Geez. They're all about me again.
Philippe Halsman shot this sly commentary on fame featuring one of the most famous women in America, Marilyn Monroe, as his subject. She checks out a newspaper, and next to her you can see machines for the afternoon tabloids Mirror, Daily News, and Herald-Express, the latter of which is a publication we've mined often for historical crime photos. In that issue the front page says, “Fight Grows to Keep Chaplin Out of U.S.,” a headline that dates the photo to sometime in late 1952. Why was there a fight? People had been led to believe Chaplin was a communist theat to America for saying things like he wanted every person to have a roof over their heads. He wouldn't return to the U.S. for twenty years. So, the tabloids weren't all about Marilyn every issue. Just mostly. Even gossips need a little variety.
Back by popular demand.
Earlier this year we shared an issue of one of the prettiest mid-century celebrity magazines—West Germany's Bravo. We have pages from another issue, published today in 1956. We'll return to this publication a bit later.
Inside Story goes where other tabloids tread—then claims not to have gone there.
It's been a few years since we posted an issue of Inside Story, but we don't run out of tabloids, we just run out of time to scan them. Today, though, there's time aplenty, so above you see an issue that appeared this month in 1963 with a cover touting a feature on the new generation of young actresses in Hollywood taking over from Brigitte Bardot, Kim Novak, and Marilyn Monroe. At the time, Bardot was twenty-nine and Novak was thirty-five. Those aren't exactly geriatric years for actresses, even back then, but Inside Story said there was a young new guard: Angie Dickinson, Ann-Margret, Jane Fonda, Connie Stevens, Tuesday Weld, and Julie Newmar. Dickinson was actually older than both Bardot and Novak, but we get the general point.
Later in the issue there's a story dedicated to Monroe that describes her fans as a death cult. The interesting aspect of this is that the author Kevin Flaherty accuses people of obsessing over Monroe—while himself obsessing over Monroe. The gist of his article is that a cottage industry of films, books, and magazine articles were cashing in on her suicide, which had occurred the previous August. This was, of course, shaky ground for any tabloid to tread upon, as they all made their profits via unauthorized articles about various celebrities, which one could define as exploitative by nature. But never let the facts get in the way of a good story angle.
Flaherty tells readers that Monroe's life was marred by abandonment, depression, and rape, and suggests that if she had been given a little peace by constantly clamoring fans and intrusive reporters she might not have taken that fatal dose of pills. We think it's just as valid to conclude that without stardom she wouldn't have lasted as long as she did. Since she isn't around anymore to speak for herself (she'd be ninety-six this year), we choose to view her on the terms she chose. She started as a model and worked hard to become an actress, and we think those achievements are far more important than what she had no control over. But there will always be debate over Monroe's legacy, and Inside Story shows that the discussion was already in full swing. Twenty-plus scans below.
*yawn* What a refreshing nap. Oh, hello. How long have you been standing there and why do you have a banana in your pocket?
Above: a nice photo of Marilyn Monroe in bed, shot in 1953. That was arguably her pivotal year. It was when her massive hits Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry a Millionaire came out, and she made two appearances on The Jack Benny Show. No wonder she was tired.
Reality says she's way out of his league. Entertainment tradition says she isn't.
Above you see a poster for the Marilyn Monroe comedy The Seven Year Itch, which we're taking a close look at today because it's a pulp movie. No, really. It isn't a pulp movie in a standard way, but how can we ignore a film, even though it's a comedy, that happens to be about the pulp industry? Perhaps some of you have forgotten this detail, but co-star Tom Ewell plays an editor at a 25¢ publishing house, where among other important duties he repackages literary classics with sexy, good-girl-art covers. If you look just below, Ewell's secretary Marguerite Chapman displays the company's latest reimagining—a racy makeover of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. They've featured scantily clad women in the art, and added the tagline: “The secrets of a girls dormitory.” So even though thousands of online scribes have written about The Seven Year Itch, its setting in the pulp publishing realm demands that we discuss it too.
