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An irresistibly jubilant, iconic musical comedy that made Marilyn Monroe a star

Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe sing "Two Little Girls from Little Rock" wearing glittering red dresses in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Horns blare as two showgirls emerge from behind curtains dressed in identical shimmering red gowns. They knowingly look at one another, step forward, throw their white fur wraps to the ground and begin singing and sashaying to the oh so effervescent "Two Little Girls from Little Rock”. This tantalizing display of bold jazzy music, glittering costumes, and the radiant star power of Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe as the showgirls makes it instantly clear this is going to be one dazzlingly fun film even before the opening credits roll. And “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” doesn’t disappoint for a second. This iconic movie was a major box-office hit, the seventh highest-grossing film of 1953, and remains mighty entertainment. It’s also the film that crystalized the persona and major star status of one of the biggest stars in cinema history, Marilyn Monroe.

Jane Russell, Tommy Noonan, Marilyn Monroe about to board a ship in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

This musical comedy tells the story of two voluptuous showgirls, "Lorelei Lee” (Monroe) and "Dorothy Shaw” (Russell), who each have a penchant for men – the diamond-loving “Lorelei” for millionaires, and the fun-loving “Dorothy” for a good-looking man regardless of wallet size. “Lorelei” is engaged to millionaire "Gus Esmond Jr.”, and they are sailing to Paris on Saturday to be married. But “Mr. Esmond Sr.”, doesn’t want his son to marry what he calls a “blonde mantrap” and stops “Gus” from going to Paris. Undeterred, “Lorelei” tells “Dorothy”: “I’m sailing on Saturday with or without ‘Mr. Esmond’ and I’m not coming back from Europe ’til he comes and gets me when we're in France, where his father can't phone him twice a day”.

Jane Russell and handsome men sing "Bye Bye Baby" in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

So “Lorelei” sets out for Paris sans “Gus” with one caveat – that she remain mischief free during the cruise, for any hint of a scandal would give “Mr. Esmond Sr.” enough reason to put an end to their marriage plans once and for all. So “Gus” relies on “Dorothy” to act as chaperone. Sounds simple enough, except also onboard the ship happen to be the owner of the second largest diamond mine in South Africa ("Sir Francis 'Piggy' Beekman”), the hunky US Olympic Team, and a mysterious man named "Ernie Malone”. It’s all a playful setup for a delightfully lighthearted satirical romp about materialism, greed, gender roles, beauty, jealously, jewels, a diamond tiara, and ultimately, friendship.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell sing "When Love Goes Wrong" at a Paris cafe in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

In addition to the film’s fabulous songs, gorgeous Technicolor, and star magic, what makes “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” so refreshingly unique is the tight supportive bond between “Lorelei” and “Dorothy”. “Lorelei” always looks out for “Dorothy”, who she calls “the best and loyalest friend a girl ever had”, and keeps trying to find her the right man. And “Dorothy” is protective of “Lorelei”, such as her response when “Malone” makes a remark about "Lorelei", telling him, "Let’s get this straight. Nobody talks about 'Lorelei' but me”. Devoid of competition or jealousy, their friendship creates what is perhaps the only female buddy film of the Studio Era. Also unique is how each woman is in complete control of her own sexuality, even as every man in the film gawks at them. This undeniable chemistry, respect, and playful sense of fun between Russell and Monroe joyfully colors the entire film.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell with Elliot Reid in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” began as a satirical series of short stories about the dalliances of a fictional blonde gold-digging flapper named "Lorelei Lee" in the hedonistic 1920's, written by Anita Loos and published in Harper's Bazaar magazine in 1925. They were so popular, Loos published them in book form in what became the internationally best-selling 1925 novel "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady". It was then adapted into a 1926 comic strip, a 1926 stage adaptation by Loos, a 1928 silent film, and a hit 1949 Broadway musical written by Loos and Joseph Fields with songs by Leo Robin and Jule Styne, which ran for nearly two years and starred Carol Channing as "Lorelei" in a legendary performance (though she was not even considered for the film version).

Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe sing and dance to "When Love Goes Wrong" outside a Paris cafe in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Movie musicals were incredibly popular at the time, and 20th Century Fox's head of production Darryl F. Zanuck ended up high-bidder for the film rights to the “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” Broadway musical, intending it as a vehicle for the studio’s biggest star, blonde sex symbol Betty Grable. Director Howard Hawks was to direct and his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Charles Lederer, was hired to adapt it for the screen. Hawks’ friend Hoagy Carmichael along with Harold Adamson were engaged to write additional songs (they wrote "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love?" and "When Love Goes Wrong").

Director Howard Hawks, stars Jane Russell, George WInslow, and Marilyn Monroe relax on the set of the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Howard Hawks (standing) with cast members Jane Russell, George WInslow, and Marilyn Monroe on the set of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Hawks was one of Hollywood’s top directors, having directed a slew of box-office hits in the 1930s and during the entire 1940s. Often also acting as cowriter and/or producer on his films, he had a heavy hand in shaping them, and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is no exception. By the time he and Lederer came onboard, Betty Grable's star power was losing its luster and Zanuck was having second thoughts about shelling out her hefty $150,000 per film salary. Having just directed Monroe in a supporting role in the 1952 screwball comedy “Monkey Business”, Hawks had the idea of casting her as “Lorelei”. Though Monroe was under contract to Fox, Zanuck disliked her and was unsure she could carry a movie or even sing. According to Hawks in the book, “People Will Talk”, he himself had the idea to use Monroe, telling Zanuck, “I’ll [direct] it if I can get somebody to back her up, somebody to hold her up… [like] Jane Russell”. Russell was an established actress and sex symbol and this appealed to Zanuck, along with the fact he could pay Monroe her contractual rate of only $1,500 a week (Monroe later claimed it was $500).

Jane Russell surrounded by the shirtless US Olympic Team in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

The bigger star at the time, Russell was top billed and Hawks increased her role to equal that of “Lorelei” (even changing the opening song from “A Little Girl from Little Rock” to “Two Little Girls from Little Rock”). Hawks also saw to it that the film was modernized for current audiences, no longer taking place in the 1920s, and tailored to the talents of the film’s stars. He refused to direct the musical sequences, which were directed and choreographed by Jack Cole. Several of Hawks’ trademark elements can be found in the film, including his tough-talking “Hawksian woman” (“Dorothy”) and his common theme of male bonding, this time transferred to two women. And many of Hawks’ films contain touches of homoeroticism, perhaps none as splendidly blatant as this film’s entire musical number "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love?”, which may account for why that song was often cut when the film was shown on TV.

Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe and a missing diamond tiara in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Hawks creates a thrilling pace, and his gift for unobtrusive filmmaking, flair for comedy, and knack for getting dialogue to appear fresh and natural, are all reasons this film is so utterly enjoyable. He managed to bring out the best in his actors, particularly Monroe and Russell who both jump off the screen with charisma, humor, and sex. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” became the second biggest moneymaking film of Hawks’ career (after his 1941 hit “Sergeant York”), which says a lot considering his legion of hits. This is the fifth Hawks film to appear on this blog to date, the others being "Bringing Up Baby", "His Girl Friday", "Red River", and “Scarface”, and you can read more about Howard Hawks’ life and career in the latter three posts. Just click on the film titles to open them.

Jane Russell stars as showgirl "Dorothy"  in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

Top-billed in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is Jane Russell who stars as “Dorothy Shaw”, the no-nonsense showgirl with a dry wit and weakness for a good time with a handsome man. As she says when questioned by “Gus” about her chaperoning abilities, “Now let's get this straight ‘Gus’. The chaperone's job is to see that nobody else has fun. But nobody chaperones the chaperone. That's why I'm so right for this job!”. And Russell is so right for her job in portraying “Dorothy”, as she breezes through the role with ease and confidence, adding a delicious deadpan sarcasm and “I’ve seen it all before” air, imbuing lines like "I like a man who can run faster than I can” or “Honey, you’ll hurt yourself” with her own brand of humor.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell sing "Two Girls From Little Rock" in glittering red matching dresses on the opening song in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

