Tag Archives: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Mad About Marilyn’s Movies

A glamorous Marilyn Monroe in a red dress.

Marilyn Monroe in a publicity shot for How To Marry a Millionaire (courtesy of BFI)

This month, the BFI is treating London film-goers to a terrific retrospective of the ultimate movie star: Marilyn Monroe. It’s more than 50 years since her premature death  – and it’s certainly time to honour her in the way she would have wanted: as an actress and performer. After a half century of speculation about the myths that swirl around her suicide, we need to move on – and look past the legend, to the legacy on film. The riddles of Monroe’s mixed-up mind and the hushed-up circumstances of her death will never be fully understood – and the obsession with her personal life, her sex appeal and her status as a cultural icon overshadow one important thing: her work.

Marilyn Monroe’s was a dazzlingly impressive if spectacularly short career. Not only was she a phenomenally talented comedienne who created the definitive “dumb blonde” persona, but she was also an exceptionally gifted and affecting actress – some of whose performances are so raw that they make for uncomfortable viewing – and a wonderful singer whose recordings of even established pop tunes became iconic, if not definitive, versions. Like other geniuses who died young, she left a small body of work packed with moments of greatness and at least one bona fide masterpiece, in the form of Some Like It Hot.

Indeed, it’s astounding to realise that a star whose name has been known in every corner of the globe for half a century only had leading roles in 11 films spread out over the last decade of her 36-year-old life. Such was the impact of her unique brand of irresistible sex appeal –  vulnerability combined with voluptuousness, sensuality plus serenity, child-like naivete fused with a very wholesome and womanly guile – that her presence transcends much of the material she worked with. She was born to be a movie actress: the camera loved her. Billy Wilder, the only director who worked with her twice during herSome Like it Hot 4 leading lady phase, described her appeal on camera as “the flesh impact .. Some girls have flesh that photographs like flesh. You feel you can reach out and touch it.” He made great use of this when he filmed her in Some Like It Hot.

It was, of course, her physical appeal which first landed her a screen test – but it was immediately apparent to no less a figure than 20th Century Fox’s production chief Darryl Zanuck that she was more than a particularly sexy starlet. “It’s a damn good test,” he said when he saw the rushes. But that didn’t stop his studio, or others – like Groucho Marx who cast her in Love Happy (1949) on the strength of the fact that she had “the prettiest ass” – from casting her purely in decorative roles. This soon instilled in her the resolve to become an actress and win respect.

She won some especially valuable respect early on – from John Huston who directed her when she played a crooked lawyer’s naive young mistress in his superb heist movie The Asphalt Jungle (1950). She may only have been in two short scenes, and her name may have been omitted from the titles when the film was previewed, but Monroe caught the audience’s eye then – and again that year when she stole a scene from right under Bette Davis’s over-powdered nose in All About Eve. Those films got the public talking but Monroe’s launch into the bigtime was still a couple of years away. And she used that time to get professional help with her acting.

The breakthrough came in 1953. Monroe had the opportunity to get her teeth into a juicy dramatic role (and her bottom into a particularly tight skirt – essential for the scene in which the famous Monroe walk was first captured on camera) when she played the treacherous, man-eating Rose in Niagara. And, that same year, she created the definitive dumb blonde in the lavish comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. She may not have been the first dumb blonde but, with her combination of big-eyed innocence, dopeyness and a hapless way of always landing on her feet, she was the most lovable and the most enduring.

In those two career-making films, she revealed herself to be a great comedienne, up there with Mae West in the comic timing stakes (and in her own, offscreen, gift for one-liners) and willing to send herself up a la Carole Lombard or any of the screwball comedy era stars. This aspect made her particularly appealing to both sexes.