But of course, pulp is merely the backdrop; the movie is really all Monroe. We know it comes across as anachronistic to some viewers, but this film is completely modern in at least one important way. The trope of a schlubby everyman scoring with—or at least turning the head of—a woman much more beautiful than him is still a linchpin of American entertainment. Let us count the examples: There's Something About Mary, Big Bang Theory, King of Queens, She's Out of My League, Night Shift, Forrest Gump, Bewitched, Superbad, Knocked Up—in fact, anything with Seth Rogen in it—and not to be forgotten, both Beauty and the Beast and Lady and the Tramp. In all of those, the female love interest, whether human or cocker spaniel, is objectively too beautiful for the lead male. It's a trope that has always worked, and probably always will because it's primarily males who are marketed to in cinema and television.
In The Seven Year Itch the hot girl/ugly guy theme is doubly funny because Ewell's wife is played by Evelyn Keyes, and she's supposed to be, we guess, not out of Ewell's league. Uh huh. Hollywood, right? Keyes is plenty hot, though of course she's no Monroe. Cue eyeroll from our girlfriends. They aren't clear on why so many men find Marilyn attractive. To them she's a little fat, which is no surprise from the perspective of our pint-sized better halves, but the weight of actresses varied greatly during the mid-century era, from the zaftig Jayne Mansfield to the reedy Audrey Hepburn. Marilyn was somewhere in the middle of the voluptuous range—i.e. not fat. However, her weight did fluctuate. In Something's Gotta Give she was thin enough to be about perfect for current sensibilities. She made any level of poundage look good though, because, first and foremost, she was impossibly cute. This look right here:
Those blue eyes of hers that are pointed in slightly different directions. That's hot. That look also captures Monroe's go-to instrument as an actress—an expression that conveys an expectant, scrubbed, and somewhat (but never totally) naive sex appeal. Having watched her dramas as well as her comedies, there's no doubt her gift was for the latter. Her comedies are unimaginable without her, and she was in her own class. Bardot played the same kittenish character at times, and Demongeot, and other actresses, but Marilyn was simply the best. The Seven Year Itch showcases an eternal star shining her brightest, as she plays a twenty-something aspiring actress who moves in upstairs from the klutzy Ewell, whose wife is away for the summer. Monroe proceeds to unknowingly fuel all sorts of male fantasies that—surprise—start to come true, as the lack of air conditioning in the upstairs flat has her increasingly avoiding it in favor of Ewell's. The way the script is built, with each encounter between Monroe and Ewell another line on the way to potential infidelity is crossed, until the crossed line becomes literal when Monroe discovers that the apartments—which had once been a single two-level residence—are reconnectible by pulling some nails out of the floor where a staircase had been closed off. The possibility of actually living with Marilyn is a delicious dilemma, ingeniously lifted right out of the male id by director/writer Billy Wilder and co-writer George Axelrod. The movie obviously isn't totally wonderful. Some see it as sexist, and certainly its opening sequence of actors painted up like a native American tribe is pure minstrelry, but just like people, movies can harbor out-of-date ideas without being malicious. As long as that line isn't crossed, we can appreciate both The Seven Year Itch, and how far we've progressed since it was made. It premiered today in 1955, and you can see a couple more excellent posters here and here.
No knock on Marilyn but even she's not worth this much to us.
In our continuing efforts to document all things Marilyn, we have today a unique piece of Monroe memorabilia, a life-sized cutout bearing her lovely form. This was made in 1953 as a promo for her drama Don't Bother To Knock, and it's fitting, because she was like cardboard in that flick. We already talked about it, and we think she was one of the greatest stars ever, and a brilliant actress too, but not in that particular psychological snakepit of a film. We're not being iconoclastic. We hate when people do that. We simply accept that every star has dim moments. Bogart made The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Michael Caine made The Hand. It happens.
But memorabilia often stands apart from performances. This cutout of Marilyn would have value no matter which film it was associated with—or even it were not associated with any film at all. You can buy it on Ebay but it'll cost you a small fortune—$1,750, plus shipping. For us, because of where we live, the latter would mean $520 additional mailing costs, plus $513 import fees, all to have the oceanfront humidity here wilt fragile Marilyn like she drank too many martinis. So as much as we'd love to have her, it's a hard no. Also, we never pay more for anything than it costs to fly to Thailand. You gotta to have a code.
