Marilyn’s hilarious performance as the wide-eyed trickster Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is lauded today in ‘100 More Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy’, a virtual timeline for the Vulture website.
“Dumb-blonde jokes can be traced back as far as the 18th century, but it was Marilyn Monroe’s portrayal of Lorelei Lee that cemented them in modern pop culture. During this big dance number, Monroe’s iconic look, bleached-blonde and adorned in a thick diamond choker with a tight bright-pink dress, creates the prototype for a dumb blonde. She needs to be flamboyantly feminine, and speak softly and vapidly. As she says in the movie, ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.’ Monroe’s quick quips of feigned ignorance are supported by the groundedness of Dorothy Shaw, played by Jane Russell, in a rare-for-the-time female comedy duo. Helmed by Howard Hawks, a director famous for his ‘Hawksian’ tough-talking woman, the movie demonstrates comedy through the actress’s use of sexual agency. Monroe’s femininity is not an object but a tool to get what she wants — famously, diamonds. The sheer size of Monroe’s performance defined this fundamentally American archetype. Without her, there would be no Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Cher in Clueless, or Elle Woods of Legally Blonde.”
George Karl Wentzlaff, who appeared in two of Marilyn’s films under the stage name of George Winslow – and was nicknamed ‘Foghorn’ for his distinctive baritone – has died aged 69, reports the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Born in Los Angeles in 1946, George first found fame at the tender age of six on Art Linkletter’s radio show, People Are Funny. After hearing George on the radio, actor Cary Grant asked him to appear in his 1952 film, Room For One More.
This was followed by a role as a cub scout in Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business, which also starred Cary Grant alongside Marilyn, although she did not appear in any scenes with George. He then played the title role in another Fox comedy, My Pal Gus, opposite Richard Widmark. The press reported that a scene was being filmed outside the Beverly Carleton Hotel, where Marilyn was then living, and she was inadvertently filmed while watching the action from her balcony. However, she cannot be seen in the movie.
George finally got his chance to work with Marilyn in another Hawks movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953.) He plays Henry Spofford III, a billionaire that gold-digger Lorelei Lee (MM) hopes to make a play for while on a cruise. When he sits beside her at the captain’s table, however, she is shocked to discover his true age.
In another scene, Lorelei sneaks into the cabin of a private detective who is monitoring her antics, but becomes stuck while attempting to climb out through a porthole. Spofford, who is on deck, agrees to help her for two reasons: ‘The first reason is I’m too young to be sent to jail. The second reason is you got a lot of animal magnetism.’
They are interrupted when an elderly English aristocrat, Sir Francis ‘Piggy’ Beekman (Charles Coburn), also appears on deck. Hidden under a blanket, Spofford acts as Lorelei’s ventriloquist, explaining that she has a severe case of laryngitis. ‘A child with the voice of a man, Winslow contrasted with Marilyn, a woman with the voice of a child,’ author Gary Vitacco-Robles observed in his 2014 biography, Icon: The Life Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume 1 1926-1956.
Photos taken on the set show a warm affection between George and his leading lady. ‘The thing I remember most is working with this beautiful lady from early in the morning until late at night,’ George said later. ‘Then as my folks were getting me dressed to go home she came out of her dressing room without any makeup. If I hadn’t recognized her voice I’d never have believed she was the same person.’
George went on to star opposite Clifton Webb in Mister Scoutmaster (1953), and worked with Charles Coburn again in The Rocket Man (1954.) He appeared alongside Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in their 1956 comedy, Artists and Models. He also acted in TV shows including Ozzie and Harriet and Blondie.
After his voice broke, the offers dried up, and twelve year-old George played his last film role in Wild Heritage (1958.) Putting stardom behind him, George served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, and later joined the Postal Service.
After retiring a few years ago, George volunteered at a military antiques store and museum in Petaluma, California, where he enjoyed talking with other veterans. Known as Wally to friends in the west county, George was an easygoing man, quirky and caring and ‘about the nicest guy you could ever know,’ Braafladt said. ‘I think he was genuinely happy with where his life was.’
He survived heart surgery in 2013, but on June 13, he died of a heart attack. Kevin Braafladt, George’s friend and owner of the museum, called at his Camp Meeker home after he failed to show up for work the next day, and found his body.
