#260. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

My roommate went on a rant a few weeks ago where he was saying that he recently got mad at a friend of his, a med student, because he was trying to tell her a story about something that’d happened to him at work, and the story required an explanation of something technical, but she (the med student) told him, apparently somewhat dismissively, that she’ll never understand this hyper-technical breakdown of the process he’s describing and encouraged him to just skip through the details into recounting the drama.

            My roommate was incensed.

            Said to her, “Are you seriously gonna underestimate your intelligence by just saying to someone, flat-out, that you won’t or can’t understand something? I am not about that. That’s bullshit.”

            And I shrugged and nodded, kinda seeing his point, kinda sympathizing with the med student whose brain is crammed with science all day and doesn’t wanna try to understand something about engineering with her time off.

            Then yesterday I’m watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, there’s like ten minutes left, and my roommate comes home from work. Starts talking to me, telling me this and that, getting his stuff together for the gym.

            He starts telling a story that bleeds into another, and that other one bleeds into an explanation of how a certain microscopic bead is made.

            I understand none of it.

            I tried to hasten him through the explanation and I saw a sudden and intense flash of the same sorta irritation he’d shown when recounting the story of the med student.

            “Wait,” he said. “Let me get there.”

            So he finishes the explanation and afterward he resumes the story to which those microscopic beads pertained. That story leads to another story, and this new one features a new character who proves to be more duplicitous than she seems, “And I’ll tell you why.”

            My exit was hasty, snatched up during a brief pause, but I left the apartment in an inexplicable rage.       

            And I’ll tell you why.

            Because about four years ago I was writing a book that was proving pretty difficult and I was a college grad with this meager part-time job, living with my parents, feeling like I wasn’t going anywhere. So I was probably in a perpetual funk. I think I was always either drunk and sad or sober and angry. I’d go to Starbucks every morning at the same time, order the same thing, and try to write roughly a thousand words for the novel. Sometimes it went well, sometimes it didn’t. But there was also this guy there named Ernie, a regular, a guy in commercial real estate who’s been mentioned here on the blog before and who was always fairly pleasant. A bit cocky and pedantic, but whatever.

            So one day I’m sitting there at Starbucks, I’m working, and Ernie comes up to me and talks, with very little eye contact or evident regard for my attentiveness, and he goes on for something like two hours. Some obscene stretch of time. He’s talking about the Scientology documentary he’s just seen, and about hurricanes. Whatever the fuck he pleases.

            Granted, I’m at fault here too, cuz I didn’t tell him to stop talking so that I could get back to work. I just kept feigning attentiveness, wanting to be polite. Then eventually he leaves, off to probably do work in some private place where he won’t be interrupted.

            I was livid about the encounter for days afterward—because it felt disrespectful. I was obviously doing something and he just strolled up and decided to pontificate. Wasted a huge part of my day. Interrupted my flow.

            But maybe it’s not that. Nothing narcissistic or disrespectful, but something kind of sad instead. Like these are guys who aren’t heard, who don’t feel like they get the ears of the people in their life. What I know for sure is that my roommate (who does get razzed by friends for his verbosity) is anything but inconsiderate. But he does have the sort of job where I think he doesn’t even bother to explain his workplace frustrations to people, cuz they’re so complicated.

            So my roommate came home while I was watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and he had something hot and heavy on his mind, it’s fine, I’m flattered he considers me somebody he can confide in; really, what’s getting to me is my own insecurity about being taken seriously. I have this perpetual hangup of people thinking I’m not working just because I’m reading or watching a movie or writing. Ahdunno.

            I’m only bringing it up here because (1) it feels like too tedious a story to recount to anybody in my daily life and I need to get it off my chest (even though I almost definitely won’t care about it by the time this goes up) and (2) it happened while I was trying to finish Gentlemen Prefer Blondes—which I did finally get through, an hour or so later, and I think it’s one of my favorite comedies on the List. Up there with Night at the Opera. It’s the first movie ont eh list to feature Marilyn Monroe in a starring role, though she had a bit in Asphalt Jungle as the crime boss’s mistress and another small part in All About Eve; it’s also the first time that director Howard Hawks—who wowed me with Scarface and Only Angles Have Wings and To Have and Have Not—has been featured on the list for a comedy that, unlike Bringing Up Baby, doesn’t rely on cleverness and zany plotting for effectiveness.

            Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a bit of a musical, though I think it only has like four routine sin a 90-minute runtime. Mostly it’s a screwball romantic comedy that follows two friends, Lorelei Lee (Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell—who last graced the List in another screwball comedy, The Paleface), as they go on a cruise to France—where I think she’s supposed to put on a show and marry him at some later date. Not sure why I can’t recall.

            Turns out that the guy Russell falls for is a private investigator, sent onto the boat by Monroe’s fiancé to make sure she isn’t being unfaithful. And she’s not, surprisingly; but she is wooing and teasing an elderly millionaire. Tryna get money out of him without sex—or maybe the sex is inferred, and Hawks, who’s entire career runs to the drumbeat of his bumping heads with censors, is being discreet about it.

            Whatever the case, they engage in some “petting,” I guess, and the private investigator catches photos of it. Then Russell and Monroe have to try to get those photos back.

            I’m currently reading a Joyce Carol Oates novel about the life of Marilyn Monroe and I suspect I’ll be reading a proper biography of her at some point. I don’t know all that much at the moment. What I do know, however, is that she’s said to’ve been bookish and substantive, not at all the vapid pin-up she was made to seem like.

            And you can see that in this role. I’ll venture to say that she’s having a good time with it, that the deep breaths and the puckered lips and the purring, the sultriness, are maybe very personal impersonations of what she knows she’s supposed to behave like when the studios are paying her to be a sex symbol. There’s a charisma to her performance like it’s a hat she pulls on at will. Like what we’re watching is the way she impersonates herself when she’s home with friends.

            I dated somebody in college who enjoyed a short promotional gig with Miami New Times that required her to wear a short cocktail dress out in public during the day, to dip toward people in a certain way and pinch her cleavage together, to laugh at their jokes a little too hard, etc. I think she was handing things out.

Anyway. Sometimes, at the end of the day, we’d be in bed and she’d pop up on her knees and perk her shoulders up, fluff her hair out, put her palms on her thighs and contrive a huge smile and impersonate her sexy “professional” persona. She enjoyed it! Objectifying, sure, and plenty of guys were smarmy enough to leave her in a bad mood at the end of a shift. But it was a fun role to inhabit for a few hours on the weekend.

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