Tag Archives: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Ariana Grande’s Diamond Tribute to Marilyn

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Singer Ariana Grande, who has shown her love for Marilyn on Twitter and wore a Travilla-inspired dress to this year’s MTV Awards, performed a soulful cover of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in Beverly Hills last week at a party for diamond manufacturer Tiffany’s (who are, of course, name-checked in the song), reports Harper’s Bazaar.

Marilyn: Still Hollywood’s Favourite Blonde

'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' (1953)
‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1953)

In an article for The Australian, Philippa Hawker charts the history of blondes in cinema -arguing that Marilyn continues to leave her mark on the evocation of blondeness.

“In cinema — not to mention fairytale, myth, art, literature, politics and the realm of popular culture in general — the image of the blonde or the fair-haired woman has carried a strong symbolic charge. It can be identified with innocence and purity but also with artifice and duplicity. It can suggest bounty, dazzle and allure, the implication that all that glisters is not necessarily gold. It can convey a heightened sense of spectacle. It is almost always associated with a notion of the feminine. The figure of the blonde is one of Hollywood’s most potent emblems and exports, and it has had an influence on other movie cultures over the years.

In cinema, the figure of the blonde often appears alongside the contrasting figure of the brunette; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, is probably the most engaging example…

And, of course, there is Monroe, defining Hollywood blondeness, and to some degree transcending it by sheer effort of will. Her body of studio work is surprisingly confined: only once, in Clash by Night (1952), in which she portrays a cannery worker, did she play a character with an ordinary job. In her major roles she was always a variation on a gold-digger or a stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’ — yet she managed to subvert the stereotyping or deepen its implications, no matter what the challenge was off-screen. In The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), on what was reportedly a chaotic and troubled set, she gives an effortlessly appealing performance in an unlikely period piece: it is her co-star, Laurence Olivier (also her director), who appears awkward and uncomfortable.

Monroe, one way or another, continues to leave her mark on the evocation of blondeness. In the 80s, Madonna did her best to own it, restaging Monroe’s ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number, rifling through the Hollywood cultural dress-up box for a variety of shades and identities. Her video clip for ‘Vogue’, directed by David Fincher, explicitly raids both classic Hollywood portraiture and the vogueing phenomenon of the gay club.”

Marilyn and Jane: Queens of Rom-Com

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Scottish TV and radio presenter Edith Bowman declares her undying love for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in an article about classic romantic comedies for The Sun today.

“From almost the moment people started making romantic comedies, it seems that the roles of female characters in cinema have been passive. One way or another, our heroines do little more than sit at home, like Bridget Jones in her pyjamas, waiting for Mr Right.

Or do they?

Perhaps not. In fact, perhaps it was never really like that at all. Because while conducting research and thinking in more detail about the hundreds of films I’ve watched over the years, I have to say that fewer leading ladies belong to this category than I originally thought.

The first female characters I remember being in awe of were Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Watching those two dominate the movie, completely in control of every situation, is still an eye-opener: here are two stunning women who may appear vulnerable and needy but are obviously very smart, blatantly using their beauty and sex appeal to manipulate every situation for their own benefit.

And that film was released in 1953. Amazing!

So have women in film evolved from blushing eye candy to strong, funny, independent leads in their own right? Sure they have… but perhaps only because of the work put in by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Diane Keaton and Julia Roberts back in the day – all stars of what appeared to be traditional romcoms, but who brought something else entirely to their films. Without Monroe, perhaps there would be no [Amy] Schumer.”

Marni Nixon 1930-2016

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Marni Nixon, the ‘ghost singer’ in many classic Hollywood musicals, has died aged 86, Variety reports. She famously dubbed the singing voices of Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956), Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961) and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964.)

Nixon also sang the high notes in ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, including the introduction (from 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), but the rest was performed by Marilyn herself.

