Marilynne Marilyn – Picture of the Month: The Only Blonde in the World by Pauline Boty (1963)
My mum is called Marilynne Marilyn. Not a lot of people know that. My grandfather couldn’t spell the name, got it wrong on the birth certificate, wasn’t allowed to cross it out, so had to have a second go. Marilynne Marilyn is a blonde.
Today I have been reading about Mandy Rice-Davies of Profumo Affair notoriety. Another blonde in the world. Her real first name was actually Marilyn. Not a lot of people know that.
Marilyn Monroe, as the biggest star in the world and the epitome of late 50s female sexuality (at least as far as men were concerned), was a popular subject for Pop artists on both sides of the water.
Monroe died (or was hounded to her death, as Boty might say – she considered Marilyn “betrayed”) in August 1962 from an overdose of barbiturates. Warhol spent the rest of ’62 creating images of her, all derived from a publicity photo for Niagara (1953). The right-hand half of the diptych speaks of fading and mortality.
Monroe died at just 36. Boty only made it to 28.
Marilyn features on the centre line of one of the most famous of all Pop images, the one that was actually just a millimetre or two from the pop itself (in the form of black vinyl). She’s just above Ringo and Johnny Weissmuller, swamped in a sea of men.
‘Randy Mandy’ wrote of her bubbly blonde public image: “Every man’s sexual fantasy – it’s a curious role to play in life. I meet men who were schoolboys when my picture was front page news and they greet me as a figment of an erotic dream. There is nothing I can do about this, it has nothing to do with the real me. That Mandy is a pert blonde who is all things to all men. Perhaps that is her secret – she never disappoints.”
The big David Hockney exhibition opens at Tate Britain in a few hours, a retrospective of 60 years of painting. The Hockney generation at the Royal College of Art (at which I’ve been privileged to be working recently, under Neville Brody, Dean of the School of Communication) lusted to a man (bar presumably Hockney himself) after Boty who was every inch the attractive blonde.
The blonde in Boty’s painting is far from the only one in the world. The title is ironic. It’s Marilyn. It’s Pauline. It’s Mandy. It’s Diana. It’s any number of fantasy blondes.
In ‘The Only Blonde in the World’ Marilyn is contained within a flat, abstract space – both the left and right green panels are higher than Marilyn’s panel. The designs of that space have echoes of Sonia Delaunay’s Orphism which was shown in London around this time.
The 2D green abstract panels slide open to reveal a glimpse of a ‘3D’ space in which Marilyn positively buzzes with energy. Her famous legs are descendants of Marcel Duchamp’s celebrated Nu descendant un escalier n° 2 (1912).
I’m not sure where Boty’s Marilyn image is drawn from. Some critics and commentators say Some Like It Hot but I can’t find any such image – I think it may be from the premiere of The Seven Year Itch. It doesn’t really matter where exactly it came from, the point is I’m pretty sure there will be a specific photo out there that she used as a source, one in a magazine, to align with the popular culture focus of British and American Pop Art.
The vibrating energy of Boty’s Marilyn reflects her genuine admiration of Monroe as a woman mythologised through pop culture. The grey background, which links out to the lines and swirls of the abstract framing image, picks white Marilyn out like a spotlight at a Hollywood premiere. She’s a flash of white brilliance as she crosses the gap. The journey between the two green panels is short but Marilyn still steals the show, as she did in her tragically short life.
Little did Boty know but her own would also be cut tragically short. They found cancer when she went for the first scan of her first child. The brevity of her life has left her to a large extent written out of British art history. ‘The Only Blonde in the World’ is the only Boty in the Tate. Otherwise the only British public gallery holding a Boty is Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The bulk of her paintings languished for many years in a barn. She was an exact contemporary of Hockney (born the year after him). She went to the Big Studio in the sky just three years after capturing’The Only Blonde in the World’. Had she lived and had time to evolve I wonder whether it might have been her massive retrospective opening at Tate Britain tomorrow…
(That’s a young Hockney bottom right having a smoke.)
(Birtwell was married to fashion designer Ossie Clark)
The last Picture of Month – also touching on the Profumo Affair
An earlier Picture of the Month featuring a young Hockney at the RCA
A recent Profumo walk related to Mandy aka Marilyn Rice-Davies