Marilyn in New York, and an Historic Injustice

Canadian-American musician Meghan Remy aka U.S. Girls is about to release her sixth studio album. In an interview for The Ringer, Meghan takes Lindsay Zoladz on a sightseeing tour of New York, including the subway grate on Lexington and 52nd Street where Marilyn shot an iconic movie scene, while her marriage fell apart.

“The night that iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe was taken—you know the one: stilettos on a subway grate, billowing white dress—Monroe and her husband Joe DiMaggio got into a screaming match. The fight was partially about the photo itself: While shooting The Seven Year Itch, the studio had savvily leaked Monroe’s whereabouts to the press, and by the time Billy Wilder was ready to roll camera on what would become the most notorious scene in the movie, several thousand onlookers had shown up to watch. (They were almost all men, but I hardly need to tell you that.) DiMaggio was there, and he wasn’t too keen on what he took to be his wife’s public exhibitionism. When she showed up to set the next morning, Monroe’s hairdresser applied foundation to hide fresh bruises. She filed for divorce from DiMaggio before The Seven Year Itch wrapped.

‘We’re constantly presented with this smiling Marilyn,’ says Meg Remy, the singer and eccentric creative mastermind behind the band U.S. Girls. ‘But for some reason, when you have all the information, it just feels so heavy.’

I should mention that Remy is speaking into a headset, as she drives a rented, 15-seat van deftly through the streets of Manhattan. In anticipation of the release of U.S. Girls’ new album In a Poem Unlimited—the most ambitious and, as it happens, best album of Remy’s decade-long career—her label suggested a listening party for fans and members of the press. Remy asked around enough to learn what a listening party was, and, ever the DIY-minded eccentric, then decided it just wasn’t her style. What she came up with instead was this: a van tour of ‘sites of injustices in New York City,’ written and narrated by Remy herself, while we listen to the new album in the background.”

Girlfriends Forever: Marilyn and Jane’s Sister Act

Perhaps more than any other of Marilyn’s major films, the critical reputation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its subversive gender politics has grown in recent years, making it both a perfect satire of fifties femininity, and a strikingly modern sex comedy. Back in 1953, it was a box office smash though deemed mere Hollywood fluff, as Christina Newland notes in ‘Male Critics, Female Friendships on Film,’ over at the BFI blog.

“Even when beloved male auteurs turned their attention to female friendship, their films were often not spared. When it comes to women, objectification is more common than nuance. In Howard Hawks’ classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), the gold-digging comedy-musical sees its two showgirls turn men into ineffable fools. But a Time magazine reviewer misses the subtext in order to celebrate what he calls ‘the three-dimensional attractions of its two leading ladies’.”

Meanwhile, in the March issue of the BFI magazine, Sight & Sound (with Greta Gerwig on the cover), Hannah McGill’s article, ‘Sister Act’, takes another look at Blondes alongside other movies featured in next month’s ‘Girlfriends’ season at BFI Southbank (where it’s screening on March 1st, and 11th.)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) with its sugar daddies, its greedy women and its dressing-up games, positions its women as clever and dirty, not pure or mysterious; gives them strength specifically through the fact that they prioritise one another over sexual conquests; and plays on the idea that the absorption of stereotypes about women weakens men. The last thing the male characters expect is for Lorelei and Dorothy to team up and outsmart them, because women who look like them are expected to be both disloyal to each other, and unintelligent. ‘I can be smart when it’s important,’ Lorelei notes, ‘but men don’t like it.'”

Nevada Neighbours: Marilyn and ‘The Misfits’

Film historian Robin Holabird will be giving a talk about her 2017 book,  Elvis, Marilyn, and the Space Aliens: Nevada Screen Icons (which includes a full chapter on The Misfits) at 6pm on February 13, as part of a ‘Nevada Neighbours‘ series presented by the Capital City Arts Initiative at the Community Development Building, 108 E. Proctor St in Carson City.