There’s a wonderful effortlessness to Russell’s performance as she listens and reacts to her fellow actors with a beautifully underplayed realness. Her work opposite Monroe is stellar, giving off the feeling of sisterly pride and affection just from the way she listens to and looks at “Lorelei”, even during their duets. Notice how she watches Monroe during the opening number, or while “Lorelei” is looking at “Lady Beekman’s” diamond tiara. There’s a proud warmth and affinity flowing from her rarely seen between two superstar actresses. It’s quite wonderful. And then there’s Russell’s comedic, sexy delivery in her standout musical number "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love?”, in which she’s surrounded by the hot gymnastics team who are more interested in flexing muscles and wrestling with each other than in "Dorothy". Russell's spot-on performance adds gobs of laughs and heart to this fantastical tale.

Jane Russell looks at a big bicep on a shirtless athlete during the song "Ain't There Anyone Her for Love?" in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

Jane Russell

Minnesota-born Jane Russell moved to California’s San Fernando Valley when she was two. She played piano and acted in high school stage productions before turning to modeling. Her mother wanted her to study acting and she joined the Max Reinhardt Theatrical Workshop in Hollywood. It wasn't long before film mogul Howard Hughes saw photos of the 19 year old Russell and signed her to a seven year contract. Obsessed with her ample breasts, he did everything he could to showcase them in her film debut, the 1943 Western "The Outlaw" (which Hughes produced and took over directing from Hawks). Hughes went so far as to design a custom seamless underwire bra to make it look as if she wasn't wearing a bra (which Russell later said was so uncomfortable she secretly didn't use it, but stuffed her own bra with tissues to create the same effect).

Jane Russell stars as showgirl "Dorothy" in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Famous George Hurrell photo of actress sex symbol Hollywood movie star Jane Russell in hay, tight blouse, skirt and gun for the western movie "The Outlaw"
Jane Russell publicity shot for "The Outlaw"

With an obvious emphasis on her bosoms, "The Outlaw" had major difficulty getting past the Motion Picture Production Code (see my "Red Dust" post), and shots in which her breasts stood out (so to speak) were removed. Even so, after a week in theaters, “The Outlaw” was pulled for violating the Code. Hughes mounted a publicity campaign to create controversy and generate public interest in the film and had Russell pose for an abundance of publicity photos, the most famous of which had her reclining in a haystack wearing a seemingly ripped shirt and raised skirt, holding a phallically placed gun. That photo became iconic and the many publicity shots of her taken for the film made her and her physique famous, and she became one of World War II's most popular pinups. "The Outlaw" became the most controversial film of its day, and when finally released in 1946, was a major box-office hit (though it’s a mediocre Western).

Jane Russell sings the homoerotic "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?" to shirtless Olympic athletes who ignore her in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlement Prefer Blondes"

color portrait in red hat of Hollywood actress movie star sex symbol Jane Russell
Jane Russell

Hughes wouldn’t allow Russell to appear in other films (fearing if she bombed it would hurt “The Outlaw”), so sadly, her career was on hold during her prime years. Her second film, "Young Widow", finally came in 1946, but lost money. She took a short break to pursue a music career, recording songs and singing with the Kay Kyser Orchestra on radio, and returned to the screen for her third film in 1948's "The Paleface" opposite Bob Hope, where she showed her comedic talents. It was a huge box-office hit. When Hughes bought RKO Pictures, she began making films there, including two noirs in which she sizzles onscreen opposite Robert Mitchum (1951's "That Kind of Woman" and 1952's "Macao"). She had another success with 1952's "Son of Paleface” again with Hope. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" became her biggest hit and remains her best and most remembered film. It was perhaps the only time her talents were used to perfection. She ended her contract with Hughes in 1954. In her career, Russell appeared in eight TV shows and twenty-five films, others of which include "The Tall Men", "Hot Blood", "The Revolt of Mamie Stover", and a 1955 sequel to "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, "Gentlemen Marry Brunettes” opposite Jeanne Crain. In the 1970s and early 80s, Russell became the TV commercial spokesperson for Playtex Cross-Your-Heart Bras. She also worked in nightclubs and theater, including her Broadway debut as a replacement for "Joanne" in the 1971 production of Stephen Sondheim's “Company”.

