“There are several problems with doing Marilyn’s hair; it’s very fine and therefore hard to manage. It gets oily if it isn’t shampooed every day and her hair is naturally so curly that to build a coiffure for her I have to first give her a straight permanent. The way we got her shade of platinum is with my own secret blend of Sparkling Silver bleach plus 20 volume peroxide and a secret formula of silver platinum rinse to take the yellow out” – Gladys Rasmussen, Marilyn’s long-time hairstylist and friend.
Shades of Marilyn
Even though we always think of her with platinum blonde curls, Marilyn changed the shade of her
hair several times during her career. Marilyn gave Rasmussen a gorgeous colour photograph of herself with her hair beautifully coiffed and wrote, “To Gladness, for making me look like this. Love Marilyn.” In the last year of her life, Rasmussen attended Marilyn’s house every weekend to bleach Marilyn’s roots, which grew incredibly fast. Although Marilyn’s natural hair colour was mousy brown the roots would have looked black next to her white-ish hair. It was constant maintenance. The frightful thing was not only did Marilyn have her hair bleached platinum it was straightened on a regular basis. Then, it was set on hot curlers and made into the 1950’s “Gilda-style.” This triple-process eventually dried and frazzled her hair. When she filmed The Misfits in the Nevada Desert she had to wear wigs; her damaged hair simply couldn’t be styled in the extreme desert heat.
On the other hand, Marilyn was known to take immaculate care of her gorgeous, white skin. She slathered it with Vaseline petroleum jelly. One afternoon when a director and some of the cast of a film Marilyn was making all went into town, the director snapped at her, “get that crap off your face. You scare people.” Marilyn wallowed in Nivea and she used a hormone cream to keep her skin its whitest. The hormone cream caused a soft peach fuzz to grow on both sides of her face. She refused to have it removed, deciding it made a nice glow on film and added to her allure. A wise woman was Marilyn. Whether or not Marilyn used conditioners on her hair I can’t say. I assume she did or her hair would have been a cooked mess each time she got it coloured.
Marilyn began her career as a model with the Blue Book Modelling Agency. Emmeline Snively, her agent remembered that when it came to making any changes to her look “believe me, I fought with her.” She told Marilyn that she would get more hair shampoo ads if she went blonde because the light reflected off it better than brunette hair. In 1946, despite her brunette locks, Marilyn was assigned a hair commercial ad. Snively suggested she attend the Hollywood’s Frank and Joseph Salon. Marilyn entered the salon and asked if they could do anything with her hair for her commercial shoot. One of the men recalled,“her hair was terrible; brown, bushy and wiry. We straightened it and added some gold highlights. She was thrilled with it. She liked it so much she kept coming back for more highlights until she was completely blonde.”
From Ash to White
Marilyn went through many blondes during her career. The first picture above is ash-blonde, a silvery shade. Nasty. The picture of Marilyn with the tiara is strawberry-blonde. Nasty. She wore that look for The Prince and the Showgirl and thankfully never wore it again.She appeared with platinum blonde hair for the first time in a small role in the successful film Monkey Business, co-starring with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. The movie was shot in black and white so it was impossible to tell that her hair was platinum. She played sexy secretary Lois Laurel. Marilyn hadn’t yet developed her
baby voice and she didn’t act as childlike as she did in some of her later films. She didn’t appear in a movie speaking with that iconic voice until she made Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Like her hairstyles, Marilyn was still a work in progress. Marilyn occasionally changed her hair colour for different roles, most notably in Bus Stop where she was a very light shade of strawberry and in Prince. When Marilyn sang happy birthday to Jack Kennedy at Madison Square Gardens her hair was so light Vogue dubbed it “pillow-slip white.” It was the colour she used while filming Something’s Got to Give. The hairstylist who turned her hair white stated the colour would have looked horrible on anyone else “but on her it looked all soft.”
Initially Marilyn wore her hair shoulder-length in a “gilda-girl” style that was very popular. The style was named for Rita Hayworth’s hairstyle in the film Gilda.One of the pinnacle scenes simply shows Hayworth flipping her long hair over her shoulders. Many actresses and women in general copied this look after the movie was released. To get it, women curled their hair into what was called pin curls then held it with bobby pins along the forehead and the sides of the face. A long, wavy cascade exposing the forehead was the result. Marilyn showed this hairstyle in her earliest glamour photographs when her hair was still a brunette.She wore this look after she went blonde in Ladies of the Chorus. When Marilyn went blonde she was still wearing her hair long for several months. She wore a long, blonde attachment for an early film entitled A Ticket to Tomahawk. She finally appeared in colour with short platinum hair for the first time in the 1953 film Niagara and generally kept it that way for subsequent films. Marilyn had found her trademark look.
Marilyn’s Mind Began to Give
In 1962, during the last few weeks of her life, Marilyn became very paranoid about her role in Something’s Got to Give. Her deteriorating mind was more obvious to the people around her. Before filming again, Marilyn insisted that Cyd Charisse, the stunning supporting actress, have her hair dyed brunette because Marilyn was adamant she would be the only blonde in the movie. When the director agreed with Marilyn she snapped at him, “her unconscious wants it blonde.”
Gladys Rasmussen – Rasmussen was responsible for bleaching Marilyn’s roots every weekend at her home, since Marilyn’s hair grew so quickly. Rasmussen created most of her hair colours and styles for her films. Marilyn gave Rasmussen a photograph of herself and wrote on it “To Gladness for making me look like this. I love you. Marilyn.”
Kenneth Battelle (Mr. Kenneth) – Kenneth was responsible for the famous, winged hairstyle Marilyn wore when she sang to Jack Kennedy at Madison Square Gardens. Initially Marilyn was wary about using Kenneth and it was Bobby Kennedy who insisted that she should. Jackie Kennedy’s bouffant hairdo was designed by Kenneth so that is the link between Bobby and Kenneth. Why he wanted Marilyn to allow Kenneth to style her hair, I can’t say. Angry, Marilyn finally allowed Kenneth to style her hair and was thrilled with the result.
Agnes Flanagan – technically Flanagan didn’t style Marilyn’s hair although she was assigned the morbid job of doing so to prepare Marilyn for her funeral. The autopsy had all but destroyed Marilyn’s hair so all Flanagan could do was to fit Marilyn with a yellow-ish wig. Susan Strasberg, daughter of Paula and Lee Strasberg, recalled that Marilyn’s coffin was closed before it was placed into the hearse. Then suddenly it was opened to allow photographers their last pictures of Marilyn Monroe. When the lid was opened Strasberg recalled “there was a pop of yellow hair” and what a shock it gave her. But not as shocking as learning Marilyn was dead, I should think.