By Adam Scott Rote via Conch Color June 12, 2014
I met with Jerry Lewis recently for a co-signing on a painting of 1963’s “The Nutty Professor,” something I’ve waited years to happen. Lewis was described as difficult to deal with, so I came prepared but found nothing of the sort.
He was happy about the pieces I painted but when I revealed the “Marilyn Monroe Gold Lame,” the animated Lewis I grew up watching unfolded before my eyes. “Magnificent! Bravo! The way you honored Travilla,” he exclaimed. I had found a photo of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Marilyn in between them in that historic gold dress. I’ve never seen this, I have it? Jerry called his wife into the room, telling her over and over, “You’ve got to see this painting.” At that moment I chose to tell Golden Hollywood’s reigning “king of comedy” that his movie “Artist’s and Models” made me the artist I am today.
I went on to say that in that movie there was a scene with Dorothy Malone (the artist) in her studio working on a sketch of Shirley MacLaine as Bat Lady and placed around the room were the most incredible paintings of women I had ever seen. Those paintings that captivated a 7-year- old boy were by none other then the legendary pin-up king Alberto Vargas. I went on to add that, “I’m sure you have been told how much your movies are loved by your fans,” but I wanted to thank him personally for the ingenious use of Hollywood talent like Edith Head for costume design, phenomenal character actors Del Moore and Kathleen Freemen, art director Hal Pereira and music legend Walter Scharf.
For me, these individuals helped shape and create Jerry’s future movies into an audio and visual masterpiece that today still stands the test of time. His next words still ring in my ears: “Thanks, you really do understand what I did.” And that, ladies and gentleman, was my time with the king of comedy, I never knew reuniting these two legends (Marilyn and Jerry) would be so rewarding. Below is an excerpt of that magical night in 1952 where Monroe and Lewis made history.
Tributes to her stardom were totally eclipsed by the an award given to Marilyn by Photoplay magazine in February 1953 in the Crystal Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Reporter and friend Sidney Skolsky was her date for the night, Joe DiMaggio didn’t attend because he hated all the attention.
Photoplay dubbed Marilyn the “Fastest Rising Star of 1952” and presented her with a plaque during an awards ceremony. For the occasion, Marilyn wore one of the dresses designed by Billy Travilla for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The form-fitting gold lamé gown was so tight that Marilyn had to be sewn into it. As she walked from the podium after receiving her award, the audience hooted and screamed at the sight of her voluptuous body swaying across the stage.
Some accounts of the evening’s events report that comedian Jerry Lewis, the master of ceremony, leaped up on his table and whistled wildly.
Surprisingly, the press seemed more aghast at Marilyn’s presumptuousness for wearing such a costume than they were at the audience’s uncivilized behavior.
Time magazine called for Hollywood to “go easier on the sex angle” after reporting on the affair, while former glamor queen Joan Crawford lambasted Marilyn in Bob Thomas’s syndicated column. Crawford told Thomas that the sight of Marilyn caused “those of us in the industry” to shudder (as though Marilyn was somehow not in the industry) and went on to say, “She should be told that the public likes provocative female personalities; but it also likes to know that underneath it all, the actresses are ladies.”
Marilyn was tremendously hurt by Crawford’s haughty comments and used her ally in the press, Louella Parsons, to fight back. Parsons quoted Marilyn as saying: “. . . Why should [Crawford] select me to blast? She is a great star. I’m just starting. And then, when the first hurt began to die down, I told myself she must have spoken to Mr. Thomas impulsively, without thinking … “