If you’re in Amsterdam this Christmas, don’t miss the Happy Birthday Marilyn: 90 Years Ms Monroe exhibit (featuring the Ted Stampfer collection), on display at De Nieuwe Kerk until next February. And from next Thursday (December 22), the city’s EYE Film Institute will be screening seven of Marilyn’s best movies: Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot and The Misfits.
Comedienne Rachel Bloom has spoofed a classic Marilyn moment from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in an episode of her musical sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (in which she plays Rebecca, a woman in the thrall of romantic delusions), reports the Los Angeles Times. You can watch the scene (from Season 2, Episode 3) in full here.
“‘There was kind of a self-indulgent hubris, where she truly thinks she has two men in love with her,’ said Bloom of her quest to capture the sound of that romantic delusion musically. ‘She thinks she is the center of everything. That’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. That’s Marilyn Monroe. That’s a ’40s song where you’re surrounded by boys.’
So when inspiration struck, she did what any good songwriter on a deadline would do: She reached for her laptop that sat on her bamboo bath caddy and started jotting down lyrics.
It wasn’t long before the show’s music producer, Adam Schlesinger, received a voicemail with Bloom’s bare-bones rendition of this week’s big musical number, ‘The Math of Love Triangles’, which finds Rebecca cooing in a baby-doll voice — a la Monroe in ‘Diamonds’ — about what a hardship it is to have two guys in love with her.
‘The hardest part of writing these songs is landing on the specific idea,’ Bloom said. ‘Once we’ve landed on it, then stuff starts rolling. And there’s editing and there’s tweaking and there’s rewriting. But there’s a kind of rolling down the hill that you feel once you hit on the right comedy premise.’
And a bit of creativity is sometimes needed when trying to get certain aspects of those premises to pass Broadcast Standards and Practices. For example, with The Math of Love Triangles, the line, ‘Are you erect?’ could only pass muster if Bloom’s Rebecca was physically adjusting the posture of a dancer.
On the day of production of The Math of Love Triangles, Bloom was concerned that she might be revealing too much side boob because of her blue strapless gown or that the male dancers should be more expressive with their facial reactions.
After a take was complete, she slipped out of her character’s strappy heels and into some slippers to watch a playback.
‘I think it’s great,’ Bloom said. ‘It all came together!'”
The upcoming Julien’s Auctions sale includes many items related to the making of Marilyn’s movies. An annotated script for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes reveals that Marilyn worked hard on her comedic performance. “Sense the feeling with the body,” she wrote next to one line.
Darryl F. Zanuck may have blamed Marilyn for delays in the River of No Return shoot, but co-star Robert Mitchum did not, writing on this letter, “Dig!!! Marilyn – my girl is your girl, and my girl is you. Ever – Bob.”
After a bitter legal battle with Twentieth Century Fox, Marilyn returned triumphantly to Hollywood in 1956, armed with a list of approved directors.
“This is the first film Monroe made after beginning to study at the Actors Studio in New York City with Lee Strasberg, and the notations in these script sides demonstrate her method. Some of the notes are sense memories, like the following notation written after the line ‘I can’t look’: ‘Effective memory (use Lester – hurt on lawn),’ most likely referencing Monroe’s childhood playmate Lester Bolender, who was in the same foster home with Monroe. Another note adds ‘(almost to myself)’ before a line to inform her delivery or ‘Scarfe [sic] around my arms) Embarrassed.'”
Arthur O’Connell, who played Virgil in the movie, sent Marilyn his best wishes after she was hospitalised with pneumonia.
“A collection of Marilyn Monroe envelopes, messages and notes, including a florist’s enclosure card with envelope addressed to Monroe and a message that reads ‘To make up for the ones you didn’t recall receiving at the hospital. Please stay well so we won’t go through this again’, signed by ‘Arthur O’Connell – Virgil Blessing.’ Also included are five handwritten notes in an unknown hand that reference Clifton Webb, Lew Wasserman and Paula Strasberg.”
“The letter is dated simply June 9, and it accompanied the latest version of the script for The Prince and the Showgirl. Olivier discusses Monroe’s dialogue and that he has ‘written some extra dialogue and a direction or two.’ He reports on where they are in the script writing process and that they have cut the script down from ‘well over 3 hours’ to 2 1/2, to 2 hours 10 minutes. He continues about the scenes that were and were not cut, including ‘The Duke of Strelitz is, I think essential, as otherwise they will be saying what’s the matter with them – why the heck can’t they get married, particularly in view of Grace Kelly and all that, and our only answer to that question must be Yes but look at the poor Windsors do you see?’
