Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953): Hawks’ Musical Comedy, Starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell (LGBTQ, Gay Subtext)

In 1953, Darryl F. Zanuck, head of Fox studio noted, “If anyone has doubts as to the future or talent of Marilyn Monroe, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the answer.”

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) film poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

 

Versatile director Howard Hawks’ buoyant musical comedy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, co-starring Jane Russell (who was also popular at the time), was a smash hit at the box-office, establishing Monroe as Hollywood’s most dominant sex icon of the 1950s. (In the same year, the best of her career, she also appeared in How to Marry a Millionaire).

Originally a 1928 film with Ruth Taylor and Alice White, Hawks version of Anita Loos’s 1928 Broadway musical switched the setting from the 1920s to the present.

Fox spent half a million dollars in purchasing the rights of the stage property as a vehicle for their reining diva at the time, Betty Grable, but Monroe was on a fast-rising track after the success of the noir melodrama, “Niagara” (also released the same year).

The concept is rather simple: Two vacationing women on the go, one out for love, the other out for money. When the saga begins, Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan) plans to marry Lorelei Lee (Monroe), a blonde bombshell who makes no secret that money is what makes the world go around.  When Gus’s cynical, domineering father thwarts his son’s plans, Lorelei and Dorothy Shaw (Russell) proceeds with their plans to go to Europe—with assurances for Gus that he’ll join them soon, plus credits and money to spend.

Structurally, the yarn is divided into two parts: The first mostly set on the boat to Europe, and the second largely in the City of Lights.

For a musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes does not have many production numbers, only about 5 or 6, but it’s book-ended by two good ones, including Monroe’s signature piece, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

For the record, this was Marilyn’s 17th movie, in which she demonstrates not only her comedic skills but also considerable singing talents.  Marilyn had neither sung nor danced so much in any previous feature. Together, Marilyn and Jane Russell sang “Two Little Girls from Little Rock,” by Jule Stein and Leo Rubin, and “When Love Goes Wrong,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson. Each star rendered her own version of “Bye Bye Baby,” by Jule Stein and Leo Rubin.

The movie’s showstopper is Marilyn’s solo, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” by Jule Stein and Leo Robin, melting the screen in her sexy pink dress (and gloves), set against red background. Jane Russell also sang part of this song in a courtroom scene, in which she pretends to be Marilyn’s Lorelei. Russell did a marvelous, campy rendition of a solo number, “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson.

At least three musical sequences were eliminated from the final cut, such as “Four French Dances,” Down Boy,” and “When the Wild Wild Women Go Swimmin’ in the Bimini Bay.”

Hawks didn’t like some of them, holding that they interrupt the flow of the narrative.

Released on July 16, 1953, the movies became the year’s 8th commercial hit, grossing over $10 million at the box-office.

Gay Subtext:

Gay men have admired Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and repeat viewing and showings on TV have made this picture a cult favorite. After Monroe’s death, in 1962 at age 36, the picture became even more popular. Both Monroe and Russell have been gay icons.

The scene in which Jane Russell is trying to draw the attention of the athletes, but they all ignore her, instead showing stronger interest in their gymnastics and in each other.  Clad in skin-colored trunks, the muscled hunks look (from afar) as if they are naked. One by one the narcissistic men jump into the pool, while Russell continues to sing. It’s hard to tell whether director Hawks actually intended this scene to be as explicitly erotic.

No matter. With the camera following closely their body movements (and often centering on their crotches), i’s a scene that inevitably was perceived and read as gay.

 

Lorelei (Marilyn Monroe)

Dorothy (Jane Russell)

Sir Francis Beekman (Charles Coburn)

Malone (Elliott Reid)

Gust Esmond (Tommy Noonan)

Henry Spotford III (George “Foghorn” Winslow)

Magistrate (Marcel Dalio)

Gus Esmond Sr. (Taylor Holmes)

Lady Beekman (Norma Varden)

Watson (Howard Wendell)

Credits

Produced by Sol C. Siegel

Directed by Howard Hawks

Screenplay: Charles Lederer, based on the play by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields

Camera: Harry J. Wild

Editing: Hugh S. Fowler

Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Jospeh C. Wright

Costume: Travilla

Choreography: Jack Cole

Music by Hoagy Carmichael, Jule Styne, Eliot Daniel, Lionel Newman

Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release dates: July 1, 1953 (Atlantic City); July 15, 1953 (NY)

Running time: 91 minutes
Budget $2.3 million
Box office $5.3 million