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
Diana Dors - England's answer to Marilyn Monroe?
The name Diana Dors is synonymous with Marilyn Monroe and Blonde Bombshells – through the decades there has been a constant comparison between these women and just mentioning Diana will bring forward statements such ‘Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘the English Marilyn Monroe’
Loving Marilyn was fortunate in obtaining information from Paul Sullivan about this, Paul is quite an authority on Diana, having been a fan for several years he assisted TV productions companies with information for their documentaries and taken part in the Channel 4’s program “ICONS” which looked at the impact Diana had on post war Britain.
He told Loving Marilyn that “Diana was very aware of the comparisons (between herself and Marilyn) however, it was Veronica Lake who influenced Diana and probably her style. By 1952 Diana was already a veteran of about 19 British films and was already very well known as a ‘Honey blonde’ it was early in 1952 that Diana went Platinum, but her hair was always much longer and very different to that of Marilyn’s.
They never got to meet, when Diana went stateside by boat, Marilyn was on her way over by Air to the UK. I think Diana tired of being compared to Marilyn. Britain being a small country, films during the 40’s and 50’s were not as popular in the USA as American films were here, therefore, English fans were able to see both actresses and compare, whereby stateside, Diana was fairly unknown when she arrived!”
Jayne Mansfield – ‘The Poor Man’s Marilyn Monroe’?
Another Hollywood starlet that was considered a competitor for Marilyn’s blonde bombshell crown was Jayne Mansfield. Born in 1933, Mansfield set out with steely determination to make something of herself in Hollywood – noting Marilyn’s assets, Jayne took on board the look but only managed to become a parody rather than any real threat to Monroe, though Fox would often wave Jayne at a misbehaving Marilyn as a possible successor!
Much like the press today, the journalists' of the 1950’s would also build people up to knock them down – When she joined the Actors Studio the press felt Monroe had begun to have ideas above her station – so on the one hand they condemned her as a bad actress, whilst on the other hand they ridiculed her for wanting to improve, Marilyn was in a no win situation. In 1956 a book was published by journalist Peter Martin who had previously interviewed Marilyn for the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ using these interviews the book was titled ‘Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe’
Playwright George Axelrod, who wrote The Seven Year Itch, displayed very open resentment towards Marilyn’s endeavour to improve her acting skills by spoofing Marilyn in his next stage play, the comedy ‘Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?’ This starred Jayne Mansfield and ran for 444 performances on Broadway in 1955. In 1957 it was made into a film with Jayne playing the part of Rita Marlowe a Hollywood Pinup/Starlet who attempts to set up her own production company (Marilyn Monroe formed Marilyn Monroe Productions with Milton Green in 1954) it was widely viewed as a caricature of Monroe. Marilyn herself attended a performance and according to the author of ‘The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe’ Dr Sarah Churchwell, Monroe did not find the play funny and told Axelrod simply and without elaborating ‘I saw your play’.
Jayne was interviewed by Lawrence J Quirk in 1957 and is reported to have said to him “Marilyn thinks of me as her rival – I know it unnerves her” she went on to say that Marilyn had gone ‘arty’ but that she (Jayne) would win the hearts of the public. “I’ll be here for the long-haul, you’ll see – I know just what I’m doing” When she was asked if she felt it demeaning to be a carbon-copy of someone (Marilyn Monroe) Jayne snapped back “Oh, but I’m merely influenced by Marilyn! Artists in all fields have original influences, then they go on to put their own individual stamp on what they are offering” Quirke went on to ask her what her ‘original stamp’ would be and Jayne reportedly replied “Well, what with the Actors Studio and stuff Marilyn goes in for, and her acting with Laurence Olivier and all that, I want to strike out on the common trail, I want to be the ordinary man’s conception of what a sexy, obliging, comradely, down to earth girlfriend ought to be”
During her career Jayne Mansfield trod eagerly in Marilyn’s footsteps but rather than achieving Monroe’s status – Mansfield became known as ‘The poor man’s Marilyn’ taking Monroe’s film role in the stage versions of both Bus Stop and Gentleman Prefer Blondes. She also had a penchant for working with Marilyn’s leading men such as Tom Ewell who worked with Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch’ and with Jayne in ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ and Tommy Noonan who played Monroe’s love interest in ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’ and with Jayne in ‘Promises! Promises!’ in 1963, which was also the first mainstream Hollywood film to feature it’s female star – Jayne Mansfield, in the nude – Marilyn was set to take this accolade in her unfinished film ‘Something’s Got to Give’ with her naked swim. It was also rumoured that Jayne tried to fill Marilyn’s shoes by having an affair with John F. Kennedy.
Unlike Marilyn's failed attempts at motherhood, Jayne Mansfield said in an interview that her greatest title was that of ‘Mother’ having produced 5 children by 3 different fathers; it was considered that Jayne was a devoted and loving mother. Sadly however, like Marilyn Jayne met with an untimely and sudden death. At the age of 34, on 29th June 1967, on her way to New Orleans where she was to appear in a television interview, at approximately 2.25am the car Mansfield was travelling in, along with her chauffer, partner and three of her children, was in collision with a truck. The adults were killed instantly, the children who were in the rear of the car survived with minor injuries.
Rumour rapidly spread that Jayne had been decapitated but this was untrue. A wig or possibly her scalp was tangled in the car’s smashed windshield, and was evident in the police photos, which gave rise to the speculation.
The French actress Sybil Saulnier (Anatomy of a Marriage: My Days With Jean-Marc - 1964) indulged in a very Marilyn look