Marilyn’s ‘Most Expensive’ Dresses

Over at Beam Fashion, Nadja Beschetnikova looks at the stories behind Marilyn’s three ‘most expensive dresses’ (which sold for the highest prices at auction.)

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

‘Apart from the two side seams, the dress was folded into shape rather like cardboard. Any other girl would have looked like she was wearing cardboard, but on-screen I swear you would have thought Marilyn had on a pale, thin piece of silk. Her body was so fabulous it still came through’ – Travilla

The Seven Year Itch

Travilla called it ‘that silly little dress’. The dress indeed has a simple sewing pattern with a typical silhouette for a cocktail dress, which was in vogue in the 1950s and 1960s. Although the designer never paid much heed to his creation, it’s now one of the most famous dresses of all time.

Happy Birthday Mr President

Jean Louis had originally designed a version of the dress for Marlene Dietrich. Her live performances always had almost a magical effect to the audience thanks in no small part to her fascinating outfits. This backless flesh-colored gown remains an example to emulate for modern celebrities and pioneered the trend for ‘naked’ dresses.”

Girlfriends Forever: Marilyn and Jane’s Sister Act

Perhaps more than any other of Marilyn’s major films, the critical reputation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its subversive gender politics has grown in recent years, making it both a perfect satire of fifties femininity, and a strikingly modern sex comedy. Back in 1953, it was a box office smash though deemed mere Hollywood fluff, as Christina Newland notes in ‘Male Critics, Female Friendships on Film,’ over at the BFI blog.

“Even when beloved male auteurs turned their attention to female friendship, their films were often not spared. When it comes to women, objectification is more common than nuance. In Howard Hawks’ classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), the gold-digging comedy-musical sees its two showgirls turn men into ineffable fools. But a Time magazine reviewer misses the subtext in order to celebrate what he calls ‘the three-dimensional attractions of its two leading ladies’.”

Meanwhile, in the March issue of the BFI magazine, Sight & Sound (with Greta Gerwig on the cover), Hannah McGill’s article, ‘Sister Act’, takes another look at Blondes alongside other movies featured in next month’s ‘Girlfriends’ season at BFI Southbank (where it’s screening on March 1st, and 11th.)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) with its sugar daddies, its greedy women and its dressing-up games, positions its women as clever and dirty, not pure or mysterious; gives them strength specifically through the fact that they prioritise one another over sexual conquests; and plays on the idea that the absorption of stereotypes about women weakens men. The last thing the male characters expect is for Lorelei and Dorothy to team up and outsmart them, because women who look like them are expected to be both disloyal to each other, and unintelligent. ‘I can be smart when it’s important,’ Lorelei notes, ‘but men don’t like it.'”

Sailing the High Seas With Marilyn

The cruise liner which once conveyed Lorelei Lee to Paris is referenced in a major new exhibition, Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, at the V&A until June. “We can’t talk about these great ships without a trip to the movies, showing how this age has inspired Hollywood,” Tabish Khan writes in his review for Londonist, citing the memorable scene where “Marilyn Monroe clambers out of a porthole in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes…”

Of course, Blondes was filmed on dry land – the Fox lot in Hollywood, in fact. In a 2017 post over at the History Scout blog, A.J. Jelonek explored the nautical aspects of Blondes and its lesser-known 1955 sequel, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (in which Jane Russell returned as Dorothy, minus Marilyn.)

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes mostly takes place on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic. In the 1920s book which the movie is based off of, their ship is the RMS Majestic. By the 1950’s, the Majestic was long gone. Although all the scenes were filmed on sound stages, a ship still had to be cast as the ‘only way to cross.’ Which one would they choose? Depends where you stop the movie.

The first ship you see is a model of the RMS Queen Mary, but look closely. The ship is outfitted with the Mary’s name, stacks, vents, and other details. But her body is unmistakably the RMS Titanic. It’s a nice money-saving idea to reuse a model, and creates a very … interesting ship.

When they dock in France, the following shot is briefly shown … The SS Conte di Savoia, back from the grave?! This ocean liner was bombed in 1943 and sank in shallow waters. In 1945, her burned hull was raised in the hopes of restoring her to some sailing use. When repairs were deemed too costly, she was scrapped in 1950 (source). How is she here then? Probably some stock footage from the late 30’s/early 40’s was used. Still, weird.

In the next shot, the movie fades to a black-topped smokestack whistling its steam horns. Didn’t we just see the funnels were red on top?? Later, when the the ladies sail back to the States, a shot of the RMS Titan Mary appears again. These shots are shown very briefly and [mostly] spaced far apart from each other, which helps to overlook their inconsistencies while watching the movie.”

White House Scandals Spoofed on ‘SNL’

The scandal involving President Donald Trump’s alleged affair with a porn star has been parodied in a skit for TV’s Saturday Night Live, in which First Lady Melania Trump is comforted by some of her predecessors. This inevitably leads to a discussion of Marilyn’s alleged (but still unproven) fling with John F. Kennedy, but at least she’s more highly regarded than Stormy Daniels, as The Daily Dot reports…

“And in this Saturday Night Live sketch, [Melania] meets former first lady Jackie Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) and other wives of former presidents. At one point, Kennedy tries to sympathize with her about being the wife of a president who has alleged extramarital affairs, like John F. Kennedy with Marilyn Monroe.

Said Melania, ‘Oh please, she was in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Donald’s girl was in Guys Like It Shaved!'”

