Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #30 & 31: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes & But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, by Anita Loos

Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a sensation when it was first published, in serial form, in Harper’s Bazaar in the early 1920s. Heroine and flapper Lorelei Lee narrates her own escapades and those of her best pal Dorothy Shaw. The two gals are besieged by suitors on both sides of the Atlantic. Although Lorelei is always out to get a nice piece of jewelry or some other gift from an admiring genteman, it’s hard to label her a gold digger. She and Dorothy are not exactly husband hunting — they are more often the quarry.

Once Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was published in book form in 1925, it soon became a best-seller, and Loos was asked to write a sequel, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, which was published in 1928. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes also spawned a successful Broadway musical and two film versions, one made in 1928, which has been lost, and the classic Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell female buddy movie from 1953. Loos was first inspired to create the character of Lorelei after watching writer H.L. Mencken, a friend and writer that she greatly admired let a girl, a blonde, that she considered a bubblehead wrap him completely around her finger. Mencken not only didn’t mind being teased in print, but he helped her get it published.

I read an edition that included both novels, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady and But Gentlemen Marry BrunettesThe original Harper’s illustrations, included in this double-edition by Ralph Barton really capture the era of flappers and speakeasies. Readers familiar with the technicolor film directed by Howard Hawks will be interested to see what survived from Loos’s original characterization of Lorelei to Monroe’s version.

“So I really think that American gentlemen are the best after all, because kissing your hand may make you feel very very good but a diamond and safire bracelet lasts forever.”

Both books are written as entries from Lorelei’s diary. Little Rock’s most famous fictional debutante has decided to become a writer, and Lorelei never lacks for anything to say about herself and her endless quest for “education,” or the merits and faults of those around her. Comic misspellings are peppered throughout both books: “Eyefull Tower,” “safire,” “Dr. Froyd,” “negligay,” etc. Lorelei always has her eye on the prize — and the next prize, and the next prize. She constantly complains about her best pal Dorothy’s behavior, but Dorothy seems to do quite well for herself.

“I mean I always encouradge Dorothy to talk quite a lot when we are talking to unrefined people like Lady Francis Beekman, because Dorothy speaks their own languadge to unrefined people better than a refined girl like I.”

“Safires” and “encouradgements” aside, Lorelei has no problem spelling words like “diamonds” or “champagne.” Lorelei and Dorothy’s antics are always amusing to read about. There is a bit of suspense involved in which suitor Lorelei will finally say “yes” to and mean it this time. No matter how much they might depend on a gentleman to take them to lunch at the Ritz, or take them shopping for bracelets and “negligays,” Lorelei and Dorothy always seem in charge of their own destinies. And they seem to be having a great deal of fun, too. From the introduction by Regina Barreca:

“Loos’s Lorelei and Dorothy didn’t fall into vice; they jumped. The leap was a fortunate one. Lorelei manages her affairs, financial and sexual, with great success. She’s a broker for her own goods. Her heroicism relies on her intelligence even more than on her blondeness, and on her willingness to understand the pleasures and penalties of the choices she makes.”

As funny as Lorelei and her narrative are, Dorothy invariably gets the best lines, as she sizes up another “gentleman” while the girls are traveling in Paris:

“… so Dorothy spoke up and said, ‘I hear that they number all of you Louies over here in Paris.’ Because a girl is always hearing someone talk about Louie the sixteenth who seemed to be in the anteek furniture business. I mean I was surprised to hear Dorothy get so historical so she may really be getting educated in spite of everything. But Dorothy told Louie he need not try to figure out his number because she got it the minute she looked at him.”

No matter how many fiancés or adventures they have, the girls’ most important relationship is with each other, as Lorelei proves in But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, when she takes up writing again, but this time to tell Dorothy’s story, which is quite a humdinger. Dorothy grew up in a carnival, and we follow her from the carny life to the stage, the Ziegfeld Follies, and beyond.

Lorelei may be a little distracted by her new married state, and even motherhood,

“And I always think that the sooner a girl becomes a Mother after the ceremony, the more likely it is to look like ‘Daddy.'”

but she still is serious about writing. She even manages to get an invitation to join the Algonquin Circle. Of course Dorothy is not so impressed.”Well, Dorothy finally finished her chicken hash and spoke up and said that she had overheard enough intellectual conversation for one day, so she was going out to hunt up a friend of hers who only talks about himself when he has a toothache.”

Both books are humorous and quick reads. It would certainly help to be a little familiar with the 1920s, especially New York and Hollywood. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes aren’t dated, but they are definitely a humorous time capsule. Lorelei and Dorothy don’t let anyone hold them back. They are sassy and witty and completely unapologetic. They aren’t exactly role models, but they are strong women who get what they want out of life. And that is always appealing to a girl like I.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #26: Marilyn, by Gloria Steinem

Other iconic celebrities have died — Elvis, James Dean, Frank Sinatra, but none seem to have the enduring power of Marilyn Monroe. In 1986’s Marilyn, feminist Gloria Steinem presents her take on the iconic star, in a series of essays, aided by the beautiful photographs by George Barris, taken in a few sessions over the last two months of her life.

