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.'”

When ‘Rivals’ Meet: Marilyn and Jane in Semiahmoo, WA

When pin-up queens Marilyn and Jane Russell teamed up for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, reporters predicted a mighty feud – but they quickly struck up a close bond, onscreen and off, and many fans consider Jane the best co-star Marilyn ever had. As the Northern Light reports, at the Semiahmoo Resort near Blaine, Washington State on January 29 from 7-9 pm, Ron Miller, author of Conversations With Classic Film Stars, will consider their pairing in the second part of his free film series ‘When Rivals Meet’, alongside Fred Astaire vs Gene Kelly, Bette Davis vs Joan Crawford, and others.

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 …”

January With Marilyn in Utah

Marilyn with director John Huston during filming of The Misfits, 1960

The Utah Theatre in Logan is devoting this month to Marilyn, with screenings of The Misfits this week, followed by Bus Stop from next Wednesday, and The Seven Year Itch, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and There’s No Business Like Show Business afterwards.

A ‘Collector’s Ransom’ for Marilyn

Over 50 Marilyn-related lots will go under the hammer at on December 17-19, as part of the Hollywood – A Collector’s Ransom auction at Profiles in History. Marilyn’s costumes from A Ticket to Tomahawk, Love Nest, and Don’t Bother to Knock, and her fishnet tights from Bus Stop – which went unsold at last year’s Essentially Marilyn event – are back for a second chance. (UPDATE: the brown skirt suit worn by Marilyn in Love Nest has been sold for $30,000 – but again, the other movie costumes went unsold.)

As Simon Lindley reports for Just Collecting, Marilyn’s personal annotated screenplay for The Seven Year Itch is also on offer, with a reserve of $60-80K. (The photo shown above, taken on location in New York, is sold separately.)

“In the film Monroe’s character is known simply as ‘The Girl’, an aspiring actress who serves as the object of the husband’s desires.

But behind her on-screen persona as the blonde sex symbol, Monroe’s extensive handwritten annotations reveal her dedication to her craft.

Throughout the script she has written notes to herself such as ‘Look first indecisive – pause – hesitation – little smile’ and ‘My body into his – sliding into him as if I want to sleep with him right then & there. Swing hips again’.

This preparation and complete understanding of the role in evident in her notes for the famous ‘Subway’ scene, which helped cement her place as a genuine Hollywood icon.

The energy and sexuality which Monroe portrays may seem effortless, but her script notes show she though very carefully about how to play the moment: ‘Child w/a woman. Direct & fem[inine]. Open… This is everything there is in the world. Light & easy. Everything flies out of her. Newborn – the baby looking at the moon for the first time.'”

Screenplay UNSOLD; photo sold for $200

And now, let’s take a closer look at what else is on offer…

“Vintage original 8 x 10 in. photograph taken of 13 year-old Norma Jeane on a trip to Yosemite with ‘Aunt’ Ana Lower and other family members. And sold separately, a vintage original 2-page printed 6.25 x 9 in. Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School Class of Summer 1941 commencement program. The printed program contains itinerary including music, speeches, and songs. Listed alphabetically in the ‘Graduating Class, June 1941 Girls’ roster of graduates is ‘Baker, Norma Jeane’.”

UNSOLD

“Vintage original gelatin silver 8 x 10 in. photograph of Marilyn with her junior high school glee club, smiling in the center of the group. The verso is copiously inscribed with messages to Norma Jeane by her girlfriends, including, ‘To a beautiful, sweet, charming, and darling, adorable Norma Jean’ and ‘I hope your ambition will come true – to stay an old maid all your life’.”

SOLD for $3,000

“A 2-page letter to ‘Cathy’ handwritten in pencil and signed, ‘Norma Jeane’. Written during a period of major transition in her life, Norma Jeane mentions a leave of absence from her job as a parachute inspector at Radioplane. She had recently been ‘discovered’ by US Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit photographer David Conover while working at the plant, and through his connections, had been able to get freelance work as a pin-up model. She writes in full: ‘Thursday. My dearest Cathy, thank you for your sweet little note, why of course of course I like you dear very much, you know that. If I seem a little neglectful at times its because I’m so busy I don’t seem to have any time to catch up on my correspondence, but I promise after this, I shall, do better, honestly I will. Jimmie arrived about three weeks ago and you can imagine how thrilled I was. I only wish he didn’t have to go back. Jimmie and I went up to Big Bear Lake for a week and had a grand time I hope you and Bud will be down soon because I would love for you both to meet him. I’ve been on leave of absence from Radioplane. I shall tell you all about it when I see you honey or I shall write to you later. I have so many things I have to do so I had better close for now but I shall write soon. Tell Bud Hello for me. Love, Norma Jeane.'”

UNSOLD

Vintage original 8 x 10 in. cast & crew photo from Marilyn’s first movie, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! She is in the third row, just above leading lady June Haver. SOLD for $1,500

“Vintage original gelatin silver 7 x 8.75 in. double weight matte photograph, inscribed and signed in black ink at lower right, ‘To Grace and Daddy Always Lovingly Norma Jeane 12/25/46′. The ‘daddy’ to whom Norma Jeanne inscribed this early headshot is Erwin ‘Doc’ Goddard, a research engineer and the husband of Norma Jeanne’s legal guardian, Grace Goddard.  And sold separately, two oversize glamour portrait photographs of Marilyn Monroe in character as ‘Miss Caswell’ in All About Eve. The first is credit stamped by Ray Nolan with studio snipe, and the other, seen at right, attributed to Ed Clark.” [A poster for the film, signed by Bette Davis, Joseph Mankiewicz, and Celeste Holm, is being sold separately.]

