Arlene Dahl’s Memories of Marilyn

Arlene Dahl, the stunning redhead who graduated from movie stardom to success as a writer and entrepreneur, has died aged 96, per the Hollywood Reporter.

She was born in Minneapolis in 1925 to Norwegian immigrant parents (her father was an executive at Ford.) She took elocution and dancing lessons as a child and performed in school plays, following the lead of her mother, who enjoyed amateur dramatics. After a brief stint at the University of Minnesota, Arlene moved first to Chicago where she worked as a model and began her acting career on the Broadway stage.

After an uncredited bit part in Life With Father (1947), she was promoted to leading lady in My Wild Irish Rose (1948), and the film’s success led to a long-term contract with MGM. She went to star in two Red Skelton comedies, A Southern Yankee (1948), and Watch the Birdie (1950); with Van Johnson in Scene of the Crime (1949); and Three Little Words (1950), an all-star musical led by Fred Astaire.

In addition to her film work, Arlene began writing a syndicated newspaper column in 1951. That month, she was photographed at the Academy Awards, chatting with Marilyn Monroe, who was then a rising star. Four years earlier, both women had been among the attendees at the annual ceremony and presentation of Honorary Colonels at the Hollywood American Legion theatre.

In April 1951 – a month after meeting Marilyn at the Oscars – Arlene married the first of her six husbands, Tarzan star Lex Barker. They divorced a year later. During the same period she was photographed with Marilyn again, this time for her beauty column. Arlene then co-starred with Alan Ladd in the adventure film, Desert Legion (1953); and in a series of ‘swashbuckler’ movies, including Sangee (1953), alongside Fernando Lamas, whom she later married.

 

In 1954, Arlene joined Clifton Webb, Lauren Bacall, and Fred McMurray in Woman’s World, Jean Negulesco’s Technicolor drama about corporate America, produced at 20th Century Fox. (Marilyn had been considered for a role back in 1952 – but would instead star in another Negulesco picture, How to Marry a Millionaire.) That year, Arlene also branched out into business, marketing cosmetics and designer lingerie through her newly formed company, Arlene Dahl Enterprises. And like many film actors at the time, she began appearing on television.

In later years, Arlene became a regular guest on the Turner Classic Movies channel, and in 2011, she shared a rather curious anecdote with viewers. In a ‘Word of Mouth’ segment she claimed to have encountered Marilyn at a party hosted by baseball legend Mickey Mantle. According to Arlene, Marilyn heard guests (including Fred Astaire) talking about the poet Walt Whitman, and joined the conversation with a comment on Whitman’s chocolates. (In a lively thread on the TCM message boards, users complained that the story seemed hard to believe, noting that Marilyn was quite well-read. In fact, she was photographed reading Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1951.)

In 1956, after starring in the film noir Slightly Scarlet with fellow redhead Rhonda Fleming, Arlene made two films in England, and was among the stars invited to a royal command performance that November, when Marilyn famously met Queen Elizabeth II. Arlene would share her candid thoughts on Marilyn and other stars in a 1957 article for Picturegoer magazine.

“She’s like putty in the hands of the people she trusts. I’ve known Marilyn from way back, but rarely got ‘through’ to her in conversation. Few people ever have. She’s like a lost little girl.

When I first met her, she looked terrible. Like a cross between Shirley Temple and Jean Harlow – over made-up, her hair all wrong, her eyebrows all arched. It gave her a too-rounded look.

Later, I interviewed her after a stills session. Twentieth Century-Fox had groomed her – new eyebrows and soaked in real sexy publicity. She was still dazzled by it.

There wasn’t even a man in sight, but she kept up that pose with all the right angles and gave me quotes such as: ‘I wear colourless nail varnish because I want to feel naked all over.’ I felt like reminding her there was no one there but us girls.

Now there’s another change. Her marriages … her search for culture …”

Arlene’s son Lorenzo was born In 1958. She then starred opposite James Mason in Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959), her most successful movie. That December, Marilyn attended the film’s premiere, a fundraiser to benefit a children’s clinic.

Arlene’s six-year marriage to Fernando Lamas ended in 1960. Many years later, in an interview with Monroe biographer Randy J. Taraborrelli, she would recall meeting Marilyn again at a New York dinner party in late 1961 – or, by some accounts, early ’62 – hosted by socialite Fifi Fell, in honour of John F. Kennedy. (Arlene had briefly dated Kennedy, calling him “the cheapest man I ever met.”) As she told it, the President greeted Marilyn with a great big smile. “Finally you’re here!” he said. “There are some people here who are dying to meet you.” Arlene went on: “Then she was descended upon. People just wanted to stand near her, smell her fragrance, breathe the same air as she” (from The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, 2009.)

During the 1960s, Arlene’s focus switched to business. After her company closed in 1967, she became an advertising executive, and was appointed director of beauty products at Sears-Roebuck in 1970. Now in demand as a lecturer and beauty consultant, she admitted to finding her old films “such an embarrassment.” She also returned to Broadway, replacing Lauren Bacall in Applause, and with three more marriages and two more children, her personal life was equally busy.

After declaring bankruptcy in 1981, Arlene accepted a role on the TV soap opera One Life to Live. Her eldest son, Lorenzo Lamas, would soon find fame on another glitzy soap, Falcon Crest. Arlene then entered the field of astrology, with a syndicated column and a premium phone-line, plus a series of books. In 1984 she married packaging designer Marc Rosen. The couple remained together for the rest of her days, splitting their time between homes in New York and Florida.

Arlene Dahl died in her Manhattan apartment on November 29, 2021, and is survived by her husband, three children, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. “She was a force of nature,” her son Lorenzo Lamas said.

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