Steinem tries to present a sympathetic portrait of the star, but as she admits herself multiple times in the text, she finds Marilyn embarrassing. She goes so far as to compare her, more than once, to a drag queen. She shares a personal anecdote early on, claiming to have run out of a screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a teenager, embarrassed by the star’s performance, “How dare she be just as vulnerable and unconfident as I felt?”

She goes on to present a pretty stereotypical image of Marilyn as the dumb blonde who men see as, “a compliant child-woman … Offering sex without the power of an adult woman” a woman that other women envy or fear, “a sexual competitor who could take away men on whom women’s identities and even livelihoods might depend; the fear of having to meet her impossible standard of always giving – and asking nothing in return; the nagging fear that we might share her feminine fate of being vulnerable, unserious, constantly in danger of becoming a victim.”

She can hardly veil her dislike of Marilyn’s ’50s sexpot movie starlet persona, so she shifts her attention to Norma Jeane, for whom she has much more sympathy. She outlines the young fatherless Norma Jeane’s early life, her mother who was either absent or institutionalized, her shuffle from foster homes to an orphanage to a young (16 years old) marriage. The preternaturally beautiful girl was quickly spotted and encouraged to model, which led to her pursuing her life-long dreams and fantasies of movie stardom.

A quote from Marilyn, “In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo,” she wrote bitterly. “You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you $1000 for a kiss, and $.50 for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the $.50.”

Marilyn seems to have taken sex with producers and others who could help her in stride, as apparently all the young starlets did. From her early modeling days onward she found her beauty and her sex as a commodity. As much as Marilyn and other young aspiring actresses were used by men, we should also understand that she was very ambitious. She never saw herself as just another starlet. She was determined to become a star. Sex was one of the tools she used to get what she wanted in her career. She treated sex casually, an exchange of favors.

As is unavoidable with any discussion of Marilyn, Steinem details the actress’s many affairs — including possible, probable, and definite lovers — a veritable Who’s Who of prominent men of the ’50s: Howard Hughes (his interest in the young hopeful may have prompted rival studio Twentieth Century-Fox to hire her), Elia Kazan, Johnny Hyde (her agent), Joe DiMaggio (2nd husband), Arthur Miller (3rd husband), Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Yves Montand, Jim Dougherty (1st husband), Freddy Karger (her voice teacher). She devotes an entire chapter to John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, who she most likely had fairly open affairs with. She met Jack first, before he was president, but soon moved on to and was more serious about his brother Robert. Their affair was a well-known secret. Columnist Art Buchwald even made jokes about Marilyn and the President in his Washington Post column. It may have sounded funny in 1960, but it sounds beyond sexist now.

“Let’s Be Firm on Monroe Doctrine”

Who will be the next ambassador to Monroe? This is one of the many problems which President-elect Kennedy will have to work out in January. Obviously you can’t leave Monroe adrift. There’re too many greedy people eyeing her, and now that Ambassador Miller has left she could flounder around without any direction.

Steinem may not connect with the woman Marilyn became, but she is sympathetic to how difficult her road could be. Elizabeth Taylor was getting $1 million for Cleopatra from Twentieth Century-Fox when Marilyn averaged only $100,000 a film. Although she never seemed to suffer financially, she was not paid equitably. Marilyn may have frequently called in sick, causing delays and creating difficulties on her films sets, as a form of protest. It also may have been her way of knowing she was was needed, was not being overlooked, as she had been throughout her childhood. “People are waiting for me. People are eager to see me. I’m wanted.”

As much as her illnesses may have cropped up too often to suit her producers, directors and costars, Marilyn’s health issues dated from her youth. She was on painkillers from a very early age, to deal with excruciating menstrual pains. Her young body endured multiple abortions and operations, including an appendectomy, tonsillectomy, plastic surgery, gall bladder surgery, and many procedures to ease painful endometriosis. She was a woman who had to be obsessed with her body, inside and out.

Drugs were a huge part of Marilyn’s life. As Steinem notes, “Physicians have been more likely to prescribe sleeping pills and tranquilizers than to look for the cause of Monroe’s sleeplessness and anxiety. … even after she attempted suicide several times. … It was my first understanding that women are more likely to be given chemical and others arm’s-length treatment and to suffer from the assumption that they can be chemically calmed or sedated …”

As popular as conspiracy theories continue to be, Marilyn’s death was unlikely murder, or even a completely intentional suicide, but it does seem that there was a cover-up. According to Steinem, Bobby Kennedy may have even tried to take a still-alive Marilyn to the hospital with Peter Lawford, her body only returned to her home later, after her death. If that is too far-fetched to believe, it does seem to be true that Lawford, Marilyn’s maid, and others cleaned up the place, either suppressing or eliminating evidence. The local police and even J. Edgar Hoover held back phone records that showed her links to the Kennedys.

