Renato Guttuso: The Radical Marilyn

Renato Guttuso, ‘Neighbourhood Rally’ (1975)

In a review of a new London exhibition celebrating the art of Italian communist painter Renato Guttuso, The Guardian‘s Jonathan Jones spotted a familiar face – Marilyn, a la Andy Warhol…

“Guttuso became a communist during the second world war, and fought in the resistance. His loyalty to the Italian Communist Party (PCI) never wavered: he was elected as a PCI member of the Italian senate twice in the 1970s. He became the party’s most approved and touted artist, because his art is so robustly realist.

Its political messages are not exactly subtle. Murdered partisans lie next to the red flag. A worker hews stone. A crowd of people gather in a small square to applaud the eloquent words of a communist orator, raising their fists, climbing on car roofs. This is 1975; it is a very benign view of Italian politics in the violent 1970s.

Yet the tumultuous crowd in Guttuso’s painting Neighbourhood Rally is full of unexpected faces. Marilyn Monroe is there. So are various faces from the art of Pablo Picasso, who himself appears on a balcony, fitting in with the crowd. The comic array of caricatures and quotations in this energetic painting has a dash of pop, like pepperoni added to realism’s doughy pizza.”

Anita Ekberg 1931-2015

Actress Anita Ekberg, best known for her role in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, has died aged 83.

Born in Sweden in 1931, Anita became a fashion model in her teens. After winning the Miss Sweden contest in 1950, she went to America. As a finalist in the 1951 Miss Universe contest, she won a film contract, and posed for photographers Bruno Bernard, Allan Grant, Andre de Dienes and Milton Greene.

After appearing alongside Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956), Ekberg was dubbed ‘Paramount’s Marilyn Monroe’. She played Helena in War and Peace (1956), but was more interested in socialising than furthering her acting career. Her affairs with Frank Sinatra, Rod Taylor and other celebrities were regularly reported in gossip columns, while her statuesque, blonde beauty made her a popular pin-up.


On October 29, 1956, Anita was among the stars introduced to Queen Elizabeth II at a London screening of The Battle of the River Plate, which Marilyn also attended.




Then in 1960, Italian auteur Federico Fellini cast her as ‘Sylvia’, a movie star who becomes the ‘dream woman’ of tabloid journalist Marcello (played by Marcello Mastroianni.) La Dolce Vita is considered one of the greatest films ever made, and the scene in which Anita bathes in the Trevi Fountain is among the most iconic of all time.

That year, she was featured on Epoca‘s cover alongside Marilyn, and Silvana Mangani. On April 12, 1961, columnist Earl Wilson reported Marilyn’s reaction to Ekberg’s celebrated performance:

“Marilyn Monroe saw a screening of La Dolce Vita and exclaimed – at one Anita Ekberg joke about sleeping between nothing but perfume drops – ‘They’ve stolen my line.’ And she was right. MM’s original, a classic, went this way:

‘What do you wear to bed?’

‘Just some Chanel No. 5.’

‘Don’t you have anything on?’

‘Yes, the radio.’

Fellini cast Ekberg in three further films: Bocaccio ’70 (1962); I Clowns (1972); and Intervista (1987.) While she remained fond of Fellini, Anita dismissed the notion that he made her famous. ‘It was the other way around,’ she said.

She lost the role of Honey Ryder in Dr No to the unknown Ursula Andress, but would appear by proxy in another Bond film, From Russia With Love. In Ian Fleming’s novel, the villain’s hideout is reached by a trapdoor though a billboard of Marilyn Monroe’s giant face, advertising the Turkish-dubbed version of Niagara. By 1963 Marilyn was dead, and the billboard was replaced with an image of Anita in her latest film, Call Me Bwana.

In 1998, she was interviewed by the BBC. Asked if MM was the ‘sexiest woman of the century,’ Ekberg replied, ‘I don’t believe so, but if you die young, you become immortal … I think she was a good actress. You can’t play stupid unless you are very intelligent.’

She lived in Rome and was married twice, with no children, and died on January 11, 2015, of complications from a longtime illness.

