It seems there has always been a fascination with Marilyn Monroe look-alikes – especially with a look-alike who can pull the whole image together and really give us a living glimpse of the character Norma Jeane created so many years ago.
A successful caricature of the SYI girl or Lorelie from Gentleman Prefer Blondes rarely fails to give pleasure! Being a fan of Marilyn’s is a complicated business – there are three people involved, Norma Jeane, Marilyn Monroe and Marilyn – Norma Jeane was a young girl/woman full of promise and eager to reach for the stars, to maximise her potential during a time in Hollywood where possibilities were limitless, Marilyn Monroe was the character, the entertainer the identifiable icon. Marilyn was the soul searcher, the student of life, woman in her prime who had outgrown both Norma Jeane and indeed Ms Monroe. Having observed many look-alikes, the most successful is not trying to impersonate Marilyn or Norma Jeane – 1she is giving a performance based on Marilyn Monroe – Marilyn sang and performed as an actress – not as herself!
Judging by look-alike agencies and websites bursting with enthusiastic ‘Marilyn’s’ the public today still appreciate a well made diamonds dress and a hearty joyful rendition of Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend! Going back in time another fan of the Marilyn look-alikes was none other than the great Joe DiMaggio himself – Marilyn’s former husband took the break up of their marriage as a heavy blow – from which he never wholly recovered.
As a celebrity in his own right and an exceedingly eligible bachelor, DiMaggio was often asked to judge or attend beauty competitions and could often be seen with the latest blonde ‘Miss America’ on his arm. One in particular, Marian McKnight a 5’5 blonde Miss South Carolina, caught Joe’s eye when she was crowned Miss America in 1957 – during the talent part of the competition she astounded everyone with her impersonation of Marilyn Monroe2, she had previously intended to act out a dramatization of Joan of Arc but changed her mind for the finals where acted out a parody with her college roommate and former Miss America contestant Martha Dean Chestnut Hines of a scene from GPB’s Martha taking the part of Jane Russell’s Dorothy, she then sang “Bye Bye Baby”. Joe watched during dress rehearsals and was smitten. It was reported by the press that he ‘laughed and cried at Marian’s act’ Marian herself said “Then he closed his eyes and said, ‘that’s my wife on stage!’”
Marian did not meet DiMaggio during the pageant, (though Richard Cramer in his biography ‘Joe DiMaggio - The Hero’s Life’ does claim that he went backstage to meet her) but met him later when he, as a PR director for a manufacturing company in Virginia, offered her a job. She worked with him for two years. “I was impressed by the fact that he came,” she said. “He was older than I, a very sweet man, down to earth. I was never a fan of baseball; Joe and I were good friends, not really close friends.”
Marian wasn’t the only person constructing her career by borrowing from Marilyn. During these years there was a plethora of MM acts and if he could do so without publicly drawing attention to himself – Joe wanted to see them all!
Liz Renay was another artist that had won a Marilyn look-alike competition with Twentieth-Century Fox that took her to Hollywood where she managed to secure some minor bit parts. Liz had a brief liaison with Joe, saying that “His friends said he tried to get glimpses of his Marilyn by looking at me… Joe DiMaggio, was not only a good lover but a nice, likeable guy – a real gentleman”
Yet another of Joe’s ‘Marilyn’s’ was Dixie Evans who had a reputation as ‘The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque’ Her act was a casting couch skit. Dixie was the actress; she took her clothes off and got the part!
During the late 50’s Dixie was working Miami Beach, at the Place Pigalle. An aeroplane would fly over the beach hotels towing a banner that read “see the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, Place Pigalle” It would always fly past the Fontainebleau where all the celebs of the day stayed, those that went to see Dixie included Sinatra, Bogart, Walter Cronkite and Chris Schenkel who suggested that she should come to the Kentucky Derby. He announced her coming in “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s Marilyn Monroe! Oh, my mistake, it’s Dixie Evans! She’ll be playing at the Post and Paddock this evening” They all loved her act which involved Joe and his bat!
One night at the Pigalle the owner came over to Dixie’s table and told her Joe DiMaggio was in attendance, and wanted to talk to her. Dixie said Joe was a gentleman and suddenly as she sat there – she realised she would be performing in front of him and was worried about what Joe would make of her skit and confessed to him that she was concerned, to which he replied “why do you think I came here?” with this Dixie got up and did her thing, which was:
3She entered in a tight satin gown, a long scarf, and a Yankee cap, with a number 5 on it – and crying, boo-hooing, which mood she explained in song:
“Joe, you walked off and left me flat – but I’m sure glad you left your bat…”
There were a few lines about baseball and spaghetti, and how he’d stopped in the middle of making love to say “what’s the score?”…
“But I know…
You’ll still return my calls
Why? It’s simple – I’ve still got you
By your New Yankee base – (badaboomcha strike up the band)…
Afterwards, when she came out from her dressing room, Joe stood up and motioned her over. She sat with him all night. He didn’t say much, he never mentioned the act, or talked about Marilyn. But he kept sneaking glances at Dixie, checking her out and he stayed until she’d done her last set at 4.45am then invited her to breakfast.
However, their relationship never got off of the ground and didn’t go past kissing. They apparently arranged a further date but unfortunately, Dixie was due in court for some misdemeanour that she had forgotten about and was unable to let Joe know and she never saw him again.
1I’m using the term ‘she’ in respect of all look-alikes but I’m fully aware there are many male artistes that portray Marilyn Monroe amazingly well – which I will be discussing at a later date
3Joe DiMaggio – The Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer
The French actress Sybil Saulnier (Anatomy of a Marriage: My Days With Jean-Marc - 1964) indulged in a very Marilyn look