Penny Cobbs, who worked for Richard Avedon during the 1980s, has described their collaboration on a series of posters based on his ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ sessions with Marilyn. “We did four Marilyns – her impersonating the old-time sex symbols Jean Harlow, Theda Bara, Clara Bow, and Lillian Russell – he’d done those pictures for Life in 1958,” Cobbs recalled in an interview for Avedon: Something Personal. “But since nobody could recognise Marilyn, they didn’t go over well.” Ironically, these posters are now highly collectible and because of their rarity, they sell well at auctions.
Marilyn graces the cover of The Golden Age of Hollywood, a new one-off special from the Saturday Evening Post. It costs $12.99 and can be ordered directly here. (Unfortunately I don’t yet know if it ships outside the US, but I’ll update you if I find out.)
Marilyn has a long history with the Post, as one of her most revealing interviews with Pete Martin, ‘The New Marilyn Monroe’, was serialised over three weeks in 1956, and later published in book form with the playful title, Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe?
On Marilyn’s birthday this year, the Post paid tribute with a blog about the sex symbols who preceded her – including Lillian Russell, Theda Bara and Clara Bow, all of whom she impersonated in her extraordinary ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ shoot with Richard Avedon. But she turned down the chance to play showgirl Evelyn Nesbit in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (the role went to Joan Collins.) And of Mae West, she told W.J. Weatherby, ‘I learned a few tricks from her – that impression of laughing at, or mocking, her own sexuality.’ Jean Harlow, perhaps Marilyn’s greatest influence, is a surprising omission.
Charles Coburn – Marilyn’s venerable co-star in Monkey Business and Gentleman Prefer Blondes – is profiled today at Immortal Ephemera. The article mentions an interview Coburn gave to columnist Bob Thomas – published in December 1952, while Blondes was in production.
“In the early fifties Coburn supported Cary Grant from the same office as Marilyn Monroe in Monkey Business (1952). A year later Coburn found himself supporting Marilyn in the classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), also starring Jane Russell. ‘I can’t think of any more pleasant work than watching Miss Monroe and Miss Russell,’ Coburn told Bob Thomas late in 1952. ‘Each possesses sex appeal to a remarkable degree. That is a kind of animal magnetism which is rare in human beings.’ Then, showing his age, Coburn added, ‘Some of the great figures of the theatre had it—women like Anna Held and Lillian Russell.’ Coburn also appreciated their sense of humor and how down to earth each of the younger actresses were. ‘Neither of them has let fame go to her head; they are regular and don’t put on airs.'”
In 1957, Marilyn would impersonate Lillian Russell – one of the most famous actresses of the late 19th and early 20th century, when Coburn’s long career was just beginning – for her ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ photo shoot with Richard Avedon, published in Life magazine.