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Marilynne Marilyn – Picture of the Month: The Only Blonde in the World by Pauline Boty (1963)

The Only Blonde in the World 1963 by Pauline Boty 1938-1966

The Only Blonde in the World (1963) by Pauline Boty 1938-1966

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.

Marilyn Diptych 1962 by Andy Warhol 1928-1987

Marilyn Diptych (1962) by Andy Warhol 1928-1987

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.

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by Peter Blake

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.”

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Marilyn aka Mandy exiting the infamous trial of Stephen Ward (1963)

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.

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Pauline Boty

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in BBC Monitor ‘Pop Goes the Easel’ directed by Ken Russell

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1963 emulating Hockney’s muse

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.

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Michael Winner directs Diana Dors (28th January 1963)

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.

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Sonia Delaunay 1942

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).

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Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) by Marcel Duchamp

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.

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Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio at the premiere of ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955)

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…

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Celia Birtwell and some of her heroes (1963) by Pauline Boty 1938 – 1966

(That’s a young Hockney bottom right having a smoke.)

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Celia Birtwell by David Hockney

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Hockney in his Notting Hill flat with his friend and muse, textile designer Celia Birtwell (1969)

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Birtwell with Hockney in front of his ‘Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy’ (2006)

(Birtwell was married to fashion designer Ossie Clark)

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Hockney with Birtwell in ‘A Bigger Splash’, directed by my first boss, Jack Hazan (1973)

Related posts:

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

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Bitty Titty Soft and Bouncy (Day 72)

Sylvia Beach with James Joyce at Shakespeare & Co., Paris 1920

Sylvia Beach with James Joyce at Shakespeare & Co., Paris 1920

Another bitty day but progress was made. Kicked off with some Channel 4 work looking forward to to 2014, meeting a sports presenter to further develop a really interesting  idea we began kicking around a couple of months ago. From there I walked along a golden Malet Street past the University of London to the British Library where I installed myself in the Anthropology Library to work on the music project prompted by my interview with Jon King of Gang of Four yesterday. Got a few ideas down to start to set the scope and whacked them over to my radio friend. Then settled down to process my notes from the David Amram phone interview last night – mainly making sure it’s all legible in the long run.

Finished off my initial research into Sylvia Beach over a bowl of hot Greek bean soup in RADAland, sitting next to two glamorous, screwed-up actresses discussing boyfriend trouble and CBT experiences – in other words, very good quality eavesdropping material. The Beach research touched on her time in Savoy and mentioned Chambery where I went to university for a year, a not oft-mentioned town.

Once back home I  gave Malcolm Garrett a ring to set up an in-person interview with him about Tony Wilson & Manchester. Malcolm, who I know through working together on the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment committee, is the excellent designer behind the Buzzcocks record sleeves among many others, so first entered my life in the form of the silver and orange cover of Another Music in a Different Kitchen which delighted the teenage me. Rounded off things by getting in touch with Barry Miles, biographer and friend of Allen Ginsberg.

Took off for Chalk Farm on that note, the work day ended, to see the opening of an exhibition of photos of Andy Warhol (who I loathe and consider the opposite of Ginsberg – I wrote a scene about their meeting out back in a New York club where Ginsberg cut the twat neatly down to size in his own gentle way) and Edie Sedgwick (who, from the vaguest memory I have of the book I wrote about her – oops, Freudian slip, read about her I consider somehow tragic, like Basquiat and all the other cowardly damage Warhol left in his wake). It was at my friend/associate Alex Proud’s gallery in The Stables, an extravagantly large space, not really the right shape but different and fun.

From there to the 10th anniversary party of mySociety, a digital agency I admire hugely which is why I sacrificed the Channel 4 Christmas do to it (which was conveniently and teasingly  beside the Stables) and trekked off to Mozilla in St Martin’s Lane to see Tom Steinberg and crew. And that I’ll leave for my next post…

Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier in Savoy, not a million miles from Chambery

Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier in Savoy, not a million miles from Chambery

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