Marilyn: Still Hollywood’s Favourite Blonde

'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' (1953)
‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1953)

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.”

Celebrity ‘Marilyn Moments’ in the News

kate middleton mm moment
Photo by Fraser Penney

Paparazzi shots of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, having a ‘Marilyn Monroe’ moment during a trip to India have made front pages across the globe today, as her dress blew up while laying a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate. A bit like that ‘subway scene’ in The Seven Year Itch, except that was staged with MM’s full consent.

Similar ‘Marilyn moments’ featuring numerous female celebrities are constantly reported in the media, but few inspire the protective feeling and deference reserved for royalty –  with many on social media condemning the coverage as sexist, as Suresh Matthew reports for The Quint.

While it’s fun to see Marilyn’s name in the news, there’s something rather tacky about potentially embarrassing moments being exploited in this way – and after all, Kate was simply paying her respects to the dead when the incident occurred.

ariana-grande-2016-mtv-movie-awards

Meanwhile, Ariana Grande has paid tribute to Marilyn at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards, with her performance of new single ‘Dangerous Woman’ while wearing a white fur stole and strapless pink satin gown, reminiscent of Marilyn’s attire in her iconic ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Ariana has made no secret of her admiration for Marilyn, wishing her a happy birthday on Twitter back in 2014, and offering a spirited defence of MM. However, her look may also be inspired by another of her idols, Madonna, who famously recreated the ‘Diamonds’ setpiece for her ‘Material Girl’ video back in 1985.

As Christopher Rosa reports for VH1, Ariana’s performance was also reminiscent of Madonna’s ‘Sooner or Later’ number at the Oscars in 1991, when La Ciccone once again paid homage to Monroe.

Deja Vu: From Marilyn to Madonna

11988643_1047838095256345_8292819839033605437_n

Madonna has once again drawn inspiration from MM on her Rebel Heart tour, reports People magazine. (The standard edition cover of her latest album features a Marilyn-esque pose.)

In the backdrop video for the show’s opening number, ‘Iconic‘, Madonna is seen wearing a strapless white gown, and a cool $10 million worth of diamonds, designed by jeweller Neil Lane. Stills from the video, shot by Steven Klein, can also be seen in the accompanying tourbook.

Madonna, 1991
Madonna, 1991

Older readers may remember the 1991 Oscar ceremony, where Madonna was similarly attired, paying homage to Marilyn’s glamorous appearance at the How to Marry a Millionaire premiere (not, as People states, her role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)

Marilyn in 1953
Marilyn in 1953

Now a youthful looking 57, Madonna resembles the steely Marlene Dietrich as much as MM. The ‘Iconic’ video is also edgier than her previous incarnation, depicting the battered but unbowed diva in a prison cell.

This is a reference to secretprojectrevolution, her 2013 short film about censorship and freedom of expression – another collaboration with Klein, her favourite photographer.

Neil Young: ‘From Marilyn to Madonna…’

neil youngMany musicians have paid tribute to Marilyn over the years, and legendary folk-rocker Neil Young is no exception. ThePhotoNews.com reports that in a recent appearance at Bethel Woods – site of Woodstock – Young performed an old favourite, ‘From Hank to Hendrix’, from his 1992 album, Harvest Moon. His lyrics reference both MM and another iconic blonde, Madonna. You can listen to it here.

“From Marilyn to Madonna I always loved your smile
Now we’re headed for the big divorce California-style
I found myself singin’ like a long-lost friend
The same thing that makes you live can kill you in the end…”

Rebel Hearts: Marilyn and Madonna

rhmmm

Pop star Madonna has posted a tribute to Marilyn on her Instagram account. As part of a meme promoting her forthcoming album, Rebel Heart, the image depicts Marilyn within its cover art, with the caption, ‘the most beautiful #rebelheart.’

81R1w5sxoGL._SL1500_

Herself one of the most enduringly successful entertainers in recent history, Madonna has long been inspired by Marilyn, most notably in her ‘Material Girl’ video and a Vanity Fair photo session in which she recreated some of MM’s iconic poses.

‘I’d love to be a memorable figure in the history of entertainment in some sexual comic-tragic way,’ Madonna confessed at the start of her career, back in 1984. ‘I’d like to leave the impression that Marilyn Monroe did, to be able to arouse so many different feelings in people.’

Phil Stern 1919-2014

‘Phil Stern: A Life’s Work’ (2003), photographed by Fraser Penney

Photographer Phil Stern has died aged 95, Variety reports.

