Conversations With Marilyn’s Leading Men

Marilyn with Joseph Cotten during filming of Niagara

Among the many luminaries featured in James Bawden and Ron Miller’s book, Conversations With Classic Film Stars, are Joseph Cotten, who played Marilyn’s murderous spouse in Niagara; and Rory Calhoun, her roguish husband in River Of No Return; and Cary Grant, the unwitting object of her desire in Monkey Business.

Thanks to Gia at Immortal Marilyn

“I never met a girl as introverted as Marilyn. The whole fame explosion had just set in and whenever we filmed on location at Niagara Falls, great crowds gathered to see her. She couldn’t cope, retreated into her shell.

Director Henry Hathaway was a tough taskmaster at the best of times. He got so exasperated with Marilyn and her Russian acting coach [Natasha Lytess], he finally banned the woman from the set. I tried to keep her distracted. At night there’d always a party in my hotel suite, but she’d look in, say hi, and then go off with her instructress. We’d wait hours for her to show up. Hathaway started shooting rehearsals as backup and found she was less mannered there and actually used some of the footage.

I asked her about the nude photograph and she said, dead serious, ‘But I had the radio on.’ I’m glad I knew her before the troubles enveloped and destroyed her. I want to remember that superb girlish laughter when I told her an off-colour joke. One day Hathaway shouts at her and she yelled back, ‘After paying for my own wardrobe, my coach, my assistant, and God knows who else I barely have enough left over to pay my shrink!’ And the crowd watching applauded her!”

Joseph Cotten

“She was a phenomenon that I doubt like hell this town will see the likes of ever again. There have been a lot of people trying to copy her one way or another – and to me, they’re third-stringers.”

Rory Calhoun

“Howard Hawks says it’s wonderful we knew and worked with Marilyn before she got difficult. Because she was so winning and adorable in Monkey Business. When I drink that youth serum and am acting like a teenager, Marilyn really got into it. I’m diving off the high board and she’s giggling and waving me on. Years later she asked me to co-star in something called The Billionaire. It was a comedy and she said her husband Arthur Miller was reworking it. Arthur Miller a comedy writer? I ran away and so did Greg Peck, and the completed film, Let’s Make Love, showed she’d become all blurry and distant. It was sad.”

Cary Grant

‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ at the Egyptian Theatre

In addition to the screenings at the Laemmle theatres on June 5, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will return to another Los Angeles venue next month. At 2 pm on June 23 at the historic Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard (now part of the American Cinematheque), Kimberly Truhler of the GlamAmor website will introduce Blondes, as part of a ‘Fashion & Film: The Fifties’ series.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of those movies where everything was in alignment. At its helm was the great director Howard Hawks, one of my favorites … But he was also equally adept at comedy and loved strong women … so he was the perfect person to take this Broadway musical onto the big screen. A signature of all his films is the strong relationship of the leads and their witty dialogue, and he couldn’t do much better than he did in –he had the language of the great Anita Loos and Charles Lederer for stars Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe.

Without question, another signature of any Hawks production is its style. His films feature some of the best costume design and designers of all time … Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is no different … in fact, what people seem to remember most about the movie is its style. Marilyn is luminous as lead Lorelei Lee in costumes by her longtime friend and legendary costume designer William ‘Billy’ Travilla.”

Thanks to Elisa at Marilyn Remembered

‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ in Amsterdam

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will be screened tonight at 7 pm at the Rialto Film Theatre in Amsterdam.

“‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,’ as the blond showgirl Lorelei Lee sings in this particularly successful comedy / musical, which is based on the equally popular Broadway musical. Lorelei is played by Marilyn Monroe, who sings this song in a silly, seductive way. Director Hawks, who had trouble with Monroe anyway, wanted to have it spoken by a professional singer, but she rejected this resolutely. The now iconic song, for example, inspired Madonna to become a ‘Material Girl’.”

Thanks to Savvy

Marilyn’s Finest Comedy Hour

94029A18-CEAD-44C0-896D-634D124AA79C-20561-0000071535DDF794_tmp

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 ‘Foghorn’ Winslow 1946-2015

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.

George Winslow in Monkey Business (1952)

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.

Richard Anderson Remembers Marilyn

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.

Pure Cinema: Revisiting ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’

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’ in Chicago

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.”