Elliot Reid and Jane Russell fall in love in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Color portrait photo of Hollywood actress, movie star, sex symbol Jane Russell in strapless red jeweled dress
Jane Russell

Russell married three times (once divorced, twice widowed), and because of a botched abortion when she was eighteen, wasn't able to have children, though she adopted three. She founded the World Adoption International Fund (WAIF) in 1956, helping find homes for over 50,000 children, for which she was awarded the Living Legacy Award from the Women's International Center in 1989. A staunchly conservative born-again Christian, later in life she called herself "a teetotal, mean-spirited, rightwing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist". She became an alcoholic after her second husband died three months after their wedding in 1968, was briefly jailed for drunk driving in 1978, and did time in rehab. She published her autobiography, "Jane Russell: My Path and My Detours" in 1985. Near the end of her life I unexpectedly sat next to Ms. Russell at the Oscars. What a thrill. At one point she said to me, "I can't see, I can't hear, but I can still dance". Jane Russell died in 2011 at the age of 89.

Marilyn Monroe sings "Bye Bye Baby to Tommy Noonan in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Marilyn Monroe sets the screen on fire as “Lorelei Lee”, the dumb-when-she-wants-to-be showgirl with weaknesses for millionaires and diamonds. Monroe is an actress who puts her body, soul, and raw emotions into her work like no one else, and as such, you can’t take your eyes off her. Watch when she pulls “Gus” aside to sing "Bye Bye Baby”. Teeming with joy, love, vulnerability and sex, it feels as if she's about to devour him. It's an actress at the top of her game. Monroe brings this abundance of authentic inner emotion to every scene and line of dialogue, from “Lorelei’s" simple excitement when first seeing her cabin on the ship ("My... this is like a room isn't it?”), to her shock when finding the tiara missing. Her rare infectious magic makes you feel alive when you watch her.

Marilyn Monroe in pink dress sings "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" with George Chakiris in the background in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentelmen Prefer Blondes"

color portrait of Hollywood sex symbol blonde actress in black sweater icon movie star Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe

It’s with "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" that Monroe attained full-fledged movie star status. Her gorgeous looks, warmth, comedic timing, enticing charm, and combination of innocence, sexual confidence, vulnerability, and strength, made her a worldwide sensation and gave birth to her breathy, doe-eyed, dumb blonde image. Being so believable in the role, it’s easy to think Monroe was as “dumb” as her character, but she was definitely acting, as Monroe herself was quite intelligent. When “Lorelei” exclaims "Oh look! Round windows!” as she first sees portholes, it’s more than safe to assume Monroe knew what portholes were, but she delivers the line as “Lorelei” with such conviction (and perfect comedic flavor), one can’t help but think Monroe herself must also be clueless. As Russell said in a 1991 interview, “She was certainly not your dumb blonde at all. A very bright, sensitive girl”.

Marilyn Monroe stars as Lorelei Lee and discovers portholes in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

candid photo of actress Hollywood movie star icon sex symbol blonde Marilyn Monroe standing in street
Marilyn Monroe

Because of playing dumb, Monroe's performance skills are often trivialized. Esteemed film director George Cukor spoke to this in a 1971 interview at UCLA when talking about Monroe and Jean Harlow (both movie star sex symbols who died young, who he directed): “I think both those women had something for the public… they were very attractive and sexy and a lot of their skills were underrated. I think both those women were very, very expert comediennes which is very, very difficult to do. They played comedy absolutely naturally as though they didn't even quite understand what they were saying, yet they were funny. I think they were both very talented actresses, and who knows if they'd lived where they might have landed”.

