Marilyn Book Signing in Savannah, GA

Author Amanda Konkle will be signing copies of her new book, Some Kind of Mirror: Creating Marilyn Monroe, at E. Shaver Booksellers in Savannah, Georgia on Saturday, May 18, from 1 – 3 pm EDT. Amanda, who is an assistant professor of film studies and English at Georgia Southern University, has written a dynamic study of how Marilyn’s screen performances both reflected and pushed the boundaries of attitudes towards women and sex in 1950s America. (I’m currently working on a review of Some Kind of Mirror, and I thoroughly recommend it!)

Marilyn and the Not-So-Dumb Blondes

Over at Refinery 29, Daniela Morsini looks at the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype so unfairly applied to Marilyn, and still a staple of lame jokes today. While I strongly agree that it’s an outdated, sexist trope, I’d like to add that in her movies, Marilyn often parodied those assumptions. Her characters were usually wiser than the men who flocked to them, and in reality, Marilyn was sensitive and intelligent. (Unfortunately, not everyone was smart enough to get the joke – then, or now!)

“Being blonde is loaded. You can be an expensive blonde like Gwyneth Paltrow. You can be rock’n’roll blonde like Debbie Harry. You can be sexpot blonde like Marilyn Monroe. Hell, you can be any kind of blonde you want – as long as you’re a dumb one.

Of course, of all the stereotypes women face, the ‘dumb blonde’ is a mild one, especially considering how harmful and dangerous the hair stereotypes faced by women of colour can be. But it is curiously persistent … I’ve never forgotten a date in 2016, after having what I believed to be pleasant chatter with a man for an evening, him uttering the immortal words: ‘Well, you don’t look clever.’

Historians roundly agree that the notion of blondes being dumb dates back to a play performed some 250 years ago, titled Les Curiosités de la Foire, based on the misdemeanours of the legendary courtesan Rosalie Duthé, which established blondes as both stupid and sexually available. Duthé took long pauses before she spoke, leading people to believe she was literally dumb, as well as stupid. Fast forward to 1953, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes hit the box office with Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei, epitomised as the dumb blonde. Portrayed as absent minded, slightly scatty and interested in marrying solely for money, some of Lorelei’s most famous lines only serve to emphasise the stereotype: ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.’

Over time, the dumb blonde trope has morphed into the ‘beauty and brains’ dichotomy, which at least allows a whole other crop of women to have their intelligence questioned. This is not a step forward, even if it does represent inching away from Western beauty ideals. Calling a blonde ‘dumb’ is a surprisingly effective way to curb someone’s appetite for life and confidence in their own abilities, effective enough to render them docile so they can’t unlock their powers.”

Marilyn and the ‘Warhol Women’ in NYC

Warhol Women, a new exhibition showcasing 42 portraits of Andy Warhol’s female subjects, is on display at the Lévy Gorvy Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side, through to June 15, as Lane Florsheim reports for the Wall Street Journal. (Marilyn is featured next to Warhol’s take on the Mona Lisa, and opposite Jackie Kennedy.)

“Gorvy and Lévy have arranged the show so that the first works viewers see are portraits of Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe, facing one another. [Dominique] Lévy, who came up with the show’s concept, says that no other man has been able to look at women the way Warhol did. ‘Without sexualizing the subject, he was able to do these portraits where the woman is allowed to be who she is,’ she says. ‘He captures the openness, the self-consciousness, the self-assurance, the insecurity. Aren’t we all self-conscious? I think nobody [else] does that, and that’s where he becomes conceptual.’ In Warhol’s depiction of Monroe, Lévy says, he ‘sees the enormous sadness’ that she felt.”

To Valerie and Marilyn, in Desparation

Valerie Solanos – the female artist notorious for shooting Andy Warhol – and Marilyn – his most famous subject – may seem to have little in common. But composer Pauline Oliveros thought otherwise, and her 1970 work, To Valerie Solanos and Marilyn Monroe In Recognition Of Their Desperation, has now been restaged in Toronto by the experimental music collective Public Recordings, as Lise Hosein reports for  CBC Arts.

“The work referenced Monroe, whose talent may have been somewhat eclipsed by her objectification, and Solanas, an impassioned figure who shot Andy Warhol. Oliveros saw both figures as ‘desperate and caught in the traps of inequality.’

The appeal of this composition to Toronto experimental music collective Public Recordings may have been in the moment in which it was written. Public Recordings producer Christopher Willes notes: ‘We wanted to bring this piece to people now because the moment that it was created — 1970 — was a moment of conservative backlash to many things. In many ways, we’re living through what feel like similar time politically, socially, and doing this piece because it’s about people finding, in real time, new ways of being together and new ways of organizing themselves.'”