Director Nunnally Johnson later said: “I believe that the first time anyone genuinely liked Marilyn for herself, in a picture, was in Millionaire. She herself diagnosed the reason for that very shrewdly. She said that this was the only picture she’d been in in which she had a measure of modesty about her own Prince and the Showgirl 4attractiveness. She didn’t think men would look at her twice, because she wore glasses … . In her other pictures they’ve cast her as a somewhat arrogant sex trap, but when Millionaire was released, I heard people say ‘Why, I really like her!’ in surprised tones.”

Despite her success and the fact that she had proved that she was more than window dressing, Monroe was still trapped in what she described as “sex roles” – even River of No Return (1954), a western drama by no less serious a director than Otto Preminger, offered her little opportunity to show her worth as an actress. Announcing the formation of her own production company (and act which ensured that Fox renewed her contract and met her terms), she told the press : “I want to broaden my scope. I want to do dramatic parts. It’s no temptation to me to do the same thing over and over. I want to keep growing as a person and as an actress … in Hollywood they never ask me my opinion. They just tell me what time to come to work.”

Her next four films marked the peak of her short career. She gave a nuanced comic turn as “The Girl Upstairs” in Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955) and a superb dramatic performanceas the flighty, southern “chantoosie” Cherie in Bus Stop (1956); a performance which prompted the film’s director, Joshua Logan, to later describe her as “as near genius as any actress I ever knew”. By this time, Monroe was studying with the Actors Studio in New York, and her un-starry, “courageous”, willingness to sacrifice her looks for the sake of her character was one aspect of her work on the film which impressed Logan. She may not have had a rapport with Laurence Olivier on The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) but this period drama garnered her more rave reviews. The pinnacle of her success came in 1959 with her gloriously endearing portrayal of the uber-naive Sugar Kane in the uproarious Billy Wilder comedy Some Like it Hot.The Misfits 5

Monroe was never better than as the gullible Sugar and her performance was the perfect blend of comedy and tragedy. Sadly, though, she was descending into her own personal hell – a troubled personal life that was so thoroughly and intrusively documented in the press that it became increasingly difficult to appreciate where reality ended and performance began. And which makes her final complete film, The Misfits (1961) – in which she played a damaged, child-like woman in search of direction and in need of protection – all the more poignant.

* The Marilyn Monroe season runs from June 1-June 30. For a full list of films and times, click here

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The Scarlet and the Pink

Gentlement Prefer Blondes - DAAGBFLet’s face it, Valentine’s Day can be a pretty lonely place. So I love the idea of a Valentine’s-inspired make-up range which you can buy for yourself and perk yourself up with – not that that was necessarily the concept that Bobbi Brown was going for when she devised her new, limited edition, Pink & Red Collection.

Hot pink and blood red is a combination that really shouldn’t work – but it does. Witness its most (if not only) iconic incarnation in the Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend sequence from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The key to the clash working is – I think – that you’ve got two bold shades. The only other pink-red combo I can recall is the Catherine Walker dress that Princess Bobbi Brown Pink & Red productsDiana wore to Kuwait in 1989, but the top half was a wishy-washy pastel pink so the effect was watered down and had considerably less impact than the purple-and-red outfits which the same designer created for her.

But back to Bobbi, whose own bold take on the colour scheme has resulted in a range that stands out from the many spring collections that are dominated by pretty, delicate, romantic pinks. She says: “With  this collection, I took an unconventional approach to the season’s traditional colour palette.

“The Pink & Red Collection isn’t about matching your lips, cheeks and nails. It’s about deliberately mismatching. I love pink and red worn together – it’s a very modern mix (and perfect for Valentine’s Day).”

Personally, I’ve been seduced by the beautiful and comfortable (even on dry lips) new Bobbi Brown Creamy Matte Lip Color in Hot (£18; www.bobbibrown.co.uk), a perfect match forBobbi Brown Pink & Red Marilyn’s dress, and the Bobbi Brown Nail Polish in Valentine Red (£11), a vampy crimson shade. But if you fancy inverting the look, you could team Bobbi Brown Creamy Matte Lip Color in Heart with Bobbi Brown Nail Polish in Pink Valentine…  Indeed, they’re next on my wish list!

