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.”

From Marilyn to the ‘Material Girl’

Madonna’s 1985 video for ‘Material Girl’ – in which she recreated Marilyn’s ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ video from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – tops a chronological list of videos referencing Hollywood classics, compiled by Kyle Munzenrieder for W magazine.

“Like so many other pages in the modern pop star playbook, this one was polished and perfected by Madonna. The second single off her star-cementing second album Like a Virgin, ‘Material Girl’ is among a handful of the star’s hits she didn’t co-write herself. At the time she seemed pretty eager to point out that she herself was not actually that materialistic when it came to finding a man (she had been dating broke musicians, DJs and artists on the Lower East Side just a few years before), and wanted to frame the song as something cheeky and ironic. So she adapted the guise of Marilyn Monroe’s unabashed gold digger character Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and recreated the ‘Diamonds are a Girls Best Friends’ scene, and the balanced it with scenes of her off the set.

This wouldn’t be the last time Madonna paid homage to specific movies in her music videos, but it may be her poppiest. Later in her career she’d stick to recreating film school syllabus canon like Metropolis and Maya Deren’s At Land.”

Marilyn’s ‘Diamond’ Dance to Glory

In an article for the Washington Post, Sarah L. Kaufman names ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, Marilyn’s signature number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as one of the greatest dance scenes in movie history.

“That hot-pink dress, that cherry-red backdrop, those long, long gloves. Marilyn Monroe is glamorous perfection in this scene, choreographed by the great Jack Cole. He brilliantly played up her strengths, focusing on those beautiful bare shoulders with a shimmy here, an arm extension there, a lot of shaking and — whoopee! — a well-timed gesture to her back porch. Restrained in vocabulary and uninhibited in style and spirit, this witty dance is an exuberant celebration of the female assets, performed by one of the most vibrant bodies in cinematic history.”

ABG Nets Marilyn’s ‘Diamonds’ for $50K

The licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate, Authentic Brands Group (ABG) has purchased rights to ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ – her signature number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – for $50,000, as Martin Rapaport writes for Diamonds.net.

“ABG Intermediate Holdings, which trades as Authentic Brands Group (ABG), acquired the intellectual property related to the actress and singer’s famous song title for $50,000 last month, according to a court filing. The purchase covers several trademarks registered in the US, Canada, the European Union and with the World Intellectual Property Organization, as well as relevant internet domain names — including diamondsareagirlsbestfriend.com — and a video-game registration.

A. Jaffe and Firestar Diamond, two of Nirav Modi’s American jewelry brands, were the previous owners. They filed for Chapter 11 in February after the Indian tycoon became the subject of a fraud investigation, with bankruptcy trustee Richard Levin subsequently liquidating the companies’ assets, including jewelry and intellectual property.

‘There were a lot of industry players excited and contemplating what we believe was a six-figure property,’ Donald Palmieri, president of the Gem Certification and Assurance Lab (GCAL) and appraiser to the trustee, told Rapaport News Monday. ‘Many expressed interest, even excitement, but when the sale occurred, only one bidder showed up who had serious interest and an open wallet.’

That bidder, ABG, offered $25,000, but later doubled the amount after Levin declared the property unsold.

‘They…asked what the trustee wanted,’ Palmieri continued. ‘He said $50,000, and [ABG] said $50,000. There were plenty of major players in the room who could have jumped in, but there were no further bids.'”

Moon of Baroda Recasts Spell in Marilyn’s Hollywood

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.