In  May 1954, Nixon made her Broadway debut in The Girl in Pink Tights. A few months previously, Marilyn had been assigned the lead role in a big-screen adaptation for Twentieth Century-Fox. After refusing the part, Monroe was placed on suspension. The studio eventually backed down, and the movie was shelved.

Noel Neill 1920-2016

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Noel Neill, the first actress to play Lois Lane onscreen, has died aged 96, The Wrap reports.  A pin-up model by her teens, she worked at Hollywood’s ‘Poverty Row’ studios, Monogram and Republic, during the 1940s, and was cast as Lois Lane in Superman (1948), opposite Kirk Alyn. Thirty years later, she had a cameo role as Lane’s mother in the more famous remake, starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Lois.

Noel also had an uncredited part as a passenger aboard ship in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953.) I think she might be the redhead in these screen-caps from the ‘Bye Bye Baby‘ number. Do you agree? (For comparison, check out more photos of her at Fanpix.)

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Profiles in History: Hollywood Auction 83

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The showgirl costume worn by Marilyn while riding a pink elephant at a charity circus in 1955 is the centrepiece of Profiles in History’s Hollywood Auction 83, with a starting price of $250,000. Other Marilyn-related items up for bidding on June 30 include an original costume sketch by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, rare candid photos from 1957, and batches of production stills, press photos and portraits.

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UPDATE: Marilyn’s ‘showgirl’ costume didn’t reach its reserve price, and thus went unsold. However, this Grecian-style dress owned by Marilyn reached its maximum estimate of $15,000.

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Marilyn’s ‘Hidden Hollywood’, and More

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Marilyn graces the cover of a new Life magazine special, ‘Hidden Hollywood: Images of a Golden Age’. Inside are more images from Ed Clark’s photo session with a young Marilyn at Griffith Park in 1950, as well as his famous shot of Marilyn and Jane Russell sipping Coke on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Other stars captured at work and play featured include Elizabeth Taylor and many more. It is available at stores across the US and, for international readers, via Amazon.

And if you’re a dab hand at embroidery (sadly I’m not), Marilyn also features in UK magazine Cross Stitch Collection this month.

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Alan Young 1919-2016

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Alan Young, who played Wilbur Post on Mister Ed – the classic 1960s TV sitcom about a talking horse – has died aged 96 at the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills, California, reports The Guardian.

Born in Northumberland to Scottish parents in 1919, Young emigrated to Canada as a child. During his high school years he hosted a CBC radio show. He married in 1940 and had two children, before moving to New York in 1944, where he began hosting The Alan Young Show on NBC Radio.

In December 1946, the now-divorced Young met a young Marilyn Monroe when she promoted his show in highland dress on a Rose Bowl float in Los Angeles. They later went on two dates, as he recalled in a 2012 interview with Scotland’s Daily Record.

Alan Young (left) with Marilyn in 1946
Alan Young (left) with Marilyn in 1946

He was also interviewed by Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. He remembered taking her to the Brown Derby club after the parade; but as neither of them liked alcohol, they decided to go elsewhere and sip cocoa instead. “She seemed like a frightened rabbit at first,” he said, “and I didn’t realise she had been raised without parents. I really liked her.”

On their first date, Young picked her up from the house where she was living with family friend Ana Lower. He remembered that Ana seemed ‘suspicious’ of his intentions. Norma Jeane (as she still called herself then) explained that Ana was a devout Christian Scientist – a faith she and Alan also shared.

Their second date ended in disaster, as Alan tried to kiss Norma Jeane as she was turning her head away, and ended up kissing her ear instead. “I was so embarrassed about it that I never phoned her again,” he admitted.

He made his screen debut in Margie (1946), at Marilyn’s home studio of Twentieth Century Fox, and later appeared alongside Clifton Webb in Mr Belvedere Goes to College (1949.) He married Virginia McCurdy in 1948, and they had two children. In 1950, The Alan Young Show moved to television.

