Our First 50 Years Without Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962

August 4, 2012 is the 50th year anniversary of the death of screen legend Marilyn Monroe. Or at least, the best estimates are that she died before midnight that day. She was found dead in her home before dawn on August 5, 1962 with empty pill bottles about. Despite conspiracy theories, the consensus view is that the police who first investigated the scene were right: this was a suicide.


Since this is JustSheetMusic, we naturally remember Marilyn as the star of the musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and we will honor her here by remembering that 1953 Howard Hawks movie and its music in some detail.

Much (not all) of the music in this movie was composed by the prolific Jules Styne, the British born adopted Chicagoan also remembered for his contribution to the Christmas-song canon, “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!”


Music and Lyrics

But let’s stick with Monroe! In the opening scene of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she and co-star Jane Russell appear in full showgirl regalia and begin singing, “Two Little Girls from Little Rock,” a song that serves the incidental function of giving them a back story. The credits begin to roll only as this song reaches its bridge.

The music is here and throughout the movie relentlessly up-tempo and dominated by the brass section. No dreamy ballads. In vocal quality, Jane Russell’s voice (in character as “Dorothy”) nicely complements Marilyn’s, making them two extra sections of the band.

The lyrics to this song come from the mind and pen of Leo Robin. Robin, born in 1900 in Pittsburgh, was a veteran wordsmith by this time. He had once teamed up with Ralph Rainger, and together they had produced some of the most memorable movie scores of the late 1930s, including The Big Broadcast of 1938, the movie that introduced the world to “Thanks for the Memories.” Bob Hope sang it as a duet with Shirley Ross, though he later made solo renditions thereof his theme song. (Robin and Rainger shared an Oscar for ‘Thanks’.).

Rainger, sadly, died in an airplane crash in 1942, but Robin found it easy enough to work with a wide range of partners, including as it happens Jules Styne.

The lyrics to “Two Little Girls” include a neat reversal. The “little girls” each presumably had her heart broken in Little Rock, and each moved to New York in reaction to that trauma. Having found success there, becoming wined and dined and ermined, they say (Jane Russell in particular says/sings) that she plans to “go back home and punch the nose” of the boy who broke her heart in Little Rock.

After the credits and the instrumental bridge, though, the lyrics opt for a more non-violent sort of vengeance, and the girls sing (together) that they are going back home and each, now secure in the knowledge that she is known in the “biggest banks,” will give her thanks to the one who broke her heart. Living well, and letting him know that you live well, is presumably the best revenge.

Immediately after the song, the two chanteuses head into their dressing room (they share one dressing room, a fact that limits one’s conception of how high a level of stardom they could have reached), and they begin discussing the fact that the boyfriend of Lorelei Lee (Monroe’s character) had been sitting rather expectantly in the audience.

The nerdy boyfriend, Gus Esmond by name, is played to perfection by Tommy Noonan.

Lorelei notes that there was a “bulge in his pocket.” One knows how Mae West would have responded to that straight line! Russell, though, simply pooh-poohs the news at first, allowing Lorelei to inform her that it was a square bulge, “like a box.” So, a big rock is coming for one of the girls from Little Rock.


Physical Culture

Let us not bother too much with the plot. We do have to say, though, that it involves a trans-Atlantic cruise on a ship with a large and well-equipped gymnasium. Lorelei and Dorothy are on an ocean liner hearing to France that just happens to be the same liner that houses the U.S. Olympic team.

Eventually, Russell gets a chance for her own big solo, though back by an all-male chorus of Olympic athletes, just as Dorothy presumably preferred it. [Of the two gals at the center of this movie, Dorothy is the more libidinous, Lorelei the more mercenary.]

Russell’s big solo, “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?,” was not a Styne/Robin concoction. It came into the world through the exertions of Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson.

Its memorable lines include:

I like big muscles and red corpuscles

I like a beautiful hunk o’ man

But I’m no physical culture fan

Ain’t there anyone here for love?

Russell doesn’t participate in the real show-stopper of the movie, which is Monroe’s solo (though with a back-up of well-dressed French suitors) of “Diamonds are a Girls’ Best Friend.” You can watch it here. I’ll add parenthetically that my grandmother used to sing a bit from this song while playing bridge, as a way of celebrating taking a trick in that suit.

If Only Life were Like the Movies

For reasons that seem natural enough within the convoluted plot, shortly after the Atlantic crossing Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee, is briefly penniless in Paris, and immediately solves that problem by getting herself a gig as the star of a show. (Ah, as Woody Allen said in a somewhat different context, if only real life was like that.)

In this routine, Marilyn is wearing a pink dress (many call it “shocking pink”): if you are among Marilyn impersonators some day and hear a reverential reference to The Pink Dress, this is the one meant. See the illustration at the top of this blog entry!

At movie’s end, all the conflicts have been happily resolved. Alas, in life, happy resolutions are quite temporary things, and talented gorgeous actresses who seem to the rest of the world to Have It All are tormented. In the worst of cases they die an early and lonely death.

But if memes can ensure earthly immortality, then Monroe has as fair a shot at it as anyone.

She was, after all, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind,” and we may fittingly end our own tribute with his.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *