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Entries in Jane Russell (6)


Soundtracking: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

by Chris Feil

If you want to look to reinforcement of traditional gender roles in the movies, sadly you can look to the history of movie musicals for consistent examples. It’s a genre that consistently returns to tropes and archetypes for its structure, but that just makes it all the more rewarding when there are examples to the contrary. Take Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for example - no seriously, take it and watch it on a loop because it is perfect cinema.

The film gives us two unique musical heroines in Jane Russell’s Dorothy Shaw and Marilyn Monroe’s Lorelei Lee, a team on the stage and in dealing with men. They are two ingenues that subvert genre tropes and traditional images of women looking for love on screen, and you can see how they do so in their solo songs...

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On this day: Billy the Kid, The Dark Knight, Hello Nasty

Happy Bastille Day! Isn't it weird that violent/bloody days often become holidays later on?

On this day in history as it relates to the movies...

Howard Hughes The Outlaw (1943)

1862 The Artist Gustav Klimt is born. Later Dame Helen Mirren will fight for custody of one of his most famous paintings in the bad movie Woman in Gold (2015).
1868 Explorer Gertrud Bell is born. Nicole Kidman played her in an ill-fated unreleased Werner Herzog movie Queen of the Desert
1881 Outlaw Billy the Kid is shot and killed outside Fort Sumner. Numerous stars have played him in movies including Roy Rogers (Billy the Kid Returns), Kris Kristofferson (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid), Emilio Estevez (Young Guns), and Paul Newman (The Left-Handed Gun). The most famous film version of his story may well be The Outlaw (1943) the Howard Hughes film which starred Jack Buetel as Billy and Jane Russell, in her star-making role, as his girl. You'll probably remember the funny scenes about this scandalous film (and Jane Russell's controversial cleavagae) within Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (2004)

more after the jump including Harry Dean Stanton's 90th birthday...

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Best Shot(s): Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Commence squealing. For what could be more delightful than an evening with two perfect musical comedy performances? It's time to talk Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. The film, currently streaming on Netflix, was the runner up in our Readers Choice polling for Hit Me With Your Best Shot.

20th Century Fox. Released on July 15th, 1953 in New York
Director: Howard Hawks; Cinematographer: Harry J Wild 
Starring: Jane Russell as 'Dorothy', Marilyn Monroe as 'Lorelei', Charles Coburn as 'Piggy', Elliott Reid as 'Malone', Tommy Noonan as 'Esmond Jr'

Howard Hawk's classic was not the first iteration of the story. It was based on the stage musical which itself was based on a book which had already spawned two non-musicals. The 1949 stage musical, a huge hit on Broadway, had introduced Carol Channing to the world. New star Marilyn Monroe got Channing's  star-making "Lorelei" role for the screen. (The same thing would happen to Channing sixteen years later with her other signature role Hello Dolly) But sometimes a movie turns out so spectacularly well that it's impossible to imagine it existing in any other shape than the one it's in, all other versions prior or subsequent feel like faint cultural echoes. 

Best Shots after the jump...

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Russell vs. Mansfield: A Guide to Recognizing Your Ja(y)nes

abstew here. Dame Judi Dench returned to theaters this weekend with the Oscar-buzzing Philomena. (She gets Oscar buzz for nearly everything she's in. She even makes it happen with James Bond films!)

I had a teacher that used to say

Ask me my three favorite actresses and the answer is: Judi Dench, Judi Dench, Judi Dench.

And as great as Dame Judi is in the film, Steve Coogan (who also adapted the screenplay) is equally strong as the investigative reporter helping Philomena, Martin Sixsmith. The two play off each other well in a salty, sweet relationship.

There's a scene in the film which is bound to catch the attention of cinephiles...

They enter the convent where Philomena's son was taken from her ('The Sisters of No Mercy,' as Sixsmith snarkly calls it) to investigate what happened. On the wall in the waiting room is an autographed photo of actress Jane Russell. Coogan stares at the picture and when the Sister he's meeting with comes in, he asks, "What's Jayne Mansfield doing here?"

"I think you mean Jane Russell," the Sister corrects him.

They then have an exchange where Sixsmith tries to remember which one is which and ultimately remembers that Jayne Mansfield (not on the wall) is the one who got her head chopped off in a car accident. Which seems to be the only thing people seem to remember about poor Jayne.

But it all made me wonder: How well do you, TFE readers, know your Jane Russells from your Jayne Mansfields? Below are 10 factoids. Try to guess which fact is about Jane Russell and which is about Jayne Mansfield. After guessing, click on the read more at the bottom for the answers!


Try to guess which fact is about Russell and which is about Mansfield. After guessing, click on the 'read more' at the bottom for the answers!

1. Born in Bryn Mawr, PA with the name Vera Palmer. 

2. Was a Playboy Centerfold in the early years of the magazine and appeared in every February issue of the magazine for 4 consecutive years

3. A censorship debate with the production code about the amount of cleavage displayed in the film delayed the release of her film debut 2 years after it was filmed. It didn't get a wide release until 5 years after it was filmed!

4. Won the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer - Female

5. Known for her curvy figure, Bob Hope once joked, "Culture is the ability to describe <this actress> without moving your hands."

The look of disdain on Sophia Loren's face is priceless!

6. Starred in television commercials for the Playtex Cross Your Heart Bra and the 18 hour bra line "For us full-figured gals".

7. Both actresses were each married 3 times and mothers to multiple children, but she is the mother of the Emmy award nominated star of TV's Law and Order: SVU, Mariska Hargitay.

8. Formed a gospel singing quartet called The Hollywood Christian Group. Their song, "Do Lord" reached 27 on the Billboard charts.

9. Her signature color was pink. Her Beverly Hills mansion was painted the color and named "The Pink Palace". And long before Mary Kay representatives were doing it, she drove around in a pink Cadillac.

10. Has her feet and hands immortalized in cement in front of the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

And now, a musical break before the answers. It'll be the gayest thing you'll see all day:

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - An Appreciation

[Editor's Note: Last winter when Michelle Williams was in theaters cooing as "Marilyn", I had planned on a Marilyn week. It didn't happen but I wanted to share this piece by our once in a blue moon contributor Ester Bloom because I, too, adore this movie. - Nathaniel]

'Say, they told me you were stupid!'

'I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.' "

Marilyn Monroe is not so different from Lorelei Lee, the part she plays in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Both are entertainers from small towns who started out poor but are determined to transcend their origins; both turn themselves into sexy cartoons; both play dumb when necessary; and both perform under alliterative pseudonyms that are as girly as all get out. (Compare the name “Lorelei Lee” with that of her friend “Dorothy Shaw.” The difference tells you almost everything you need to know about their characters.)

Maybe Monroe recognized a kindred spirit in Lorelei Lee...

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Jane Russell (RIP) in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 

The cinema just lost two major actresses who I'd spend time writing about if I weren't so sick (I had hoped to shake this flu off in 24 hours damnit.)

The French actress Annie Girardot (1931-2011) has passed away. We last saw her in terrific form in two Michael Haneke pictures as the disturbing mother of Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher and the sharp minded matriarch in Caché (Hidden)... god what a movie that was. Well, both of them actually. You can read some notes on her career at MUBI. Here, Stateside, we lost a giant of the golden age, the sex symbol Jane Russell (1921-2011).  I thought I'd share a previous article I really enjoyed writing on her as one of Hollywood's most beautiful mid-century stars and an underrated comedienne at that. This was originally published last October but if you're new to the site, it's new to you. And if you're not, consider it a classic rerun. It's not like you turn off an episode of Golden Girls if you've seen it before. And Jane Russell sure was a golden girl, though WOMAN might be a better description.

Few movies are as delightful as Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). It has everything: clever production numbers, great quips, beautiful stars, and a zippy plot. But mostly the film sparkles just by ogling the twin pleasures of Jane Russell & Marilyn Monroe. Russell and Monroe play best friends and musical partners, wisecracking Dorothy Shaw and golddigging Lorelei Lei, respectfully. One of the best sequences plays like an extended joke on the movie itself, riffing on both the musical numbers and the two star personae that director Howard Hawks has so expertly shined up for the audience.

Jane as Jane | Jane as Marilyn

Toward the end of the film, there's a misunderstanding over jewelry that gets Lorelei (Monroe) in hot water. A tiara has reportedly been stolen and everyone thinks Lorelei is the culprit. Well, her eyes do flash at the mention of diamonds. Dorothy (Russell) attempts to buy her friend some time by impersonating her at a court hearing about the absent jewelry.

At first Dorothy isn't sure she's sold the Lorelei illusion. Jane fusses comically at her blonde wig, over selling the Monroeisms for the back row. The next time she's worried that the illusion is breaking she razzles and dazzles the courtroom to utter distraction with a coarser version of the number we just saw the real Lorelei perform "Diamonds Are a Girl Best Friend."

Just when it seems clear that Dorothy's (and therefore Jane's) approximation of Lorelei's (and therefore Marilyn's) 's breathless 'who me?' dumb blonde act has worked its trick, Dorothy's new boyfriend Ernie Malone (Elliot Reid) charges into the courtroom threatening to give the game away. Dorothy as "Lorelei" acts quickly to protect Lorelei and regain control of "Dorothy"'s man.

Your honor before he talks could I explain something?

Well, I have a friend named Dorothy and she's a really good friend. And Dorothy knows that I would never do anything that was really wrong.

It's a real kick to hear Russell comically mimic Monroe's line readings while playing her own romantic story arc.

There's a certain young man that Dorothy likes. In fact, she's very fond of him.

And Dorothy would never speak to this man again if he ever did anything to hurt me, Lorelei. So I think this young man had just better know that...

well... well...

Dorothy thinks she's in love with him!

On this last line reading, Russell amusingly dumps Monroe's naive girliness for her own jaded womanliness. Dorothy's suitor is naturally delighted at this admission of love, even though she's underlined it as comic exasperation. Needless to say Mr. Malone supports Dorothy's courtroom ruse and saves the day.

Jane's faux-Marilyn scene comes shortly after Marilyn's legendary "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" showcase. It's tempting to view this from a modern perspective -- "Diamonds" is the film's great legacy having been referenced countless times in pop culture since -- and assume that any performer would be hard pressed to follow that showstopper and mock it in the very next setpiece. But Jane Russell, a formidable star on her own, doesn't sweat it. In fact, she appears to be having a complete ball. She sure had a pair.

Two Great Stars. One Greater Movie.

The courtroom imposter scene isn't as famous as the musical numbers but it's as priceless as any missing tiara. All things considered it's Russell, top billed, who may be best in show. In the case of this 1953 classic, this gentleman prefers brunettes.