Monroe counts the days for Japanese film fans.
Above is a September/October calendar page printed by the Japanese film magazine Eiga no tomo, or “friend of movies.” And who is that ushering summer out and autumn in but Marilyn Monroe? As you've surely noticed by now, Monroe was a huge star in Japan. This is just one of many unique items we've located, along with this, this, this, and others. Though the calendar is for 1954, the photo dates from 1951, and a dandy one it is.
Marilyn Chambers converts the masses.
Zombie movies go back a long way. All the way to 1932's White Zombie. But David Cronenberg's 1977 horror thriller Rabid, along with The Plague of Zombies, Night of the Living Dead and a few other films, was a precursor to all the zombie apocalypse movies and television shows of today. The bizarre Italian promo poster you see above certainly gets across one element of the movie—its grim violence. As you can see, it was retitled Rabid sete di sangue when it played there. It originally premiered in the U.S. in 1977, but didn't reach Italy until today in 1979.
The concept is weird: a woman played by Marilyn Chambers receives an experimental skin graft and as a side effect develops a stinger in her armpit and an insatiable (see what we just did there?) appetite for human blood. When we later glimpse this stinger, it's ensconced in an anus-like cavity of a type that filmgoers would see again and again in Cronenberg's movies. Yeah, that stinger is freaky, and this flick hits on other levels of horror. There's dread, such as when doctors make ready to slice skin off Chambers' thighs with some sort of electric peeler. There's revulsion, which Cronenberg specializes in with his lingering takes on physical deformities. And there's pure terror when infected victims run amok.
Chambers is pretty good in this, with her acting holding up as well as that of the other performers. She also looks quite beautiful, a requirement for the role, since she's essentially a vampiress, using her looks to attract prey. Of special note is a snippet of her classic disco song, “Benihana,” which has aged well for dance music from that period. We should also mention that though this is a pure horror film, the plot also has a disease vs. vaccine element, perfect for the COVID era. We've written superficially about Rabid a few times in the past, and if you're interested you can see those mentions here, here, and here.
Monroe finds herself in a room with no space to maneuver.
It says plenty about Don't Bother To Knock that we queued it up last night, popcorn and adult beverages in hand, having forgotten that we already watched it several years ago. That has less to do with the overall film than with Marilyn Monroe, but we'll get to that in a minute. The film was based on Charlotte Armstrong's Mischief, which was serialized in 1950 in Good Housekeeping magazine, and deals with a mentally disturbed babysitter watching over a child in a fancy New York City hotel suite. Along with Monroe it stars Richard Widmark and Anne Bancroft, with their three characters suffering respectively from derangement, detachment, and disillusionment—three ailments suggested to be caused or exacerbated by life in the big city. Widmark as a cynical single looking for easy action and Bancroft as a world weary torch singer working the hotel lounge don't have any problems a change in luck wouldn't solve, but the movie revolves around Monroe, who, thirteen credited roles into her career at this point, gets a chance to stretch her range as a nutty nanny in need of a lot more than just kind words to get back on the beam.
Monroe's performance in this heavy drama is tough to judge. To us it feels a bit flat, but contemporary reviewers generally liked it, and it's fair to say it helped her climb that last rung to the superstardom she'd reach a year later with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Watch that film and you'll see that, while Don't Bother To Knock asked her to stretch, it did so by requiring that she suppress her natural charisma. That's no easy trick for an actor, let alone someone as incandescent as her, and that, in short, is probably why we forgot we'd already watched the movie. Monroe was so big in her other performances that this flick went down the memory hole. Her iconic movies feel as if they could only have starred her. This one feels like it could have starred anyone. Monroe just isn't Monroe in it. But that probably means her performance is a success. Watching it afresh, we can tell you it's certainly a must for Marilyn fans, and will probably work for vintage film fans of all types. But those unschooled in the oldies might walk away from this effort thinking, Meh, I don't get all the Monroe fuss. But the fuss was appropriate and deserved. Don't Bother To Knock—not a film noir as labeled on many sites, by the way—premiered today in 1953.
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