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Sheree North: Taking Over from Monroe (1 Viewer)

Emcee

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Marilyn Monroe was the biggest movie star in the world in 1950s, but as her star ascended, she became increasingly unmanageable and unreliable on movie sets. In hopes to "getting her in line", her home studio, 20th Century-Fox, recruited Broadway actress Sheree North and signed her to a contract in 1954. Fox had hoped to groom North as a possible successor to Monroe, or better, shake Monroe enough to get her to clean-up her act and behave the way they wished.

Monroe had declined the lead in
The Girl in Pink Tights in late 1953, a musical comedy based loosely on the 1943 musical Coney Island. After Fox signed North, it was their intention to place her in Monroe's place. North was also tested for a supporting role in Irving Berlin's There's No Business Like Show Business. It should also be noted that Fox took the cost-cautious route with hiring North ─ she had almost the exact same measurements as Monroe and could therefore wear her costumes. When Monroe returned from her highly publicized honeymoon to recently retired baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio, she settled her differences with Fox after they upped her weekly salary. To that end, The Girl in Pink Tights would die on the drawing board, and Monroe agreed to do Irving Berlin's There's No Business Like Show Business on the assurance that The Seven Year Itch would be her next film.

With Fox and Monroe ironing out their differences, North was put on ice by the studio. When Monroe rejected a leading role in How to Be Very, Very Popular in January 1955, the studio wasted no time in placing her on suspension and bringing in North to take her place. Producer Nunnally Johnson, who also wrote and directed the film, felt blindsided at Monroe's removal and North be brought aboard. Johnson later spoke candidly at how "hopelessly untalented" he found North. How to Be Very, Very Popular received mixed reviews from critics and enjoyed modest box office success. Fox had North on the cover of Life magazine in 1955 with the headline: "Sheree North takes over from Marilyn Monroe" as an effort to ensure the film's public success. She also appeared on the popular panelist show What's My Line? for publicity. The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (1956) was her next film, and she co-starred with Monroe's former leading man, Tom Ewell. It was a popular success, as was the musical The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956). North was enthusiastic about making The Way to the Gold (1957) when rumors swirled that Elvis Presley would be her co-star. When Presley bowed out over salary disagreements, he was replaced with Jeffrey Hunter. No Down Payment (1957) was an underappreciated suburban melodrama, and inspired producer David Jacobs to create Knots Landing in the late 1970s. North's final two films for Fox, In Love and War and Mardi Gras (both 1958), received a lukewarm reception from audiences and critics. By the time her contract with Fox expired, the studio had refocused their attention to another potential Monroe successor, Jayne Mansfield.

After her contract with Fox dissolved in 1958, North turned her attention towards theater and television. She was in the original production of I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1962) with Barbra Streisand, and appeared on TV hits such as Gunsmoke. The low-budget sci-fi film Destination Inner Space (1966) was her first movie role in eight years, and she later co-starred with Elvis Presley in The Trouble with Girls (1969), one of his final films. She became a favorite of filmmaker Don Siegel, and appeared in four of his films: Madigan (1968), opposite Richard Widmark; Charley Varrick (1973) with Walter Matthau; as John Wayne's first love in the actor's final film, The Shootist (1976); and Telefon (1977), starring Charles Bronson. She continued acting in film and TV for the rest of life, having memorable roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Seinfeld.

Any fans?


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Emcee

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I'm a fan and prefer her to Monroe.
OK. I must admit that I find this statement a little hard to swallow. It was Marilyn that got me into classic movies, so I'm sure she will always have her own spot in my heart and mind. Her simultaneously sexy and vulnerable persona has never been so equally meshed together as with her. She was truly an original, even if blondes such as Mae West, Jean Harlow, and Lana Turner predate her.

Still, I am mature enough to respect the fact that different people have different preferences. In truth, Sheree North did have a much longer and much more varied career as an actress.


There have been many posts on HTF over the years (a good few from me) exasperating over the non release of Best Things.
I have personally never seen this movie, but I'd be very tempted to buy it if Twilight Time or someone else would give it the time of day and restore it properly.

She always gave a good performance, a favourite is No Down Payment.
Speaking of North's earlier work, this probably offers her best on-screen work. The movie itself is understated and quite effective. Joanne Woodward turns in a strong performance, and I enjoy the against-type portrayal of Tony Randall.
 

Nick*Z

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Always thought North was underrated. That said, I think it's important to reiterate, she was NEVER considered the 'next' Monroe, not in the same way that both Mamie Van Doren and Jane Mansfield were both deliberately groomed to 'look' and 'behave' the part, without either ever coming close to rival Monroe's unique talent for bubble-headed bliss. Marilyn Monroe 'was' the blonde that all gentlemen preferred.

That her iconography was to rub off on successors was therefore inevitable. That it never entirely stuck in the same way, and, as the years passed, continued only to ripen with age, proves unequivocally that MM was an original - not easily copied, and most certainly NEVER to be duplicated again.

