbara Streisand, only to lose out again when the younger actress was cast in the film adaptation. A registered Democrat, Carol campaigned for Lyndon B. Johnson and was a favourite of his wife, Lady Bird. In 1966, she won the Sarah Siddons Award, and finally achieved movie stardom alongside Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), winning a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress, and an Oscar nomination.

In 1970, Carol became the first celebrity to perform at a Super Bowl halftime. Three years later, she was revealed to have been on disgraced president Richard Nixon’s Master List of Political Opponents – which she quipped was the highest accolade of her career.

With Peter Palmer in ‘Lorelei’, 1974

The 53-year-old revisited her early success in Lorelei (1974), a reworking of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes featuring songs cut from the original play, and broke box-office records by selling out for six consecutive days in just 24 hours. She also frequently appeared on television, including a 1987 Jules Styne special in which she performed ‘Little Girl From Little Rock.’

Carol Channing in 2013

In 1998, Carol separated from her husband of forty years, Charles Lowe. He passed away shortly afterwards. She would marry once more in 2003, after rekindling her romance with high-school sweetheart Harry Kullijian. He died in 2011. Carol maintained her faith in Christian Science, followed a strict organic diet and swore off alcohol.

Marilyn (left) and Carol (right), by Al Hirschfeld

A much-loved resident of Rancho Mirage, California, Carol had a star dedicated to her on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2010. She returned two years later to honour Marilyn Monroe, praising her “brilliant and unique” performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Carol also attended a farewell party for Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn‘, when it left Palm Springs for the East Coast in 2014.

Amherst Veteran Remembers Marilyn in Korea

Marilyn sings for US troops in Korea, 1954

An 86 year-old Korean War veteran from Amherst, Massachusetts has shared his memories of Marilyn with the Buffalo News.

“Robert W. Fisher was glad for anything to break up the monotony of his Army service in post-war South Korea.

So he was excited when officers said the troops would get a show that day in January 1954 [actually, Marilyn visited in February.] Fisher said a few thousand men marched to a field, where they saw a helicopter parked next to a stage.

‘So can you picture all these men, with their winter parkas on, and out on the stage comes Marilyn Monroe, in a sleeveless gown,’ Fisher said. ‘I couldn’t believe it. Everybody was in an uproar.’

After the bombshell movie star said hello and waved to the cheering crowd, she sang ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.’

‘Oh, it was great,’ Fisher said in an interview in his Amherst apartment, the memory undimmed by the passage of 65 years.”