“In her Nevada Neighbors talk, Holabird will explore the blending of icons and Nevada, along with her personal experiences of watching movies, talking with famous people, and showing off a diverse range of stunning and iconic locations like Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Area 51. She will discuss how Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and space aliens, like the Transformers, share a surprising connection along with James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Rocky Balboa — all beloved icons who have played active roles in movie and television projects set in Nevada.

In her new book, Elvis, Marilyn, and Space Aliens, Holabird shows how Nevada’s flash, flair, and fostering of the forbidden provided magic for singers, sexpots, and strange creatures from other worlds. She also gives readers an insider’s look into movie-making in Nevada by drawing on her extensive experience as a film commissioner. Holabird will share her personal take on film history and culture in her Nevada Neighbors talk.”

Sailing the High Seas With Marilyn

The cruise liner which once conveyed Lorelei Lee to Paris is referenced in a major new exhibition, Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, at the V&A until June. “We can’t talk about these great ships without a trip to the movies, showing how this age has inspired Hollywood,” Tabish Khan writes in his review for Londonist, citing the memorable scene where “Marilyn Monroe clambers out of a porthole in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes…”

Of course, Blondes was filmed on dry land – the Fox lot in Hollywood, in fact. In a 2017 post over at the History Scout blog, A.J. Jelonek explored the nautical aspects of Blondes and its lesser-known 1955 sequel, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (in which Jane Russell returned as Dorothy, minus Marilyn.)

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes mostly takes place on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic. In the 1920s book which the movie is based off of, their ship is the RMS Majestic. By the 1950’s, the Majestic was long gone. Although all the scenes were filmed on sound stages, a ship still had to be cast as the ‘only way to cross.’ Which one would they choose? Depends where you stop the movie.

The first ship you see is a model of the RMS Queen Mary, but look closely. The ship is outfitted with the Mary’s name, stacks, vents, and other details. But her body is unmistakably the RMS Titanic. It’s a nice money-saving idea to reuse a model, and creates a very … interesting ship.

When they dock in France, the following shot is briefly shown … The SS Conte di Savoia, back from the grave?! This ocean liner was bombed in 1943 and sank in shallow waters. In 1945, her burned hull was raised in the hopes of restoring her to some sailing use. When repairs were deemed too costly, she was scrapped in 1950 (source). How is she here then? Probably some stock footage from the late 30’s/early 40’s was used. Still, weird.

In the next shot, the movie fades to a black-topped smokestack whistling its steam horns. Didn’t we just see the funnels were red on top?? Later, when the the ladies sail back to the States, a shot of the RMS Titan Mary appears again. These shots are shown very briefly and [mostly] spaced far apart from each other, which helps to overlook their inconsistencies while watching the movie.”

Halsey’s Blonde Inspiration From Marilyn

US singer-songwriter Halsey’s new look has been compared to Marilyn’s  after bleaching her hair blonde and cutting it in a curly blonde pixie ‘crop’ in time for P. Diddy’s New Year’s Eve party in Miami, as noted by Jacqueline Laurean Yates at Yahoo Lifestyle. This week, she performed at a New York gala for the AIDS charity, AmFAR, in a ‘nude’ dress that drew comparisons to Marilyn’s ‘birthday dress’, worn for her performance at the John F. Kennedy gala in 1962, as Mary Anderson reports for The Revelist. (And while Halsey’s revealing attire makes that iconic garment look positively demure, it’s worth remembering that Marilyn’s glamorous style was also deemed as ‘scandalous’ back in the day.)

Sally Kirkland Inspired By Marilyn

Actress Sally Kirkland began her career just after Marilyn died, in 1963. She played small roles in some notable films, including The Sting, The Way We Were, A Star Is Born and Private Benjamin, before earning an Oscar nomination for Anna (1987.) She later played Marilyn in The Island, a 1998 comedy which imagines a young man finding Monroe and John F. Kennedy still alive and well on a desert island (which sounds rather like a bizarre sequel to Something’s Got to Give.)