Signed photo SOLD for $30,000; poster SOLD for $6,000.

Two vintage calendars including a 1950 wall calendar measuring 8.5 x 14.5 in., and featuring paintings by Earl Moran, six featuring Marilyn, alongside cute, risque poems like, ‘What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice, Perfume that smells nice, Jewels and furs, To attract attention, And other good things Too obvious to mention’, and a wall calendar featuring unique topless ‘cowgirl’ images of Marilyn not seen elsewhere. Sold separately, a 16 x 32 in. pin-up 1952 wall calendar titled, ‘The Lure of Lace‘. Featuring Marilyn Monroe in her famous Tom Kelley nude kneeling pose, but with a black lace teddy ‘overprint’.” 

UNSOLD

“Two original studio production 8 x 10 in. negatives of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, each modeling wardrobe by designer William Travilla. [Russell wore a blonde wig to impersonate Marilyn in a courtroom scene.] Each includes within image a ‘shot-board’ documentation of production, scene, and change numbers. Also included are two original wardrobe documentation green pages detailing costumes [Monroe page describes a different costume, for the opening ‘Little Rock’ number.] At some point in time a positive copy print of the Monroe negative was made for archive continuity, but is not original to the production.”

UNSOLD

“11 x 14 in. portrait by Ed Clark of Marilyn in the gold lame gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for LIFE magazine. Signed in black ink on Marilyn’s skirt by the photographer, ‘Edmund Clark Life’.” 

SOLD for $300

“Photo of Marilyn at the Photoplay Awards in 1953, part of a 1750-image archive for celebrity snapper J.B. Scott. And sold separately, an award plaque presented to Marilyn by a County Fair ‘Sugar Queen’, engraved, ‘To the Sweetest Girl in Motion Pictures, Marilyn Monroe, 20th Century-Fox Films Star Presented by 1953 Yolo County Fair Sugar Queen’.” 

Photo archive SOLD for $95,000; award plaque UNSOLD.

“Elois Jenssen costume sketch for Lucille Ball as ‘Lucy Ricardo’ as ‘Marilyn Monroe’ from I Love Lucy. Elois Jenssen was Lucille Ball’s designer of choice, who is credited with creating the ‘Lucy Look’. This dress design was created for the I Love Lucy Episode: ‘Ricky’s Movie Offer’, which aired on Nov. 8th, 1954. In the episode, ‘Lucy’ transforms herself into Marilyn Monroe to try to win a role in Ricky’s (Desi Arnaz) new Hollywood film. This costume was then repurposed into a showgirl costume for two subsequent episodes.” [Elois Jenssen’s costume sketches for Marilyn in We’re Not Married are being sold separately.]

UNSOLD

“Ten 8 x 10 in. photographs of Marilyn Monroe in scenes from films, including the earliest title which depicts her on any of its publicity, Dangerous Years. Other highlights include Ladies of the ChorusThe Asphalt JungleRight Cross [to our knowledge, this still is the only original release paper to depict Marilyn], Let’s Make it Legal, and [shown above] Bus Stop.

SOLD for $225

“A set of fourteen 7 x 8.5 in. to 8 x 10 in. photographs, a mix of portraits, candids, and scenes, including stills from The Seven Year Itch and Let’s Make Love [at left] and a candid by Al Brack [at right], showing Marilyn on location for Bus Stop in Sun Valley, Idaho.”

UNSOLD

“Two exhibition photos signed by Marvin Scott, of Marilyn performing at a circus benefit in 1955; and sold separately, another set including this photo of Marilyn arriving at Los Angeles in 1958 for the filming of Some Like It Hot.

UNSOLD

“A candid photo taken by Milton Greene at Marilyn’s wedding to Arthur Miller; and sold separately, two address books from her estate, including typed and annotated entries for contacts including Actor’s Studio, Jack Benny, Eve Arden, George Cukor, Montgomery Clift, Jack Cardiff, Joe DiMaggio, Henry Fonda, John Huston, Hedda Hopper, Designers, makeup artists, Ben Gazzara, Gene Kelly, Jack Lemmon, Yves Montand, Arthur Miller, Robert Montgomery, Jane Russell, Jean Negulesco, Lee and Paula Strasberg, David Selznick, Carl Sandburg, Frank Sinatra, Eli Wallach, Shelley Winters, Clifford Odets, Peter Lawford, JAX, Richard Avedon, Louella Parsons, and more. Annotations not attributed to Monroe.”

UNSOLD

And finally, a set of nine photos from Marilyn’s last completed film, The Misfits (1961.) SOLD for $4,500

‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ A Sellout On Southbank

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will be screened at the BFI on London’s Southbank tomorrow, as part of the ongoing Musicals! season, and with an introduction by programmer Robin Baker. Unfortunately it’s now sold out, which is surely a testament to its enduring popularity – so for any readers lucky enough to get tickets, enjoy!

“Monroe (as gold-digging Lorelei) and Russell (as man-eating Dorothy) are the smartest, sassiest leads found in any musical. Monroe has the boys eating out of her pink silk gloves in the joyfully cynical ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, but Russell almost meets her match in ‘Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?’ as she tackles a gym full of semi-naked men. A wondrous Technicolor tonic.”