George was sharing his home with about 25 cats. Braafladt is currently caring for them all, and hopes to find them new homes through an animal shelter. ‘His love was the cats,’ Braafladt said. ‘He’d always talk about them.’
George had said he had no heirs and the coroner’s office was unable to locate any relatives, Braafladt said. A memorial service will be held in Petaluma at a date to be determined. Wentzlaff will be buried with military honors at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery near Dixon in July.
Although best-known for his role as Lee Majors’ boss in The Six Million Dollar Man, Richard Anderson’s career dates back to the golden age of Hollywood. Born in 1926, he made his movie debut in 1947 – just like Marilyn Monroe. Anderson would later appear in Bus Stop, a TV series based on Marilyn’s 1956 movie. But as he reveals in a new book, Richard Anderson – At Last…, their first encounter occurred long before she appeared before a camera.
“Part of my job as Commissioner of Safety at University High was to sit at the east gate to make sure that the students had a pass to come to school and leave.
One day, I was eating a 15-cent lunch of egg salad sandwich and my favourite dessert – sherbet.
Sitting there eating raspberry sherbet, the east gate door opens and in walks this lady. Blonde with everything else that counts. She gave me a big smile, and I stopped eating.
‘How are you?’ she murmured.
‘I’m fine now,’ I said…
From the east gate to the main building is a long, long walk. She smiled her beautiful smile and then slowly moved away – very slowly – I watched the way she moved until she was out of sight. What a walk. I was transfixed. I also wasn’t hungry anymore…
Moreover, I forgot to ask for her pass!
I would later learn that her name was Norma Jeane Mortenson. But she will be forever be known to all as…Marilyn Monroe.”
Anderson was also a student at University High School, volunteering for the Commissioner of Safety post in 1941. Norma Jeane’s first boyfriend, Chuck Moran – whom she dated that year – was a University High student, although at the time of their relationship, Norma Jeane attended Emerson Junior High.
In September 1941, while living with Grace Goddard and her family, Norma Jeane enrolled at Van Nuys High. But in February 1942, after Grace’s husband was promoted to a post in his native West Virginia, fifteen year-old Norma Jeane returned to live with Ana Lower, and transferred to University High. By June, she had left school to marry Jim Dougherty.
Norma Jeane was not yet a blonde at this time, although she could be described as ‘California blonde’ (because her hair lightened in the sun.) But Anderson’s story rings true. By the late 1940s, he was a member of the Actors Lab in Los Angeles, recalling that Marilyn and John Garfield were also regulars.
He also recalls seeing Marilyn, now a major star, in the Fox Commissary with her Monkey Business co-star Cary Grant and director Howard Hawks. Grant went to the trouble of introducing her to Anderson. However, she recognised him instantly.
This story is also believable, as Marilyn never took even the smallest kindness for granted. Anderson writes that he was on loan to Fox for A Life of Her Own (starring Lana Turner), but that film was made at MGM in 1950, two years before Monkey Business.
Writing for the Chicago Reader, Ben Sachs reviews Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, recently screened in the city. Though he focuses more on Howard Hawks’ direction than Marilyn’s performance, it’s an interesting read. He examines Jane Russell’s ‘Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love?’ setpiece in depth, though as a comment below the article notes, this was actually choreographed by Jack Cole, and that by choice, Hawks had comparatively little input on the musical numbers.
“What I want to address here is how Gentlemen Prefer Blondes approaches what Alfred Hitchcock called ‘pure cinema’, the conveyance of meaning through the harmonious interplay of all aspects of filmmaking. The presentation of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in front of single-tone backdrops is one example of this. Against the bold color, they seem, literally, like jewels, and this underscores the Monroe character’s materialism as well as the overpowering charisma of both women.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will be screened at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center today at 6pm, and also on Tuesday, October 2nd, with an introduction by film scholar Fred Camper, as part of an ongoing series, ‘American Cinema of the 1950s’.
Nina Metz has reviewed this definitive musical comedy for the Chicago Tribune.
“A blatant critique of materialism wrapped up in an iridescent bow, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes indulges in Hollywood musical glitz while also offering some not-so-subtle commentary.
