The Ghost of Marilyn Monroe March 2011

Dear Rowley,

Did you go to the Olivier Awards darling? I was monkey typing to finish Fashion at Royal Ascot (eta this evening at about 10pm). Now that’s going to be a celebration and a half. I might even stretch to a bottle of Moet and a plate of oven chips at better half’s apartment watching reruns of Silk back to back. Loving the legal world. There’s more bitching, shagging, posing and backstabbing than in the fashion bizz.

So, Tracie Bennett didn’t win the Best Actress Olivier for End of the Rainbow. That’s the biggest steal since the Graff diamond heist on Bond Street last year. Then again, the Academy never gave Judy Garland the Oscar. As her vocal coach and best buddy Kay Thompson said when she lost for A Star is Born, ‘you’ve burnt too many bridges in this town, sugar’. This is surely not true of Tracie Bennett. She was robbed. I believe Sheridan Smith won for Legally Blonde. She’s a terrific little actress but that musical is basically the bastard child of Glee and Beverly Hills 90210. Vacuous isn’t even in it.

Haven’t you always been mad about Marilyn Monroe? I spent an evening in raptures watching Theresa Russell play her in the film Insignificance in which it is imagined Marilyn spends the evening in Einstein’s hotel room and demonstrates the theory of relativity using toy trains, balloons and flashlights. It is delightful and, I think, on at the British Film Institute this month. Anyway, maybe the idea was planted in my mind but isn’t Marilyn making one hell of a comeback at present?

There are books about her private doodles, poems and diaries, a TV doc on Tuesday about the secret tapes her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson took of her final sessions, an upcoming picture book about the contents of her lost filing cabinet and two movies in the can with Marilyn as the central character. All the bleeding hearts will be thinking why don’t they leave her alone? Nonsense. One would imagine Marilyn would be pouting and giggling somewhere over the rainbow and rather gratified that the legend is still strong even though the flesh proved weak.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked past art galleries on Cork and Museum Street only to find yet more ‘limited edition’ Eve Arnold blow-ups of Marilyn on the set of her last completed film The Misfits or quasi Andy Warhol blow-ups of Marilyn ‘in art’ covered in glitter and painted in psychedelic colours. Now that’s what I call image manipulation if not exploitation.

Marilyn was, I think, equal parts vulnerability and near manic drive to become ‘a star’. As Howard Cosell said of Bette Davis, ‘a star is a person who changes her name, her costume, her hairdo, her nose and then divorces three husbands because they are not the men she married’. I do think in order to succeed with any modicum of sanity, one needs a better half who puts themselves last so that you can come first. I think that’s a cue for a song…

Did I tell you about Debbie Reynonds? About a decade ago – probably more because it usually is – I visited Las Vegas for the Sunday Express to interview Liza who was playing Bally’s Casino at the time. On my afternoon off, I went to see Debbie Reynolds’ MGM costume collection at her own hotel/resort.

Miss Reynolds had rescued some of the greats from the MGM costume sale in the 70s including Dorothy’s red shoes from The Wizard of Oz, Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra costumes, hats Vivien Leigh wore in Gone with the Wind and scads of cossies worn by Marilyn including one of the three versions of the white pleated Seven Year Itch ‘subway dress’ designed by Billy Travilla.

Turns out Miss Reynolds has approached the Savoy to show a collection of her costumes in advance of a major sale in June. The exhibition is slated for May and it looks like yours truly may have the chance to curate it. What do you think my response was? Sank to my knees and ululated with gratitude darling. Can you imagine? A collection of MGM costume in the Lancaster Ballroom at the Savoy and a Hollywood Costume ball to launch the event. This could be the biggest Marilyn event in London since the Christie’s sale of her wardrobe in 1999.

I believe the American Museum in Bath is showing a selection of Travilla’s own collection of dresses made for Marilyn’s movies including the pink Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend dress and the red sequins worn duetting with Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Excitement isn’t even in it. To go from Fashion at Royal Ascot to Marilyn Monroe at the Savoy is a proposition most homosexuals would dance the tarantella – or even the Seven Veils – to work on.

As a child, I was always obsessed by Marilyn and remember skipping PE to sneak into an empty classroom to watch Niagara on TV for the first time. I believe Debbie Reynolds even has the cerise skin-tight va-va-voom costume Marilyn wore in Niagara’s most famous scene in which she coos and croons along to the popular song of the day Kiss. Funny how one’s past catches up on one, isn’t it? Small world as they say. There’s more, darling, there’s lots more. Until then…