Marilyn’s Style Lives On at the Golden Globes

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.

‘Max Factor Can’t Claim Credit for Marilyn’

Marilyn in make-up at Columbia Pictures, 1948 (Photo by Ed Cronenwerth)

Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, has written an excellent article for The Guardian about Max Factor’s upcoming ad campaign featuring Marilyn, and their rather spurious claim to have ‘created’ and ‘transformed’ her.

“If Max Factor wants to emphasise history it should start by paying a little more attention to it. Monroe had her first – tiny – film role in 1947; she did not have her first starring role until 1952. Throughout the 1940s, she was still ‘mousey’ Norma Jeane. For my book on Monroe, I read every major biography then published, as well as many ancillary accounts – about 300 books in all. Not one reported that Max Factor suggested the aspiring starlet should bleach her hair. I don’t think any of them mentioned Max Factor at all. Instead, nearly all credit a woman named Emmeline Snively, the head of Monroe’s first modelling agency, with whom she signed in 1945.

Marilyn Monroe was not created by Max Factor – or by her studio head, Darryl F Zanuck (who hated her); or by her agent, Johnny Hyde, who paid for her to have minor plastic surgery (to the tip of her nose and her jawline) and got her first big roles; or by any of her directors, or husbands, or any other of a legion of men, and a handful of women, who have tried to claim the credit, now including Max Factor’s heirs. She was not created by makeup, in any sense: cosmetics were not sufficient to create Marilyn Monroe, and neither were other people. Emmeline Snively herself said that what distinguished the girl she knew was how hard she worked: ‘She wanted to learn, wanted to be somebody, more than anybody I ever saw before in my life.’

Everyone from Elton John to Joyce Carol Oates (who should know better) has trotted out this tenacious, tiresome story: ‘ordinary’ Norma Jeane was changed by someone else into the glamorous movie star Marilyn Monroe. But Norma Jeane Baker, as she was known in childhood (Mortenson was the name on her birth certificate, but she never knew her father), was always an extremely beautiful girl.

No doubt Marilyn attended the Max Factor beauty salon near Hollywood Boulevard in the 1940s, along with hundreds of other young starlets. I have no reason to disbelieve that she may have worked with Max Factor Jr himself in the 1950s, once she was famous. But no one except Marilyn Monroe created Marilyn Monroe, and in 2015 it’s past time for us to give credit to the woman who earned it.”

Lists of Note: Marilyn, 1955

Marilyn by Ed Feingersh, 1955

A list of Marilyn’s acting goals, jotted into an address book in 1955 and published in Fragments (2010), was posted on the Lists of Note blog in January 2012 (as reported here). After being reposted on this New Year’s Day, the list has been making headlines everywhere – and it is also featured in the recently-published book of Shaun Usher’s eponymous blog, Lists of Note, alongside other lists compiled by Walt Whitman, Albert Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, Billy Wilder, and Norman Mailer.

However, while the list certainly shows how focused and serious Marilyn was about acting, and ties in nicely with our own New Year’s resolutions, there’s no evidence that it was written to that purpose. As anyone familiar with her journals and correspondence will know, she didn’t write regularly and was more likely to express her thoughts and feelings when the mood took her.

“Must make effort to do
Must have the dicipline to do the following –

z – go to class – my own always – without fail

x – go as often as possible to observe Strassberg’s other private classes

g – never miss actor’s studio sessions

v – work whenever possible – on class assignments – and always keep working on the acting exercises

u – start attending Clurman lectures – also Lee Strassberg’s directors lectures at theater wing – enquire about both

l – keep looking around me – only much more so – observing – but not only myself but others and everything – take things (it) for what they (it’s) are worth

y – must make strong effort to work on current problems and phobias that out of my past has arisen – making much much much more more more more more effort in my analisis. And be there always on time – no excuses for being ever late.

w – if possible – take at least one class at university – in literature –

o – follow RCA thing through.

p – try to find someone to take dancing from – body work (creative)

t – take care of my instrument – personally & bodily (exercise)

try to enjoy myself when I can – I’ll be miserable enough as it is.”

