In Scotland’s Sunday Post this weekend, Craig Campbell looks back at the life of Marilyn’s most congenial co-star, Jane Russell, who would have turned 96 this week. The article was first published in the June 17 issue of Weekly News – and you can read my own tribute to Jane at Immortal Marilyn.
“This most-unusual woman, by Hollywood standards, also started a weekly Bible study group, something she would invite a most-unexpected guest to in years to come.
Jane was an established star by the time that she made GentlemenPreferBlondes in 1953 with the most-famous blonde of them all — but her opposite number certainly hadn’t yet attained iconic status.
Already an ‘old, established broad who’d been around’, Jane felt Marilyn Monroe might like to come to some faith discussions, but the idea didn’t quite click.
‘At that time, Marilyn didn’t even have her own dressing-room, which sounds insane now!’ Jane laughed. ‘She only got one for that movie.’
‘She was super-sensitive, had her feelings hurt a lot, and the guys around the studio weren’t exactly tactful.’
‘We had a group called The Hollywood Christian Group, and I asked Marilyn along.’
‘She did say the next day: It’s not for me!’
What both leading ladies did have in common, however, was movie success … Jane’s razor-sharp wit was the perfect foil for Marilyn’s portrayal of gold-digger Lorelei Lei, and the song ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ became a classic.
Russell would also star in the follow-up, Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes, which was lacking the Monroe effect and didn’t fare so well.”
Blogger Caroline Colvin takes a closer look at Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in her RomCom of the Week series, arguing that its portrayal of female sexuality is far more progressive than early critics realised.
“When the film first came out, critics berated Lorelei and Dorothy (and by extension, Monroe and Russell) for their sexual confidence. Their forwardness, by modern standards, however, is considered praiseworthy. It’s two sides of the same coin: either the women’s sexiness makes them solely objects for male consumption or their fearless sex appeal is a mark of empowerment, making them subjects, autonomous, active players in their own adult lives.
Are Dorothy and Lorelei villains of female sexuality, preying on and victimizing men? Or are they modern-day heroes for finessing the patriarchal, capitalist framework they’re living in?
Often, the process of unpacking gendered implications in film is like looking for a diamond in the rough. And as seen with with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, sometimes, it takes a little extra sifting.”
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.”
The former Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – renamed TCL Chinese Theatre by new owners in 2013 – was at the centre of an online controversy this weekend, after photos emerged of merchandising carts placed outside, where the handprints of Marilyn, Jane Russell and other movie greats are immortalised in cement. In an article for the Hollywood Reporter, Chris Gardner explains how a fan-led social media campaign led to the carts being swiftly removed – let’s hope the decision is permanent.
“The removal comes after a dust-up on social media kick-started by notable Hollywood documentarian Alison Martino and her Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page, which posted a photo on Sept. 30 taken by Brian Donnelly. The image showed a retail structure selling inexpensive hats and T-shirts while covering iconic cement blocks lining Hollywood Boulevard in front of the theater.
The post generated more than 750 comments and 530 shares and was enough to launch a Change.org petition requesting the removal of the vendor carts from the forecourt, as well as a news story on Curbed Los Angeles. The petition, signed by more than 2,600 supporters as of Monday afternoon, called for the removal of the carts out of respect for Hollywood history and the millions of tourists who flock to the block each year.
While it can be assumed that TCL opted to move the retail structures following the controversy, it’s not confirmed because a rep for TCL Chinese Theatres declined comment. It remains unclear where the vendor carts will go, though a source indicated they may be relocated to the nearby Hollywood & Highland mall.
Martino offered to talk, telling The Hollywood Reporter that she drove to the block on Monday once she heard that the carts were no longer in place. ‘It’s unbelievable — power to the people,’ she said, crediting Donnelly with the original image and Elena Parker for launching the petition. ‘I’ve been operating the Vintage Los Angeles page for five years and I’ve never seen a reaction like this. The outcry and outrage grew really fast. My VLA community really took it to heart. It was their passion and perseverance that drove this. Social media is an incredible force.'”
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.”
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.
Alan Young, who played Wilbur Post on Mister Ed – the classic 1960s TV sitcom about a talking horse – has died aged 96 at the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills, California, reports The Guardian.
Born in Northumberland to Scottish parents in 1919, Young emigrated to Canada as a child. During his high school years he hosted a CBC radio show. He married in 1940 and had two children, before moving to New York in 1944, where he began hosting The Alan Young Show on NBC Radio.
In December 1946, the now-divorced Young met a young Marilyn Monroe when she promoted his show in highland dress on a Rose Bowl float in Los Angeles. They later went on two dates, as he recalled in a 2012 interview with Scotland’s Daily Record.
He was also interviewed by Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. He remembered taking her to the Brown Derby club after the parade; but as neither of them liked alcohol, they decided to go elsewhere and sip cocoa instead. “She seemed like a frightened rabbit at first,” he said, “and I didn’t realise she had been raised without parents. I really liked her.”
On their first date, Young picked her up from the house where she was living with family friend Ana Lower. He remembered that Ana seemed ‘suspicious’ of his intentions. Norma Jeane (as she still called herself then) explained that Ana was a devout Christian Scientist – a faith she and Alan also shared.
Their second date ended in disaster, as Alan tried to kiss Norma Jeane as she was turning her head away, and ended up kissing her ear instead. “I was so embarrassed about it that I never phoned her again,” he admitted.
He made his screen debut in Margie (1946), at Marilyn’s home studio of Twentieth Century Fox, and later appeared alongside Clifton Webb in Mr Belvedere Goes to College (1949.) He married Virginia McCurdy in 1948, and they had two children. In 1950, The Alan Young Show moved to television.
By the early 1950s, Marilyn was also a major star. “I was working at the studio when a blonde girl rushed up and yelled ‘Alan!'” he told Michelle Morgan. “She kissed me and asked about my parents and asked me to give her a call. After she had gone the make-up man asked how long I’d known Marilyn Monroe and I answered, ‘About two minutes!’ That was the last time I ever saw her.”
In 1955, Young would star opposite Jane Russell in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, a sequel to Monroe’s 1953 smash hit, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. After Marilyn declined to reprise her role, Jeanne Crain took her place as Lorelei Lee. He later starred in the classic sci-fi movie, The Time Machine (1960.)
Young’s most famous role, in TV’s Mister Ed, began in 1961 and ran for five years. Afterwards, he continued making guest appearances in numerous television shows, movies and as a voice actor for cartoons and video games.
After nearly fifty years together, Young and McCurdy were divorced in 1995. He married Mary Chipman shortly afterwards, but they divorced two years later. He returned to the stage in a 2001 revival of Show Boat, and his final credit was in 2015, as the voice of Scrooge McDuck in a series of Mickey Mouse shorts.
Some recent academic titles, focusing on Marilyn among other stars of old Hollywood, caught my eye recently. Ed Clark’s photo of Marilyn and Jane Russell on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes graces the cover of Kirsten Pullen’s Like a Natural Woman: Spectacular Female Performance in Classical Hollywood(2014.) The same image was recently used in an ad campaign for Coke. In her introduction, Pullen discusses a characterisation of Marilyn’s that is generally overlooked: that of the ambitious showgirl, Vicky Parker, in There’s No Business Like Show Business.
Marilyn is one of several vintage stars featured in a new ad campaign marking the centenary of the iconic Coca Cola bottle. The original photo was taken by Edward Clark on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with co-star Jane Russell, as the two women took a break from filming the ‘Two Little Girls From Little Rock’ number which opens the 1953 movie.
Elvis Presley and Ray Charles also feature in the new campaign. Marilyn’s ad has already been spotted on a giant billboard just across the street from Coca Cola’s offices in downtown Toronto, Canada.
Marilyn was seen sipping Coca Cola on a few other occasions:
Some of these may have been promotional shots, and it’s uncertain whether Marilyn regularly drank Coke. However, this photo of an off-duty Marilyn sipping Coca Cola through a straw seems more like ‘the real thing!’
A boxed set of books, Coca Cola: Film/Music/Sports, was published by Assouline last year – with Edward Clark’s photo of Marilyn featured on Coca Cola: Film‘s cover.