While Mansfield and Van Doren turned their imitations of Monroe into a chronic cottage industry, Sheree's strengths as an actress began to emerge from under the studio's early attempts to turn her into just another MM clone. She eventually escaped the insult and became her own person with a reputable spate of acting accomplishments achieved on her own terms. It is for this quality that Sheree North should best be remembered today. Not the early, 'Here's another Marilyn' knock-offs.
 

Matt Hough

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An abominable DVD-R copy of The Best Things in Life Are Free was released by Fox, pan-and-scanned robbing it of its Cinemascope splendor, but it's the only way I've ever seen it as that's the transfer that is aired in the infrequent times some movie channel or other airs it. I guess Fox never took the time to make a widescreen transfer. The movie deserves better.
 

Robin9

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I'm a fan of Sheree North and I regret that her early movie career was derailed by the Marilyn Monroe politics at 20th Century Fox. I particularly enjoy her dance number with Jacques D'Amboise in The Best Things In Life Are Free . . . . .

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. . . where she demonstrates that she had a lot of talent that Marilyn Monroe did not have.

She re-established herself in the late 1960s by playing sexy and sometimes insolent women past their first flush of youth. Her work in Charlie Varrick, The Outfit and the two she did with Burt Lancaster, Lawman and The Gypsy Moths, constitutes a memorable body of work. Sheree North has always been underrated but not by me.
 

Keith Cobby

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I used to own a few of Monroe's films but have become less interested in her over the years. She was a girl in a woman's body and had a traumatic life, abused by powerful men. She always seemed too much of an artificial construct to me, I really prefer a more natural look. I have the same opinion of Mamie van Doren and Jayne Mansfield.
 

Emcee

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Always thought North was underrated
Quite true. Her career is often dismissed, when she actually has a good deal of good film and television performances to her name.

That said, I think it's important to reiterate, she was NEVER considered the 'next' Monroe
I must disagree here. Fox literally signed North as a "threat" to Monroe when Monroe refused to do The Girl in Pink Tights. The studio was notorious for bringing in other actresses to keep their major stars "humble". Betty Grable was brought aboard to do it to Alice Faye, and then June Haver was promoted as the "Pocket Grable".

Aside from that, North herself was interviewed and said that Fox was using her to "threaten" Marilyn into "coming back and doing what they wanted".


Mamie Van Doren and Jane Mansfield were both deliberately groomed to 'look' and 'behave' the part
I'd agree that Van Doren and Mansfield mimicked Monroe's persona more than North did but viewing North's guest appearance on What's My Line? in 1955, she imitates Monroe's breathy dialect.


She eventually escaped the insult and became her own person with a reputable spate of acting accomplishments achieved on her own terms. It is for this quality that Sheree North should best be remembered today.
She did eventually came out from under the notion that Fox used her as a Monroe substitute, but it took a little while. When her studio contract dissolved in 1958, she didn't make another film until eight years later. It was then she graduated into a capable and graceful character actress. She had some darn good TV guest spots to boot.
 

Emcee

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where she demonstrates that she had a lot of talent that Marilyn Monroe did not have.
Marilyn was not a trained dancer like Sheree had been. Sheree's dancing talents got her own Broadway and offered her first splash with fame. Marilyn, on the other hand, could sing, a talent Sheree publicly stated she lacked.
 

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One of my favorite Sheree North performances is her turn as Virgina Hollingsworth Wylde, sister of Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), on the popular sitcom The Golden Girls.

Sheree originally appeared early in the first season when Virginia comes to Miami to ask Blanche if she will donate her a kidney due to kidney failure. Sitcom drama ensues as Blanche is unsure if she wants to undergo surgery, but all works out in the end when Virginia finds a Mormon woman to be her donor.

She comes back later in the fifth season when Virginia and Blanche's father, known as "Big Daddy", passes away. Virginia gets angry at Blanche for not coming home before Big Daddy passes, and Blanche's guilt causes her to skip her father's funeral. There is a never an on-screen make-up between Virginia and Blanche. Virginia is never seen on the show again.

The Golden Girls is easily one of my favorite sitcoms. This is one of the first roles I think about when I think about the post-1950s Sheree North.


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Mamie van Doren
I'm quite indifferent to Mamie. There was a time, many moons ago, when I tried to dig into her movies some, but I was disappointed. You know, some people can still have a "presence" in when they're appearing in shlocky B-movies. Mamie's filmography is cluttered with B-movies, and that's fine, but to me, she lacks a certain charisma to make her especially interesting. She had a drive-in "Marilyn Monroe" look, but her screen presence just seems forced and void of anything especially appealing.

I've watched some of movies, such as Guns, Girls, and Gangsters, but I just get left feeling a little empty. Sure, the movies are short and thin on plot, but Mamie just seems to be phoning-in her performances. Perhaps she just didn't have the skill to pull off what was necessary.

But that's just my opinion.

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Jayne Mansfield
Jayne, on the other hand, showed great promise for satire and comedy. The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? are classics, and showed her fine sense of comedic timing. The Wayward Bus was a solid drama, and Jayne turns in a strong, against-type performance as an ex-stripper trying to go straight.