Remembering Charles Coburn

Charles Coburn celebrates his 83rd birthday with Marilyn and Jane Russell, 1953

Charles Coburn – Marilyn’s venerable co-star in Monkey Business and Gentleman Prefer Blondes – is profiled today at Immortal Ephemera. The article mentions an interview Coburn gave to columnist Bob Thomas – published in December 1952, while Blondes was in production.

“In the early fifties Coburn supported Cary Grant from the same office as Marilyn Monroe in Monkey Business (1952). A year later Coburn found himself supporting Marilyn in the classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), also starring Jane Russell. ‘I can’t think of any more pleasant work than watching Miss Monroe and Miss Russell,’ Coburn told Bob Thomas late in 1952. ‘Each possesses sex appeal to a remarkable degree. That is a kind of animal magnetism which is rare in human beings.’ Then, showing his age, Coburn added, ‘Some of the great figures of the theatre had it—women like Anna Held and Lillian Russell.’ Coburn also appreciated their sense of humor and how down to earth each of the younger actresses were. ‘Neither of them has let fame go to her head; they are regular and don’t put on airs.'”

In 1957, Marilyn would impersonate Lillian Russell – one of the most famous actresses of the late 19th and early 20th century, when Coburn’s long career was just beginning – for her ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ photo shoot with Richard Avedon, published in Life magazine.

Marilyn as Lillian Russell, 1957

Marilyn Picked to Promote Max Factor

Marilyn will be the ‘new face’ of Max Factor cosmetics in 2015, reports Vogue Australia. ‘As an original client of Max Factor’s in the 40s,’ the article states, ‘the beauty company lays claim to transforming Monroe from a brunette Norma Jeane to the platinum beauty icon we all remember.’

Actually, Max Factor played no part in Marilyn’s blonde transformation. That honour goes to Sylvia Barnhart of Frank and Joseph Hair Stylists. And her glamorous look evolved over the years, with the help of make-up artist Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder.

However, three Max Factor lipsticks were sold as part of Marilyn’s personal beauty box, fetching $266,500 at Christie’s in 1999. And the bulk of her collection was acquired not from Max Factor, but Erno Laszlo and Elizabeth Arden. The box has since been displayed at Ripley’s in Hollywood.

‘Marilyn made the sultry red lip, creamy skin and dramatically lined eyes the most famous beauty look of the 1940s and it’s a look that continues to dominate the beauty and fashion industry,’ says Pat McGrath, Global Creative Design Director of Max Factor.

This is true enough, although Marilyn didn’t achieve her stardom until the early 1950s. It may be more accurate to say that Marilyn inspired companies like Max Factor, rather than being transformed by them. She may well have consulted them personally on occasion, but if so, this has not yet been clarified.

Although she never endorsed Max Factor in her lifetime, Marilyn was posthumously featured in another of their ad campaigns, during the 1990s. The Max Factor Building in Hollywood includes a ‘Blondes Room’, displaying makeup, vintage articles and some of Marilyn’s clothing.

Hayley Atwell Inspired By Marilyn

British actress Hayley Atwell – star of Agent Carter, a TV spin-off from Marvel Comics’ Captain America – has told the New York Post how Marilyn, and other iconic actresses from Hollywood’s glamorous past have influenced her role.

Agent Carter goes undercover – as a blonde

“‘She knows when she should use her sexuality, and she knows when she should be passive and she should remain dumb,’ Hayley Atwell, who plays Agent Carter, tells the Post. ‘It kind of reminds me of Marilyn Monroe, the facade that she would put on. It makes her far richer and really funny…We see her wind up the men, but we know it’s all an act.’

While a female spy carrying out secret missions to take down the bad guys may seem out of place for the decidedly pre-feminist 1940s, Atwell insists Peggy is a woman of her time, pointing to the strong-willed stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age — like Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth — as precursors for her character.

‘These women were not only beautiful, but they had wit and vitality and spunk and all this gorgeousness about them,’ she says. ‘There were women who were trailblazers, and I think Peggy is one of them.'”