01 April 2017

Wanna Be Marilyn

At 5 March, there was a carte blanche guest post by my friend, collector Carla Bosch (a.k.a. Meiter). She did a wonderful post on her collection of Marilyn Monroe postcards, Collecting Marilyn. While researching her post, Carla discovered many Marilyn wannabes:

"In my list of favourite old Marilyn cards, I said it would be a nice idea to make a list with Marilyn wannabes, lookalikes, or clones. Bob thought this a nice idea too, so I set to work. I did not realise what kind of trouble I brought upon myself. There are people who wanted to look like her, people who were compared to her, but didn't want to.  Even now famous people try to imitate Marilyn.

There are many lists to be found on the internet with Marilyn wannabes. Some of those surprised me: for example Mariah Carey. She is not one who first comes to mind when you think of Marilyn. I read Mariah bought Marilyn's white baby grand piano and named one of her children after her. Okay, that does not make her Marilyn yet. And then I saw a picture with Mariah Carey imitating Marilyn Monroe when she climbs out of the swimming pool in Something's gotta give. I was dumbfounded: Mariah is Marilyn.

Another actress whom I thought a surprise is Michelle Williams. To be honest, I only knew her as the wife of Heath Ledger in Broke Back Mountain and his fiance in real life. But then I saw her in My Week with Marilyn. I was impressed. I have respect for Michelle as an actress since that movie. 

I also came across socialite Paris Hilton. She thinks she is the iconic blonde of this century, like Marilyn Monroe was of her century. Hmm. Paris thinks she is a lot of things: a singer, a dj, a business woman, even an actress, but Marilyn.....? No way.

There are many photo shoots with famous actresses posing as Marilyn Monroe. Famous is Lindsay Lohan posing nude as Marilyn Monroe in her last sitting. Bert Stern took those world famous pictures all over again. I am not impressed by Lindsay Lohan. But another comparison entered my mind: Marilyn and Lindsay both had / have trouble dealing with the film industry resulting in on and off addictions to drugs and alcohol. Lindsay said she has no intention to follow Marilyn Monroe or Heath Ledger. Yes, the same Heath Ledger as Michelle Williams' fiance, Hollywood is a small world.

Other photo shoots I found were with Scarlett Johansson, Mira Sorvino, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani. Even Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman posed as Marilyn. One of the most famous Marilyn imitators is Madonna. I will come to her later, because I actually have cards of Madonna in my collection. 

Let it suffice that many people want to look like Marilyn Monroe and try to build a career around her image. I decided to restrict the list to cards I have in my collection:

1. Mamie van Doren

Mamie van Doren
German postcard by Bild und Ton, Postkartenverlag P. Weizmann, no. 546. Collection: Meiter.

When Marilyn Monroe rose to fame in the fifties, the 'blonde bombshell' was born. Every film studio wanted to have their own blonde bombshell. Mamie van Doren, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe: 'The Three M's' were the most famous. Mamie van Doren was promoted as 'the next Marilyn' by Universal Studios. She starred in some movies and acquired a reputation as 'bad girl'. She became famous for her tight sweaters, swimming suits, and low-cut cleavage. She even spent a short time in prison because her naked back could be seen in a shower scene in Girls Town (1959). After her career she could still cash in on her sex bomb image (indirectly Marilyn's) and published an autobiography, posed with Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson for Vanity Fair, and now and again appeared in TV programmes and (low budget) films. Mamie is still alive and kicking. She maintains, together with her 5th husband, her website where various merchandise can be obtained.

2. Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield and Tom Ewell in The Girl Can't Help It (1956)
French postcard by Edition A La Carte. Photo: Filmhistorisches Bildarchiv Peter W. Engelmeier. Collection: Meiter.

Jayne Mansfield was also known as 'The Poor Man's Monroe'. In 1956 Mamie van Doren turned down a role in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (by the way, I possess a paperback which is called Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe by Pete Martin...with 43 luscious pictures which clearly prove that NOTHING could spoil Marilyn) and was replaced by rival-blonde Jayne Mansfield. The card I have chosen of her is a modern one: Jayne Mansfield and Tom Ewell in The Girl Can't Help It, 1956. The comparison is obvious: Jayne looks like a spitting image of Marilyn. Tom Ewell played with Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch in 1955. Jayne auditioned for a role in The Seven Year Itch, but was rejected. For The Girl Can't Help It, Fox promoted Mansfield as “Marilyn Monroe king-sized”. She was never able to get rid of this image, a sexy woman with little brains. Marilyn's hips were considered too broad to pursue a modelling career. Jayne Mansfield's breasts were too emphatically promoted to be considered a serious actress. A pity: both had more potential than breasts and hips.