On an amusing note, Olivier mentions, ‘By the way Lady Maidenhead has degenerated to Lady Swingdale because I am assured the Hayes Office will not believe there is also a place in England of that name.’ He closes ‘I just called up Vivien at the theatre … and she said to be sure to give you her love. So here it is and mine too. Longing to welcome you here. Ever, Larry.'”
Marilyn had many advisors on this film, including husband Arthur Miller who made suggestions to improve the script.
“Some of your dialogue is stiff. Also some expressions are too British. If you want me to, I can go through the script and make the changes – – in New York. I think the part – on one reading, is really the Best one … especially with you playing it. You are the one who makes everything change, you are the driving force … The basic problem is to define for yourself the degree of the girl’s naivete. (It could become too cute, or simply too designing.) It seems to me, at least, that they have not balanced things in Olivier’s favor. … It ought to be fun to do after Bus Stop. From your – (and my) – viewpoint, it will help in a small but important way to establish your ability to play characters of intelligence and cultivation. … Your loving Papa – (who has to rush now to make the plane – see you soon! – free!) – Art.”
Marilyn had strong opinions about the casting of Some Like It Hot. In the minutes from a business meeting at her New York apartment, it is noted that “MCA on the Coast has told [Billy] Wilder that there are ‘legal technicalities holding up her decision’ so as not to offend Wilder. Actually, she is waiting for [Frank] Sinatra to enter the picture. She still doesn’t like [Tony] Curtis but [Lew] Wasserman doesn’t know anybody else.”
This short note penned by Marilyn is thought to be a response to Tony Curtis’ notorious remark that kissing her was “like kissing Hitler.”
Although she never won an Oscar, Marilyn joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1959.
Novelist Truman Capote wanted Marilyn to star as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, her own advisors deemed George Axelrod’s watered-down adaptation unworthy of her talents. The film was a huge hit for Audrey Hepburn, but Capote hated it.
“A clean copy of the screenplay for Breakfast at Tiffany’s written by George Axelrod and dated July 9, 1959. Monroe was considering the part, and she sought the opinions of her professional team including the Strasbergs, her husband, and management team. The script is accompanied by a single-page, typed ‘report’ dated September 23, 1959, which also has the name ‘Parone’ typed to the left of the date. Literary luminary Edward Parone was at the time running Monroe’s production company and most likely is the one who wrote this single-page, scathing review of the script, leading with the simple sentence, ‘I think not.’ It goes on to criticize the screenplay, determining, ‘I can see Marilyn playing a part like Holly and even giving this present one all the elan it badly needs, but I don’t feel she should play it: it lacks insight and warmth and reality and importance.’ It has been long reported that Monroe declined the part upon the advice of Lee Strasberg, but this document provides further evidence that other people in her inner circle advised her not to take the role. Together with a four-page shooting schedule for November 4, 1960, for the film.”
Marilyn was generous to her co-stars in Let’s Make Love, giving a framed cartoon to Wilfrid Hyde-White on his birthday, and an engraved silver cigarette box to Frankie Vaughan. She also asked her friend, New York Times editor Lester Markel, to write a profile of her leading man, Yves Montand. “He’s not only a fine actor, a wonderful singer and dancer with charm,” she wrote, “but next to you one of the most attractive men.”
A handwritten note by Paula Strasberg reveals how she and Marilyn worked together on her role in The Misfits. “searching and yearning/ standing alone/ mood – I’m free – but freedom leaves emptiness./ Rosylin [sic] – flower opens bees buzz around/ R is quiet – the others buzz around.”
In 1962, Marilyn began work on what would be her final (and incomplete) movie, Something’s Got to Give. This telegram from screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, who was later replaced, hints at the trouble that lay ahead.
“The telegram from Johnson reads ‘In Revised script you are child of nature so you can misbehave as much as you please love – Nunnally.’ Monroe has quickly written a note in pencil for reply reading ‘Where is that script – is the child of nature due on the set – Hurry Love & Kisses M.M.’ ‘Love and Kisses’ is repeated, and additional illegible notations have been crossed out.”
“Raw footage of Monroe performing with the children in Something’s Got to Give exists, and Monroe’s notations are evident in the footage. The top of the page reads ‘Real Thought/ Mental Relaxation/ substitute children – B & J if necessary/ feeling – place the pain where it is not in the brow.’ B & J likely refers to Arthur Miller’s children Bobby and Jane. Another notation next to one of Monroe’s lines of dialogue reads simply ‘Mona Lisa’, which does in fact mirror the expression she uses when delivering this line. Even the exaggerated ‘Ahhhhh—‘ that Monroe does at the beginning of each take in the raw footage is written on the page in her hand, reading in full, ‘Ahhh–Look for the light.'”
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.
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.”
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, 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, 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.)
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.
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.
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.