CNN Reframes the Story of Marilyn’s ‘Diamond Dress’

The history of Marilyn’s ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ costume from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – from the too-risqué original, to Travilla’s design classic, by way of her infamous nude calendar – is retold by Megan C. Hills for her ‘Remember When?’ series, over at CNN Style. (Travilla’s timing is slightly off, however – Marilyn was cast in June 1952, several months after the scandal broke. It’s more likely that the first costume would simply have revealed too much when Marilyn danced in it.)

“Four years earlier Monroe, then an unknown jobbing actress, had posed naked for a photo shoot, earning just $50 for a series of images that would later feature in a calendar … In the four-part CNN docuseries Reframed: Marilyn Monroe, Monroe says she was assured by photographer Tom Kelley that nobody would recognize her. However, there was no mistaking her coiffed blonde curls and signature red lip in the smoldering photos.

By the time the calendar emerged in 1952, Monroe’s Hollywood profile had started to blossom. She was soon identified as the nude model, sparking backlash in conservative 1950s America and casting unflattering attention on the rising star. But Monroe overcame the incident and even gained sympathy through her unflinching honesty … ‘The nude calendar scandal really put her in the vanguard of the sexual revolution,’ American literature professor Sarah Churchwell says in the new docuseries.

Costume designer William ‘Billy’ Travilla later told cable network A&E that the photos sent the studio ‘wild.’ Executives feared the images could ruin Monroe’s career … Initially, Travilla had been tasked with creating the ‘sexiest, most exciting, almost naked lady on the screen’ — a very different look to the now-iconic satin pink gown. ‘The costume was fishnet hose over her nude body,’ he told A&E. ‘The breasts and the hipline (were) covered with diamonds put together by a jeweller. And just as we’re ready to shoot the number — good lord, the thing goes wrong. (A reprint of) Marilyn Monroe’s nude calendar hits the market.’

While Monroe was never filmed wearing the original outfit, rare test photographs of her wearing it do exist. Travilla said he had been instructed to ‘throw the costume out’ by producers who feared they ‘might lose all the box office for the film.’ Travilla then designed the pink gown, or a ‘very covered dress,’ as a safer alternative.

However, the studio’s worries over the nude photographs were allayed when the film brought in $5.3 million at the box office, catapulting Monroe to full-blown stardom … Monroe, ironically, was only paid $500 a week for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she revealed in her final interview with Life magazine in 1962, while co-star Jane Russell earned $200,000.

While it was only second choice, the pink dress has become a pop culture phenomenon, selling for $310,000 at a 2010 auction of Hollywood memorabilia.”