gentlemen prefer blondes

Marilyn Monroe: The Persona (Dead Blondes Episode 7) by Karina Longworth

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How did Marilyn Monroe become the most iconic blonde of the 1950s, if not the century? Today we will trace how her image was created and developed, through her leading roles in movies and her featured coverage in the press, looking specifically at the ways in which Monroe’s on-screen persona took shape during the height of her career.  We’ll pay special attention to the films Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, and Bus Stop, and the struggles behind the scenes of Seven Year Itch and The Prince and the Showgirl.

Marilyn Monroe in  How to Marry a Millionaire  

Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire 

Marilyn Monroe,  The Seven Year Itch  

Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch 

Star Wars Episode VIII: How Norma Jeane Became Marilyn Monroe (YMRT: 34) by Karina Longworth


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Today’s episode tells the secret, forgotten, and highly disputed story of the making of arguably the most potent Hollywood sex symbol of all time. In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe embodied a male fantasy of a woman who gave freely of herself, particularly of her body, and asked for nothing in return. Her blonde bombshell persona, “dumb” but also often touchingly vulnerable, would seem to be the exact opposite of the pragmatic femininity of the World War II era epitomized by women’s films stars like Bette Davis and “we can do it!” sloganeer Rosie the Riveter. But in fact, before she was famous,Marilyn Monroe was Rosie the Riveter: at age 18, with her husband off in the Merchant Marines, Monroe went to work at an airplane parts factory. And it was there that she was discovered, thanks (in a roundabout way) to Ronald Reagan. In this episode, we’ll explore how Marilyn became Marilyn, by tracing the former Norma Jean Baker from her troubled childhood through the war years, her early struggles to get a foothold in Hollywood, and the nude photo scandal which cemented her stardom. We’ll see how the future Marilyn’s experiences mirrored those of other American woman, and the culture at large, in the post-war decade, and we’ll see how her projection of vulnerability and even victimhood would ultimately have radical implications. 

Show Notes:

Like many women, I suspect, I’ve been studying MarilynMonroe my entire life, both accidentally and on purpose. I’ve read tons about her over the years — and if you haven’t and are looking for a place to start, I would recommend All of the Available Light: A MarilynMonroe Reader — but I had never focused specifically on her pre-fame years. Knowing I would never be able to read or reread all of the writings on Monroe in the limited time I had for researching this episode, I decided to focus on two books published within a couple of years of one another, both of which purported to offer fresh analysis of the pre-Marilyn years of Norma Jeane, and neither of which I had read before.

As a feminist reconsideration of Monroe’s personal story and legacy, I found Gloria Steinem’s Marilyn to be important, and even inspiring. It does, however, gloss over some of the details of this period inMonroe’s life, a flaw you won’t find in Donald Spoto’s MarilynMonroe: The Biography. However, if Steinem’s book is transparent about looking atMarilyn through feminism-tinted glasses, Spoto’s slants are, far less explicitly, and for lack of a better word, anti-feminist. Spoto is a generally well-respected biographer and even those who call into question some of his assertions in this book agree that it’s one of the most serious biographies of his subject. But the fact remains that anyone who writes about MarilynMonroe can only cherry pick amongst the scraps of biographical information left behind, and it seems like many of her observers choose what they want to choose to constitute evidence of the “real Marilyn” versus her sex goddess persona. There are traps within Marilyn scholarship, particularly in terms of her sexual history and appetites, which Spoto didn’t invent or end, but which he does occasionally fall into. But, you know, there but for the grace of etc etc..


