Marilyn and Judy Holliday Double Bill

Among the upcoming screenings of the newly restored Some Like It Hot is an intriguing double bill. At 1:30 pm on December 16, the 1959 classic will be screened at London’s Regent Street Cinema, followed by It Should Happen To You (1954) at 3:50 pm. Not only does Jack Lemmon appear in both films, but It Should Happen To You also stars Judy Holliday, the blonde star who, alongside Marilyn, was one of the leading comediennes of the era.

The film was directed by George Cukor, who later worked with Marilyn in Let’s Make Love and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give. Judy stars as an out-of-work actress whose life is transformed when she rents a billboard to advertise herself. In his first major film role Lemmon plays a photographer, while Peter Lawford – another figure from Marilyn’s life –   is cast as a rather caddish businessman.

A native New Yorker, Judy Holliday became a star on Broadway with her role as Billie Dawn, a gangster’s moll who falls in love with a straight-laced journalist hired to educate her, in Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday. Kanin later said that a young Marilyn had auditioned for the big-screen adaptation, but the role was ultimately reprised by Judy.

The two actresses – who both battled ‘dumb blonde’ typecasting, finally met in 1956, as Martha Weinman Lear revealed in a 1988 article for Fame magazine. (Sadly, Judy Holliday’s career would also be cut short when she died, aged 44, of breast cancer in 1965.)

“Thirty blocks downtown, a billboard dominated Times Square. This was in 1956, a cave age, but you remember that billboard. Even if you weren’t born yet you remember that billboard: Marilyn Monroe, starring in The Seven Year Itch, loomed twenty feet tall … in what was, and remains, one of the most powerful images ever to come out of movie advertising.

A few blocks east, more peekaboo: Judy Holliday, the Funny Girl of her day, was transforming herself nightly into just that paper doll, and packing them into the Blue Angel supper club with her impersonation — never mind the makeup, it was an act of brains and will, and it was brilliant — of Marilyn Monroe.

It was my first job, at Collier’s magazine, doing my own impersonation — eager researcher playing cool reporter — and yearning for some epiphanic professional moment. It came…

Leonard Lyons, gossip columnist for the old New York Post, was strolling down Fifth Avenue with Holliday one day, or so he reported, and they ran into Monroe. Reality and illusion head-to-head; how avidly the two must have eyed each other! Introductions were made. Someone said, ‘we ought to get together,’ and the women arranged to have tea at Judy’s apartment in the Dakota, Collier’s to record the event for some ravenous posterity. I was sent to take notes.

The photographer Howell Conant, was all set up in the living room. The appointed hour came, and no Marilyn. A half hour later, no Marilyn. Judy grew tenser. Finally, after an hour, a person arrived, and it appeared that this person was Marilyn Monroe.

Time has done nothing to dim the details: She wore a black cotton shirt, sleeveless, a brown cotton skirt and flats. There was a big grease stain on the front of the skirt. The belly protruded. The legs were covered with bumps and scabs, which she kept scratching. The platinum hair showed dark at the roots and, when she raised her arm, I saw a luxuriant dark undergrowth. This was before political statements; we were all shaving our armpits. She looked…tatty, a bit. Only the voice was unmistakable, pure sigh (was it afraid to be heard or demanding that we lean in to listen? I have never been sure). Only the skin, which was truly luminescent, would have stopped you in the street.

‘We were getting worried about you!’ Judy cried. Her voice shook, I think with wrath.

‘I’ve got mosquito bites,’ the goddess whispered, and bent to scratch yet again. And though the sequitur escaped me, I instantly and utterly forgave her for being late.

She wanted to makeup her face. Then the two of them thought that it might be fun for Judy to put on her Marilyn face first, while Marilyn watched in the mirror. They began, and it was impossible. Marilyn guided graciously, with soft breathy urgings: ‘Mm, make the eyebrow a little pointier … Yes, that’s right …’ But Judy couldn’t do it. She did it every night, but here, now, in the presence of the real thing…who did not herself look much like the real thing, which gave rise to problems of philosophic scope, because who or where was the real thing? Was it here, in this sweetly scruffy presence, or was this a mere mortal metaphor for the real thing, which was up there on the billboard?

