Marilyn Monroe was a great dancer. You wouldn’t know it from “Blonde”.

Marilyn Monroe never trained as a dancer, but she does have one of the big dance scenes in movies, a number so upbeat, lively, and wittily confident it’s still exploding with life nearly 70 years on.

I’m writing, of course, about “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” the cabaret act in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which portrays Monroe in a column of slippery silk that seems to fall closer to her hips with every snap. The splendor of this number deserves renewed attention — and not least because it’s so dullly recreated in Blonde, Netflix’s recently released film brutal fantasy about the actress.

The ornate message of the Queen’s funeral: The monarchy endures

Blonde would have you believe that one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons was a haunted, hated sad sack who wept, screamed and crawled through film history. The truth contradicts. Monroe fought for respect as an artist, and she was denied roles that could have changed her career and life. Crazy frail Holly Golightly in the 1961 rom-com “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was one of them; Truman Capote had partially based his character on Monroe, who he had befriended, and he was furious when she lost to Audrey Hepburn.

But Monroe’s artistic talent continues in a number of her films — and none is a more ebullient display of her talent than Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the film that made her a star. She plays Lorelei Lee, a small-town refugee in search of a wealthy husband, with Jane Russell as Dorothy Shaw, her friend and co-conspirator. Russell has the nerve. (Lorelei: “How do I look?” Dorothy: “Like trouble.”) Monroe has the moves.

The death of the beloved dancer on the battlefield in Ukraine underscores the cost of the war

According to film lore, none of the actresses took the film’s dance sequences lightly, but with her generous charm and smooth physicality, Monroe looks like Margot Fonteyn next to tall, broad-shouldered Russell. They’re paired in a few numbers, but Monroe is making her way into cinema heaven as the solo star of Diamonds. The scene is a Parisian nightclub where, while her fiancé stares from his table, Lorelei flaunts her assets uncompromisingly – and announces her prize.

Six drag queens you should follow on YouTube

What’s more intriguing: Monroe’s mastery of restraint and natural freedom? How her gloved fingers glide lightly and deliberately over her bare skin, drawing attention to what is barely hidden? How does the dress stay up? Call it a balance of power. The number is a Socko mix of seduction, liberation and control.

“Diamonds” offers a prismatic view of the actress, the culture and the time. There are many ways to see Monroe and many ways to see her most famous scene. Here are a few.

1. Yes, it’s Monroe’s voice.

Earthy, deep and warm, this is Monroe’s singing at its best. Jule Styne, who wrote the song, praised her voice for good reason — her uniquely spirited, jazz-influenced rendition was ranked number 12 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Songs in American Movies of the 20th Century. Was there a sync? If so, it was minimal — a line or two was credited to voice actress Gloria Wood and frequent voice actress Marni Nixon.

2. Voilà, the genius of Jack Cole.

With his voluptuous, expressive way of using bodies, Cole revolutionized dance in film. A modern dancer-turned-choreographer, he stripped film numbers of tap, ballroom and kicklines. Instead, he drew freely from non-Western styles, including Afro-Cuban and the classical Indian form Bharatanatyam. “Diamonds” bears traces of that in the deep S-curves of Monroe’s body as she sinks into one hip. It’s also evident in the sharp, quick way she slices her eyes.

The 31 best dance scenes in movies

Cole frames Monroe herself as a diamond – glowing against a chorus of men in black, she twists and turns to show her facets. It doesn’t take up much space, but it doesn’t have to. This is Monroe up close, as the world desires; Monroe animates her body in small, sharp, and emphatic ways. The thrust of her pink-gloved arms, the lewd gestures to her bodice and butt, that quick pop-bang flash when her fingers form pistols — there are so many clever, almost offbeat, burlesque references that combine with a marvel of lightness and Command. It’s minimalist dance with maximum impact, freeing Monroe to talk to her body like never before.

They worked together on five other films, including There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), Bus Stop (1956) and Some Like It Hot (1959).

