That iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch – and the dress worn by Marilyn as she stood over the subway grate – is constantly being referenced in popular culture. One recent example is this magazine ad for the Marilyn-themed Sexy Hair brand.
On Immortal Marilyn this week, Marijane Gray unravels the mystery of what happened to that dress, designed by Marilyn’s regular costumer, Travilla.
“The white pleated halter dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch is always described in superlatives: most iconic, most recognized, most recreated, most expensive. It can also be called the most mysterious: how many copies of the dress were there? Is there another one in existence, hidden away all these years? Did Marilyn herself own a copy of the dress, and if so, where did it end up? And perhaps most intriguing: was a copy of the dress really stolen back in 1993?”
Also this week, Keena Al-Wahaidi reviews the movie that started it all for The Medium, the student magazine for the University of Toronto. (Incidentally, the campus is based at Mississauga, which is also home to a skyscraper complex whose curvaceous design has earned the nickname The Marilyn Monroe Towers.)
“The most notable aspect of The Girl is her obliviousness towards her own allure …. The most dubious fixture of this film is the lack of identity in Monroe’s character. The reason for her ambiguity is because she’s nameless … However, Monroe’s lack of identity contributes to the mystery of the film’s plot. Regardless of the immorality of the situation, we find ourselves rooting for Richard and The Girl. Despite the futility of their relationship, or perhaps owing to it, their fling is undeniably enthralling.”
Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain and other classic Hollywood musicals, has died after suffering a stroke, aged 84 – just one day after her famous daughter, Carrie Fisher, also passed away.
She was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas in 1932. As a child she moved with her family to Los Angeles, and was crowned Miss Burbank in 1948. She began her career at Warner Brothers, where she was renamed Debbie.
In Three Little Words (1950), a nostalgic musical about the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, she played Helen Kane, the singer famed for her 1928 hit, ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You‘ (later revived by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.)
After moving to MGM, Debbie’s big break came when she was cast in her first dancing role, as chorus girl Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), recently named as the all-time Greatest Movie Musical (and fifth-greatest movie overall) by the AFI. She went on to star in Frank Tashlin’s Susan Slept Here (1954), and with Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap (1955.)
In 1956, she played a bride-to-be in The Catered Affair. That year, her marriage to singer Eddie Fisher was feted by Hollywood’s fan magazines as the dawn of a new, all-American golden couple. They were swiftly paired in Bundle of Joy, with Debbie playing a shopgirl who takes in an abandoned baby.
Their daughter Carrie was born in 1956, followed by son Todd in 1958. He was named after Eddie’s mentor, theatrical impresario Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash soon after. The Fishers’ seemingly idyllic life was shattered in 1959, when Eddie left Debbie for Mike Todd’s widow, Elizabeth Taylor. The scandal rocked Hollywood, although the two women resumed their friendship after Taylor divorced Fisher a few years later. Debbie married the millionaire businessman, Harry Karl, in 1960.
Debbie was the best-selling female singer of 1957, thanks to her hugely popular theme from Tammy. She later released an album, and went on to appear in Henry Hathaway’s How the West Was Won (1962), and opposite Tony Curtis in Goodbye Charlie (1964), in a role first offered to Marilyn Monroe.
In later years, Debbie would claim that evangelist Billy Graham approached her in 1962, after experiencing a premonition that Marilyn’s life was in danger. As Debbie did not know Marilyn well, she instead contacted a mutual friend, hairdresser Sydney Guilaroff, who allegedly spoke with Marilyn by telephone just hours before her death.
“She was a gentle, childlike girl who was always looking for that white knight on the white horse,” Debbie said of Marilyn, adding, “And why not? What sex symbol is happy?” Debbie also claimed that they attended the same church, although no further details have been uncovered.
Throughout the 1960s, Debbie played a three-month residency in Las Vegas each year. Her performance in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) earned her an Oscar nomination. Her second marriage ended in 1973. Four years later, her daughter Carrie Fisher found fame In her own right as Princess Leia in Star Wars.
Carrie would later become an acclaimed author. Postcards From the Edge, a novel about her close, if occasionally fractious relationship with her celebrated mother, was filmed by Mike Nichols in 1990, with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in the leading roles. Todd Fisher has also worked extensively in film, as well as assisting his mother with her business ventures.
The Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio opened in Los Angeles in 1979, and is still thriving. Her third marriage, to real estate developer Richard Hamlett, ended in 1996. She starred in several Broadway musicals and appeared in numerous television shows, including The Love Boat, Hotel, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, and Will & Grace. A former Girl Scout leader, she has also worked tirelessly for AIDS and mental health charities.
Debbie played herself in The Bodyguard (1992), and was reunited with Elizabeth Taylor for a 2001 TV movie, These Old Broads. One of her final roles was as Liberace’s mother in Behind the Candelabra (2013.) Her memoir, the aptly-titled Unsinkable, was published in 2015; and a new documentary, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, premiered at Cannes in 2016, and has since been acquired by HBO.
Debbie Reynolds will also be remembered fondly for her efforts to preserve the legacy of Hollywood’s golden age, which began when she purchased costumes from classic films (including many made for Marilyn) at an MGM auction in 1970. Her dream of opening a movie museum was sadly never realised, and in 2011, she relinquished her collection.
Among the many Marilyn-related items sold in a two-part event at Profiles in History was the cream silk halter-dress designed by Travilla, and worn by Marilyn as she stood over a subway grate in an iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch. The dress sold for $4.6 million, a sum surpassed only by the sale of Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress at Julien’s last month for $4.8 million.
Although the buyer was not named, the Seven Year Itch dress is rumoured to have been purchased by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the Canadian company which is the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate.