‘Well, uh…’ Marilyn began, and giggled, craning her own head back gingerly, as though trying to ease a stiff neck. And that was when I finally saw, quick study that I was, that both women had the same problem: They were both straining to impersonate Marilyn Monroe.

So they tried it the other way. Marilyn would make up first. ‘Oh, I look awful,’ she said, but in the mirror she took on authority. She set to work with that total Teutonic dispassion of models, a touch of shadow here, a dab of highlight there, an extravagance of mascara, an artful swirling of hair around the roots. I waited, wild with curiosity — Judy too — for the transmutational touch, peekaboo! But Monroe was doing no magic tricks; she was simply spiffing up what she had, as we all do.

And then came this remarkable moment. The child, Jonathan, appeared in the doorway. Judy bent to him and took his hand. ‘Jonathan,’ she said, ‘do you remember that lady we saw in the movie, Marilyn Monroe?’ The cherub nodded. ‘You want to meet her?’ Again he nodded, wide-eyed. ‘Jonathan,’ she said, and her hand swept across the room — flourish of trumpets, roll of drums — ‘this is Marilyn Monroe.’

Marilyn was standing. She had just hitched up her skirt to pull down the blouse from underneath. She looked at the little boy, and he at her, and in that instant it happened. She metamorphosed … And the head tilted easily back, the eyelids closed down, she licked her lips, became that myth and smiled full into the child’s face and sighed, ‘Hi-iiii.’

Conant shot hundreds of exposures that afternoon; not a single one of Marilyn was bad, and most were splendid. Ultimately, what one saw in the room did not matter. Her face, as they say of certain faces — as they first said of Valentino’s face — made love to the camera.

The pictures were never published because Collier’s, soon after, went out of business. The one shown here was taken as a souvenir for me, and I have never looked at it without remembering that moment of her transmutation, and wondering: What on earth she thought she was doing? And it must be that she simply had not thought at all, but had simply heard the bell and gone on automatic. If it was male it was her audience, her element, and she would play to it. This is a gift. It is not necessarily a gift that makes good actors, but it almost invariably makes great performers.”

Sugar Turns Up the Heat

With the new 4K restoration of Some Like It Hot heading to UK cinemas next month, Marilyn’s role as Sugar Kane has been ranked sixth in a poll of the Sexiest Female Characters, conducted by movie website Chili, reports The Sun.

Marilyn’s ‘Love ‘n’ Desire’ for Heritage Auctions

This original photo of Marilyn facing the paparazzi with Milton Greene at Madison Square Garden in March 1955 (on the night she rode a pink elephant for charity at the Ringling Brothers circus) is going up for sale on November 3rd, as part of Heritage Auctions‘ Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signatures event. The verso is marked ‘MM-56’, and dated September ’55; stamped twice, with the magazine title TV and Movie Screen, and a credit for the Neal Peters Collection, plus a caption: ‘Love ‘n’ Desire?’

Also on offer is a set of documents related to Some Like It Hot, including legal permission for real machine guns to be used in the movie; and the December 2005 issue of Playboy, featuring Marilyn on the cover, and signed by founder Hugh Hefner.

Laurie Mitchell 1928-2018

Actress Laurie Mitchell, who played ‘Mary Lou’, the trumpeter from Sweet Sue’s band in Some Like It Hot, has died aged 90.

Born Mickey Koren in Manhattan in 1928,  she was a child model and was crowned ‘Miss Bronx’ while still in high school. Her family moved to Los Angeles where she took acting classes at the Ben Bard Drama Academy. In 1949 she married magician Larry White, and began performing onstage as Barbara White.

