Happy Birthday, First Minister

Val McDermid may be one of the world’s most popular crime writers, but nobody would mistake her for Marilyn – until last week, when she sang ‘Happy Birthday, First Minister’ to Scottish premier Nicola Sturgeon at a literary festival in Harrogate this week, as reported in the Mail On Sunday.

Novelist Val McDermid (right) with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, 2016

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Bob Mackie Documentary Announced

The spectacular career of Bob Mackie, designer to the stars, will be explored in a new documentary, as Bronwyn Cosgrave writes in the Hollywood Reporter.

“Slated for a December 2020 release, the as-yet-untitled doc will examine the Burbank-based designer’s 50-year career, commencing from his start in 1961 at Paramount Pictures working as a sketch artist for Edith Head before moving on to assist Columbia’s costume designer Jean Louis. For Louis, Mackie innovated the nude-illusion sartorial concept by creating an illustration that proved to be the blueprint of the form-fitting, rhinestone-studded sheer gown in which Marilyn Monroe generated a sensation performing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in May 1962.”

Marilyn, Drew, JFK Jr. and a Notorious Cover Story

Over at Esquire, Kate Storey reports on George, the political magazine launched by John F. Kennedy Jr. in the 1990s. While some were shocked by the 1996 cover featuring actress Drew Barrymore as Marilyn, the original idea – to have ex-girlfriend Madonna pose as John’s mother, Jackie Kennedy – was even more daring, and a step too far even for the pop superstar. So why was John so willing to send up his own family myths? As the article reveals, it seems that Junior was ahead of his time in exposing fake news…

“With Madonna out, the September cover took a decidedly different turn—instead of referencing his mom, Kennedy chose to nod at another well-known woman in his dad’s life: Marilyn Monroe.

Drew Barrymore was posed in a nude-colored cocktail dress and platinum wig, with a mole perfectly placed on her left cheek. The idea came from George’s executive editor, Elizabeth Mitchell, who suggested it as a fiftieth-birthday tribute to President Bill Clinton. The reference: In May 1962, in front of fifteen thousand people during a Democratic-party fundraiser at Madison Square Garden, Monroe had famously serenaded Kennedy’s father ten days before his forty-fifth birthday with a breathy, seductive ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President.’ The subtext to the song, of course, is that the president and the actress were rumored to have had an affair.

That photograph might seem a strange choice for a man who adored his mother—even stranger than asking Madonna to impersonate her—but the thing was, according to Mitchell, Kennedy never believed anything had happened between his dad and Monroe. ‘He just thought it was sort of tweaking the expectations of the public,’ she says all these years later.”

Another aspect to this story is that Drew Barrymore is a lifelong Marilyn fan. As a teenage starlet, she was photographed in her bedroom, surrounded by Monroe posters. In a 2010 interview, Drew named Marilyn among her fantasy dinner guests; and in 2014, she filmed an introduction to Bus Stop with TCM host Robert Osborne.

Madonna as Marilyn, 1993

And while Madonna’s fascination with Monroe is well-known, she had already pipped George to the post by singing ‘Happy Inauguration Mr. President’ on TV’s Saturday Night Live in 1993, marking Clinton’s electoral victory.

Marilyn-Signed Card Sells for $1,875

A piece of cardstock inscribed “To Joe/Love & Kisses/Marilyn Monroe” in blue ballpoint pen was sold for $1,875 yesterday during the Entertainment & Music Memorabilia sale at Heritage Auctions. (There is no indication, however, that the card was inscribed to ex-husband Joe DiMaggio – and the wording suggests a casual acquaintance or fan.)

Photos of Marilyn by Andre de Dienes, a Some Like It Hot publicity shot with a clipped signature from Tony Curtis, and a Hugh Hefner-signed 1997 edition of Playboy magazine (with Marilyn on the cover) were also sold; and two individual photos of Marilyn and President John F. Kennedy, taken by Yale Joel at Madison Square Garden in 1962, fetched a total $1,062.50.

Marilyn’s Misfits and the ‘Big Bang’

Marilyn and the making of The Misfits are among the many historical touchstones featured in Big Bang, David Bowman’s posthumously published novel of mid-century America, as John Williams reports for the New York Times. (According to Publisher’s Weekly, Bowman – who died in 2012 – also delved into the origins of The Misfits in 1956, when Arthur Miller and Saul Bellow were waiting out their divorces in Nevada. Events which followed the movie – such as Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy in 1962, and Miller’s depiction of her in the 1964 play, After the Fall – are also mentioned.)

“The novel’s central nervous system is formed around American politics — it ends as well as begins with Kennedy’s death, and spends considerable time on the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Watergate. But J.F.K., Jacqueline Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, Richard Nixon and Ngo Dinh Diem are joined in this story by — among others — Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Dr. Benjamin Spock and his wife, Jane, George Plimpton, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, the literary critic Leslie Fiedler, J. D. Salinger, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Elizabeth Taylor, Raymond Chandler, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Frank Sinatra and Maria Callas.

The events recounted in Big Bang include, but are far from limited to: Mailer stabbing his wife, Burroughs shooting his wife, Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, Khrushchev at Disneyland, the director John Huston making The Misfits, Fidel Castro’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Nixon playing the piano on The Jack Paar Show, the release of the Ford Edsel, Montgomery Clift nearly dying in a car wreck after leaving a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills and, for about the blink of an eye, a young George W. Bush in the car with his mother, Barbara, after she has suffered a miscarriage.”

‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ at 56

This rare photo was taken by a fan after Marilyn sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden, 56 years ago today.  Marilyn looks far younger than her thirty-five years, and the dress worn by her loyal publicist Pat Newcomb can be seen close behind. Over at Getty Images, Bill Ray – the LIFE magazine photographer who covered the event – shares memories of that legendary evening.

“A quick scan of the program for ‘New York’s Birthday Salute to President Kennedy’ on May 19, 1962, reveals a veritable who’s who of Old Hollywood: Jack Benny, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Danny Kaye. And there, nestled between Peter Lawford and Jimmy Durante, an unmissable entry: Marilyn Monroe. No explanation. No footnote.

‘You could have heard a pin drop,’ recalls Bill Ray … who made the now-iconic image of the actress from behind. ‘I think people were stunned when she finished.’

Due to the disparate lighting conditions — Monroe in a bright spotlight, Kennedy in total darkness — Ray’s dream of getting the two in the same picture didn’t come to fruition. ‘If I’d been luckier, there would have been a tiny bit of light that would have spilled onto Kennedy, who was over her shoulder between the podium and her head.'”

Why Marilyn Wasn’t ‘Always at the Carlyle’

Marilyn with Isadore Miller (1962)

Always At The Carlyle, a new documentary about one of New York City’s legendary hotels, puts paid to the enduring myth that Marilyn and John F. Kennedy enjoyed a romantic tryst in the Presidential Suite after the 1962 gala where she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him.  ‘Much is made of a story about how John F. Kennedy smuggled Marilyn Monroe through a tunnel to the Carlyle,’ the Times reports, ‘but then the idea is pretty convincingly debunked.’ In fact, at the end of the evening Marilyn accompanied her elderly former father-in-law Isadore Miller – who was her escort at the gala and after-party – back to his hotel, before returning home alone. This was confirmed by superfan James Haspiel, who clocked Marilyn entering her apartment building in the small hours.

Dissecting Marilyn’s ‘Ditz Voice’

Marilyn at her breathiest, singing ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ in “Some Like It Hot”

In an article for Atlas Obscura, Jody Amable examines the breathless tone (or ‘ditz voice’) famously associated with sexy female stars from Marilyn to Kim Kardashian. It’s an interesting piece, though in Marilyn’s case, the ‘baby voice’ was partly an attempt to conceal her lifelong stutter (as discussed by Gerald McDermott here.) As careful study of her movies will reveal, her ‘breathiness’ has been greatly exaggerated by impersonators.

“A version of this voice has existed since sound met film and, in a way, since a little before that. Actresses of early film played mostly damsels in distress or wide-eyed young women, and by the time talkies took over, women were still portrayed as less headstrong, more head-in-the-clouds … Along with these girlish figures came a girlish voice—high-pitched, a bit breathy, and a little bit unsure, evident in Clara Bow’s pouty purr, and even Betty Boop’s singsong.

Shortly after the advent of sound in cinema, the scrappy, spunky flappers of the ‘20s were relegated to supporting characters—’the gangster’s moll, the cocktail waitress,’ says [Max] Alvarez. Musicals of the era, says Alvarez, were bastions of these kinds of wise-cracking wacky sidekicks …The speaking voices filling these film’s chorus lines were still childlike as in the decade prior, but started to show signs of the modern-day ‘sexy baby voice‘: a little bit breathy, a little bit nasal, and with fewer harsh consonant sounds.

Leading ladies like Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall portrayed feisty women through deeper voices as America entered the Rosie the Riveter era. It wasn’t until the 1950s, when women were less vital in the workforce, that softer voices took center stage again. And boy, did they ever. ‘We think of blondes as being dumb because we tend to think of Jean Harlow and Marilyn,’ says Alvarez. Though Marilyn was famously influenced by ‘30s screen siren Jean Harlow, her bubblier, breathier speaking style—most notably, her immortal rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’—still have a stranglehold on the voices used to denote ‘sexy, but not very smart.’

The unnaturally high pitch used over the years is all a diversion tactic, says Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at UC Berkeley, Robin T. Lakoff. Sounding ‘masculine’ often invites ridicule, so, whether they do it consciously or subconsciously, these hyper-feminine, childlike voices and mannerisms associated with un-serious women could be the result of them over-correcting to stave off criticism.

 It’s also important to note that the actresses cast as wisecracking sidekicks or tawdry sex maniacs were generally savvy and intelligent in real life  … Marilyn Monroe famously attended the prestigious Actor’s Studio to hone her craft … Though Kim Kardashian’s vocal fry is a far cry from Marilyn Monroe’s breathy lilt, the aim is still the same. ‘What people will not want to hear is it’s still with us,’ says Lakoff. ‘[They] still wanna please and [they] don’t wanna frighten.'”