3. Diana Dors

Diana Dors
British postcard. Photo: Rank. Collection: Meiter.

Diana Dors was referred to as 'the English Marilyn Monroe'. She did not like that comparison. She wanted to be appreciated and remembered for her acting career. Marilyn wanted the same thing. Yet, Diana Dors is not only remembered because of her film career. (I somewhere read she played in some of the worst films ever made). She is also remembered because of her tumultuous private life: her three marriages, numerous affairs, and the sex parties she hosted. Marilyn was an icon when she was alive, Britain realised 'their' Diana was one after she died. Yet, Marilyn was trendsetter as a bombshell: Marilyn led, others followed. Mamie van Doren, Barbara Nichols, Cleo MooreJayne Mansfield, Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes), Sandra Dorne, Diana Dors, and many other actresses: they all copied Marilyn's clothes, her hair-do, make-up styles, her poses. All 'clones' struggled to be taken seriously as actresses and they all had their moment of fame. Later on, however, most of them had difficulties maintaining this status and often did not get rid of the sex bomb image.

4. Jester Naefe

Jester Naefe in Die goldene Brücke (1956)
German postcard by Kolibri Verlag, no. 1954. Photo: publicity still for Die goldene Brücke/The Golden Bridge (Paul Verhoeven, 1956). Collection: Meiter.

Jester Naefe was called 'The German Marilyn Monroe'. Gregory Peck called her one of the most attractive and beautiful women in the world. I think she looks like the young Marilyn. Before Marilyn started to dye her hair blonde, she was a redhead. There is a German postcard which I do not have in my possession, but which is on EFSP; it looks like this card, but then Jester is …. a redhead, a young Marilyn. Jester Naefe did not have to dye her hair. She made a career as an actress, but had to give it up because of her disease multiple sclerosis. She died after an aggressive progression of it. I think that is why I have a weak spot for Jester: I have m.s. too. Or is that too personal?

5. Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot
French postcard by Edition du Globe, no. 316. Collection: Meiter.

The French answer to MM was BB. She was one of the few European actresses who were popular in the United States. The term 'sex kitten' was for the first time used to describe Brigitte Bardot. Later on, this term was used to describe other sexually provocative actresses. I saw an interview with BB in which she talks about Marilyn. She has only positive things to say about her: she thought Marilyn was beautiful, sexy, funny, but also vulnerable. She said Marilyn was misunderstood and being exploited. And this combination eventually killed her. The postcard I chose is one with a young Brigitte Bardot. The picture was taken by Sam Levin. Levin contributed to BB's sensual image in the beginning of her career. I think this is such an example: a very young Brigitte looking coyly, yet also cheeky in the camera. And this might be armchair psychology, but I think Brigitte Bardot realised in time how devastating the influence of the film world could be. She herself attempted suicide in 1960, and after first announcing she would retire, made her last film in 1973 when she was 39. Sensible girl.

6. Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moreau
German postcard by Universum-Film AG, no. FK 1015. Collection: Meiter.

A 'misfit' in this list is Jeanne Moreau. There is nothing to connect Moreau and Monroe. Moreau is one of France's most accomplished actresses. At the start of her career she appeared in some B-movies and was not considered photogenic, because she refused to wear make up. No make up? Marilyn could not go without. Yet, I picked Jeanne Moreau, because I chose a postcard of her in my first list as one of my favourites. It reminds me of a picture that Marilyn had taken as 'prom-photo'. When I went through my cards looking for Marilyn lookalikes I came across another card of Jeanne: again I was struck by the resemblance to a young Marilyn. And again: I know there could not be two more different actresses and I cannot find any similarities, apart from being both actresses. So Moreau is absolutely not a wannabe lookalike of Monroe, yet those postcards! They do remind me very much of Marilyn.

7. Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. 278. Collection: Meiter.

