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.”
Tiffany’s, Cartier, and Harry Winston are household names – but have you ever wondered about the other companies name-checked in ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’? As Nandini D’Souza reveals in the Wall Street Journal, Black Starr & Frost has an impeccable pedigree – and the brand is due for a relaunch.
“ONLY VIA A BLACK velvet jewelry tray could Mary Todd Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe find a common thread. Mrs. Lincoln once racked up a $64,000 bill for jewels from American jeweler Black, Starr & Frost. Many decades later, the actress name-checked the same company while singing ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her character, Lorelei [in Anita Loos’ 1926 novel] was said to be inspired by one of the house’s clients, Ziegfeld Follies star Peggy Hopkins Joyce.
Though you may not recognize the name Black, Starr & Frost, the jeweler has an undeniably rich and colorful past. It’s one that the current owner and chairman Alfredo J. Molina, who bought the brand in 2006, wants to tap as he works toward his ambitious goal of restoring it to its glory days. ‘We’re America’s first jeweler,’ Mr. Molina said—and repeated during the course of an interview. Of possessing a Black, Starr & Frost gem, he added, ‘It’s owning a piece of history.’
That’s not hyperbole. The company was founded in 1810 and has operated continuously since—albeit with several name changes along the way. Before the Great Depression, the Black, Starr & Frost store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 48th Street in Manhattan was the place to buy jewelry, table clocks and even class rings.
That does raise the question of why Black, Starr & Frost isn’t an American household name in the vein of Tiffany & Co. Ms. Elkins theorized that the company fell a bit short by not driving innovation: ‘I wouldn’t say they were imitators, but they were doing things that were popular at the time.’
Whether Mr. Molina will fully restore the brand’s luster is yet to be seen. But jewelry brands, perhaps more so than fashion houses, have a solid track record of a second chance.”
Lorelei Lee, heroine of Anita Loos’ 1925 novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was as adept at wooing intellectuals as Marilyn, who played her in the musical of the same name – despite being the most famous ‘dumb blonde’ in literature.
Writing for the Daily Beast, Nathaniel Rich reveals that authors William Faulkner, James Joyce and many others were all captivated by Lorelei’s gold-digging ways.
“It is an extremely funny book, and has remained funny for more than ninety years—almost definitely a world record. The humor sticks because the satire is not actually directed at Lorelei but at man’s lowest instincts, instincts that during the madly prosperous Twenties were allowed unprecedented indulgence. ‘I wanted Lorelei to be a symbol of the lowest possible mentality of our nation,’ wrote Loos in a forward to the novel’s 1963 edition. The men chasing Lorelei—statesmen, intellectuals, and titans of industry—are no less representative of this mentality. She does not even spare the writer who most forcefully exposed the era’s ludicrous excesses and inanities. Early in the novel Dorothy, the only girl in New York City less ‘refined’ than Lorelei, is pursued by H.L. Mencken, ‘who really only prints a green magazine which has not even got any pictures in it.’ In fact it was Mencken, a mentor to Loos, who inspired the novel in the first place. Loos, bewildered by the sight of so many of her intellectual male friends falling for ditzes, particularly blonde ones, was amazed to see that Mencken was bewitched by ‘the dumbest blonde of all.'”
While the 1953 movie’s plot bears no resemblance to the novel, the character of Lorelei remains the same. Carol Channing played the role on Broadway, but perhaps Marilyn – with her blonde allure and guileless wit – was the only actress who could do justice to Lorelei on the big screen.
Marilyn owned a first-edition copy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and a copy signed by MM, with a dedication to child actress Linda Bennett, was auctioned by Nate D. Sanders in 2014. (Surprisingly, it went unsold.)
Megan Hilty – alias Ivy Lynn in TV’s Smash – will play another MM-related character, Lorelei Lee, in a new production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, to be staged at the New York City Center from May 9-13.
Incidentally, Rachel York – cast here as Lorelei’s best buddy, Dorothy Shaw – played Marilyn last year in an off-Broadway musical, Me and Miss Monroe.
Megan Hilty, star of Smash, spoke to the New York Observer about the challenge of playing a wannabe Monroe:
‘We asked, in the season that has seen Michelle Williams get nominated for an Oscar for playing Marilyn then trotting that character out on magazine covers, if it was possible to distinguish oneself playing Monroe. “Well, she is certainly having a moment!,” said Ms. Hilty. “My whole career so far is taking things other people have established and trying to make them my own!” (Ms. Hilty took over a lead role in Wicked and played the Dolly Parton role in the musical adaptation of 9 to 5.) “I can always hide behind Ivy Lynn. I’m playing a character who’s playing Marilyn Monroe. That makes it a little less daunting. But I’m constantly doing research and—all of her biographies are wildly different and all cover different parts of her life. No one biography has her whole story! There’s always something else to learn and infuse into the character.”’
And according to Broadway.com, Hilty will take on another MM-inspired role when she plays Lorelei Lee in a new stage production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, due to open in new York this spring.
The Wall Street Journal reports this week that economic downturns lead to increases in divorce and infidelity. But as Paul Krugman points out in the New York Times, this is not a new phenomenon – as Lorelei Lee warned us nearly sixty years ago…
“He’s your guy
When stocks are high,
But beware when they start to descend.
It’s then that those louses
Go back to their spouses –
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
Paris Hilton‘s new perfume, ‘Tease’, features an ad campaign with the celebrity heiress posing in the style of her idol, Marilyn Monroe. ‘I am all about being alluring, but with a wink, and a fun, fresh take on all that is enticingly feminine about a woman today,’ says Hilton in a press release.
Paris rather fancifully compared herself to Marilyn four years ago. ‘There’s nobody in the world like me,’ she said. ‘I think every decade has an iconic blonde, like Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana and, right now, I’m that icon.’
Some MM fans were incensed by this comment; others, like myself, found it endearingly silly. Paris doesn’t remind me of Marilyn so much as one of the characters Monroe played, Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
It’s not hard to imagine Paris Hilton saying something like, ‘A kiss on the hand might feel very good, but a diamond tiara lasts forever.’ But while Marilyn spoofed the gold-digger stereotype for comic effect, offscreen she was thoughtful and reserved.