Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a 1953 American musical comedy directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Marilyn and Jane Russell. The role of Lorelei Lee was originally intended for Betty Grable, who had been 20th Century Fox’s most popular blonde, however was given to Marilyn on her 26th birthday, June 1, 1952. Marilyn’s star was rising fast following her performance in Niagara and the studio wanted an actress who could appeal to both male and female audiences. In preparation for her role as Lorelei, Marilyn attended the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Carol Channing every night for over a month.
The movie centres around Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw (Russell), who are American showgirls and best friends. Lorelei appears to be the materialistic one, who, it seems, is marrying her fiance, Gus Esmond for his money. Dorothy, on the other hand, is a complete romantic, looking for true love. The ladies take a trip to Europe on an ocean liner and encounter several mishaps and adventures along the way.
The production faced difficulty due to Marilyn’s stage fright leaving her too afraid to come to set, and when she was there, her constant need for retakes. Marilyn was helped by her friendship with Russell who was often the only person who could convince her to leave her dressing room. Marilyn would later say of her co-star, “…She by the way, was quite wonderful to me.” In spite of the difficulties on set, Marilyn enjoyed making the movie and was even said to have suggested the line “I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.”
The movie contains some big dance numbers – namely Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend, Two Little Girls From Little Rock, Anybody Here For Love and When Love Goes Wrong. All were choreographed by Jack Cole who also went on to work with Marilyn on Let’s Make Love. Gwen Verdon, a vaudevillian and dancer, helped coach the two stars in both their dance and walk – Marilyn with less sex, Russell with more.
According to Marni Nixon (famous voiceover artist), during Diamonds, the studio initially wanted Marilyn’s voice dubbed for the entire song, however, as it turned out Nixon only ended up dubbing the operatic “no, no, nos” at the beginning of the song. Another change made for the Diamonds number was that Marilyn was originally supposed to be dressed in bands of black velvet and masses of rhinestones, however, given her recent nude calendar scandal, this design was deemed too revealing and the studio asked costume designer, William Travilla, to design the now iconic pink dress.
The movie was a critical and commercial success with critics saying of Marilyn’s performance of Diamonds, she demonstrated the “ability to sex a song as well as point up the eye values of a scene by her presence”. The film earned $5.3 million at the box office worldwide and was the 9th highest grossing movie of 1953.