Once upon a time there was a prince: Rainier, Prince of Monaco. Monaco was in a poor state and Rainier was considered to be a spoilt playboy prince who loved fast cars and pretty women. However, he decided to modernise the country and did so with the help of his friend, the rich Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. When Monaco became prosperous again, Aristotle decided it was time for Rainier to marry. Preferably a glamorous American actress: this would create a bond with one of the most powerful countries and wealthy industries in the world. Onassis suggested.... Marilyn Monroe. They sent her a letter. Marilyn found it an amusing idea and referred to Rainier as “Prince Reindeer”. She declined the proposal, because she had just started dating Arthur Miller and wanted to be respected as an actress. That is the reason why Grace Kelly has to be in this list. Marilyn was not a princess, Grace Kelly was. The day Grace married Rainier, Marilyn sent her a telegram to congratulate her that she “had found a way out of this business”. Apparently this was not the way Marilyn had in mind.

And now for the more modern cards and stars. As I said, I don't have too many of those, but here are two:

8. Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue
British postcard by Heroes, no. SPC1069. Collection: Meiter.

Australian singer Kylie Minogue is not one to imitate or who wants to look like Marilyn. She was, however, one of the artists who imitated Marilyn and playbacked (nobody could match Marilyn singing, so Kylie had to playback) Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend on the little Marilyn Monroe's tribute show at the celebration of Fox Sudios, Australia. Her latest album Kiss Me Once has pictures that do remind of Marilyn. On the deluxe version, there is a picture of Kylie Minogue posing on the beach. She is dressed in a pink fifties-style dress, wearing a blonde wig. She posted the picture on Instagram with the hashtag 'Mr. President'... There are more pictures of Kylie looking like Marilyn. Yet, I do not have the impression it was all predetermined. Kylie Minogue just resembles Marilyn Monroe unintentionally and unwillingly.

9. Madonna

Italian postcard by Modric Editoria D'Arte, no. MX 022. Marilyn Monroe as Lilian Russell. Collection: Meiter.

Madonna, however, is quite a different story. She grew up idolising Marilyn and built her entire career round her image. She blonded her hair, drew a beauty spot near her mouth, and as a publicity stunt she even dated John F. Kennedy Jr. She re-enacted Marilyn's Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend in the clip for Material Girl, imitating her hairstyle, mannerisms and outfits. In fact, Madonna's entire Blond Ambition Tour was built round Marilyn's range of appearances. As this postcard shows Madonna is a different Marilyn: compared to Marilyn, Madonna is crude. One of Marilyn's best known scenes is when she stands above a subway grating and her dress goes up. This was a box office hit. Madonna tried to match this image by using rude language, making provocative video clips, spreading her legs when posing for advertisements. Yes, they are both icons in their own way. And it probably has something to do with the zeitgeist, but Madonna is a rather vulgar version of Marilyn and is still overshadowed by her.

10. Marilyn as Lillian Russell

Marilyn Monroe as Lilian Russell
Italian postcard by Modric Editoria D'Arte, no. MX 022. Marilyn Monroe as Lilian Russell. Collection: Meiter.

Finally: Marilyn was / is imitated by admirers, lookalikes, wannabes, and parasites. Yet Marilyn herself imitated astonishingly well too. In 1957 Richard Avedon made a photo shoot with her. Marilyn imitated 5 famous sexy women: Jean Harlow, Clara Bow, Theda Bara, Marlene Dietrich, and Lillian Russell. The only postcard I have in my possession is the one with Marilyn as Lillian Russell (I doubt whether there are postcards of the other imitations).

Lillian Russell was a famous actress and singer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She starred in operettas, burlesques, even a few motion pictures. She was also known for her beauty and social life. When she was older she became a popular lecturer, a campaigner for women's suffrage, and contributor to the passage of the restrictive Immigration Act of 1924 (which would indirectly led to her death in 1922). All I can say is that I don't know Lillian, but from the pictures I have seen, she was a very attractive woman with an expressive face. Marilyn makes a perfect Lillian Russell. There was more to Marilyn than just Marilyn Monroe.

And that is my list. Again, I loved the reading and searching for information. I came across postcards in my collection I did not realise were there. They remain a treasure. My treasure. Pff, enough!"

Thank you very much, Carla, for this delicious fun post!

No comments: