WEIRDLAND: Marilyn's flying skirt, Stella Stevens & Jerry Lewis

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Marilyn's flying skirt, Stella Stevens & Jerry Lewis

Sixty-two years ago, American photographer Sam Shaw took one of the most timeless photographs: a mesmerising Marilyn Monroe having her white dress blown up above her knees. Over the years, the actress's iconic 'flying skirt' image has inspired many shows, stars and artworks; and now it's become a new tourist attraction in Dalian, a Chinese city. The Central Avenue shopping centre in north-eastern China has installed a gigantic, 26-foot-tall statue to capture the Hollywood star in her most glamorous yet infamous moment. The statue in China, made of aluminum and stainless steel, is an authorised copy of the famous Forever Marilyn sculpture. 

Forever Marilyn was created by American artist Seward Johnson in 2011 to pay homage to Monroe's classic scene in her 1955 film, The Seven Year Itch. The original artwork, weighing a whopping 34,000 pounds, was first installed in Chicago in July, 2011, before being moved to exhibit in various cities from 2012. Commenting on the actress who passed away in 1962 aged 36, Artist Seward Johnson said: 'Marilyn Monroe was an icon of beauty and a complex personality. I think that we all maintain a curiosity about her that hasn't waned over the years.' In 1959 Marilyn Monroe won the Comedy Best Actress Globe for Some Like It Hot (although she was not Oscar nominated). Source:

Stella Stevens: I was under contract at Paramount Studios. Jerry Lewis had told the bosses at Paramount he wanted to cast the most beautiful ingĂ©nue at the studio–or something like that–so I got the gig for The Nutty Professor. At that time, the most popular actress to play that kind of role was Marilyn Monroe. Jerry was very nice and he changed my character's name from Stella Payne to Stella Purdy. A lot of people tell me I’m very good in the film. That’s because of Jerry’s assistance in molding my character. I was scared to death (during the filming), because I didn’t know what to do.  I thought I had to be funny and when I look back at it today, I cringe at a few of the things I did.

I had so much fun on that set. As the director, Jerry walked in early, and he was the last one to leave each night. He’s one of the best directors I ever worked with in my career. He was always trying to make me laugh. The way he conducted himself on the set, he made people feel special. As actors, we all tried to make the characters he created something special, and I think that’s why the film has stood the test of time. There’s never been anything like it made since. It’s because of Jerry Lewis the writer and director. He allowed me to just really hang out and observe as much as I wanted. He took the time to teach me how to write and direct a movie, and Walt Kelley the cinematographer taught me all about lighting. Source:

In The Nutty Professor, Julius Kelp cannot express his desire for Stella Purdy, except through the voice of his alter ego Buddy Love. In The Big Mouth, Gerald similarly struggles in vain to get his girlfriend Suzie to listen to his lengthy explanations of his "problem." Lewis remains resolutely "low-brow" throughout most of his filmograhy. Although his comedies seem to offer a sort of purgation, they are never elevated in a classic sense. Even the sentimentality of which Lewis is often accused is the result of his stubborn refusal of sublimation or even "sophistication". Even as Lewis's movies perform the healing miracle of comedic catharsis, they also continually remind us of just how tenuous and how interminable is the "healing" process which they dramatize.

One way to think about The Big Mouth (1967) is to see it as Jerry Lewis' parody of Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959). We have a case of mistaken identity, leading to an innocent man (Jerry Lewis in the Cary Grant role) being caught up in deadly machinations and dangerous chases. So we have a romantic comedy wrapped in an adventure thriller (Susan Bay taking on the Eve Marie Saint role). We have authority figures who explain all the otherwise nonsensical twists and turns of the plot (the Leo G. Carroll character in Hitchcock's movie is parodied twice by Frank De Vol's Narrator). We have a MacGuffin (in this case, a bunch of stolen diamonds that are never found) around which the whole plot is organized. And we have a finale in an iconic location (the tacky Sea World in San Diego serves as an antitype for, and takes the place of, the majestic Mount Rushmore).

The mistaken identity theme is key. In Lewis' earlier films, his own character, the Idiot, is the originator and the primary focus of all the mayhem that unfolds. But in The Big Mouth, this is no longer the case. Lewis' primary character, Gerald Clamson, is pretty much a blank. He's an accountant--often portrayed in comedy as the stereotypically dullest profession. It is almost as if Lewis had erased all the characteristics of his comedic persona, to leave us with nothing more than a purely generic movie protagonist. Clamson's love interest, Suzie (Susan Bay), is similarly bland and generic: she's an airline stewardess and an old-fashioned sort of girl who likes it when men act chivalrously towards her. Between the two of them, Lewis and Bay make for an utterly hellish vision of pre-second-wave-feminism American gender norms. Syd Valentine (the crook also played by Lewis) is as indestructible and uncatchable as George Kaplan, the nonexistent spy for whom Cary Grant is mistaken in North By Northwest. 

Gerald Clamson most fully turns into someone we can recognize as a Jerry Lewis character when he puts on a disguise. In order to get a room in the hotel from which he has been banned by the smarmy manager (Del Moore, ringing changes on his previous role as the college president in The Nutty Professor), Clamson adopts a rich-old-geezer disguise, in a performance that closely resembles Lewis' eponymous role in The Nutty Professor. This is a strange inversion; in The Nutty Professor, the humiliated Julius Kelp transforms himself into the suave Buddy Love. In The Big Mouth, to the contrary, Lewis' normative character evades detection by disguising himself as a singular eccentric. As the Narrator remarks, Clamson now looks like a "live creep" instead of a "dead crook." In The Big Mouth, Jerry Lewis turns the Hitchcockian theme of mistaken identity into a means for the production of comedy. Precisely by making his base character into a generic nonentity, he is able to propagate waves of identity disruption throughout the film. Source:

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