Had she lived, the infant initially christened Norma Jeane Baker would be celebrating her 88th birthday on the first day of June.
I don’t know if Marilyn Monroe would have chosen to blow out her veritable forest fire of birthday candles in the city of Palm Springs, but, regrettably, the 26-foot “Forever Marilyn” statue, once located on the corner of South Palm Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way, is no longer there to honor her.
For the past two years, downtown Palm Springs boasted a sculpture by J. Seward Johnson that preserved a page from “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) in a truly colossal way. Johnson’s larger-than-life tribute, considered the height in kitsch, has been dismantled, loaded on a flatbed truck and is headed out of town — bound for Trenton, N.J., to be exact, where it will go on display along with 150 other pieces also sculpted by the heir to the Johnson and Johnson fortune.
Also on its way out of Palm Springs is the 23-year-old phenomenon known as “The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies.”
The Historic Plaza Theatre, where “The Last Hurrah! Our Farewell Season!” is currently playing out its closing weeks, is located within 96 feet of “Forever Marilyn.” The follies, to its devoted fans’ collective dismay, has proved yet another victim of the recession.
According to follies’ co-founder (along with Mary Jardin, sales and marketing director) Riff Markowitz (an MC who is in no manner PC), “The philosophy that we’ve always endeavored to demonstrate is simply, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. The ability,” he added, “to continue to use one’s skill or craft should never be restricted based solely upon age alone.”
“We must find an outlet — whether modest or grand — to continue to practice all or part of that which we have mastered over our long careers,” continued the 76-year-old Markowitz. “I believe it is the secret of maintaining a continuing balance in our life and then our happiness.”
The highlight of the three-hour performance (replicated nine times during each week) pays homage to the Ziegfeld Follies.
In case you don’t remember Flo’s annual stage extravaganzas from 1907 to 1931, the impresario would assemble a personally selected bevy of beauties and dress them in elaborate headgear, expansive back-pieces (think: the wings on Victoria’s Secret angels), and jewel-encrusted lingerie.
They would gracefully descend a mirrored staircase assisted by tuxedo-clad young men to the strains of “A Pretty Girl (Is Like a Melody).”
The Palm Springs Follies, likewise, follows suit. In fact, each season’s wardrobe can contain up to 1,500 individual garments with some reaching 11 feet in diameter and costing up to $35,000.
Although little was left to the imagination — costume-wise — Ziegfeld’s idea was to “glorify the American woman” — not to appeal to men’s baser instincts (even though he failed miserably with the latter). These days, however, you’ve probably seen more skin on the silver screen at the local Bijou, than you will at either Flo’s or the Palm Springs Follies.
Still, the Palm Springs ladies do something Flo’s girls would never do. They confess their real ages. On stage. With pride.
Additionally, the headliner at the plaza proved just as special as Ziegfeld’s Billie Burke. If you watched the Academy Awards last month, Darlene Love would have caught your attention.
Instead of delivering her thank you speech, the star of the “20 Feet from Stardom” documentary sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” She was rewarded with a standing ovation.
Not only is Love famous for backing up Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen, but as a soloist, she can also steal the show, especially when belting out “He’s a Rebel” and “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry.” Her remarkable set of pipes (she couldn’t wait to announce) have served her well for 72 years.
You also couldn’t help but be impressed with the strenuous dance numbers by the follies cast. Not one of the oldsters cheated the routine — kicks were head-high, tap shoes set off seismic vibrations and sweat equity was honestly earned. I suspect that each hoofer’s commitment to give his or her “all” was inspired by such senior dancers as 84-year-old Dick France and 78-year-old Leila Burgess.
Although Marilyn Monroe once appeared on a calendar, she could never manage to arrive anywhere on time. And Monroe, who once advised, “We should all start to live before we get too old,” met her maker at the tender age of 36.
The follies, on the other hand, advises exactly the opposite. According to Markowitz, “Our cast of performers — all of whom are working decades longer than they had ever hoped — have proved that ‘old age’ can be vibrant, rewarding, sexy and perhaps, perhaps even successful.”
There’s a great lesson in there somewhere.