Jack Lemmon discusses working with Marilyn Monroe in 1993
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Tonight, Marilyn Monroe’s perhaps most loved and enduring role in Some Like It Hot airs again on BBC Four from 10.15pm. The 1959 comedy is set in Prohibition-era Chicago, and details the journey of two jobbing musicians who witness the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. They are forced to go on the run, and their only escape out of the city is with an all-girl jazz band heading for Florida.
Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film has withstood the test of time, and retains an impressive 94 percent positive rating from reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Celebrated film critic Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times, said: “[Billy] Wilder’s 1959 comedy is one of the enduring treasures of the movies, a film of inspiration and meticulous craft.”
John McCarten, of the New Yorker, hailed it as a “jolly, carefree enterprise”, while The Guardian’s Richard Roud wrote in 1967 that the film was “close to perfection”.
The film cemented Monroe’s status as one of the Fifties’ biggest icons, while also securing her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.
This week also marks the 60th anniversary of her death, with the star dying of an overdose in 1962.
And while Monroe could easily describe herself at the time as perhaps the most recognisable woman on the planet, a rival to her title once recalled the nerves the actress showed on their meeting. The encounter? Her Majesty, the Queen.
Author Michelle Morgan reviews their relationship in the 2022 book, When Marilyn Met the Queen: Marilyn Monroe’s Life in England, including a rendezvous when the star was visibly uneasy in the monarch’s presence.
The book notes how the Queen and Monroe were once neighbours in Windsor, a fact that the Hollywood heavyweight told Her Majesty when the pair first met.
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Ms Morgan wrote: “As the Queen gave her a brief look up and down, the actress took Her Majesty’s hand and then descended into a well-practised curtsy.
“The two then chatted for several minutes, and covered subjects including being neighbours and the Queen’s beloved Windsor.
“‘We love it, Marilyn said. ‘As we have a permit my husband and I go for bicycle rides in the Great Park.'”
But while this encounter was well documented, Ms Morgan questioned whether their relationship actually went any further.
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It was known that the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, attended premieres starring Monroe on the actress’ advice, and shared a good relationship.
Ms Morgan, however, explained that there was “no doubt that [the Queen] not only knew, but also had knowledge of the star’s whereabouts”, when they lived close to one another.
An encounter between the Firm and the superstar from 1954’s opening of Beau Brummell, a film starring Monroe’s old co-star Jane Russell, was also recalled.
Ms Morgan continued: “The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret were all in attendance, and Her Majesty took time to speak to Russell.
“The actress revealed that she was going to make Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, based on a book by Anita Loos, the author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
“During the conversation, Princess Margaret told Russell how much she enjoyed Blondes, while the Duke of Edinburgh jokingly wondered if brunette Russell was getting even with Marilyn, since the latter had been the blonde in the earlier movie.”
She continued: “In 1961, an article appeared in People that gave a glimpse of the Queen’s thoughts on Marilyn, through the eyes of an unnamed ‘friend’.
“The article said that after the Royal Command Performance in 1956, the Queen became fascinated with Marilyn and watched every one of her movies.
“She apparently told the friend, ‘I thought Miss Monroe was a very sweet person. But I felt sorry for her, because she was so nervous that she had licked all her lipstick off.’
“Footage of the event seems to back this up, since Marilyn can be seen licking her lips as she waited for the royal guests to reach her.”
When Marilyn Met the Queen: Marilyn Monroe’s Life in England by Michelle Morgan was published by Pegasus Books.
Some Like It Hot airs from 10.15pm tonight on BBC Four.
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