Saturday, August 31, 2019

Marilyn Monroe Was Robbed

Although she was not a trained dancer like Cyd Charisse or Leslie Caron, Gene Kelly was very impressed with the way Marilyn Monroe moved in her dance numbers. Kelly had a cameo in Monroe's 1960 comedy with musical numbers, LET'S MAKE LOVE. Although I cannot remember any film critics praising her voice, I purchased record albums of Marilyn Monroe vocals when I was a teen-ager.  I felt the late star had good voice and could do some sweet justice to a tune with a jazz beat. As for acting, it is a damn shame that, during her lifetime, no critics ever noted that she was one of Hollywood's best funny ladies, a screen comedienne with awesome comedy timing. Then, in a drama, she could set the screen on fire as a sizzling siren. This is why I feel Marilyn Monroe was robbed by not being in the Academy Award list of nominees for Best Actress of 1953. Monroe should have been a Best Actress nominee for the musical comedy, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.
Here are the nominees for that year: Audrey Hepburn for ROMAN HOLIDAY (winner), Deborah Kerr for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, Leslie Caron for LILI, Ava Gardner for MOGAMBO and Maggie McNamara for THE MOON IS BLUE. Here's a trailer for THE MOON IS BLUE.

Let's look at THE MOON IS BLUE, a very talky romantic comedy directed by Otto Preminger. The male leads are Hollywood veterans William Holden and David Niven. This was during the period when Holden pretty much owned Hollywood and, after having done commendable work since 1939, had finally popped as a top star. He starred in SUNSET BLVD and BORN YESTERDAY in 1950.  For 1953, he'd take home the Best Actor Oscar for STALAG 17.

THE MOON IS BLUE got a lot of publicity because of archaic Hollywood production codes at that time. The censors objected to the words "virgin" and "mistress" in this comedy. The plot makes us wonder if the marriage-hungry maiden will be seduced by the middle-aged bachelor after she passive aggressively winds up in his Manhattan apartment during a rainstorm. THE MOON IS BLUE was based on a play, its claustrophobic stage roots show, and it's in black and white. Maggie McNamara, the poor dear, got big Hollywood buzz at the time. She's rarely talked about today. In THE MOON IS BLUE, the pert brunette looks like the kind of female who would've inspired THE STEPFORD WIVES in the 1970s. I guess McNamara's character, Patty O'Neill, came off cute and lovable in the 1950s. I find her calculating, self-absorbed and selfish.  She's a single woman in New York City who tells the bachelor "I'm an actress" and "The kind of men I want don't grow on trees." Prim and proper Patty reveals that she wants "a middle-aged man with gobs of dough." At one point of chatter with Holden's truly charming bachelor, she comments "Men are usually so bored with virgins. I'm glad you're not." We get a chance to see her at work when she's in the bachelor's apartment after having fixed him dinner. The acting role? She's seated, dressed as a medieval character, and sings in a beer commercial that airs on NBC. When first she arrives at his apartment, Patty looks like she's taking inventory. She's scouts for items that would make her domestic life comfortable. She peers in his refrigerator and highly recommends he should be eating Finnan haddie, a high-tone fish dish.

Actress Patty O'Neill uses her virginity as a marketing tool as she establishes what kind of kitchen appliances she'd want, the kind of food she'd want in her refrigerator and what she'd expect of her financially secure middle-aged husband. At no time does Patty say what she would bring to the marriage other than her virginity and cooking skills. She never says that she will love her husband, but she does say she expects to hear him say "I love you."  I cannot stand Patty O'Neill. I hope she gets the runs from her Finnan haddie.