Also in the collection are a pink and a red lip gloss and a pink and a red cheek tint.

In all, it’s the perfect antidote to the Valentine’s Day blues….

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The Little Red Dress

Forget the little black dress, this festive season its little red sister is a sexy and stylish alternative to that old party staple. Here’s a selection of inspirational red dresses from the movies, including the one I’ve spent 20 years coveting – the crimson halterneck number in which The Fabulous Baker Boys’ Suzie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) so memorably makes whoopee one New Year’s Eve:

Suzy Diamond’s look throughout the super-sexy Fabulous Baker Boys film is very now – from her camel coat to her black beret, via her red lipstick. Actually, watching it recently, I realised that I’ve been subconsciously channelling her look every winter for as long as I can remember.. But for a classic red Christmas party dress, we should hark right back to 1944, and Meet Me in St Louis.

Judy Garland never looked more beautiful than in this movie, and in this scene she’s especially gorgeous – thanks to the killer combination of red hair, scarlet lips and scarlet dress. (She’s probably wearing her ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz under the long skirt.) Admittedly, hers is hardly the sexiest of red dresses, however. For that we need look no further than the sparkling tomato-red number that Cyd Charisse wore in her most celebrated movie dance routine – in The Bandwagon (1953).

Little red dresses seem to have seen a lot of movie action in the early 1950s – and in 1953 they were particularly popular: in addition to Cyd’s Band Wagon version that year, both Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell showed off their equally shapely, er, shapes in glittery red dresses in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Here they are poured into their slinky gowns… I’d say that the inspiration here is less the style of the dresses – wear that today and you’ll either look like Liz Hurley or a drag queen – but the attitude of the wearers!

Heavens, even the normally demure Grace Kelly got in on the racy red act. In Dial M for Murder (1954), the least memorable – both in terms of suspense and of style – of her Hitchcock movies, one dress stands out. Yup, you’ve guessed it: it was red. Red lace, in fact. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of coloured lace (black, white and flesh tones are best), but this is the exception:

And, no Style on Film would be complete without Audrey Hepburn who knocks ’em dead when she descends the steps of the Louvre in this show-stopping tomato red Givenchy dress in the sublime musical Funny Face (1957). As with all the other ladies featured here, she’s wearing matching red shoes – take note: black shoes and a red dress just will not do …

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My Week in Beauty

MONDAY

An afternoon involving the school run and a children’s sports class meant that nothing too adventurous could be tested.. So I was happy to stick to my favourite new neutral eyeshadow, the Elegant Taupe shade of Givenchy Le Prisme Yeux Mono (£19).

Being a beauty writer who tries gazillions of new cosmetics every year, I can’t remember the last time I actually wore an eyeshadow compact down so that the base shone through..

But I’ve managed it with this Givenchy eyeshadow quartet which contains four variations on the same shade: a matte powder, a shimmery one, a sparkly one and an iridescent one.

And the little pamphlet which suggests different looks that can be created is well worth experimenting with! As I said, the one I’ve worn out is the very easy-to-wear, suits-all shade of Elegant Taupe, but I’m dying to try one of the vibrant purple or blue shades…

TUESDAY

A totally indulgent lunchtime trip to the cinema to watch Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell light up the screen in the classic 1953 musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes proved inspirational. Their ruby red lips look fantastic in this sparkling new print, and inspired me to try out the new Lancome gloss, L’Absolu Creme de Brillance (£18; www.lancome.co.uk), I was recently sent. My shade, Rose Mythique, wasn’t ruby red like Lorelei or Dorothy’s pouts, but it was red enough for me: a lovely, coral colour which lasts well, moisturises the lips and isn’t remotely tacky.

WEDNESDAY

It always happens: you’ve got an important meeting or a night out, and you wake up with a giant spot – or a “plook” (as we, ever so poetically, put it here in Scotland) – on your chin. What can you do?

