1952 made a ‘sensation’ of Marilyn, but her true year of glory was 1953. She achieved top billing in three hit movies, and while the first showcased her sizzling sex appeal, and the third was a box office smash, no film captured her ascent more perfectly than Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. When she signed her name in cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre that summer, it was alongside co-star Jane Russell.
Marilyn had already proved she could sing and dance in Ladies of the Chorus (1948), though few had noticed at the time. And her talent for comedy was evident in Monkey Business (1952), which inspired director Howard Hawks to cast her as Lorelei Lee. As Devin Meenan writes for Screen Rant, all these factors were combined for the first time in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, elevating Marilyn to superstardom.
“Barbara Leaming’s eponymous biography of Marilyn Monroe goes into detail about how the actress prepared for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. According to Leaming, Monroe’s makeover came down to Howard Hawks’ personal tastes. The director had a thing for ‘sophisticated’ women … Accordingly, Hawks wanted his leading lady to have that look, not that of a ‘pin-up girl.’
‘In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,’ Leaming writes, ‘the keynote of Marilyn’s costumes would be simplicity. Her dresses would be flashy enough, but only in terms of colour and sparkle; otherwise the emphasis was on strong, simple, clean lines. Hawks also ordered a total makeover …’ These costuming and makeup choices are clearest in the film’s most well-remembered musical number: ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ … Compared to Monroe’s pink dress in Niagara, the ‘Diamonds’ costume definitely reflects higher class.
This scene illustrates the other challenge which Monroe faced: she didn’t just have to act, she had to sing and learn dance choreography, too. To succeed, Monroe pushed herself further than anyone else in the cast. Monroe wasn’t a trained dancer, but that’s exactly what her character was … ‘Marilyn practiced her dance numbers with Jane Russell and the choreographer Jack Cole,’ Leaming writes. ‘Marilyn, honest about her weakness as a dancer, drove herself to exhaustion .. Russell would finally reach a point where she was unable to continue, but Marilyn, unwilling to go home, would beg Cole to stay on for another few hours in order to work with her alone.’
While dancing didn’t come naturally, another key part of the movie did: comedy. Leaming favourably compares Monroe to Katharine Hepburn, who reportedly struggled to get into the proper comedic rhythm on Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby. Hepburn would wait for other actors’ reactions before her next line, while Monroe ‘didn’t need Hawks to set her straight. Ignoring people’s reactions, she raced from joke to joke. She radiated complete innocence of how wonderfully funny she was.’
This is why Gentlemen Prefer Blondes defined the rest of Monroe’s (tragically short) career. She proved that wasn’t just sexy, she was funny … Monroe got a physical makeover for Blondes, but it was her inner talent that let her steal the show.”