Marilyn Monroe stars as showgirl Lorelei Lee in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Monroe was in complete control of her star persona and magnetism. My first acting teacher of six years, Gordon Phillips (a classmate of Monroe's at the Actors Studio), would mention how she could turn it on and off. I remember him telling a story when he and Monroe were in public after class. She was plainly dressed with a scarf and little or no makeup and no one paid her any attention. She then said, “Do you want to see her?”, removed her scarf, shifted something internally and became Marlyn Monroe. Suddenly everyone around noticed her and realized she was Marilyn Monroe. She was absolutely in charge of what she was doing and was able to project this charisma onscreen.

Marilyn Monroe is stuck in a porthole window in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

young color portrait photo of Hollywood icon actress sexy symbol Marilyn Monroe in yellow sweater with red scarf
Marilyn Monroe

Just before “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, Monroe’s career was beginning to take off. A bit after making her film debut in 1947's "Dangerous Years", Monroe first gained attention in 1950 with a small role in "The Asphalt Jungle" and then "All About Eve", after which she signed a seven year contract with Fox. While still in supporting roles, her popularity began to grow and thousands of fan letters began arriving at the studio for her each week. Then in 1952, a calendar surfaced from her past in which she posed nude. Feeling it would end her career, Fox insisted she deny it was her in the calendar, but Monroe was boldly unapologetic, stating she had no money at the time and needed the $50 she was paid, telling reporter Aline Mosby “Oh, the calendar’s hanging in all garages all over town. Why deny it? You can get one any place. Besides, I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve done nothing wrong”. Her frankness and honesty garnered sympathy from the public which boosted her fame. Her first big breakthrough came starring in 1953's "Niagara", in which her trademark look of short blonde hair, beauty mark, dark eyebrows, and red lipstick was established. That film made her a certified sex symbol.

Charles Coburn and Marilyn Monroe in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" came later that same year, with a lot riding on it. Still working under her original contract, according to Monroe, she was paid $500 a week while Russell was paid $150,000 for the film. Monroe was originally not given a dressing room, told “you’re not a star”, to which she replied, “The name of this picture is ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, and whatever I am. I am the blonde”. She was given a dressing room. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" was Monroe's second starring role in a major film (after “Niagara”), and she was insecure and nervous but always knew her lines and worked hard, often rehearsing with her acting coach well after everyone left for the day, sometimes until midnight, returning to the set early the next morning.

Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in the female buddy film in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Candid photo of Hollywood sex symbol, movie star, icon Marilyn Monroe outside in the wind with trees int he background in white halter top
Marilyn Monroe

Veteran actress Russell said she felt Monroe was like a little sister she could help along. Expected on the set at 9 am, when Monroe wasn't there, Russell found out she had arrived around 5 am but was too terrified to come out of her dressing room. So Russell (who nicknamed Monroe “Blondles”) would casually stop by Monroe’s dressing room each morning and say, “Come on Blondles, it’s time to go”, and they’d walk together to the set on time. Russell found Monroe very kind, terribly sensitive, immensely shy, and ultra determined to get ahead. They got along famously well despite rumors the press fabricated that they had an ongoing feud. Shortly before the film’s opening, Monroe and Russell graced the cover of Life magazine in their opening number red dresses and were invited to put their hand and footprints in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. This added great publicity for the film.

Tommy Noonan and Marilyn Monroe confront his father in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

On the heels of the enormous success of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” came Monroe's next film, a comedy in the same vein as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (and the second film ever released in CinemaScope), "How to Marry a Millionaire”, which was another enormous hit also in 1953. Still under her original contract, Monroe refused to keep playing what she called “sex roles”. Now the biggest star at Fox, she negotiated a new contract in 1954. Shrewd about her image, to maintain it, her contract requested she get director and cinematographer approval of her films, $100,000 a film, that she appear only in A list movies, and have the ability to make films outside of Fox. Fox met all her requests – an unprecedented amount of control given to any actor at the time. Indeed, Monroe was no dumb blonde. You can read more about the life and career of Marilyn Monroe in my earlier posts “Some Like It Hot” and “The Misfits”, and a small blurb about her in “All About Eve”.