Marilyn was a troubled, at times drug-addled, soul. Extremely lonely, ever in search of unconditional love. She was also generous to a fault; always concerned with others before herself. Part of her enduring mystique is that she was frequently misunderstood and underestimated. Some of the people closest to her didn’t seem to really get her at all. Marilyn told her maid Lena Pepitone, about a scene in The Misfits, the script that playwright husband Arthur Miller had written for her, where she convinces Clark Gable’s character not to sell wild mustangs to a slaughterhouse, “I convince them by throwing a fit, not by explaining anything. So I have a fit. A screaming crazy fit … And to think, Arthur did this to me … If that’s what he thinks of me, well, and I’m not for him and he’s not for me.”

Monroe desperately wanted to be taken seriously, as more than just a sex object. She had more praise and understanding from her director, John Huston, “She went right down into her own personal experience for everything, reached down and pulled something out of herself that was unique and extraordinary. She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn. But it was Marilyn, plus. She found things, found things about womankind in herself.”

The Misfits was Marilyn’s last completed film and the death knell to her four-year-plus marriage to Miller. She went on a downward spiral after the divorce, from which she never completely recovered. Miller certainly didn’t help things any with his response on hearing Marilyn might be being depressed to hear he was already expecting a child with his new wife Inge Morath (a Magnum photographer that he met on the set of The Misfits), “She knew I was a father before; she knew the children, she knew it wasn’t anything wrong with me that kept us from having children.” What a guy, huh?

Marilyn was fired from her next film, Something’s Got to Give, but it looked like she had smoothed things over with producers and was set to resume filming in the fall of 1962. Unfortunately that film and many others she was slated to appear in were not to be. Steinem presents Marilyn almost as a split personality, always haunted by her true self, Norma Jeane. It becomes a bit much after a while in Marilyn, but the glorious, natural-light photographs by George Barris help to show how the girl Norma Jeane who became the woman Marilyn Monroe endures.  Marilyn was vulnerable, concerned with others, but also had an innate understanding of her own power:

“As soon as I can afford an evening gown I bought the loudest one I could find. It was a bright red low-cut dress, and my arrival in it usually infuriated half the women present. I was sorry in a way to do this, but I had a long way to go and I needed a lot of advertising to get there.”

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #16: Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla, by Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer

Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla, by Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer, starts off with a great concept — the long-term collaboration between Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe and her most trusted costumer, William Travilla, who was known merely as Travilla during his design career.

The book includes many images of Travilla’s original sketches for some of Marilyn’s most famous costumes — the white pleated dress she wore while standing over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch, the pink confection she wore during the production number “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and many more. As many close-ups as there are of Marilyn’s dresses, the 192-page book leaves one wishing for more.

Author Andrew Hansford befriended Travilla’s business partner Bill Sarris, and now manages Travilla’s design archive. Travilla died in 1990 after a long career in Hollywood that started in the early 1940s. Hansford also organized a 2008 exhibitionfeaturing Travilla’s fabulous costumes and designs. His goal to make Travilla and his talent more widely known is an admirable one. But Hansford is not a writer. His over-long introduction takes the focus off Travilla and even Marilyn, for no apparent reason other than to share his personal fascination of traveling to Hollywood. Not helping matters are a few errors in the text and multiple typos, which seem to become more frequent as the book goes on.

Instead of a section by and about Hansford, why not include a longer, more in-depth essay on Travilla, possibly written by someone who worked with him in film or on television? Beyond the films he made with Marilyn, Travilla had a quite successful career on network television, creating costumes for The Thorn Birds, Dallas, Knots Landing, and many more. He won an Oscar in 1949 for the costumes he created for the film Adventures of Don Juan, starring Errol Flynn. There is a nice anecdote about Flynn included in the book, but sadly no images of any of the costumes, even from film stills.

Probably the most surprising missed opportunity in Dressing Marilyn is the complete absence of any biographical information about the star. Certainly there have been tons of books that have covered the actress and her movies, but it is still silly to assume that readers already know the facts of her life and career. There is a lengthy filmography included at the back of Dressing Marilyn for Travilla, but nothing for Marilyn herself, who is certainly helping sell many copies of this book.

Dressing Marilyn does include some interesting insight into how intricately constructed some of her costumes were. Travilla truly built a framework beneath the deceptively simple dresses to highlight the actress and her shape. A dress like the famous pleated gold sheath that has become one of the most iconic images of the star had interior wires structured to mold to her body, and was made from a fabric that can not be replicated today. Marilyn had a great grasp on how to promote herself, and counted on Travilla to create form-fitting dresses and gowns that would show her off to her best advantage, both on-screen and off. He even created a version in white of the pink gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for her own personal collection.

It will be interesting to see how Dressing Marilyn compares to the upcoming book,Marilyn in Fashion: The Enduring Influence of Marilyn Monroe, by Hollywood biographer Christopher Nickens and Marilyn memorabilia collector George Zeno, and how much they focus on Travilla. Travilla was undoubtedly an extremely talented designer, and Hansford should be congratulated for trying to bring his talent to the fore. One wishes that he had just enlisted the help of a more experienced biographer or historian and taken the time to interview others who could have shed more insight on this interesting and fruitful collaboration.

Article first published as Book Review: Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer on Blogcritics.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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