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.
On November 5, 1953, Marilyn’s ascent to the heights of stardom was marked by two very different events. Firstly, as the Los Angeles Times notes today, How to Marry a Millionaire was released in the US (on the morning after Marilyn dazzled fans at the Hollywood premiere.) Secondly, the town of Monroe, New York was temporarily renamed.
“Mayor Charles B. Knight signed a proclamation declaring that the name of the town be changed to ‘Marilyn Monroe, New York’ for one day,” writes Immortal Marilyn member Kimberley. “Marilyn was invited with high hopes to participate, and may have attended had she not been receiving an award in Hollywood. There was a parade down the main street with local officials along with several school bands playing songs.”
“The official celebration included a sign proclaiming ‘Entering Marilyn Monroe, New York’, and sported a lifesize cutout of the actress. A special cover envelope was stamped proclaiming the one day change, which became a very popular collectable.”
In an excellent article for Film International, Anthony Uzarowski explores how sexuality was depicted in 1950s cinema – with particular reference to Marilyn, of course!
“Monroe represented pure sexuality, and virtually all the films in which she had a starring role were promoted around her erotic image. Starting in 1953, when she appeared in Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, Monroe was regularly voted top female box office star by the American film distributors. Monroe’s image perfectly suited the notions surrounding sexuality in this period. In the majority of her early films she portrays a good-hearted gold-digger (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry Millionaire) whose ultimate goal is marriage, or a fantasy woman who, while highly sexual, is unthreatening to the moral structure of the nuclear family (The Seven Year Itch). Unlike in the case of the femme fatales of the 1940s, Monroe’s sexuality is not lethal or emasculating, but rather designed to flatter the male ego. Monroe’s 1954 film The Seven Year Itch is possibly the best example of how sexuality and star image were used to attract audiences in the 1950s, both in terms of the film’s narrative structure and the publicity campaign used to promote it.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes lies under ‘G’ in an A to Z of Romantic Comedy posted by A.V. Club. Interestingly though, it is Marilyn’s onscreen friendship with Jane Russell that gets the plaudits, not their respective squeezes. A female buddy movie and a musical burlesque, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is multi-faceted. While perhaps not quite so raucously funny, I’d argue that How to Marry a Millionaire – which Marilyn starred in directly after Blondes – is another fine example of the classic Hollywood rom-com.
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes rises merrily into the clouds, a lighter-than-air concoction of whimsy and screwball absurdism. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell give note-perfect performances … Monroe’s naïve gold-digger (and killer performance of ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’) is what sticks with most people, but Howard Hawks’ masterful orchestration of all the narrative wheels—especially Russell’s exasperated efforts to protect her BFF from disaster—is what keeps the film timeless.”
The release of The Misfits on February 1, 1961 – exactly fifty-five years ago this week – was overshadowed by the recent death of Clark Gable, and Marilyn’s divorce from Arthur Miller. Nonetheless, one of the most favourable reviews came from Kate Cameron, critic for the New York Daily News, and has been republished in full.
“Arthur Miller sang a sweet swan-song to his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, in The Misfits. His written tribute describes her as a beautiful, beloved and ‘loving, sweetly sentimental woman with an emanating lost lady’ aura. The story is prophetic when the song, gay through most of the action, goes into a minor key, as if the author were aware that his love was slipping away from him …
Gable has never done anything better on the screen, nor has Miss Monroe. Gable’s acting is vibrant and lusty, hers true to the character as written by Miller.
It is, I believe, of finer quality and of greater dramatic interest than any American product released last year … The screen vibrates with emotion during the latter part of the film, as Marilyn and Gable engage in one of those battles of the sexes that seem eternal in their constant eruption …”
While some highbrow critics were slow to warm to Marilyn’s talent, Kate Cameron was one of her early champions. Here is a selection of her comments:
“Marilyn Monroe, cast as Miss Stanwyck’s gay, excitement-craving future sister-in-law, is a real acting threat to the season’s screen blondes.” – Clash by Night (1952)
“Marilyn Monroe and David Wayne play their roles well, the former representing a successful contestant in the ‘Mrs America’ beauty pageant, the latter as her disgruntled husband.” – We’re Not Married (1952)
“Ginger and Cary are assisted in this amusing nonsense by Marilyn Monroe, who can look and act dumber than any of the screen’s current blondes.” – Monkey Business (1952)
“Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe give off the quips and cracks, generously supplied by Nunnally Johnson, with a naturalness that adds to their strikingly humorous effect, making the film the funniest comedy of the year.” – How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
“Marilyn stars in three specialty numbers amusingly, as she does a comic burlesque as the sexy singer of naughty songs.” – There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)
An interesting new ebook is now available via Amazon Kindle. In The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses: CinemaScope 1953 – 1954, John V. Watson examines the widescreen technology pioneered by Twentieth Century-Fox.
How to Marry a Millionaire was the first movie to be photographed entirely in Cinemascope, although biblical epic The Robe had an earlier premiere. All of Marilyn’s subsequent Fox movies were shot in Cinemascope.
In the backdrop video for the show’s opening number, ‘Iconic‘, Madonna is seen wearing a strapless white gown, and a cool $10 million worth of diamonds, designed by jeweller Neil Lane. Stills from the video, shot by Steven Klein, can also be seen in the accompanying tourbook.
Older readers may remember the 1991 Oscar ceremony, where Madonna was similarly attired, paying homage to Marilyn’s glamorous appearance at the How to Marry a Millionaire premiere (not, as People states, her role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)
Now a youthful looking 57, Madonna resembles the steely Marlene Dietrich as much as MM. The ‘Iconic’ video is also edgier than her previous incarnation, depicting the battered but unbowed diva in a prison cell.
This is a reference to secretprojectrevolution, her 2013 short film about censorship and freedom of expression – another collaboration with Klein, her favourite photographer.
As part of Twentieth Century-Fox’s centenary celebrations, 100 films will now be released digitally for the first time, including two Marilyn rarities: her first film, Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, in which she makes a fleeting appearance; and Marilyn, the 1963 documentary narrated by Rock Hudson, which has never been released on video or DVD. How to Marry a Millionaire will also be available, as well as The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, the 1947 Betty Grable movie in which Marilyn was rumoured to have been an extra (however, this remains unconfirmed as she cannot be seen.)
More information on Fox100 over at Cinematically Insane.
“We’re aware this film has been accused of being a shallow, spare-no-expense fashion show. So what? It was one of the first feature films made in CinemaScope, which was crucial in showcasing William Travilla‘s stunning wardrobe design.
How to Marry a Millionaire has a witty script, charming characters and first-rate comedic performances by Grable and Monroe. But our favourite character is the tough-talking Bacall…
Bacall is smart, skeptical and has learned how to sniff out a rat. For example, when Monroe announces her boyfriend is taking her Atlantic City on a Saturday to meet his mother, Bacall is immediately suspicious.
Bacall: ‘I think we oughta put a check on that one.’
Monroe: ‘Why? I don’t know what you mean.’
Bacall: ‘Nobody’s mother lives in Atlantic City on Saturday.'”
A month-long MM retrospective is now in full swing at London’s BFI Southbank. Marilyn Wild wrote an article about Marilyn’s iconic allure for the BFI website:
“Makeup was something that Marilyn understood very well. She was the chief executive in the construction of her own image, cultivating strong professional bonds with unrivalled makeup artists. She nurtured these artistic relationships and they spanned the length of her career. Marilyn had an innate and highly sophisticated understanding of sexual desire, knowing very well that beauty is about generosity. She gave so much of herself to the world. Her untimely death at the age of 36 did not stunt the ascension of her star in popular culture; instead, she is our modern-day Aphrodite.”
Meanwhile, David Parkinson has written an article about the Cinemascope phenomenon, which was kick-started by How to Marry a Millionaire.
“It just goes to show that you can’t trust history books. Most texts insist that Henry Koster’s The Robe (1953) was the first film produced in CinemaScope. In fact, it was Jean Negulesco’s How to Marry a Millionaire, which was rushed into production alongside Robert D. Webb’s Beneath the 12-mile Reef to give 20th Century-Fox a head start in the widescreen race to lure Americans away from their new television sets.
Negulesco finished his picture first, but the Fox front office felt that a Roman epic with religious undertones would make a grander statement about ‘the miracle you see without glasses’ than a musical about three single girls (Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable) searching for rich husbands. Consequently, an imposing, sincere, but undeniably pedestrian saga about the garment worn by Christ en route to Calvary became the first of the 654 features that were made in colour and black-and-white CinemaScope over the next 14 years.”