Marilyn’s Triple Score at Rotten Tomatoes

Marilyn attends the 1951 Oscars, where she presented one of several awards for ‘All About Eve’. (Photo by John Florea)

Marilyn has three entries on the 100 Best Classic Movies of All Time at Rotten Tomatoes, the movie website that aggregates user ratings. Some Like It Hot is surprisingly low-ranked (at 92), while the growing reputation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes places it at 79. But All About Eve heads the pack, coming in fourth.

Twin Peaks: From Norma Jeane, to Laura Palmer

If you’re a fan of cult TV series Twin Peaks, you’ll already know that director David Lynch and writer Mark Frost created it after shelving an earlier collaboration based on Anthony Summers’ Goddess.) There are striking parallels between the main female protagonist, Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee), and Marilyn, which go beyond their mysterious deaths.

In last year’s Twin Peaks revival, Marilyn’s Bus Stop co-star Don Murray played a key role. Actors Russ Tamblyn and Miguel Ferrer also had real-life links to Marilyn. I was also reminded of her sensual performance in Niagara during a scene where beautiful FBI agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) is filmed walking away from the camera, while ditzy casino hostess Candie (Amy Shiels) resembled Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, even wearing a pink tutu with matching gloves and diamonds, not unlike Marilyn’s costume in the ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number….

But maybe that’s all just wishful thinking on my part. Going back to the original series, Zach Gayne explores the similarities between Marilyn and Laura in ‘Twin Peaks and the Point of No Return‘, an essay for Screen Anarchy.

“Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Marilyn Monroe and the abandoned project that first united David Lynch and Mark Frost – the two were apparently interested in co-adapting Anthony Summers’ expose, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. While this is absolute conjecture, I can’t help but wonder if the two minds, who’d bonded over their interest in detailing the story of a fallen goddess – adored by all, but understood by few, who’s shadow ultimately overcame her angel – felt that the exploring Monroe when she was still Norma Jeane wouldn’t be the more effective way to detail the all-too-common American tragedy of a bright young woman succumbing to purveyors of darkness.

Laura Palmer is nothing if not a high-school Marilyn Monroe – a magnetic soul who draws no shortage of desire from, not only the hottest boy in school, but many of the town’s adults, like the local psychedelic psychologist or the wealthy hotel tycoon. One might say she brought out the best or worst in people, depending on their innermost natures. Laura, a supreme beacon of light, in addition to attracting love of the purest kind also attracted fire, and for her sins of merely existing, from a young age she was met with dark temptations as old as the ghostwood forest, like so many generations of distressed damsels and lads before and after her.”

Inside the Coca Cola Archive With Marilyn

Marilyn and Coca Cola are among the most recognisable American cultural icons. In an article for the Daily Mail, Anna Hopkins visits the Coca Cola archive managed by Ted Ryan in Atlanta, Georgia and finds images of Marilyn sipping Coke by the pool at Greenacres, the Hollywood home of silent movie comedian turned 3D photographer Harold Lloyd (seen here wearing a blue suit and his trademark spectacles.) She visited in 1953 with Jean Negulesco, supposedly to film a dream sequence for How to Marry a Millionaire. This never transpired, but footage of a seductive Marilyn purring “I hate a careless man” was used in ‘Security Is Common Sense’, a PSA for the US Air Force, warning servicemen against revealing military secrets in letters home.

More shots taken by Harold Lloyd

Studio contract stars like Marilyn were routinely asked to endorse products, although she would do so less frequently in later years. Despite the Mail article’s claims, the Lloyd shoot does not appear to have been directly connected to Coca Cola – but the tacit promotional value was clearly  welcomed, and it has since become part of their glamorous legacy. In 1951, Marilyn was filmed drinking Coke in a scene from Love Nest.  And Edward Clark’s candid shot of Marilyn and co-star Jane Russell enjoying a Coke on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) was revived in a 2015 company ad campaign.

Alicia Malone Gets ‘Filmstruck’ With Marilyn

Alicia Malone is the  Australian-born author of Backwards in Heels:  The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film. She is also a host at Filmstruck, a US-only streaming service run by the Criterion Collection (who released a special edition of The Asphalt Jungle in 2016.) In an interview with Broadway World, Alicia talks about her favourite classic movies – and Marilyn.

“When you were watching these films as a child, which quotable lines did you try reciting?

I am the worst at doing impressions and accents, but it doesn’t stop me from trying! Because of my love of Marilyn Monroe, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a favorite film of mine. I used to try both Marilyn, ‘Thank you ever so!’ and Jane Russell. For Jane, I’d convince my sister to say, ‘You’ll find that I mean business!’ just so I could retort in my best Jane Russell voice, ‘Oh, really? Then why are you wearing that hat!’ I’m sure it was quite annoying to everyone involved.

If you were a grown-up and a working host when you saw some of your classic films as a child, who would you have wanted to interview and what would your lead question have been?

This is a great question! I know I’ve mentioned Marilyn Monroe a lot, but she really did fascinate me, so I’ll pick her. As I said, I loved her glam persona, but when I started reading books about her, I was shocked at how tough her life was, and how at odds that was with who she seemed on screen. It breaks my heart that she just wanted to be taken seriously as an actress, but was constantly placed as the ditzy blonde. So I would have loved to interview Marilyn, get a sense of what she was really like under that whispered voice and platinum blonde hair… and I would have asked her which role she really wanted to play.”