ClassicsOnline Home » MONROE, Marilyn: Original Recordings (Love, Marilyn) (1953-1958)
MARILYN MONROE Love, Marilyn
Original 1953–1958 Recordings
No one remembers Marilyn Monroe primarily as a singer. That would be like recalling Margaret Thatcher as a fashion model.
Everyone agrees that Monroe was a gorgeous creature, a superb comedienne, a potentially great actress and a tragic individual whose numerous personal problems helped bring about her most untimely end.
But you wouldn’t call her one of the great vocalists of her time. This was the era of Doris Day and Patti Page, bright clear voices without a hint of shadow, girls who wouldn’t know a double meaning if it hit them over the head.
Monroe, on the other hand, was all innuendo, a lass who could get more sexual undercurrents into a song than anyone since Mae West.
No, you can’t picture MM singing “Que Sera, Sera” or “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” but within her own, carefully
chosen, very narrow range, she could be very effective.
It’s interesting to note that a lot of Monroe impersonators (of both genders!) zero in on her musical renditions when they want to deliver an amusing portrait of the blonde bombshell.
Why? Maybe it’s because it was when she sang that Marilyn became the most Marilynesque. The breathiness was breathier, the sexiness was sexier and that wry air of self-mockery, which elevated her above the Jayne Mansfields and Mamie Van Dorens of the world, was served up with added emphasis.
Marilyn sings on eighteen of the twenty selections presented here, spanning a fairly limited period, from 1953 to 1959, but it was within this window that most of her Hollywood vocals were recorded, a period of time generally acknowledged to contain her best work.
She was born Norma Jean Baker on 1 June 1926, a child who grew up in a series of difficult circumstances which included a mentally unstable mother and a series of foster homes, in one of which she was sexually assaulted at the age of twelve.
At the age of sixteen, she married a Merchant Marine named James Dougherty, only to divorce him a few years later. She began a career as a model which led to a series of uncredited roles in films, starting with 1947’s The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, but by 1950 she had acquired an agent, Johnny Hyde, her
trademark platinum blonde tresses and the name she would carry to the grave, Marilyn Monroe.
A pair of well-executed supporting roles (one dramatic, one comic) in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve put her on the right track and within a few years, she had her first starring role in a turgid melodrama called Niagara, set against the background of the famous falls.
Monroe’s sexy temptress, with her swinging hips, captured the public’s imagination and caused ’30s star Constance Bennett to quip, “There’s a broad with her future behind her.”
Her erotic pull also came front and centre when she sang Kiss, bringing passionate longing into what would have been an ordinary song.
Monroe’s next outing was, logically enough, a musical, the 1949 stage hit, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with a great ersatz 1920s score by
Jule Styne and Leo Robin.
It made Carol Channing a Broadway star for her daffy portrayal of the gold-digging flapper Lorelei Lee, but when it got moved to Hollywood, the powers that be decided to replace Channing with the sexier Monroe.
They paired their blonde du jour with the infinitely earthier Jane Russell and the way the two women employ their allure is a study in contrasts. Listen to them in a Hoagy Carmichael/Harold Adamson song added for the film, When Love Goes Wrong to discover how differently two women can work the same room.
And catch Monroe’s brassy assurance on Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, or the libidinous way she wraps her tongue around a phrase like “post-meridian” in Bye, Bye Baby.
The success of Blondes meant that Marilyn would keep singing for a while, even in a heavy drama of sexual frustration such as River of No Return. (I’m Gonna File My Claim and the title song.)
But Monroe returned to the full musical treatment in 1954’s There’s No Business Like Show Business, a clumsy attempt to stitch the
Irving Berlin song catalogue onto the soap-opera story of a troubled vaudeville family.
Straight-shooters like Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Dan Dailey and Mitzi Gaynor didn’t have a chance once Monroe started shaking her booty in numbers like Heat Wave and After You Get What You Want.
We also have two non-movie-related studio recordings from the period, She Acts Like a Woman Should and the not widely circulated A Fine Romance.
But after this, Monroe plunged into a period of personal confusion and more dramatic films. Her short-lived marriage to baseball star Joe DiMaggio was dissolved so that she could marry Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller, another troubled relationship.
She became known for her temperamental behaviour, her chronic lateness and her often erratic performances, attributed to the increasingly toxic cocktail of pharmaceuticals her doctors kept prescribing for her.
But she was to bounce back with one sparkling comedy performance that many people remember as her finest as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, the ditzy blonde with the heart of gold who played ukelele in an all girls’ band during the 1920s.
She didn’t sing a lot in the film, but each number was a gem and a prize reminder of the work Monroe could do at her best.
Runnin’ Wild is the good-time party girl with the manic energy, the one enticing you to follow her anywhere and do anything.
I Wanna Be Loved By You is Monroe in little girl mode, playing the seductive Lolita card for all it’s worth.
And finally, I’m Thru With Love, is Marilyn, the Queen of the Broken Heart, letting us all know how good it is to feel really bad.
There’s also a never-used title song, which serves as a reminder of how Hollywood trivialized Monroe, asking her to dispense empty commercial sexuality as if it didn’t cost her anything.
But it did. A lot. And within three years of the release of Some Like It Hot, on 5 August 1962, she died of a barbituate overdose. The jury is still out as to whether it was accidental, intentional, or the work of a third party.
Still, she lives on in our hearts, our minds, our fantasies. Especially when we can hear her sing it her uniquely persuasive style.