3. This fabulous pink dress? Thanks a nude photo scandal.

Hollywood has moral, Persons. Just before Gentlemen Prefer Blondes went into production, news broke of a calendar featuring a nude model on red velvet that resembled Monroe, although the face was partially obscured. Monroe took control and admitted it was her, telling a reporter she’d been broke when she posed for it, and why should she be ashamed? Fox executives were so afraid of public backlash that they scrapped plans for Monroe to wear a bikini confection for Diamonds, according to film historian Debra Levine. Instead, costume designer Travilla created the pink dress to cover her. Most of time.

4. Almost led to a very strange moment at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

The film’s co-stars were friends and together they buried their hands and feet in wet cement in front of the famous theater where so many movie stars have left memorabilia. However, Monroe had a more creative idea: She tried to persuade Russell to emboss her bare chest in the sidewalk while Monroe would memorialize her buttocks. Apparently, she never stopped thinking about advertising. Luckily, a Fox rep intervened and kept the ladies on the original plan.

Monroe was so popular with soldiers that Stars and Stripes named her Miss Cheesecake in 1951. She was inundated with fan mail from troops — particularly those stationed in South Korea. After filming “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” she had the opportunity to meet her admirers. While touring Japan with baseball star Joe DiMaggio, her new husband, the actress was invited to entertain troops in Korea. Monroe flew the helicopter to each stop, leaned out, and blew kisses to the cheering men below. With sequins, rhinestones and – as always – lots of bare skin, she sang in wintry conditions and opened with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. In his 1973 biography Marilyn, Norman Mailer writes that such was the excitement of their visit that street signs read: “Drive carefully – the life you are saving may belong to Marilyn Monroe.” Moved by the wild reception , regardless of the weather, Monroe sang himself sick. When she returned to Japan, she contracted pneumonia.

Say what you will about Lorelei Lee’s questionable career aspirations, whose only goal, from the film’s point of view, is to persuade a millionaire to marry her. But the “Diamonds” song tells a different story. Listen, Lorelei tells us: there are many men out there who are stupid and vain enough to want you for a very simple transaction. Make them pay for it, in cold currency. Don’t let promises buy you.

This vigorous denial of guilt was fresh, bold, and in its own way a call to women to embrace their power.

7. A look at George Chakiris.

Chakiris, the actor and ballerina who played Bernardo in 1961’s “West Side Story,” is one of the men in tuxedos in the chorus surrounding Monroe.

Curvy, beautiful women offering glamor and pleasure – what could be more emblematic of American prosperity? Their Soviet colleagues were simple, strong workers, toiling away at men’s work – communism, how boring. The entertainment industry delivered an unmistakable message with every leg flash from a showgirl. Monroe, with all her typically feminine softness draped in diamonds, displayed the triumph of American society. (Even if that society — or specifically the condensed, contradictory corner of it that was Hollywood — was troubled for so many women, and Monroe in particular.)

9. Traces of Joe DiMaggio.

Well maybe. Mailer, the writer, believes that part of Monroe’s dazzling physicality in this film is due to DiMaggio’s influence. They were only married nine months, but they had been a couple longer.

“In the prime of life with DiMaggio, her physical coordination has never been so vigorous and athletically quick,” writes Mailer in his Monroe biography. “She dances with all the grace and bazazz – she’s a musical comedy star with panache!”

It’s cheeky to attribute Monroe’s motor impulses to the man she dated, but it is an interesting thought. Has the sportiness of the Yankee Clipper inspired you?

I’m willing to believe that their romance sparked all sorts of new feelings and connections in Monroe, who has spent her life searching for love, approval, and protection. But she was the one who sweated with Cole in the dance studio, the one who rehearsed to perfection, the one who just snapped and twirled and flexed one shoulder and whirled into the dreams of a world always hungry for beauty, sex and, above all joy.

In the end, Monroe’s dance is about that: the joy.

Comments are closed.