Marilyn Monroe sings Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend in the pink dress by Travilla in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

One cannot talk about “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” without mentioning “Lorelei’s” big solo musical number, the spectacular "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend”. Decked out in a ravishing bright pink satin, figure-hugging, strapless dress with matching gloves, she rejects men’s heart, opting instead for dependable, lasting diamonds. The number is elegant, romantic, and Monroe is beyond sexy as she bumps, grinds, and slithers amongst men in tuxedos, women in pink tutus, and lots of shimmering diamonds. Her luscious performance, the costumes, dancers, stunning visuals, and the catchy, steamy, blazing tune are enough to invoke goosebumps. This number has become one of the most iconic and imitated in all of cinema and the American Film Institute (AFI) named it the 12th Greatest Song in American Movies. It has been referenced innumerable times, including by Margot Robbie in the 2002 film “Birds of Prey”, Nicole Kidman in the 2001 film "Moulin Rouge", Madonna's 1985 music video "Material Girl", and works by Kylie Minogue, Geri Halliwell, Anna Nicole Smith, and countless others.

Marilyn Monroe surrounded by men and diamonds singing Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Publicity photo of Hollywood movie star, icon, actress, sex symbol Marilyn Monroe in the controversial gold dress designed by William Travilla
Marilyn Monroe in the gold dress by Travilla

The film’s sumptuous costumes were designed by Travilla. The discovery of Monroe's nude calendar came when"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" was in pre-production, and according to the book "Dressing Marilyn", Fox told Travilla "Cover her up, we are not selling her body". As a result, you’ll notice Monroe’s body is hardly exposed in the film, yet Travilla still managed to show off her figure to the hilt. However, his original fishnet dress with strategically hand sewn jewels (that took months to make) for "Lorelei's" "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number was now out. He then quickly came up with the legendary pink dress. Another costume casualty was a low-cut gold lamé dress which was so tight Monroe had to be sewn into it. It was to be used in several scenes but was cut from the film except for a brief glimpse of it from the back, when "Dorothy" and "Malone" see "Lorelei" dancing with "Piggy" through a window. Monroe loved the dress so much, she wore it to the 1953 Photoplay awards when honored as Hollywood's Fastest Rising Star. Monroe and the dress stole the spotlight from everyone, including an unhappy Joan Crawford who publicly denounced Monroe and the dress as putting on a burlesque show. Monroe also wore the dress in one of her most famous publicity photos (see above). Many of Travilla’s dresses from this film have become iconic.

Charles Coburn dances with Marilyn Monroe in the famous gold dress in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Hollywood costume designer portrait of young William Travilla holding cigarette
William Travilla

With an early interest in fashion, Los Angeles-born William Travilla, known simply as Travilla, began working as a film costume designer at Columbia Pictures in 1941. Having trouble finding continuous work, he began selling paintings at a popular bar. Movie star Ann Sheridan began buying them, and shortly after, requested he design her costumes for her 1947 Warner Brothers film noir "Nora Prentiss", which was a hit, leading Travilla to steady costume design work for B movies at Warners. He won a Best Costume Design Oscar for 1950's "Adventures of Don Juan", and also designed costumes for the classic sci-fi "The Day the Earth Stood Still” and 1952's"Don't Bother to Knock", where he first worked with Monroe. He quickly moved to A list movies and earned three more Oscar nominations ("How to Marry a Millionaire", "There's No Business Like Show Business", and "The Stripper"). A favorite of Monroe’s, Travilla designed costumes for her in eight films, including her immortal white dress in "The Seven Year Itch" which flies up as she stands over a subway grate. Other titles from the nearly 100 films and TV shows he clothed include "Bus Stop", "Valley of the Dolls", "The Revolt of Mamie Stover", "Pickup on South Street”, and "Viva Zapata!". Travilla earned five Emmy Award nominations, winning one for a 1985 episode of "Dallas". He was married to actress Dona Drake for over forty years, until her death. William Travilla died in 1990 at the age of 70.

