Beyond the Blonde: Debbie Harry and Marilyn

In my previous post (see here), I revealed how Blondie singer Debbie Harry was influenced by Marilyn, as described in her new memoir, Face It. Now I’m looking at some other parallels in their careers. In 1975, Debbie posed on the New York subway for her bandmate and boyfriend Chris Stein, echoing Marilyn’s photo shoot with Ed Feingersh twenty years earlier (shown above.)

Debbie Harry with Sam Shaw

In 1977, Marilyn’s photographer friend Sam Shaw filmed Blondie playing live at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles for a short documentary about the band, released a year later (more info here.) “It was an odd sort of thing, about Blondie but also about my fantasy of being Marilyn Monroe’s daughter,” Debbie recalls. This was also mentioned in a New York Times profile in 1979. (At the time, Debbie said Marilyn was adopted. This was technically incorrect, but she did spend most of her childhood in the care of family and friends.)

Debbie in LA

“In the summer of 1978, she was asked by the photographer and film maker Sam Shaw to provide biographical information for a one‐hour documentary film on Blondie. Interviewed by the screenwriter/novelist Ted Allan, Debbie mentioned liking a play, Fame, loosely based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The conversation continued:

ALLAN: Do you have an affinity for Marilyn Monroe?

HARRY: Tremendous. I always thought she was my mother.

ALLAN: Did you ever seriously think that you’d go and meet her and say, ‘You might be my mother.’

HARRY: No! God! Well, you know, there’s that kind of admiration, I guess. They say that most adopted children now, in their adult life, look for their real parents … I sort of have my wild imaginings. Like she [Monroe] had wild imaginings about Clark Gable being her father … See, my mother did keep me for three months, and I have memories, a visual memory of when I was 3 months old when I was adopted.

Such fantasies percolated through Debbie’s adolescence. She says that she felt ‘different,’ worried about being crazy. As late as last year, Debbie reminded a reporter that ‘Marilyn was also an adopted child.'”

There is also a curious story about this photo, taken by Chris Stein at his and Debbie’s New York home in the 1970s. Debbie explains that Maria Duval, their downstairs neighbour and an aspiring actress, had bought this gown at auction and gave it to Debbie, believing it had been worn by Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch. I don’t recognise it as a costume from that movie, but nonetheless, perhaps it was connected to Marilyn in some way. While Debbie and Chris were on tour, there was a fire in their apartment, which leads us to this story…

“When we finally did get back, it was hugely upsetting. The place was strewn with debris from the fire. And because people were able to walk into our apartment and take things, they did … Fortunately, Chris had his guitar and camera with him. So he set up a photo session in the burned-out kitchen. The walls were caked in soot and the range was covered in ash. I put on Marilyn’s dress, which had been badly singed in the fire, and our latest close call (which wasn’t really close at all) became a work of art.”

UPDATE: Fraser Penney has suggested the dress could have been worn by Marilyn during her 1956 photo shoot with Cecil Beaton. The mystery deepens!

Diahann Carroll 1935-2019

Diahann Carroll by Milton Greene, 1962

Diahann Carroll, the pioneering African-American singer and actress, has died aged 84 after a long battle with cancer. She was born in the Bronx, and studied at the LaGuardia High School for Music and Arts before modelling for Ebony magazine at fifteen. She later attended New York University, majoring in sociology.

At eighteen, she got her big break as a contestant on TV’s Chance of a Lifetime, where her performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Why Was I Born’ began a four-week victory lap. She then worked as a nightclub singer, making her film debut opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones (1954.) She later appeared in Paris Blues (1961), a jazz film produced by photographer Sam Shaw. Originally offered to Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe, the lead roles were played by Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward.

In 1962, Diahann was part of the all-star line-up performing at Madison Square Garden in a birthday tribute to President John F. Kennedy. She met Marilyn backstage, and also sang for guests at the gala’s after-party. (In 2016, Diahann would host an opening party for Some Like It Hot, an exhibition featuring Milton Greene’s photos of Marilyn.)

“‘It was a very exciting night. Everybody in the world was there,’ Diahann remembered. ‘Marilyn was hysterical, but very good. It was good to watch her at work. I think we all enjoyed it.’ As for Kennedy, ‘he was extremely pleasant,’ she said. ‘He was a very entitled human being, but you had to forgive him for that.’

Diahann Carroll was previously interviewed by J. Randy Taraborrelli for his 2009 book, The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, telling him of her first encounter with MM in 1960, while singing at the Mocambo Club in Los Angeles.

Diahann was then pregnant with her daughter Suzanne, and knew of Marilyn’s struggle to have children. “I took her hand and put it on my stomach and said, ‘You pat right there, sweetheart, and say a prayer and a wish, and I hope with all my heart that your dream comes true.’ She looked at me with tears in her eye, and said, ‘Oh, I do, too. I do, too.’”

They met again in Mac Krim’s apartment in 1962. ‘It’s certainly her beauty I remember most,’ she told Taraborrelli. ‘As I sang, I distinctly remember being somewhat distracted by her gaze. Her tragic beauty, so vulnerable … so lost.’”

ES Updates
Marilyn watches Diahann performing at the JFK gala after-party in 1962

In 1969, Diahann won a Golden Globe for her role as a widowed nurse in Julia, a television sitcom which ran for three seasons. Back on the big screen, she would earn an Oscar nomination for the romantic comedy Claudine (1974), playing a struggling single mother.