Marilyn’s Girl Power in ‘Some Like It Hot’

Another 60th anniversary tribute to Some Like It Hot, this time from Simi Horowitz at the Hollywood Reporter.

“Yet at its core, the film is about sexual relations and attraction, and to judge by some of the film’s 1959 reviews it was pushing the good-taste envelope. Repeatedly, our two very heterosexual leads are suppressing their arousal as they’re flanked on all sides by nubile female musicians. In one legendary snippet, these nightie-clad instrumentalists are frolicking about in a train berth with Jerry/Daphne, for whom the experience is by turns delightful and tormenting.

And how’s this for a bit of convention-defying vulgarity? The women are heavy-duty drinkers and sexually schooled, and not feeling unhappy about it at all. On the contrary, they’re boisterous, living out loud and having a hell of a time reveling in their agency.

Admittedly, Sugar Kane has been exploited by love’em-and-leave’em saxophone players. But make no mistake: She milks her victimization for all it’s worth. Like Monroe herself, Sugar is an embodiment of the male fantasy (breathless, helpless and in need of saving), and employs it to her advantage. When Joe, in the guise of Junior, who is trying hard to evoke Cary Grant, says he likes classical music, Sugar lies outright, proclaiming she studied at the Sheboygan Conservatory. The film is a heady celebration of play-acting.

Manipulation and deception are the name of the game, and everyone indulges with impunity. Even at the end, when Jerry admits to Sugar that he’s a lying louse, just another one of her abusive saxophone players, he hasn’t really changed and neither has she. But true to movie tradition, heterosexual love conquers all — or does it?

Wilder’s universe is far too nuanced for anything as obvious as that. Here, homoerotic twists are everywhere — not least the full mouth-on-mouth kiss between Sugar and Josephine. It’s the turning point when Sugar realizes that Josephine and Junior are one and the same. The line straddling best female bud and male lover is fluid; Sugar adores both sides of that mask, conceivably loving Josephine even more, while Joe has virtually disappeared in the melee of disguises.”

Ben Whishaw Prepares for ‘Norma Jeane Baker of Troy’

In an interview with The Times, Ben Whishaw reveals more about his intriguing role in Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, which opens at New York’s hottest new arts venue, The Shed, on April 6 through May 19.

“Whishaw, 38, is rehearsing a play called Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, in which he plays a man who likes to dress up as Marilyn Monroe. ‘We just got the costumes,’ he says. ‘I wear a dress that’s a replica of the one she wore in The Seven Year Itch — the white one where the wind comes up. They’ve also given me the bum, hips and breasts. I don’t think they’re as big as Marilyn’s, but they’re proportionate to my body. It’s a strange thing. I’m not playing Marilyn, I’m playing a man who’s infatuated with her. The play is set in the year she died and he’s in mourning for her. Apparently there was a spate of copycat suicides that year.’

To research the role, Whishaw has been reading a book called Fragments. ‘It’s bits of Marilyn’s diary, notes on hotel paper, poetry,’ he says. ‘She writes beautifully. Arthur Miller was here with her when they were doing the film The Prince and the Showgirl, and she opened his diary and read about how disappointed he was with her, how embarrassed he was being around his intellectual friends with her. Apparently this was devastating to Marilyn. All these men say how difficult she was. It makes you want to strangle them. But she really was amazing. She had a lot going on, a lot of sadness on her plate, poor darling. To be a star in that star system and those men.’

If she had been born 50 years later, does he think she would have been part of the #MeToo movement? ‘I’m sure she would have. I’ve been listening to interviews with her. She doesn’t seem afraid of anything.’

Fearless and vulnerable. It’s a contradiction that could possibly describe both of them. ‘Yes,’ he smiles.”

Kirkland’s Marilyn Inspires ‘Skinwork’ Project

Photographer Bettina Bogar was inspired by fellow Canadian Douglas Kirkland’s iconic 1961 shots of Marilyn between the sheets to launch Skinwork, a women’s empowerment project in aid of skin cancer awareness, on display at Toronto’s Artscape Youngplace until March 16, as Wing Tze Tang reports for the Toronto Star.

“When Toronto photographer Bettina Bogar visited a local art gallery a few years ago, she was struck by a picture of Marilyn Monroe, facing Douglas Kirkland’s camera wearing nothing but white bedsheets. ‘I thought, she feels so comfortable in her skin. I’ve never seen a woman feeling that good about herself,’ says Bogar, who decided to create her own shoot inspired by that iconic image … The photos celebrate the female figure and skin in intimate and varied detail, including close-ups of skin tags, scars and markings, all cast in a bright and beautiful light. None of the images were retouched.”