Now 76, Sally has unforunately suffered a head injury after falling during a radio appearance, and is now in hospital undergoing surgery but is expected to make a full recovery. In a 2016 interview with Jeff Cramer for his Stone Cold Crazy blog, she revealed that Marilyn had been an important influence on her career. (The story that Shelley Winters told Sally about Marilyn’s ‘fuck-me shoes’ should probably taken with a large pinch of salt, as Shelley was prone to exaggerate. As far as I know, the phrase was popularised during the 1990s.)

“I stopped being shy sometime in the early ’60s,with what’s called ‘the private moments’ at the Actors Studio where I do my imitation of Marilyn Monroe on the calendar. I would find some way to take my clothes off in a private moment, and with Lee Strasberg’s support. Pretty soon, everybody in the Actors Studio was waiting for me to take my clothes off.

I was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and also at 18 I had met Shelley Winters who took me under her wing, adopted me. She had lived with Marilyn. So she gave me Marilyn’s shoes that were open toe, open back and they were called ‘Fuck Me Shoes’ according to Shelley. Marilyn’s Fuck Me Shoes. I wore them everywhere. I wore them absolutely everywhere and that gave me the power of being Marilyn Monroe. It also gave me the power to take off all my clothes.”

Hit and Miss: Marilyn’s Life Restaged in the UK

Two new Marilyn-inspired plays are currently being staged in the UK, earning very different reviews. Lizzie Freeborn’s Hot Lips and Cold War, now playing at the London Theatre Workshop, imagines Jackie Kennedy asking a naive White House intern to spy on her husband and Marilyn, and is roundly panned by The Upcoming‘s Mersa Auda.

“The far-fetched fictional narrative, mixed with an underwhelming representation of real-life characters, makes the piece not only disappointing, but also potentially detrimental in the way it recycles stereotypes. Marilyn is a two-dimensional bombshell and Kennedy a full-time womaniser, and some dialogues lack believability to the point of becoming unintentionally humorous (such as the moment Marilyn proclaims in front of a group of White House staff that she hopes to have a private encounter with Kennedy following the public ceremony they are both attending).”

Meanwhile, Darren Haywood’s The Late Marilyn Monroe, staged last week at the Blue Orange Theatre in Birmingham, takes the all-too-familiar format of showing Marilyn (played by Tania Staite), alone with her thoughts on the night of her death. Fortunately, this production got a warmer response from Selwyn Knight at Reviews Hub.

“Haywood clearly has affection for Monroe and has taken time to research her life and last hours thoroughly to provide a moving account; however, it feels a work in progress. Some of the scenes are repetitive and could use some pruning to tighten up the narrative. Nevertheless, The Late Marilyn Monroe does shine some light on how her life might well have ended.”

 

Happy Birthday, Mister Lemmon

Marilyn with Jack Lemmon (centre) and Tony Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot’

Jack Lemmon was born on this day in 1925. Today, Hannah Gatward has posted a selection of Lemmon’s best films on the BFI blog – and unsurprisingly, Some Like It Hot is right up there.

“The first of seven films with Billy Wilder, and Lemmon’s most iconic comedic performance. On the run after witnessing the St Valentine’s Day massacre, musicians Jerry (Lemmon) and his partner Joe (Tony Curtis) disguise themselves as women and escape in an all-girls band, befriending Marilyn Monroe’s magnificent Sugar Kane along the way. It’s timeless farcical fun, with every scene expertly executed. One of the film’s greatest joys is the way Lemmon immerses himself into his alter ego Daphne – his enthusiasm is infectious.”

Meanwhile, the ever-popular Some Like It Hot will be screened soon in two very different, yet fitting venues: firstly, at the Pickwick Theater in Chicago’s upscale Park Ridge district on February 13 (the movie’s storyline begins in Chicago); and secondly, at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, New Jersey on February 14 (Some Like It Hot also features the notorious St Valentine’s Day Massacre as a plot device.)