Her later TV roles included the glamorous Dominique Devereaux on TV’s Dynasty and its spin-off, The Colbys. She joined an all-black cast in the acclaimed Eve’s Bayou (1997), and recreated Gloria Swanson’s role as fading star Norma Desmond in a Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s stage musical based on Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

Her four husbands included singer Vic Damone, and she was also romantically linked to Sidney Poitier and David Frost. She was a founding member of the Celebrity Action Council, a volunteer group serving vulnerable women in Los Angeles.

With Joshua Greene at the Some Like It Hot exhibit in West Hollywood, 2016

57 Years Ago…

“You know, she would stop whatever she was doing to wave to truck drivers and cabbies who yelled ‘Marilyn!’ to her. She had a lot of their standards … That’s the element, the quality, which every young girl in America could recognise.

I think the major reason for her myth becoming larger and larger every day, for the legend growing on such a gigantic scale, is not the tragedy of her life. It’s the joy of the girl; she presented the joyous moment of a vibrant woman.

More important, she represents the freedom which kids have today. Only, she was fifteen or twenty years ahead of the times, so she paid the price for her freedom.

Anyway, I want to show the nice moments in her life. I think in my own way I don’t gloss over what we look upon as vicious in life. What the hell! You’ve got to be tough to survive in the movie world. And in individual relationships with people. In the emotional life.”

Sam Shaw, The Joy of Marilyn in the Camera Eye

‘Divine Marilyn’ at Galerie Joseph

The Divine Marilyn exhibition (first reported here) has now opened at Galerie Joseph at 116 rue Turenne in Paris, through to September 22. You can read a report (in French) on the launch over here. (Photos by Joshua Greene, and Ma Zaz at Marilyn Remembered.)

We begin with Norma Jeane…
Through the starlet years…
And Hollywood stardom…
Marilyn in Korea
A fun feature…
The private Marilyn…
And finally, the icon.
Joshua Greene took some out with Marilyn…
He was joined by Suzie Kennedy, and members of the Shaw family.
And while you’re visiting Divine Marilyn at Galerie Joseph, don’t forget JACKIE!

Marilyn Magazine Mania in Europe

This photo by George Barris, taken in July 1962 – often said to be the last professional photo of Marilyn – graces the cover of Polish magazine Zwierciadlo this month.

In Hungary, Marilyn (as photographed by Alfred Eisenstadt in 1953) makes the cover of July’s Meglepetes Retro, while a Sam Shaw photo covered another Hungarian magazine in June.

As well as the recent New Literary Magazine, Marilyn graced another French magazine cover in June.

And finally, Marilyn (and her favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald) covered a Romanian magazine in May.

Marilyn Mural in Loch Sport, Australia

Former chef turned artist Simon White painted this mural (using a 1957 photo of Marilyn by Sam Shaw, plus The Beatles and explorer Steve Irwin as inspiration) on a water tank in his new hometown of Loch Sport, Victoria (on the East Gippsland coast, 260 km east of Melbourne, Australia), as Carolyn Webb reports for the Brisbane Times.

Birthday Tributes to Marilyn

At home in Finland, Everlasting Star’s Sirkku is celebrating Marilyn’s 93rd birthday with “some bubbly and of course Gentlemen Prefer Blondes …”

Flowers placed beside Marilyn’s crypt at Westwood Memorial Park, LA, by well-wishers and fan clubs including Marilyn Remembered (bouquet at left)

“Happy birthday to the myth, the icon, the girl. Who can forget her first appearance in The Seven Year Itch?”

– Alejandro Mogollo
Tributes from All About Marilyn and Marilyn Remembered
Greetings from the USA…
The UK…
… and Japan.
Photographers pay tribute…
And authors…
Blogger and film historian Lara G. Fowler shares her feelings…
While beauty blogger Megan is also holding a good thought for Marilyn today.

When Ivanka Trump Was Just Another Marilyn Fan

A poster of Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch (the image is usually attributed to Sam Shaw) can be glimpsed in this deceptively casual photo of Ivanka Trump’s dorm room at a Connecticut girl’s boarding school, as Ashley Alese Edwards reports for Refinery 29. The eldest daughter of real-estate tycoon and future president Donald Trump, Ivanka now contentiously serves as his personal advisor.

“A January 1998 piece, first reposted by the Instagram account @thankyouatoosa, run by Casey Lewis, profiles a 16-year-old Ivanka in her dorm room at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, which she shared with two other girls. ‘Some people might be surprised I’m a normal teenager,’ Ivanka, who is pictured striking a very ’90s cool-girl pose on a small wooden chair, told the magazine. The 15-by-11 feet room is normal: Her wall is adorned with string lights, photographs of friends and family, and a poster of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic skirt-flying-up photo. ‘There’s a lot of random themes from movies,’ she said.

Although the room seems no different than that of any American teenage girl at the time, one can glean some insights into future Ivanka. Ivanka’s image, much like a magazine spread, is perfectly curated. She grew up with unimaginable wealth, but her public persona (like her dorm) is that of a person who is almost implausibly down-to-earth. She wears immaculate designer clothes, but is never gaudy. She speaks with authority, but maintains a soft tone. She’s an adviser to one of the most powerful men in the world, but still wants to be seen as relatable and approachable by posting smiling selfies, videos of herself playing with her kids, and engaging in PDA with her husband Jared Kushner (who is also an adviser to the president). Much of what Ivanka portrays herself to be is paradoxical; how could a woman who has always been privileged — and by extension, powerful — really be just ‘one of us’?

Ivanka, who grew up shuttling between multiple luxury residences, told Seventeen her unassuming dorm, with its austere furniture and plain, white walls, ‘probably expresses me best.’

She added: ‘It’s an atmosphere I created.’