Behind Margot Robbie’s Marilyn Homage in ‘Birds of Prey’

David Crow digs deep into the ‘Diamonds’ homage in Birds of Prey, the new Harley Quinn movie produced by and starring Margot Robbie, over at Den of Geek.

“Robbie’s Marilyn Monroe homage has been at the center of Warner Brothers’ Birds of Prey marketing, from trailers to official clips. After all, what else says this ain’t your typical superhero movie than a ‘50s inspired musical number? And while it’s only a brief sequence in the finished film, it’s also one of the movie’s best moments. Tied up at the nightclub owned by Roman Sionis, the villainous Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), Harley has been captured simply because he believes she’s more vulnerable after her breakup with the Joker…

But Harley is neither silly or in need of protection. She quickly realizes that Black Mask is after a MacGuffin of great importance—a diamond, in fact—and Harley will be just the gal to retrieve it for him. Because Harley is resourceful, Harley is smart… and Harley is also a wee bit nuts. Hence when Sionis smacks her in the face, Harley vanishes into a musical fantasy where she gets to go into full Marilyn mode, vamping in pink attire and bejeweled accessories while singing ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.’ McGregor even shows up in the fantasy to dance along before shooting up the scene much too quickly.

But this is more than just an homage to a Marilyn Monroe scene or the abject cynicism of her song …. In the original movie, the song is a third act statement of intent by Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee … Breaking into Hollywood because of her beauty and sudden success as a pin-up model during World War II, Monroe eventually signed multiple contracts with Fox before she became the defining image of a 20th century blonde bombshell and movie star sex symbol.

She didn’t necessarily want to be that—or certainly only that. Having a contentious relationship with studio head Daryl F. Zanuck, who disliked Monroe and her desire to be more than the dumb blonde gold digger in musical comedies, she was suspended in 1954 for refusing to do The Girl in Pink Tights. She eventually made up with Fox, but she also started her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions …

During this era, Monroe also struggled in her private life, including her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, the world famous baseball player …. Again the press took a disdainful sniff at the movie star who let the strong man get away—just as they sneered when she then married intellectual playwright Arthur Miller.

… The story of Monroe’s fight for credibility, both in association with 20th Century Fox or with Joe DiMaggio, and away from these men, is the kind of real world struggle Birds of Prey strives to reflect, even in its gonzo funhouse mirror … everyone, including other women, define Harley by her relationships to men, and view her to be, as one man says early in the film, ‘a dumb slut.’ These insults are hurled even though she has a PhD and, as she displays throughout the film, a rather quick witted intellect in which she can psychoanalyze her friends and foes alike.

Through it all, she struggled for legitimacy and respect as an actress when executives were content to just see her singing ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’: a male fantasy in which a beautiful woman purports the only thing she wants in this world are the presents powerful men can bestow on her.
In her lifetime, Monroe was likewise defined by the men in her life and what they could give her …

Nevertheless, playing that game gave Monroe the tools to eventually make movies she was proud of, like Bus Stop, and to form her own production company—which was a crack in Fox’s power over her and another crack in the slowly crumbling Hollywood studio system…

That is exactly what Margot Robbie did after she realized the potential of the Harley Quinn character. Perfectly cast as the jester moll, Robbie’s Harley was the sole redeeming quality of Suicide Squad (2016), even as director David Ayer’s camera seemed to most value her for all the lingering shots of her skintight (or nonexistent) clothing. Nonetheless, Suicide Squad gave Robbie a lot more clout as a producer …

Robbie herself revealed last year that she actually loathes when journalists, usually men, describe her as a bombshell. ‘I hate that word,’ Robbie told Vogue in June. ‘I hate it — so much. I feel like a brat saying that because there are worse things, but I’m not a bombshell.’

One might suspect that in her time, Monroe thought similarly as Fox kept trying to cast her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes type roles … But using the tools Monroe pioneered, Robbie is able to take preconceptions audiences might have for her, or for Harley Quinn after Suicide Squad, and blow them away.”


Harley Quinn’s Marilyn Moment

As Birds of Prey (and the Fabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn) hits big screens worldwide, Insider‘s Kirsten Acuna gives some insight into leading lady Margot Robbie’s Marilyn moment (to the tune of Normani and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Diamonds‘.)

“During the film, Harley is seen dressed as Marilyn Monroe’s character from 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The big change here is that Quinn has an updated version of the gown with pants instead.

Costume designer Erin Benach told Insider they almost did a completely different outfit for Quinn here.

‘It wasn’t even really on the page or decided amongst us that it would be the same Marilyn outfit,’ said Benach. ‘There were talks of it being something totally different and new, like way more Harley.’

The idea to transform the iconic look and update it came to Benach while in a research library. 

‘I remember the moment where I just went, “Oh my God, the best idea is just to take the exact Marilyn outfit and put her in pants. Turn it into pants,”‘ said Benach. ‘It was just a light bulb moment. It hit and I told [director] Cathy [Yan] and Cathy was like, “Brilliant. Done. Do it.”‘

Marilyn Inspires Opera Gloves Trend

In Marilyn’s day, opera gloves were an essential part of any glamour girl’s wardrobe. And now they’re making a comeback, at least on the red carpet. Reporting for Vogue, Alice Newbold notes that “opera gloves owe a lot to Tinseltown. Marilyn Monroe took a pair of shocking pink satin gloves (layered with weighty diamond bracelets) into mainstream media in 1953 with the release of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

But Marilyn also wore opera gloves in The Fireball (1950) and The Seven Year Itch (1955), in a photo shoot with Gene Lester, and at numerous glitzy events. In 2002, David H. Shayt wrote an article on the subject for the Smithsonian magazine, after a pair of Marilyn’s gloves was anonymously donated to the National Museum of American History.

“‘Decades before stars would not make a public move without the services of platoons of stylists and designers, Marilyn was a truly great stylist,’ writes Meredith Etherington-Smith, director of Christie’s International, the London-based auction house, in The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe. The gloves, she notes, constituted an important element of the Monroe look. ‘She had many pairs of immaculate beige kid[skin] evening gloves, and she always wore dramatic and beautifully made rhinestone earrings which cascaded in flashing rivers of light…. All this was carefully contrived to increase the effect of her uniquely luminous quality.’

The pair ceded to the NMAH Entertainment Collection are evocative emblems of Monroe’s carefully orchestrated image. Exquisitely stitched in soft white kidskin, the elbow-length gloves bear a faintly detectable blue stain, most likely ink, lightly smudged on the outside of a cuff.

This tantalizing imperfection bespeaks a lost history. Whence the stain? Did Monroe perhaps sign an autograph for an adoring fan wearing these gloves? Scribble observations on a program note? Jot down her phone number for an admirer, even a future husband?

Joe DiMaggio? Arthur Miller?

While the story of the intriguing smudge is consigned to oblivion, there is little doubt the gloves possess symbolic significance as well. They function, says costume historian Shelly Foote of the Smithsonian’s Division of Social History, as a talisman of a vanished era: ‘Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy were among the last prominent glove wearers. In the ’50s, high school girls at proms or debutante balls would not be caught dead without gloves on. But after the mid-1960s, they would not be caught dead wearing them.'”

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.'”