Women loved her, and men loved her even more. More than fifty years after Marilyn Monroe‘s early death, her disarming beauty still holds the power to seduce.
In march 1955, Life magazine featured a familiar figure on its cover, an actress with a cap of platinum-blonde curls. Her deep-set eyes accentuated with bat-wing eyeliner and high-arched brows, her pink lips parted in a smile that revealed a row of perfect white teeth. It was the look of Marilyn Monroe, who at the time was riding the wave of her comic, bombshell popularity.
Less than two years earlier she’d appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” And within a few months she would be seen again, in another fluttering moment of exposure, having her white dress blown above her knees in The Seven Year Itch.
But the young woman on that 1955 magazine cover was not Marilyn Monroe. She was Sheree North, a 22 year old former burlesque dancer (and former brunette) whose chance had come Monroe’s studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, had hired North as an alternative to Marilyn Monroe, casting her in a movie called How To Be Very, Very Popular. In which she played a striptease dancer who witnesses a murder , a role written for, and rejected by Marilyn Monroe, who aspired to more serious dramatic work.
When, a few months after the Life cover, North appeared as a mystery guest on the TV show What’s My Line? and was asked by a blindfolded Bennet Cerf if she had ever been mentioned in the same sentence as Marilyn Monroe, she replied with some chagrin, “I think that all of us have.”
North’s opportunity came and went. After a couple of years she was eclipsed by somewhat more durable Marilyn Monroe substitutes, including Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren. But if North was the first actress who was obliged to mold herself in the remarkable shape of Marilyn Monroe, her example has been followed by countless others since.