Meanwhile, a Douglas Kirkland retrospective opens today at the Palos Verdes Art Center in California – more details here.

Marilyn: Portraits of a Sad Girl, Reading

Audrey Wollen (the artist and feminist scholar best-known for her Sad Girl Theory) takes an in-depth look at the numerous images of Marilyn reading – taken by various photographers at different stages of her career, and ranging from silly to serious – and how they have shaped public perceptions, in an article for Affidavit.

“In 1999, Christie’s auctioned off nearly 400 books from Marilyn’s personal library, a roster of classics ranging from Proust to Hemingway, which publicly solidified her intellectual identity and provided hard evidence against all those who claimed the plentitude of reading photographs were staged. But staged, of course, they were. They are hardly a homogenous document of fact; taken across decades, their only consistent element is the subject (Monroe), the act (reading), and the light, the aura that emits from the promise, the flattened proof, that beauty is real. Some call this being photogenic. Feminist accounts of Marilyn Monroe often take great trouble to declare the photographs’ candid status as a way to defend her ability to think, as if to pose with a book is to admit one cannot read it. But it is the slipperiness of their authenticity that make these photographs so mesmerizing.”

Marilyn Inspires ‘Bold Beauty Project’ in Austin, TX

A new photography exhibit in The People’s Gallery at City Hall in Austin, Texas celebrates women with disabilities, including a portrait shot by Greg Mitchum – which recalls Marilyn’s 1954 ‘ballerina sitting’ with Milton Greene – as Laura Jones reports for the Austin Chronicle.

“‘Sometimes I hear mothers with young children telling their kids not to stare at me,’ says the pretty blond model, as we talk over the phone. I’d watched videos of her online, dancing with the help of her crutches. Seen her Marilyn Monroe-style photographs – white dress, flirty smile – at the People’s Gallery exhibit at City Hall. ‘I always tell people, “It’s okay. Go ahead and stare.” We are human beings, so we are going to notice difference, but we don’t have to make it all of what a person is about.’

This model’s name is Tanya Winters. She’s a 42-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who is, among other things, an accomplished dancer, choreographer, and president of the board of VSA Texas. When she dances, she does so on her crutches, an image many people may not be used to, but a captivating one nonetheless. Photographs of Winters, along with 19 other disabled women, are currently on display at City Hall as part of a People’s Gallery capsule exhibit created by the Bold Beauty Project of Texas. The goal of the project is to show disabled women in a new light.

For Winters’ portrait, she worked with photographer Greg Mitchum to create a blend of four images modeled on one of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic looks. Each image, she says, represents a different side of her personality: a shy side, a strong side, a side that is fun and spontaneous. Two of the photographs feature her crutches, one her wheelchair, because, she says, ‘I use both and both are a part of me.’ Monroe, to her, is an icon. ‘To add my disability to that was very important to me and to disability culture,’ Winters says.”

‘All About Eve’: From Screen to Stage

The new stage adaptation of All About Eve, starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James, has now opened at London’s Noel Coward Theatre, to mixed reviews. In today’s Guardian, Jenny Stevens goes back to the source, describing Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1950 classic  as “a perfect feminist film.”

“‘All the wittiest lines in the film belong to the women,’ says film critic Molly Haskell. ‘These women are never just pathetic. Mankiewicz is so fascinated by women and sympathetic towards them: he gives them importance, he gives them idiosyncrasy, he gives them their personalities.’

So many films from that era don’t hold up, but All About Eve still feels radical. It takes the theme of women being silenced, forced to listen to men and learn from them regardless of their own talents, and turns men into the butt of the joke. When Margo throws a birthday party for her partner, the director Bill Sampson, the poison-penned theatre critic Addison DeWitt turns up with a young blonde on his arm, a Miss Caswell (played by the then little-known Marilyn Monroe). Channing suggests Eve and DeWitt should talk about their shared love of the theatre. ‘I’m afraid Mr DeWitt might find me boring after too long,’ says Eve, saccharinely coy. ‘Oh you won’t bore him, honey,’ says Miss Caswell. ‘You won’t even get the chance to talk.’

It is an extraordinary scene, says Haskell, ‘especially when you consider that Monroe’s character is not meant to have lines. She’s meant to be just a bimbo. Yet out of this bimbo come these words of wisdom. Everyone has dignity and authority in their own way in the movie.'”

In the new play, Miss Caswell is played by Jessie Mei Li. As you can see below, she looks lovely in the role, but wisely avoids doing a Monroe impersonation. Tickets are selling out fast, but in association with the National Theatre and Fox Stage Productions, a live performance will be broadcast at selected cinemas across the UK and USA from April 11 onwards – pick your nearest venue here.

Thanks to Fraser Penney