Well, Clinique’s Anti-Blemish Solutions Liquid Makeup (£20 ; available April 1, www.clinique.co.uk ) is the answer. I turned to it on Tuesday when a big PMT-fuelled plook popped up on my face. I think it was it fate because who was I meeting that day? Two of the glamorous (and spot-free) girls from the Clinique team..

I can report that not only did the foundation, which is not for anyone who prefers light coverage, conceal the plook very skilfully….

THURSDAY

… but it also cleared it up: by Thursday morning, there was only a very slight, pink hint that it had ever been there.

The highlight of Thursday was dinner with friends at my favourite restaurant in Glasgow, Rogano.  Time to get out my evening wear for the eyes. The basics for me are Clarins Eye Liner (£18;www.clarins.com), which is the best liquid eyeliner in pen form that I’ve found, and Bobbi Brown Party Wear Mascara (£17.50; www.bobbibrown.co.uk), which is the ultimate mascara for transforming short, stumpy lashes into luscious ones. My other night-out staple at the moment is the gorgeous, but almost unavailable now (it was a limited edition, launched back in January), Bungalow Pink shade of the Estee Lauder Michael Kors Very Hollywood Nail Lacquer (£12; www.esteelauder.co.uk). I’m thinking of snapping up all remaining bottles of this deep  pink polish which has the intensity of a cherry red but suits me much better.

FRIDAY

Friday morning was wet and wintry, so my cheery pink nails from the night before would have been the perfect antidote to the gloom but I had already resolved to switch over to my other current favourite: Chanel Nail Colour (£17) in Inattendu (on the right in the picture). For the non-pink days, it has to be this chic nude polish which suits me better than the mushroom or so-called “greige” shade of Particuliere (pictured far left) that came out in the same spring collection or the bubblegum pink shade Tendresse.

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

I was thrilled to discover that one of my favourite films from the 1950s, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), is getting a new lease of life in cinemas this month – and I’ve been polishing my tiara in readiness for a girls-only outing to see it at my local cinema.

There’s nothing like watching a brilliant old movie on the big screen, and in the company of others (as opposed to watching it alone, on TV, in your jammies).  I’m even hoping for a bit of a singalong as this is the film in which Marilyn Monroe performed her iconic Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend number (pictured above).

This was one of Marilyn’s breakthrough films – and her performance as dopey, and utterly transparent (except to men), gold-digger Lorelei Lee is hilarious – and beautifully complemented by Jane Russell’s priceless turn as Lorelei’s wise-cracking, worldly-wise best pal, Dorothy Shaw.

The pair set sail for Paris in the hope that Lorelei’s wealthy fiance will shake off his disapproving father and follow her there for their wedding. But en route, Dorothy, the supposed chaperone, is distracted by the Olympic team while Lorelei is distracted by the diamond tiara owned by the wife of English aristocrat Sir Francis Beakman (played by veteran character actor Charles Coburn, pictured below).

Not only is the film sparklingly funny (it was directed by the great Howard Hawks and based on Anita Loos’s dryly witty book), and glorious to look at, but it also boasts some terrific songs – including the Hoagy Carmichael/Harold Adamson number When Love Goes Wrong (above), which our heroines sing at a pavement cafe in Paris, accompanied by an accordionist. Marilyn was really a very good singer and this movie – along with Some Like It Hot – showcased her oft-unsung vocal talents.

Ironically, Marilyn was not intended to be the star of the film – she actually gets second billing after Jane in the credits, and her salary was considerably lower. But her response to being told that she wasn’t the star was: “Well, whatever I am, I’m still the blonde.”

Despite the potential for rivalry, the two stars got on famously, and 20th Century Fox sought out other projects for them to work on together – but, sadly, that onscreen reunion never happened.

*The new print of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is showing  at selected cinemas now.

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