‘The seeds of feminism were slowly taking root,’ Camper said. ‘Women’s roles were very traditional in films, but often critiqued within those films. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a good example of that because it’s a parody of those cliched, stereotypical views of women.’
On its face, the film wasn’t typically Howard Hawks’ style…The so-called Hawksian woman was your savvy tough-talker who could hold her own with the guys. That’s not exactly the setup in Blondes, but there’s no mistaking Russell’s nod to the Hawks archetype. She delivers her lines with a sharp self-possessed wit that stands in stark contrast to Monroe’s winningly dumb, cream puff of a performance.
We all lose our charms in the end, to quote from Monroe’s big number, but even a movie as garish as this one has a funny way of escaping the same fate.”
Another extract from Peter Bogdanovich’s essay on Marilyn, published in Who the Hell’s In It? (2004)
“Monroe was frightened to come on the stage – she had such an inferiority complex – and I felt sorry for her. I’ve seen other people like that. I did the best I could and wasn’t bothered by it too much. In ‘Monkey Business’, she only had a small part – that didn’t frighten her so much – but when she got into a big part…For instance, when she started her singing (for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’), she tried to run out of the recording studio two or three times. We had to grab her and hold her to keep her there…I got a great deal of help from Jane Russell. Without her I couldn’t have made the picture. Jane gave Marilyn that ‘You can do it’ pep-talk to get her out there. She was just frightened, that’s all – frightened she couldn’t do it.”
Hawks thought Marilyn worked best in light comedy, and was sceptical of Method acting:
“Monroe was never any good playing the reality. She always played in a sort of fairy tale. And when she did that she was great…She was trying, for example, at the Actor’s Studio, to formularize her approach: She didn’t want to squander her energies. I’m not convinced it helped her at all. But that was her aim – to make it even more real.”
Kathleen Murphy‘s essay, ‘Balls of Fire: Women in the Films of Howard Hawks’, posted today at Parallax View, includes a paragraph on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:
‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes posits Russell and Monroe as Hawksian comrades-in-arms, professional practitioners of extreme sexual style in a world of impotent nebbishes and nerds. Critic Molly Haskell likened this charismatic duo to a pair of ace gunfighters. Given the state of manhood in this surreal, primary-colored movie (the musclebound Olympic team won’t give Russell so much as a glance as she bumps and grinds her way through “Anyone Here for Love?”), the girls’ only worthy mates are each other.’
Murphy also mentions Marilyn’s earlier role in Monkey Business:
‘This is another comic quest for equilibrium: a scientist and his wife are trapped in roles that make for a sexless, sterile marriage. Treating perpetually distracted professor-hubby Grant as though he were a retarded child, Rogers comes off as a no-nonsense mama rather than a desirable mate. When an ape accidentally discovers a formula for restoring youth, the two backtrack into cathartic adolescence and childhood—with sex-object Marilyn Monroe and lecherous old coot Charles Coburn as funhouse mirrors reflecting out-of-whack libido. As usual in Hawksian comedy, there are moments of something very like true horror, as when Rogers cradles the infant she believes her husband has become, literally.’
Film critic Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian, thinks Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business (1952), featuring Marilyn as inept secretary Miss Laurel, is an ‘ace ape jape’:
“It is part romp, part druggie-surrealist masterpiece, and a complete joy. ‘Monkey Business’ is undervalued by some, on account of its alleged inferiority to the master’s 30s pictures, and the accident of sharing a title with a film by the Marx Brothers. I can only say that this film whizzes joyfully along with touches of pure genius: at once sublimely innocent and entirely worldly…Dr Fulton drinks [a youth drug]; his short sight is cured and he instantly gets a new youthful haircut, jacket, and snazzy roadster, in which he takes smitten secretary Lois (Marilyn Monroe) for a day’s adventures. (The memory of Grant with his Coke-bottle glasses exchanging dialogue with the entranced Marilyn was revived eight years later by Tony Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot.’)”
Marilyn’s two films with Howard Hawks – Monkey Business (1952) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) will be screened at the Filmhouse Cinema in Edinburgh this March, as part of a tribute season to this multi-talented director, beginning this Friday with The Big Sleep.
PS: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will also be screened at the BFI Southbank, London, from February 13-18.