Marilyn, Hollywood’s Technicolor Blonde

This screenshot from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is featured in Madeleine Muzdakis’ article for My Modern Met, tracing the history of Technicolor in cinema; while a second Monroe movie from 1953 (Niagara) is highlighted on the Eastman Museum website. (Her final film released in that pivotal year, How to Marry a Millionaire, would utilise the latest development in screen technology – Cinemascope.)

“The founders and engineers of Technicolor (Herbert Kalmus, Daniel Frost Comstock, and W. Burton Wescott) sought to push the limits of color cinematography … Films of the 1920s started to change the course of the medium forever with the advent of two new additions—sound and color. Synchronized dialogue was introduced, disrupting the silent film industry, and the first full-color feature films were also realized at this time. Neither change to the industry was immediately accepted by all, though. Filmmakers and actors expressed concern that color and sound could become garish and distract from the storytelling.

The dye-transfer process cemented Technicolor’s domination of color film for over two decades. Gone With The Wind (1939), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Disney’s Snow White (1937) all used the process. Technicolor also received credit for The Wizard of Oz in 1939 … The early worries of filmmakers that color might distract the audience proved incorrect. Color became part of the story itself and an important narrative device.

Technicolor’s dominance in color film production went virtually unchallenged until the 1950s. Color movies had become much more popular, and cheaper processes became available. ‘Color by Technicolor’ remained the gold standard, but Eastmancolor by Kodak and Anscocolor by Ansco offered cheaper filming alternatives … To remain relevant, Technicolor capitalized on its superior colors and clarity.

After an almost 50-year run, Technicolor’s dye-transfer process finally phased out of use in the 1970s … With filming being digital in modern studios, Technicolor in the 21st century has restored old films and entered multiple arenas of digital media. The company that came to define bold, brilliant color remains a household name.

Spearheaded by Technicolor, the development of color motion pictures spanned three generations of movie goers. The rapidly shifting technology of cinematography often visibly dates films, provoking nostalgia or amusement at technologies past. Technicolor influenced American movies for a century and the company’s name has evolved beyond itself. The continued use of ‘technicolor’ as a descriptor of all things vibrant and colorful is a testimony to the lasting impact of their technology on the American cultural lexicon.”

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