As Shelby Rowe Moyer notes in her ‘History of the Polka Dot’ for South Sound magazine, Marilyn wore a number of polka-dot dresses (and a bikini) to great effect. Originally known as Dotted Swiss, the print took off during the Industrial Revolution and later renamed after the Polka, a Czech peasant dance popularised in the 1830s.
In 1926, the year Marilyn was born, Norma Smallwood seized victory in the Miss America contest wearing a polka-dot bathing suit, and launched a fashion craze. In 1952, Marilyn wore an ivory rayon Ceil Chapman dress with oversized red polka dots while visiting Atlantic City, where she greeted contestants in that year’s Miss America pageant. A year prior, she had caused sensation on the Love Nest set by sporting a bikini with hot pink polka-dots designed by Renié, and considered daring for the era.
The white cotton halter-neck sheath dress that Marilyn wore to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1953, designed by Dorothy Jeakins, wasn’t quite ‘polka-dot’ but spotted with eyelets. Marilyn makes her first entrance in The Seven Year Itch (1955) wearing a polka-dot dress, one of Travilla’s spectacular designs for the film. And finally, she wore a blue polka-dot sundress for a photo shoot with Sam Shaw in 1957.
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.)
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.)
“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, 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.’”
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.
“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.”
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.)
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.
This iconic image of Marilyn, seen through glass, is part of a new exhibition by artist David Datuna at his new Datuna Art Space, a converted taxi cab garage newly opened in Long Island City, New York, as Vinesh Vora reports for The Knockturnal. Here are some of his other portraits of Marilyn (with nods to Frank Powolny, Sam Shaw, Nickolas Muray and Andy Warhol…)