Tag Archives: Hoagy Carmichael

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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Unsung Marilyn

Some Like It Hot, the riotous Billy Wilder masterpiece which the American Film Institute named the best comedy Hollywood ever made, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. I’ve been writing about it for The Herald and, re-watching it for the umpteenth time, I was struck by the fact that not only does it boast Marilyn Monroe’s greatest comic performance (and she really was a genius at comedy), but it also highlights what a talented singer she was.

Monroe may have sung in more than a quarter of her films – including some of her best-loved ones – but her singing is rarely mentioned in any of the potted biogs written about her. And yet, her sultry, soulful and sumptuous vocals contributed enormously to her overall sex appeal (witness the fact that songs were shoehorned even into the western River of No Return) – it’s just that everyone has been distracted by her visual voluptuousness..

Nevertheless, her singing abilities were recognised by her employers almost from the word go. She sang various numbers in her first notable role – in Ladies of the Chorus, in 1949, and memorably crooned along to a record of Kiss in the thriller Niagara (1953).

Thereafter, Monroe gave a string of iconic musical performances. As Lorelei Lee, the archetypal gold-digging blonde, in the sparkling Howard Hawks comedy-musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), she guaranteed herself a place in the pantheon of great Hollywood musical moments when she sang Diamonds Are  Girl’s Best Friend.

While Marilyn got to prance around in Schiaparelli-pink satin as debonair dancers draped diamonds on her, poor old Jane Russell (as her best pal, Dorothy) had as her featured number Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love. The song was okay, though hardly Hoagy Carmichael’s finest, but Russell had to perform it with a particularly camp-looking crew of scrawny, knobbly-kneed dancers who did not look in the slightest bit interested in her or her impressively upholstered chest.

Monroe and Russell actually made a pretty good team, both comically and musically: they duetted memorably on Hoagy Carmichael’s When Love Goes Wrong (Nothing Goes Right), and Jule Styne and Leo Robin’s Bye Bye Baby and A Little Girl From Little Rock.

There’s No Business Like Showbusiness (1954) also made good use of Monroe’s singing skills – notably on the sizzling Heat Wave. But easily the most sexually charged of her musical performances were to be found in Some Like It Hot.

As Sugar Kane, the emotionally fragile yet effervescent singer with Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters, Monroe only sang a trio of songs (Runnin’ Wild, I Wanna Be Loved By You and I’m Through With Love) but they make an indelible impression: indeed, she pretty much ruined them for anyone else. Even those who had sung them first..

I Wanna Be Loved By You may have been associated with another Kane – Helen, the original boop-boop-a-doop girl from the 1920s (and many a Betty Boop cartoon), but from 1959 onwards, it was Marilyn’s grown-up, sensual version that first sprang to minds, and poor old Helen’s girlish boop-boop-a-doops were forgotten.

The piece de la resistance was Monroe’s I’m Through With Love, the perfect song choice for a character who’s been bruised by bad love affairs before (and now thinks she’s in love with an impotent and somewhat camp millionaire with a Cary Grant voice). It’s difficult to conceive of a more exquisite reading of that song (though Goldie Hawn’s in Everyone Says I Love You comes a very close second): Monroe was never more vulnerable or more exposed. And I’m not just talking about the fact that she’s dressed and lit so that she looks naked.

Only one more musical outing remained for the doomed star: the pretty awful Let’s Make Love (1960) which has as its redeeming factor Monroe’s often-forgotten, but utterly fab, version of Cole Porter’s My Heart Belongs to Daddy.

Sadly, there’s not a lot of Marilyn Monroe on compact disc  – just the afore-mentioned songs, plus a few other goodies (including a dreamy take on the Gershwins’ Do It Again which seems to have been recorded independently of any film), which are available on any number of cheap compilations. Still, they’re cheap compilations worth having.

* Some Like It Hot is showing at the GFT, Glasgow from June 19-21; my piece on the film runs in Saturday’s Herald (May 23).

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