The showgirl costume worn by Marilyn while riding a pink elephant at a charity circus in 1955 is the centrepiece of Profiles in History’s Hollywood Auction 83, with a starting price of $250,000. Other Marilyn-related items up for bidding on June 30 include an original costume sketch by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, rare candid photos from 1957, and batches of production stills, press photos and portraits.
UPDATE: Marilyn’s ‘showgirl’ costume didn’t reach its reserve price, and thus went unsold. However, this Grecian-style dress owned by Marilyn reached its maximum estimate of $15,000.
In an article for Woman’s Day magazine, tracing the history of Marilyn’s iconic white halter dress – designed by Travilla, and famously worn in The Seven Year Itch – Marlisse Cepeda reveals how Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep helped track it down. (However, as Scott Fortner noted in 2011, that dress may have been a prototype rather than the one worn by Marilyn.)
“In June 2011, Debbie [Reynolds] put much of her collection up for auction, including the white cocktail dress. It was purchased for $5.52 million, the most money ever paid for a movie costume. The winning bid was made over the phone, and the dress is now part of a private collection—the mysterious owner has remained unidentified.
The last time the dress was seen in public was in October 2012, for the “Hollywood Costume” exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The last-minute addition was made possible by another actress, Meryl Streep.
The exhibition’s curator happened to tell Meryl that she was hoping to add Eliza Doolittle’s Ascot dress from My Fair Lady to the show. Meryl claimed she knew the dress’s current owner, and helped the curator track her down. But it turned out the woman didn’t have the Ascot number, but she did, in fact, own Marilyn’s iconic costume. She agreed to loan the gown to the exhibit, and just like that, it made its way to London, into the spotlight once again. “
Actress Debbie Reynolds, whose extraordinary collection of Hollywood costumes was auctioned in 2011, has spoken to Australia’s Herald Sun ahead of the Bendigo Art Gallery‘s tribute to Marilyn, which will include several iconic dresses worn by Marilyn before passing into Debbie’s care.
“OH, that dress. That flouncy white, pleated halter-neck billowing around Marilyn Monroe’s knees as ‘delicious’ breezes gust up from a New York subway grate … Debbie Reynolds remembers it well.
Very well. Because once upon a time, she owned that dress.
It belongs to somebody else now … but visitors to the gallery’s much-anticipated Marilyn Monroe exhibition will be dazzled by so much more.
The gold lame gown Monroe wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The racy cocktail dress she sported in Some Like It Hot. A brocade evening cape from her personal wardrobe. A silk blouse she had on the last time she was photographed … And Bendigo can thank Reynolds — true Hollywood royalty — for having rescued several of the objects on display.
Reynolds is especially fond of ‘Billy Travilla’s gold dress for Gentlemen… so beautiful’ and the Edwardian-style evening gown that graces The Prince and the Showgirl(1956).
‘I loved how Marilyn dressed in that movie. Beautiful silks with little stars and pearls and decorative things … I would have bought it in a second if I could.’
“There was something that Marilyn had, a quality that just stood her above everybody else,’’ she says, “but what a little girl she was …'”
The article also suggests that Reynolds was a good friend of Marilyn. While they were acquainted – Debbie is listed in Marilyn’s last address book – there seems to be little evidence of a closer relationship. Reynolds claims that they attended ‘the same lovely little church’, but Marilyn was not a regular churchgoer.
Debbie also says that she tried to contact Marilyn two days before her death, but was unable to get in touch. ‘Nobody could,’ Reynolds adds. ‘It was an impossible task. She was surrounded by too many moats.’ In fact, Marilyn spoke to many friends and colleagues in her final days. But if Debbie had left a message, or approached Marilyn through a third party, it’s quite feasible that she didn’t hear back in time.
Whatever the truth may be, there is no doubt that Debbie Reynolds admires Marilyn greatly, and of her sadness at having to sell off her collection when her attempts to establish a museum in Hollywood went unfulfilled.
Marilyn’s blue gabardine suit, designed by Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, sold for $425,000 (£282,355) at Bonham’s and TCM’s Treasures From the Dream Factory auction this week – beaten only by Judy Garland’s pinafore from The Wizard of Oz, reports Voice Chronicle. You can read the full results here.
Bonham’s will auction Marilyn’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes suit – in which she sang ‘When Love Goes Wrong, Nothing Goes Right’, back in 1953 – at their TCM Presents … Treasures From the Dream Factorysale on November 23. Other MM-related items include her red saloon gown, also designed by Travilla, and worn while singing ‘One Silver Dollar’ in River of No Return (1954); Marilyn’s signed contract for The Asphalt Jungle (1950); Paddy Chayevsky’s annotated early screenplay for The Goddess (1958), a thinly veiled portrait of Marilyn, starring Kim Stanley; and Natalie Wood’s bound screenplay for Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1947), in which Marilyn made her screen debut.
With a cover featuring Marlene Dietrich, this comprehensive study devotes separate chapters to the many designers who worked with Marilyn, including Renie, Elois Jenssen, Orry-Kelly, Charles LeMaire, Jean Louis, William Travilla and Dorothy Jeakins.
For Hollywood costume fans, Creating the Illusion will make a great companion to Christopher Nickens’ excellent 2012 book, Marilyn in Fashion.
Memories of Marilyn lingered on the catwalk at last night’s Golden Globes. Marilyn herself won awards for Some Like it Hot, and as ‘World Film Favourite’. However, it was her appearance at a different ceremony – the Photoplay Awards in 1953 – that inspired the stars last night.
Jessica Chastain, reported to be cast as Marilyn in an as yet unmade big-screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde, wore a Versace gown reminiscent of MM’s iconic gold dress, but in a darker shade.
But singer Lana Del Rey – who has referenced Marilyn in several songs and videos – went the extra mile, wearing a vintage design by Travilla, who created the original gown in 1952.