When the film studio 20th Century Fox purchased the rights to the popular Broadway musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," they set in motion the making of a movie that audiences still enjoy.
Carol Channing had charmed Broadway audiences as blonde showgirl Lorelei Lee -- one of her most famous roles on Broadway — but, as usual with a Broadway to film adaptation, the studio wanted to cast their own actors on contract. Betty Grable was the big star, but her per picture price was on the high side. There was Judy Holliday, but she said no, as she thought Channing deserved the Lorelei role in the movie.
Their final choice was this up-and-comer Marilyn Monroe. Maybe she could make a good Lorelei Lee.
Monroe had made an impact with several supporting roles (All About Eve, Monkey Business) and big parts in lower-budget films (Don’t Bother to Knock, Niagara). Now she would get a chance to show her comedy and musical abilities as Lorelei, a showgirl on a mission to snare a rich husband. Monroe would play Lorelei, while brunette Jane Russell got the brunette role of Dorothy Shaw.
Now who would be perfect for directing a Hollywood musical? Why not a Hollywood director whose film career included making movies in multiple genres? Why not Howard Hawks?
Hawks, who had worked in the film industry since the silent-film days and had worked his way up to director, proved he could make all kinds of films. You want a gangster film? How about Scarface (1932)? You want a western? How about Red River (1948) and Rio Bravo (1959) You want adventure? See Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and To Have and to Have Not (1944). What about a war film? Check out the highly praised Dawn Patrol (1930) and Sergeant York (1941). Okay, but can he do comedy? Yes, Howard Hawks can do comedy. Twentieth Century (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Ball of Fire (1941), and His Girl Friday (1940) are some of the most loved comedies in film.
Hawks, who knew how to tell a great story on film (he’d spent his early film days as a screenwriter), was considered a good director in Hollywood. Only nominated for one Academy Award for Sergeant York, he had not reached the top echelon of famous directors, but was respected.
Happily, as the film aficionados of the 1950s and 1960s explored favorite films of 20th-century Hollywood, it became obvious that Hawks was not just a good director, but a great one. His films are considered some of the most entertaining in film history. His use of humor combined with drama is copied by today’s filmmakers.
Of course, the Fox studio trusted the expert Hawks to deliver a fun film musical with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. With songs like “A Little Girl from Little Rock,” “Anyone Here for Love,” and “Bye Bye Baby,” this movie gives us bright colorful numbers and a perfect match between a character, Lorelei Lee, and an actor, Marilyn Monroe. The movie also offers Monroe performing her iconic “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”
Hawks delivered a fun movie. The movie delivered stardom to Marilyn Monroe.