Fable of the Elements by Joan of Arc

Knife Fights Every Night by Joan of Arc

Them Brainwash Days by Joan of Arc

Oceanic Dawn by DJ Masque

Undercover Vampire Policeman by Chris Zabriskie

Les Yper-Sound by Stereolab

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Foxboz by Joan of Arc

Wonder Cycle by Chris Zabriskie

Intelligent Galaxy by The Insider

Out of the Skies, Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod

Natural’s Not in It (The Rakes Remix) by Gang of Four

Barbara performed by US Army Blues

Gymnopedia No 2 by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

Marilyn Monroe by Nicki Minaj

YMRT #18: The Many Loves of Howard Hughes, Chapter 4: Jane Russell by Karina Longworth

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Our long-running series on the women in the life of the infamous aviator/filmmaker continues with a look at Hughes’ professional and personal relationship with Jane Russell, which began in 1940 when Hughes randomly pulled a photograph of the 19 year-old out of a pile, and lasted for most of her film career. As the center of the ingenious five-year pre-release publicity campaign for The Outlaw — Hughes’ proto-exploitation Western, whose censorship struggles with the Hays Office would help to loosen the strictures of the Production Code — Jane Russell became mega-famous, one of the top pin-ups of World War II, through still photos alone, long before anyone ever saw her in a movie. She was a fascinating bundle of contradictions — a born-again Christian conservative who cheerfully became the pre-sexual revolution’s icon of a fantasy of freedom through sex, if not exactly sexual freedom — and her relationship with Hughes was unlike any other in the billionaire’s increasingly troubled life. Also in this episode: Hughes’ tortured affair with 15 year-old Faith Domergue, on whom he cheated with Ava Gardner; his aviation disappointments of the 1940s, exemplified by the Spruce Goose; the undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder which would emerge during — and complicate — the extended production, post-production, censorship battles and delayed release of The Outlaw; and the four page memo Hughes wrote and sent to Josef Von Sternberg in regards to Russell’s boobs. 

Show Notes!!!

If you’re new to the podcast, here’s a brief guide to our previous Howard Hughes episodes. In Chapter One, we detailed the arranged marriage that got Hughes to Hollywood, the affair with the silent film star that broke that marriage up, Hughes’ discovery of Jean Harlow and the movie, Hell’s Angels, that transformed Hughes from a rich hick into a major Hollywood player. In Chapter Two, we talked about Ida Lupino, who dated Hughes when she was a teenage starlet in the 1930s, and then directed films for his RKO Studios nearly 20 years later. Chapter 3 outlined Hughes romance with Katharine Hepburn, the deterioration of which sent Hughes into the arms/beds of Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and basically every and any famous actress he could find. This episode picks up in 1939, more or less where Chapter 3 ended. I’m planning at least one more episode about Hughes after this, but I will probably not get to it for awhile, definitely not this season. 

Jane Russell’s autobiography My Path and My Detours is fun, funny, relatively frank — and out of print. It was a valuable resource for me, as were a number of obituaries/articles published around the time of Russell’s 2011 death. This is also a great, late interview with Russell, by Lynda Lee-Potter, published in the Daily Mail in 2003.

Howard Hughes: The Untold Story continues to be the richest resource I can find when it comes to stories about his relationships with women/in Hollywood, although it seems like Russell’s book was the main source for its sections regarding her. 

Special thanks to Noah Segan, for reprising his role as Howard Hughes. 


Preludes for Piano @ by George Gershwin

“Make a Wish (For Christmas) by Lee Rosevere

“Dances and Dames” by Kevin MacLeod

“The Wrong Way” by Jahzzar

“Phase IV” by lo-fi sci-fi

“Gagool” by Kevin MacLeod

“I’m Not Dreaming” by Josh Woodward

“Fiery Yellow” by Stereolab

“Cylinder One” by Chris Zabriskie

“All of the Lights (Interlude)” by Kanye West

“All of the Lights” by Kanye West

“Love Lockdown” by Kanye West

“Welcome to Heartbreak” by Kanye West

“Moonlight Saving Me” by Blossom Dearie

“There’s Probably No Time” by Chris Zabriskie

“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie 

“Exlibris” by Kosta T

“Rite of Passage” by Kevin MacLeod

“Vivre Sans Temps Mort” by Double Dagger

“Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” performed by Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

“Ghost Dance” by Kevin MacLeod

“Monte” by comounjardin

“Gymnopedie No. 2” by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

“I Can’t Get Started,” performed by Jane Russell