Patty O'Neill is a single woman, "an actress" in New York City, with a desire to land herself a financially secure husband.  Lorelei Lee is a single woman, an entertainer in New York City, with a desire to land herself a financially secure husband -- and love him. Lorelei is played by Marilyn Monroe in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. She never says "I'm an actress" yet her work on stage kicks Patty's beer commercial into total obscurity. As soon as this glittery Technicolor movie starts, we see exactly why Gene Kelly was impressed with how Marilyn Monroe moved. Lorelei Lee is a showgirl with her best friend, Dorothy Shaw. She and Dorothy (Jane Russell) are nightclub headliners and they perform "I'm Just a Little Girl from Little Rock." The choreography is by Jack Cole, renowned as one of Broadway's most celebrated jazz/ethnic choreographers. He constructed numbers for Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. He also did film work in the 1940s and 50s. His choreography was neither plain nor simple. It popped and trained dancers did hard work making it pop.  Marilyn Monroe performs Jack Cole's choreography like a pro.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES was based on a hit Broadway musical that made Carol Channing a new star. Channing was Lorelei. The story was changed and rewritten to fit the two 20th Century Fox movie stars. A couple of songs were kept from the Broadway score. Others were dropped and replaced with new ones. "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" was kept and given a hipper, jazzier arrangement. It fits Monroe like a velvet glove. Two of Marilyn's chorus boys in the number are Larry Kert who'd go on to be Tony in the original Broadway cast of WEST SIDE STORY and George Chakiris who'd go on to win an Oscar for playing Bernardo in the film version of WEST SIDE STORY.
Lorelei is a stylish, scrumptious blonde who's a bit of a scatterbrain -- except when calculating the worth of a diamond. Put a diamond in front of her and her brain becomes a NASA computer. Her sweetheart is a lovable, shy bookworm son a rich old man. Here's where we need to compare and contrast Marilyn Monroe's Lorelei Lee to Maggie McNamara's Patty O'Neill.
We never see Patty with a friend. She never even mentions a best friend. As much as Lorelei loves diamonds, there is no diamond on earth big enough to pull her away from the loyalty she has to her girlfriend Dorothy. As for Gus, the rich bookworm Danny, when Lorelei kisses him, she makes him feel like he's King of the World. When she croons "Bye-Bye, Baby" to Gus, she's telling him there'll be no other guy while she and Dorothy are on tour in Europe.
You have to be smart to play a "dumb blonde." You have to know where the laugh is in the script and how to deliver it with the perfect cluelessness and timing. Look at Judy Holliday in BORN YESTERDAY.  Monroe's blend of savvy showgirl and wide-eyed childlike innocence are great for this character. Lorelei exudes a warmth and vulnerability we never got from Patty in THE MOON IS BLUE. My late partner was 15 years younger than I and a hardcore Madonna fan. He didn't know her "Material Girl" video was imitating Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. I had the movie on VHS and gave it to him. One day, I hear him in the other room howling with laughter. He had never seen a Marilyn Monroe movie. He was replaying Lorelei's first encounter with a diamond tiara.
The comedy bit Monroe does with the little froggy-voiced boy when Lorelei gets stuck in a luxury liner porthole is right up there with the best of Lucille Ball on 1950's I LOVE LUCY.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES was directed by Howard Hawks who also gave us ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, HIS GIRL FRIDAY and BALL OF FIRE. It was released six months after moviegoers saw Marilyn Monroe as the cheating wife of an emotionally disturbed war veteran (played by Joseph Cotton). In NIAGARA, she's lusty Rose Loomis, the younger wife who delights in knowing she's got a hot, handsome lover on the side. The two meet secretly there in the Niagara Falls vacation spot. There's one scene in which Rose is in bed and seems to be naked with only a sheet over her. Her husband is in another room. Rose has a look of sexual desire and fulfillment on her face. You know she's thinking of her lover. The sheet covering her is like a big bow gift-wrapped around a Roman candle that's ready to be lit.                       
Marilyn Monroe is memorable in this noir/thriller. Her Rose is both seductive and doomed.

Around Thanksgiving time, moviegoers would see Marilyn Monroe in another comedy --  HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. In that bright, colorful feature, we see that the new actress zooming up to be Hollywood's top sex symbol of the decade also had a gift for physical comedy. In it, she's a gorgeous dimwit model who's sorely in need of eyeglasses. Her vision is very bad. But she doesn't wear her glasses because she feels they'll make her look like "an old maid." Without them, she's practically so blind that she walks into a wall.  Just like in GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES, she falls for a bookworm. One who wears glasses -- and gives her the confidence to wear hers. He's not a millionaire, but he wins her heart.

Recently, I watched THE MOON IS BLUE again on Amazon Prime to see how I'd feel about it. I felt the same. I found Patty to be hollow and annoying whereas Lorelei is lively and lovable. She may be a bit ditzy but she's a loyal friend and a fabulous entertainer who connects with people of different cultures and colors. She loves a guy a lets him know it.  GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES gives us a funnier romantic comedy that has more and better numbers than the beer commercial on TV in THE MOON IS BLUE. But, at the time, critics considered the late Maggie McNamara the new "serious actress."
That was McNamara's one film release for 1953. Monroe had three -- NIAGARA, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. McNamara had played the role onstage. Monroe had done stand-out minor roles in excellent films such as THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950) and ALL ABOUT EVE (1950).

Do what I did. Watch 1953's romantic comedy THE MOON IS BLUE starring Oscar nominee Maggie McNamara. Then watch 1953's romantic musical comedy, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, starring Marilyn Monroe.  Which actress would you have nominated for the Oscar?

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