Frequently, when Karen and I attend a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, or a formal dinner, I can’t help but notice that some people, all decked out in formal wear, look, somehow, not quite themselves. In fact, many women—and it’s mostly women who are genuinely transformed by glittering evening wear—appear like gaudy imitations of themselves. In short, the ordinary day-to-day look is a better, more appealing fit.
Helen Rose, the great Hollywood costume designer who I’ve written about here and here, saw Marilyn Monroe at the very beginning of her career. In her memoir, Just Make Them Beautiful, Rose observes MM with a sharp eye:
She was a sensation in her small part [The Asphalt Jungle, 1950]. The audience made her a star, but the studio [Columbia] did not pick up her option—and they could have had her for only $125 a week. MGM had gone through their share of trouble with this kind of girl, talented, beautiful, but unstable. It always ended the same: liquor, dope, suicide or too much adulation from too many men. Marilyn was snapped up by another studio [a seven year contract at 20th Century Fox], and the rest is history.
Marilyn Monroe was a very kind, gentle girl, but she was—figure-wise—no designer’s dream, nor was she a fashion plate. Somehow she always looked like she had come in from a windstorm or as Ann Strauss, who handles fashion publicity, would say, “Like an unmade bed.”
After the film Johnny [Hyde, MM’s agent] came to me with the request that I try to make her look more chic, and Benny Thau [MGM executive] said it was OK. Both he and Johnny hoped some producer or director on the lot would see her and put her in another picture. Lana Turner, who was exactly the same size as Marilyn and was also a beautiful blonde, had just finished a film in which she wore a black silk cocktail suit. In it, Lana looked crisp and stunning, Marilyn only looked untidy and cheap.
The beautiful models at the Chez Pierre, who looked sensational with very little on, looked actually frumpy in their street clothes. This also applied to Marilyn who looked much better in a skimpy towel than in expensive, high fashion clothes.
Rose’s observation is shrewd.
In photos—and Marilyn might be the most frequently photographed Hollywod star of all time—where MM is in casual clothes, light make-up, and windblown hair, she projects vulnerabilty and intimacy, qualities that are sorely lacking when she’s in glittering evening wear with lacquered hair and her face a tight mask. Indeed, the high fashion Marilyn lacks warmth and spontaneity; she’s trying so hard to be a sex symbol that she is drained of all humanity and is transformed into a parody of a ripe female.
Here’s an interesting article about Marilyn Monroe’s last weekend, just after Bobby Kennedy broke off their five month affair.
‘Marilyn was distraught and heartbroken. She felt the Kennedys had handed her around like a piece of meat,’ Rupert Allan, her publicist and one of her last true Hollywood friends, had said earlier. Her grip on reality—already weakend by mental illness, drink and drugs—was certainly shaky.
Read the entire article.
H/T Bill Brandt