‘Blondes’ Preferred On the London Stage

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the Broadway musical which Marilyn brought to the big screen in 1953, is currently being revived at London’s Union Theatre, as Julia Rank reports for The Stage.

“It’s less astringent than Anita Loos’ 1925 novel and inevitably it feels dated, but mostly in a charming way (the dirty-old man character notwithstanding). The plot is lightweight in the extreme … but the tunes are catchy and the characters exude moxie.

As Lorelei, Abigayle Honeywill pleasingly doesn’t give a breathy Monroe impression. She has more in common with Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain. With a speaking voice that could strip paint, Lorelei isn’t exactly endearing, but ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in context does show why such materialism is a valid survival method.”

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.)

Rudy Behlmer, Historian of Zanuck, Marilyn and Fox, Has Died

Film historian Rudy Behlmer has died aged 92, Variety reports.

“Behlmer was among the most widely respected historians of Golden Age Hollywood, in part because of his insistence upon researching ‘primary source material’ and not relying on faulty memories or exaggerated press accounts of the time.

Memo From David O. Selznick, which Behlmer edited from thousands of Selznick’s private letters, telegrams and memoranda, was a best seller in 1972. Behlmer first interviewed the Gone With the Wind producer for a 1963 article for Films in Review, one of dozens of magazine pieces he wrote over the decades.

Other books followed: Hollywood’s Hollywood: The Movies About the Movies (with co-author Tony Thomas, 1975), Inside Warner Bros. 1935-1951 (1985), Behind the Scenes: The Making Of… (1989) and Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck (1993).

But essays and journalism were only part of Behlmer’s life. He enjoyed a lively and successful career in television and advertising throughout the 1950s and ’60s … He was director on ABC’s Ray Anthony Show, featuring the big-band leader and his orchestra, during the 1956-57 season, and served as executive producer and director for KCOP from 1960 to 1963, overseeing various shows including his own Movies’ Golden Age. “

In Memo From Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century Fox, which is still in print after a quarter of a century, Behlmer offered insights into Marilyn’s prickly relationship with her studio boss, including this letter he sent to her North Crescent Drive address in December 1951, regarding her leading role in Don’t Bother to Knock and her insistence on having her dramatic coach Natasha Lytess on the set. (This was a battle Zanuck ultimately lost: Natasha continued working with Marilyn – much to the annoyance of her co-workers – until she was replaced by Paula Strasberg in 1956.)

“… I think you are capable of playing this role without the help of anyone but the director and yourself. You have built up a Svengali and if you are going to progress with your career and become as important talent-wise as you have publicity-wise then you must destroy this Svengali before it destroys you. When I cast you for the role I cast you as an individual …”

This memo from September 1952 reveals Zanuck’s vision for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in which Marilyn would play Lorelei to Jane Russell’s Dorothy – making clear that he recognised how crucial their friendship was to the movie. (This memo was addressed to producer Sol Siegel, director Howard Hawks and writer Charles Lederer.)

“There are two things which I consider vital to the telling of the story, and which I want to emphasise in the script. These are (1) The love story between Dorothy and Malone [Elliott Reid]; (2) Dorothy’s genuine affection for Lorelei.

This is not a satire. It is a solid and honest comedy … We must be completely sold on Dorothy’s love for Malone, or we won’t be able to accept her taking him back. And we must be sold on her real affection for Lorelei or we won’t be able to understand her sticking her neck out for her in the courtroom scene.

In order to accomplish these two things we must be willing, if necessary, to sacrifice comedy in these particular scenes …”

In March 1953, Zanuck contacted writer Nunnally Johnson, director Jean Negulesco and others involved with How to Marry a Millionaire, to express his satisfaction at how CinemaScope technology was enhancing the movie.

“… Almost in all instances the composition has been vastly improved over previous material. The full figure shot of [Lauren] Bacall on the bed and the big closeup filling the screen of Monroe were unique examples of the new medium.