He was born in Philadelphia in 1919, and learned his trade as an apprentice for the Police Gazette. He won a Purple Heart for his work as a unit photographer during World War II, and as a freelance photographer for Life and other publications, was a pioneer of photo-journalism. He also worked extensively on film sets, and shot many classic jazz album covers. In 1961, Stern was hired by Frank Sinatra to document President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.

la-et-cm-stern-monroe-photos-20120727-photos-005

He first photographed Marilyn in 1952, at a party celebrating the release of Ray Anthony’s ‘My Marilyn’. But his most substantial work with MM was at a children’s charity event at the Shrine Auditorium on December 4, 1953. Her range of expression in these photos – from joyous to melancholy – is extraordinary, anticipating Richard Avedon’s 1957 portraits.

30981-1.tif

With Jack Benny
With Jack Benny
With hairdresser Gladys Rasmussen and make-up artist Allan 'Whitey' Snyder
With hairdresser Gladys Rasmussen and make-up artist Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder

39496_458995426689_60323281689_6850635_928543_nIn 1956, Marilyn returned to Hollywood triumphant after a year-long sabbatical. Once again, Stern captured her pensive side at a press conference. And in 1958, he took a long shot of a visibly pregnant Marilyn on the set of Some Like it Hot. (Sadly, she would later miscarry – making his picture both rare and poignant.)

newyorker1999_monroe-500x667

94226_80.tif

In recent years, Stern opened a gallery in Los Angeles and published two books, Phil Stern’s Hollywood and A Life’s Work. ‘Stern has been sporadically selling prints of his photographs for years out of his modest Hollywood home,’ NBC reported. ‘But only the most persistent usually succeeded, and one of those was Madonna, who showed up at his doorstep to buy a photo of Marilyn Monroe.’

la-et-cm-stern-monroe-photos-20120727-photos-004
Director Steven Spielberg poses with Phil Stern’s most famous photo of Marilyn

tim mantoani

Active until the end, Stern was living at the Veterans Home of California. In 2012, an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death opened at the Phil Stern Gallery.

He was modest about his gifts: ‘Look, Matisse I ain’t,’ he told the LA Times in 2003. ‘You know, how they have on the invitations, a reception for the artist will be held at….  And I say, Look, you gotta change this. I’m not an artist! I’m a photographer. A skilled craftsman.’

‘I have these dreams,’ Stern joked. ‘Those anxiety dreams. I’m at heaven’s gate and there is St. Peter, and they’re waiting to let me in. And there’s Davis, Sinatra, Wayne, Brando. They’re looking at me. You son of a bitch!

Dixie Evans and Marilyn

Burlesque queen Dixie Evans has died in Las Vegas, reports the Long Beach Press Telegram. She was 86.

Dubbed “The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque” by Harold Minsky, Evans has performed throughout the USA, including a successful run at the Place Pigalle in Miami Beach from 1953-1968. She also appeared in the Academy Award winning movie The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952.

Evans helped care for burlesque pioneer Jennie Lee, and moved out to the desert to run the operations of the Exotic World museum. In 1991, as a way to draw publicity to the museum, Dixie created the Miss Exotic World pageant, now known as the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend.

Dixie’s ‘casting couch’ skit

An interview with No-Fi Magazine, where she cites Marilyn as an influence, was posted at Everlasting Star in 2006.

“C: What is your favorite movie of all time?

D: Uh, favorite movie of all time, um… oh boy. I guess I gotta go with… I used to like Casablanca, but that’s been kind of worn out. I did like Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe. I’ve seen it a couple of times and it really was very clever. And another thing I’ve seen a couple times…Bus Stop.”

K: I know that one, but I haven’t seen it.

D: It’s adorable. Marilyn Monroe is beautiful in it and I love her, but I tell ya, Don Murray, that young cowboy, 20 years old…never seen a girl because he was raised on the farm. The dialogue is fabulous! He says, ‘Look at all the gals! There must be a hundred head of them!’ (Dixie laughs) The lines are so adorable. You gotta catch up with every line in that whole movie.

C: If you were a superhero, who would you be?

D: Madonna (we all laugh). Yeah, she is. I like any girl or fella that has started from the very bottom and worked her way up the hard way. I can see the tension there. People didn’t want to accept her in Hollywood. The same thing with Marilyn Monroe. And yet, there’s a girl that’ll never be forgotten. She deserves it. Marilyn Monroe is bigger than Hollywood or the studios.