By the early 1950s, Marilyn was also a major star. “I was working at the studio when a blonde girl rushed up and yelled ‘Alan!'” he told Michelle Morgan. “She kissed me and asked about my parents and asked me to give her a call. After she had gone the make-up man asked how long I’d known Marilyn Monroe and I answered, ‘About two minutes!’ That was the last time I ever saw her.”

In 1955, Young would star opposite Jane Russell in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a sequel to  Monroe’s 1953 smash hit, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. After Marilyn declined to reprise her role, Jeanne Crain took her place as Lorelei Lee. He later starred in the classic sci-fi movie, The Time Machine (1960.)

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Young’s most famous role, in TV’s Mister Ed, began in 1961 and ran for five years. Afterwards, he continued making guest appearances in numerous television shows, movies and as a voice actor for cartoons and video games.

After nearly fifty years together, Young and McCurdy were divorced in 1995. He married Mary Chipman shortly afterwards, but they divorced two years later. He returned to the stage in a 2001 revival of Show Boat, and his final credit was in 2015, as the voice of Scrooge McDuck in a series of Mickey Mouse shorts.

Through the Looking Glass With Marilyn

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Some recent academic titles, focusing on Marilyn among other stars of old Hollywood, caught my eye recently. Ed Clark’s photo of Marilyn and Jane Russell on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes graces the cover of Kirsten Pullen’s Like a Natural Woman: Spectacular Female Performance in Classical Hollywood (2014.) The same image was recently used in an ad campaign for Coke. In her introduction, Pullen discusses a characterisation of Marilyn’s that is generally overlooked: that of the ambitious showgirl, Vicky Parker, in There’s No Business Like Show Business.

Ana Salzberg’s Beyond the Looking Glass: Narcissism and Female Stardom in Studio-Era Hollywood (2014) includes a chapter entitled ‘Marilyn Monroe: The Last Glimmering of the Sacred‘, in which she argues that Marilyn ‘both inherited and surpassed a cinematic legacy of the ideal feminine.’

Larger Than Life

Larger Than Life: Movie Stars of the 1950s (2010) is edited by R. Barton Palmer. Part of a Rutgers University Press series, ‘Star Decades: American Culture/American Cinema’, it includes an essay by Matthew Solomon, ‘Reflexivity and Metaperformance: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Kim Novak.’ The cover features an unusual wardrobe test shot of Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, alongside other stars of the era.

Celebrity ‘Marilyn Moments’ in the News

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Photo by Fraser Penney

Paparazzi shots of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, having a ‘Marilyn Monroe’ moment during a trip to India have made front pages across the globe today, as her dress blew up while laying a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate. A bit like that ‘subway scene’ in The Seven Year Itch, except that was staged with MM’s full consent.

Similar ‘Marilyn moments’ featuring numerous female celebrities are constantly reported in the media, but few inspire the protective feeling and deference reserved for royalty –  with many on social media condemning the coverage as sexist, as Suresh Matthew reports for The Quint.

While it’s fun to see Marilyn’s name in the news, there’s something rather tacky about potentially embarrassing moments being exploited in this way – and after all, Kate was simply paying her respects to the dead when the incident occurred.

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Meanwhile, Ariana Grande has paid tribute to Marilyn at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards, with her performance of new single ‘Dangerous Woman’ while wearing a white fur stole and strapless pink satin gown, reminiscent of Marilyn’s attire in her iconic ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Ariana has made no secret of her admiration for Marilyn, wishing her a happy birthday on Twitter back in 2014, and offering a spirited defence of MM. However, her look may also be inspired by another of her idols, Madonna, who famously recreated the ‘Diamonds’ setpiece for her ‘Material Girl’ video back in 1985.

As Christopher Rosa reports for VH1, Ariana’s performance was also reminiscent of Madonna’s ‘Sooner or Later’ number at the Oscars in 1991, when La Ciccone once again paid homage to Monroe.