She made her big-screen debut with an uncredited role in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954.) More bit parts followed in movies and television, until she hit her stride under her new name of Laurie Mitchell, as Queen Yllana (the masked nemesis of leading lady Zsa Zsa Gabor) in the cult sci-fi flick, Queen of Outer Space (1958.)

Laurie Mitchell at left (in headscarf)

Her role in Some Like It Hot was also uncredited, but she considered it a highlight of her career. Her husband also played the trumpet, which may explain her casting. As Mary Lou, she brings a box of crackers to the impromptu party at Jack Lemmon’s bunk on the overnight train.

She later recalled that all the girls in the band were required to ‘go blonde’ by director Billy Wilder. Marilyn was unhappy with this, and insisted they should sport a darker shade than her signature platinum do.

Laurie later played a showgirl in That Touch of Mink (1962), starring Cary Grant and Doris Day, and a ‘saloon girl’ in Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1963), with Audie Murphy. She also made guest appearances in many TV shows, including 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Addams Family, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Ironside, and Hogan’s Heroes. Her final screen appearance was in 1971.

Her marriage to Larry White, with whom she had two children, ended in 1976.  She later remarried, and became a much-loved fixture on the celebrity expo circuit.

How Marilyn Captured a Critic’s Heart

In an article for Cardinal & Cream – the student magazine for Union University in Jackson, Tennessee – Randall Kendrick reveals how watching Some Like It Hot for the first time changed his opinion of Marilyn.

“Growing up, I never understood the appeal of Marilyn Monroe. Monroe just seemed like a dated icon, a symbol of Hollywood sex appeal in the much idolized decade of the ’50s. Never having any experience with any of her film roles, I figured her personality was as shallow as those of the girls in early James Bond movies (i.e. a one-dimensional accessory that’s just there to look pretty).

For a long time, I’ve had the classic 1950s comedy, Some Like It Hot, on my watch list, and for much of that time, I wasn’t even aware that Monroe was in it. Even after I learned that Monroe starred in it, her appearance had no weight on my decision to watch the movie, and frankly, I didn’t think my opinion of her would be changed afterward.

As talented as the male leads are, though, they are absolutely out-shined by Monroe. The first time Monroe’s smile filled the screen, she completely stole the movie. Her charm and magnetic personality completely sold me on her appeal. Totally unlike my original perception of her, Monroe had her own personality that shined through the screen and made her more than a pretty accessory to the plot. She was a very talented actress that created some of the funniest and most memorable moments in the film.

Monroe was so likable and had me so enraptured, that before the movie was even over, I considered going online to buy (or at least browse) Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. I didn’t end up following through with that thought, but that it even crossed my mind is a testament to why she had an incredible impact on people during the ’50s. She was the quintessential Hollywood actress with a brilliant smile, an irresistible personality and glamorous looks.

While Some Like It Hot is a good comedy on its own, it wouldn’t have achieved the status it has without the energy that Monroe brought to the table. After seeing her in action, I now honestly feel sorry I doubted the charm of Monroe and the people who propped her up as a Hollywood legend.”

Avedon’s Marilyn: Rare Nudes Emerge

An extremely rare (and very charming) series of semi-nude photos shot by Richard Avedon, featuring Marilyn with hairdresser Kenneth Battelle,  has surfaced on the website of the Edward Cella Gallery in Los Angeles.

This was probably shot during the same session that made the cover of Life magazine to promote Some Like It Hot in April 1959, although Marilyn had worked with Avedon the previous summer on the ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ sessions (published in Life in December 1958.) Avedon had been unhappy with some of the shots, so these nudes could have been among the rejects. However, Marilyn’s slightly bouffant hairstyle more closely resembles her look in March 1959, when Battelle accompanied Marilyn to the Some Like It Hot premiere in Chicago (see here.)

Interestingly, this was not the first time Marilyn stripped off for Avedon – she also posed topless for his ‘Photomatic’ series in 1957 (see here.) The playful nature of these images reflects Marilyn’s trust in Avedon – which was seemingly well-placed, considering how long it has taken for the shots to appear.

Thanks to Paul and Johann