I am still opposed to too much camera movement. I fully believe that while we have to occasionally move the camera we should put the emphasis on moving the actors …”

In 1954, Zanuck mooted the idea of a torrid biblical epic, The Queen of Sheba. It was never made, although United Artists would later produce Solomon and Sheba, starring Gina Lollobrigida.

“In a nutshell, this should be the story of a glamorous but evil temptress … As you know, confidentially, I have even flirted with the idea of Marilyn Monroe as Sheba. I think it might be one of the biggest box-office combinations of all time …”

And in 1955, Zanuck revealed that he had been offered I’ll Cry Tomorrow, the sensational biopic about alcoholic singer Lillian Roth, as a potential vehicle for Marilyn (then involved in a contractual dispute with Fox.) After Zanuck passed on it, the film was produced at MGM.

“This is a very interesting, solid, downbeat story and, while it has an outstanding performance by Susan Hayward, I considered it to be overrated … We turned down I’ll Cry Tomorrow, frankly because we were all afraid of the subject matter and of the fact that Lillian Roth was not a really famous personality. [Producer Julian] Blaustein wanted it but only if he could get Marilyn Monroe for the role …”

Zanuck left Fox to become an independent producer in 1956. By the time he returned in 1962, the studio was fighting bankruptcy. Reportedly, it was Zanuck who argued for Marilyn to be re-hired for Something’s Got to Give, although she would pass away before her final studio battle was concluded.

In 1960, columnist Hedda Hopper asked Zanuck why he had left Hollywood. His response makes it clear that he had anticipated the demise of the studio system…

“I just got well fed up with being an executive and no longer being a producer. That’s what the job became. Actors are now directing, writing, producing. Actors have taken over Hollywood completely with their agents. They want approval of everything … scripts, stars, still pictures. The producer hasn’t got a chance to exercise any authority! … What the hell, I’m not going to work with them!”

Marilyn at the May Fair Hotel

As reported here recently, three of Marilyn’s movie costumes (including this Travilla gown she wore to sing ‘River of No Return’). plus her black cocktail dress worn at a 1958 press conference to announce filming of Some Like It Hot, will be on display at London’s May Fair Hotel from September 24 – October 21, before going under the hammer at Julien’s on November 1. More details on the exhibit (including a series of film screenings) have now been revealed by Forbes.

“The four movies these outfits feature in are also to be screened at the hotel’s own cinema, May Fair Theatre. See a screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on the evening of September 27th; catch There’s No Business Like Show Business on October 11th; book a ticket for River of No Return on October 15th; and finally, take a seat for Some Like It Hot on October 18th.  

Tickets to these screenings are available as a part of dinner and drinks packages, following the movie with limited-edition cocktails in May Fair Bar and perhaps including dinner at the hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant May Fair Kitchen before you find your way to the theatre.”

Julien’s Announce Marilyn Auction for November

Costumes from River Of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Julien’s Auctions are holding a one-day sale featuring 115 Marilyn-related lots (including several movie costumes) on November 1st, as part of their Legendary Women of Hollywood event. These items will be also be showcased in the lobby of London’s May Fair Hotel from September 24 until October 21. A catalogue for this auction, Property From the Life and Career of Marilyn Monroe, is now available to order here, for $75 plus shipping.

Black cocktail dress worn by Marilyn during a 1958 press conference for Some Like It Hot

Marilyn’s Hollywood Top 10

Marilyn in Bus Stop, 1956

Blogger Robert Horvat has listed his top 10 Marilyn movies on the Rearview Mirror site. With Some Like It Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire heading the list, it’s a great selection – and Robert has also reviewed Niagara, Blondes and Bus Stop separately. (Personally, though, I would choose Clash By Night, Don’t Bother to Knock and The Prince and the Showgirl over The Asphalt Jungle, River Of No Return and There’s No Business Like Show Business.)