Charles Coburn talks with Marilyn Monroe while Jane Russell looks through the porthole in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Charles Coburn costars as “Sir Francis ‘Piggy’ Beekman”, the man who owns the second largest diamond mine in South Africa. A wonderful character actor with great comedic timing and a warm presence, he is completely believable as a rich older gentlemen taken by “Lorelei’s” beauty. Coburn was one of a handful of character actors who also became a star.

Charles Coburn stars in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

color portrait photo of Hollywood character actor Charles Coburn with monocle and cigarette
Charles Coburn

Georgia-born Charles Coburn began working odd jobs at a theater at the age of 14, becoming the manager by the time he was 18. He eventually became a theater actor and made his Broadway debut in 1901's "Up York State". He married a fellow actress and they formed their own acting company while he also worked on Broadway in over two dozen plays. When his wife died in 1937, he moved to Los Angeles and began a steady film career in his mid-50s. Coburn appeared in around 70 films through 1960 (and over two dozen TV shows), often playing tough on the outside and soft on the inside authoritative characters in classics that include "The Lady Eve", "Heaven Can Wait", "Monkey Business", "The Paradine Case", "In This Our Life", and "King's Row". He won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his wonderful performance in 1943's "The More the Merrier", and earned two additional nominations for 1942's "The Devil and Miss Jones" and 1947's "The Green Years”. He was married twice. Charles Coburn died in 1961 at the age of 84. My singing teacher lives in what used to be Coburn's house, where I took private lessons for over three decades. Beautiful house with fantastic acoustics.

Tommy Noonan and Marilyn Monroe and Bye Bye Baby in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Tommy Noonan plays “Gus Esmond Jr.”, “Lorelei’s" nerdy fiancé, of whom she says "There's not another millionaire in the world with such a gentle disposition”. And the comedic Noonan is very funny in the role, always extracting a laugh from me when he first appears with his nerdy, mild manner. Russell told an interesting story that happened after Noonan first kissed Monroe during filming. A crew member asked him what it was like, to which he responded “I felt like I was being swallowed whole”. The sensitive Monroe overheard the remark, burst into tears, hid in her dressing room and wouldn’t come out. You’d never know there was any friction between them, as Noonan and Monroe create a playfully awkward chemistry grounded in mutual love, just right for “Gus” and “Lorelei”.

Tommy Noonan stars as "Gus" in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Hollywood character actor, comedian, movie star portrait of young Tommy Noonan
Tommy Noonan

The son of an Irish vaudeville comedian and a Scottish piano teacher, Washington-born Tommy Noonan began acting on the New York stage and started his own repertory company before serving in the US Navy during World War II. His film debut was an uncredited role in 1938's "Boys Town", and his next film appearance was seven years later in another uncredited role in 1945's "George White's Scandals”, which began his steady film career. Though he starred in a few films in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Noonan is best known for his supporting roles, standouts being "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and as "Danny McGuire" in the 1954 version of "A Star is Born" opposite Judy Garland. He was part of a comedy duo with Peter Marshall, and the two appeared in nightclubs, TV, and in four films, including starring in 1959's "The Rookie". Noonan appeared in just over a dozen TV shows, including a stint as "Jolly Jackson" on a 1967 episode of “Batman”. His over 50 film credits also include "Adam's Rib", "Born to Kill", "Violent Saturday", "How to Be Very, Very Popular", "Trapped", "Girl Most Likely”, and “Promises, Promises". He was married twice. His older half brother was actor John Ireland (who you can read about in my "Red River" post), and the two appeared together in the 1949 film "I Shot Jesse James". Tommy Noonan died in 1968 of a brain tumor at the age of 46.