C: Who has been the greatest influence on your life?

D: I would imagine Marilyn Monroe and maybe Jean Harlow before that. I idolized Jean Harlow. There was just something special about her.”

1957 skit, based on ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’

On the Loving Marilyn website, Shar Daws describes Dixie’s MM routine, and how she caught the eye of Joe DiMaggio:

“Yet another of Joe’s ‘Marilyn’s’ was Dixie Evans who had a reputation as ‘The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque’. Her act was a casting couch skit. Dixie was the actress; she took her clothes off and got the part!

During the late 50’s Dixie was working Miami Beach, at the Place Pigalle. An aeroplane would fly over the beach hotels towing a banner that read ‘see the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, Place Pigalle’ It would always fly past the Fontainebleau where all the celebs of the day stayed, those that went to see Dixie included Sinatra, Bogart, Walter Cronkite and Chris Schenkel who suggested that she should come to the Kentucky Derby. He announced her coming in ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s Marilyn Monroe! Oh, my mistake, it’s Dixie Evans! She’ll be playing at the Post and Paddock this evening.’ They all loved her act which involved Joe and his bat!

One night at the Pigalle the owner came over to Dixie’s table and told her Joe DiMaggio was in attendance, and wanted to talk to her. Dixie said Joe was a gentleman and suddenly as she sat there – she realised she would be performing in front of him and was worried about what Joe would make of her skit and confessed to him that she was concerned, to which he replied ‘why do you think I came here?’ with this Dixie got up and did her thing, which was:

She entered in a tight satin gown, a long scarf, and a Yankee cap, with a number 5 on it – and crying, boo-hooing, which mood she explained in song:

‘Joe, you walked off and left me flat – but I’m sure glad you left your bat…’

There were a few lines about baseball and spaghetti, and how he’d stopped in the middle of making love to say “what’s the score?”…

‘But I know…
You’ll still return my calls
Why? It’s simple – I’ve still got you
By your New Yankee base – (badaboomcha strike up the band)…’

Afterwards, when she came out from her dressing room, Joe stood up and motioned her over. She sat with him all night. He didn’t say much, he never mentioned the act, or talked about Marilyn. But he kept sneaking glances at Dixie, checking her out and he stayed until she’d done her last set at 4.45am then invited her to breakfast.

However, their relationship never got off of the ground and didn’t go past kissing. They apparently arranged a further date but unfortunately, Dixie was due in court for some misdemeanor that she had forgotten about and was unable to let Joe know and she never saw him again.”

Marilyn took a dim view of her imitators, and in 1958 she threatened Dixie with legal action, reports the Telegraph. However, the matter was settled out of court when Dixie agreed to restructure her act.

According to Steve Sullivan‘s Bombshells: Glamour Girls of a Lifetime, Marilyn and Dixie made amends:

“There is a touching anecdote from Dixie Evans, who so resembled Marilyn Monroe. This speaks volumes about both women. After one of Marilyn’s miscarriages, Dixie, extremely upset, sent Marilyn an emotional telegram. Two weeks later Dixie received a response: ‘My dear Dixie Evans, of my many friends and acquaintances throughout the world, your telegram was of the greatest comfort to me at this time. Marilyn Monroe Miller.’ (When Monroe died, Dixie became hysterical, ‘I was crying not only because my career was over, but because Marilyn was no longer in the world.’)”

 

A Twist of Pink

Rock star Pink has softened her look with a glamorous blonde hairdo that has been compared to Marilyn’s, and celebrity hair-stylist Marcia Hamilton has told readers of OK! magazine how to imitate the effect. (Pink is clearly a Monroe fan, having paid $10,000 for a painting of her last year.)

While this photo is somewhat reminiscent of Milton Greene’s 1954 ‘Ballerina’ sitting with Marilyn, I’d say that the true inspiration was the cover of Madonna’s Like a Virgin album, shot by Stephen Meisel in 1984.

Christina’s Marilyn Moment

Christina Aguilera has revealed the artwork for her new single, ‘Your Body’, and – not for the first time in her career – it may be inspired by Marilyn, specifically her iconic photo session with Bert Stern in 1962.

Incidentally, the pose was also imitated by Madonna back in 1990, in her ‘Homage to Norma Jean’ shoot with photographer Steven Meisel for Vanity Fair. At the time, Stern described the effect as ‘body-snatching Monroe’, but he has since replicated the shots with Lindsay Lohan.