SOME GENTLEMEN DIDN’T PREFER BLONDES-
MARILYN MONROE’S TUSSLE WITH JANE RUSSELL
“Money isn’t important to me,” the blonde once declared, “ I’d rather be adored.”
Those legendary words from Marilyn Monroe played out in the actress’ career in many ways, and often. The blonde bombshell struggled to be respected for her underestimated ability to be a good actress. Yet during the 1950’s she brought in significant cash flow for 20th Century-Fox film studios.
Studio head, Daryl F. Zanuck and his executives looked to cast a powerful box-office draw for the two leads in the 1953 classic, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, written by Anita Loos. Looking outside their own pool of actresses, and after lengthy negotiations, 20th Century-Fox hired Jane Russell, the buxom brunette discovered by billionaire boyfriend Howard Hughes. Perhaps the film studio was swayed by Hughes overtly sexual promotional ads touting, “How’d you like to have a tussle with Russell?” Whatever the influence, the studio coughed up a lot of money to film that brunette in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
In fact, they coughed up… precisely $150,000, according to Monroe Biographer, Donald Spoto.
That was a tremendous amount of money to pay a film star in those days. Less tremendous, was the amount Fox paid to Russell’s co-star, Marilyn Monroe, who was paid 10-times less than Jane Russell. At the time, Marilyn was an actress under contract to that studio at a monthly salary, so her pay was $1,500.
For some reason Daryl F. Zanuck abhorred Marilyn. While the studio head and the gentlemen of Fox Studios may not have preferred the blonde, one particular gentleman did … Billy Travilla.
Travilla was one of the few, if not ONLY people to understand the blondes’ ambition. The renowned costume designer best known for his famous costumes for Marilyn, Billy always stood by her best interests. He was a friend who deeply appreciated her abilities as an actress. The talented designer knew Marilyn was a powerhouse in the making, long before she became famous.
Once the film was underway the publicity department created a story that Marilyn and Jane did not get along. But it was just that … a story, entirely invented and untrue.
When reporters questioned Marilyn about the differences in film salary, suggesting to her that she was not as important to the film as Jane Russell, the witty actress chuckled in a undaunted manner saying, “Well … after all, it IS called Gentlemen Prefer BLONDES!”
Although Billy Travilla respected Jane Russell greatly as an actress and a cherished friend, he did share a ‘chummier” friendship with Marilyn. The designer gave his best to the costume wardrobe of both the blonde and the brunette, on this film. And, indeed, in many of the scenes they wear identical outfits.
But the same dress on Jane Russell looks entirely different on Billy’s beloved Marilyn. That’s ONE of the many reasons why Marilyn autographed a copy of her infamous nude calendar to the designer by writing, “Billy, I love you. Please dress me forever. Love, Marilyn.”
Years after Marilyn’s mysterious death, Billy Travilla quoted Marilyn’s inscription to him in an interview, adding, “In many ways I AM dressing her forever.”
In addition to Marilyn Monroe’s classic films being viewed perpetually, so too, do Billy Travilla’s designs for the star continue to be copied and influential to New York, Paris and Milan runways.
In fact, on many of the DVD covers and marketing materials for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn Monroe’s image always trumps Jane Russell’s. And on some occasions the brunette … whose salary eclipsed the blonde … is completely ignored, as though Marilyn was the main and only star featured in that film.
So while money wasn’t important to Marilyn, over half a century after her death, the blonde bombshell has completely triumphed. Because Marilyn is STILL getting her greatest wish … she is adored.
Looks like Gentlemen really DO Prefer Blondes!
When it comes to DISCOVERING THE REGION of Arizona, no one is immune. Even the brunette, whom Zanuck preferred, ended up retiring in Arizona. Tiring of Hollywood, Jane Russell, the actress known for dancing in her Billy Travilla red sequined gown to the song of Littlerock, settled for the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona; trading in tinsel town’s footlights for desert moonlight. To Jane, Sedona was a girl’s best friend.
To see the collections of KAHC and more photos of Travilla and Marilyn Monroe visit her FB Page KAHC/ Website / About.me
[This article is the eigth of a 12-part series of articles by Kimberley Ashley for 2015. Next month see her article, “Travilla’s Valley Of The Dolls; A Gallery Of Glamour, Sixties Style.” Stay tuned for her upcoming articles on Billy Travilla and his design muse Marilyn Monroe.]