Jayne's issue was herself. She was her own worst enemy. Jayne was addicted to attention, and she staged elaborate publicity stunts that cheapened her. She perverted Monroe's blonde bombshell image, and Fox gradually lost interest in her. By the early 1960s, she was a box office has-been before she turned 30.

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Robin9

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Marilyn was not a trained dancer like Sheree had been. Sheree's dancing talents got her own Broadway and offered her first splash with fame. Marilyn, on the other hand, could sing, a talent Sheree publicly stated she lacked.
Marilyn Monroe could sing moderately well. Sheree North could dance very well. Obviously she worked at it: all dancers do.
 

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How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955) is uploaded in its entirety online. Sheree's rendition of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" is considered a highlight of a rather bland musical comedy.

 

filmnoirguy

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I believe The Girl in Pink Tights was to be a remake of 1943's Sweet Rosie O'Grady (not 1943's Coney Island) both starring Betty Grable. Last night I watched Sweet Rosie O'Grady once again. Grable has a musical number about Pink Tights. Also there's an article about Rosie O'Grady wearing pink tights in the Police Gazette that printed on pink paper! Of the famous Fox blondes, I've always preferred Betty Grable. If I had to pick one of her musicals as a favorite, it would be Coney Island, however. As for Marilyn, my favorite is Niagara.
 

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North always had a natural quality to her from her acting to her sex appeal. Nothing about her came off like the manufactured product that was Marilyn Monroe. I re-visited a favorite of mine called lawman with Burt Lancaster and loved how good a older North was when opposite Mr. Lancaster. When she becomes emotional over his duty to his job, I felt that as a viewer, and though it's not a very long movie; she gives the type of performance that suggest more was there in that relationship. There was a another lady I believe, who also was viewed as the next Monroe, who went by the name Barbara Nichols. I believe she was a extra even in River of No Return.


Glad Ms. North is getting some appreciation.
 

Matt Hough

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I believe The Girl in Pink Tights was to be a remake of 1943's Sweet Rosie O'Grady (not 1943's Coney Island) both starring Betty Grable. Last night I watched Sweet Rosie O'Grady once again. Grable has a musical number about Pink Tights. Also there's an article about Rosie O'Grady wearing pink tights in the Police Gazette that printed on pink paper! Of the famous Fox blondes, I've always preferred Betty Grable. If I had to pick one of her musicals as a favorite, it would be Coney Island, however. As for Marilyn, my favorite is Niagara.
Well, there was a 1954 Broadway musical called The Girl in Pink Tights that starred Jeanmaire that featured the last score by Sigmund Romberg (he died before the show could be mounted so his score was completed by others), and I always just assumed that was the show that was planned for Marilyn/Sheree.
 

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There was a another lady I believe, who also was viewed as the next Monroe, who went by the name Barbara Nichols
Yes, Barbara Nichols had her first role as a dance hall extra in Marilyn's own River of No Return in 1954.

I think Barbara was least like Marilyn in terms of her image. She was brash and had something of a squeaky voice that didn't fit the "sexy" image that most Monroe "clones" tried to straddle. Nichols was also a notorious party girl in the 1950s and 1960s. She was in an "inner circle" and often got invited to the best upper-class parties.

As an actress, she was rarely the star of her films, but did show up in a few good ones, like The King and Four Queens (1956), starring Clark Gable; Pal Joey (1957); starring Frank Sinatra, The Pajama Game (1957), starring Doris Day; That Kind of Woman (1959), starring Sophia Loren; The George Raft Story (1961), with Jayne Mansfield; and The Disorderly Orderly (1964), starring Jerry Lewis.

One of my favorite performances from Nichols The Twilight Zone episode she did called "Twenty-Two", where she plays a hospitalized dancer who keeps getting drawn to the hospital's morgue.

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HubbaBubbaKid

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Great thread! Sharee is a fantastic actress and one of my favorites of all time , she is one of the few that , i think, got better looking as she got older and got out of the Marilyn look. I’ve only seen her many late 60’s , 70’s & 80’s work starting with her appearance as Jim Bronson’s best friends widow played by a young Martin Sheen. I believe she was the best pure actor out of all the “Marilyn clones” and just as beautiful to boot. I love her unique southern, cigarette tinged husky voice. I still prefer to pronounce her name as Sha- ree (like its unique spelling), not Sherry , as that was how i was saying it until i found out i was wrong a couple of years ago.


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filmnoirguy

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Well, there was a 1954 Broadway musical called The Girl in Pink Tights that starred Jeanmaire that featured the last score by Sigmund Romberg (he died before the show could be mounted so his score was completed by others), and I always just assumed that was the show that was planned for Marilyn/Sheree.
I assume your assumption is correct, sir. But previously someone stated that it was a remake of Coney Island, which starred Betty Grable. If it was a remake of one of her musicals, I believe it was Sweet Rosie O'Grady. Both were released in 1943.
 

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