Marilyn Monroe stuck in a porthole with George Winslow  in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Though onscreen briefly, George Winslow nearly steals every scene he's in as "Henry Spofford III”. He is perhaps the only actor ever to give Monroe a run for her money in grabbing attention. His deadpan delivery and inflection are simply hysterical, and the scene with him and Monroe by the porthole is certainly one of the film's highlights.

George WInslow is the little boy Henry Spofford III in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

portrait photo of 1950s child star movie actor Hollywood boy George WInslow
George Winslow

Los Angeles-born George Winslow had a brief career as a child actor during the 1950s. Nicknamed "Foghorn" as a boy because of his loud, raspy voice, his voice and deadpan demeanor made audiences laugh when he first appeared on Art Linkletter's radio show, "People are Funny", leading to more appearances on the show. One of the listeners was Cary Grant, who suggested the six year old play one of his sons in his upcoming film, 1952's "Room for One More”. That movie became Winslow's film debut and he next appeared in 1952's, "Monkey Business", again with Grant. Winslow appeared in eleven films and four TV shows through 1958, including "The Rocket Man", "Artists and Models", and "An Affair to Remember". By the age of twelve, Winslow's voice and boyish appeal began to change, and after 1958's "Wild Heritage", he retired from acting. "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" is his most famous role. He got along well with his costars and Russell would play with him when he got bored on the set. After graduating from school, Winslow served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, loved photography and cats, and worked for the Postal Service. He never married. George Winslow died in 2015 at the age of 69.

Norman Varden owns a diamond tiara in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Color photo of character actress Hollywood movie star older Norma Varden
Norma Varden

A quick mention of Norma Varden who plays “Lady Beekman”, “Pinky’s” wife and the owner of a diamond tiara. Varden is excellent at playing rich uppity socialites and makes the most of her brief screen time. Another face classic moviegoers might recognize, Varden appeared in well over 150 films and TV shows including many classics (albeit in mostly very brief roles), three of which are already on this blog, ”Casablanca”, "Strangers on a Train”, and "The Sound of Music”, and you can find out a bit more about this talented character actress in those posts.

Marilyn Monroe and George Chakiris in the Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend musical number in the classic Hollywood film "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Hollywood actor, movie star, dancer young color portrait photo of George Chakiris
George Chakiris

One last mention of George Chakiris, who appears as one of the chorus dancers in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. Chakiris would go on to become a major star and Oscar winner, and this film came at the start of his career when he worked as a dancer in a long line of films such as "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.", "The Farmer Takes a Wife", and "There's No Business Like Show Business” again with Monroe (he also worked as an extra with Monroe in “How to Marry a Millionaire”). Chakiris has fond memories of Monroe as being quiet, kind, and professional during “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, recalling in his autobiography, "My West Side Story", "[Monroe] didn't engage in small talk, not because she was unfriendly but because she was just very focused on her work. Between takes while she filmed her scenes with us chorus dancers, she didn't disappear into her dressing room or demand attention from hair and makeup. She simply went back to her starting position and waited for her cue". In 1960, Chakiris landed his legendary, Oscar-winning role as "Bernardo" in the movie musical "West Side Story", and you can read more about his life and career in my post on that masterpiece.

Marilyn Monroe sings "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in famous pink dress by Travilla in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

This week’s movie is a true Hollywood classic with great tunes and enough star power, glamor, humor, and dazzle to make you want to watch it over and over again. Enjoy the exuberant “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”!

This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform through watching a recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and more. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications of every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!



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TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):

Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in matching glittering jeweled gowns in the opening song "Two Girls from Little Rock" in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

In case you’re wondering, Russell and Monroe both did their own singing in the film, except for the brief introduction of “Diamonds of a Girls Best Friend” (sung by Gloria Wood), and a few of the high notes in the song which ghost singer Marni Nixon claims to have dubbed.

Jane Russell pulled out of the swimming pool by Olympic athletes in the classic film Hollywood movie musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

The moment when Russell is knocked into the pool in the number "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love?” was not planned but happened by accident and was kept in.


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