Jennifer Jean Miller
HOLLYWOOD, CA – It was sixty years ago today that Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were immortalized into infamy.
The duo had just released their film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and both were feeling on top of the world overall; the world was literally an oyster for each of them, and pearls were not only readily available, they were exponentially multiplying.
For Marilyn Monroe, the important highlight of June 26, 1953, was one of the special pinnacles in her life that she reached, and at the same time, she was able to look back through the looking glass, remembering how significant this very place had been for her, for as long as she could remember.
That special event was when she, and her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes co-star, both looking angelic in their white dresses, gracefully knelt down on a cushion, as each first inscribed their names into the wet cement squares (Monroe dotted her “i” in her first name with a rhinestone, which was later pried out by a fan), in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now known as TCL Chinese Theatre), then pressed their hands down.
The newsreel footage, as well as most of the photographs from that day, are in black and white, and I am blessed to have two negatives in my collection that capture this glorious day and event in color; one that I purchased on eBay in 2009, and the other version of this same image only a few months ago (thanks to a few very sharp fans from one of the online Marilyn Monroe groups, who posted about it, we discussed it, I showed them my 2009, and afterward, I acquired the newest slide).
I am sharing one of the images today on this special anniversary of the event, since most fans have not seen it in color.
Until the share on the Marilyn Monroe group, I had never seen a color version of this image, beside the one in my collection, and many of the other fans agreed the same. It is even a mystery as to who the photographer was, who took this beautiful color still. There had only been a colorized version seen on the internet, which still beautifully depicts Monroe and Russell, however, in an unnatural way. Their makeup is overstated, and the colors are overall too vivid in the colorized image.
In the image I have, the perfection of both of these beauties is evident; Monroe and Russell in color appear luminescent.
The shade of Monroe’s blonde hair, against the paleness of her silky-looking skin, against her eyelet-style dress, gives evidence to one of her well-known quips, about how she loved to feel, “blonde all over.” Her lipstick is not like the typical Monroe fiery glossy red, but is softer and peachier, and the sash on the side of her dress, is a lovely coral color, similar to her lip color. And there is this ethereal halo of light that surrounds her gently curled hair.
Russell, like her contemporary, shimmers and glimmers in her own way, also sporting a deeper orange-toned lipstick, and nail polish to match. Russell’s style was accented with some jewelry, including a few bangles on her wrist, which the detail and sheen can be better seen in color. The gleam in the curls on Russell’s raven-colored hair is also something that the black and white images miss, showing the beauty in the contrast between her dark hair, and her light skin tone.
To see this image in color one feels transported into the day, and the photo has some dimension, when most pictures from the heyday of Hollywood of the ceremonies at Grauman’s, appear two-dimensional in black and white.
As the flashbulbs popped from the paparazzi and crowd that surrounded the scene, both Monroe and Russell smiled in unison as they lifted their palms from the concrete mix, and then faced them towards the film cameras, which showed off the palms of their hands coated with a thin grey concrete film. Then side-by-side, the two friends each stepped a stylish shoe into their respective squares, and next both alternated with their other foot, before completing the task. Monroe and Russell concluded the ceremony with tosses of their perfectly coiffed heads, sparkling smiles, and by vigorously pumping one another’s hand almost as if acknowledging, “We did it!”
Newspapers, such as The Kingston Daily Freeman in New York, had a blurb and photo following the ceremony on July 2, 1953, with a description, “CONCRETE BEAUTY,” headlining the caption. The description under the photo read, “Screen stars Marilyn Monroe, left, and Jane Russell have their handprints preserved for posterity at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, home of Hollywood’s Hall of Fame. Traffic police were busy as bystanders fought to see the gals give the cement a beauty treatment.”
“I used to go to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and try to fit my foot in a celebrity impression,” is a quote from Monroe that reads today on a fountain overlooking decades worth of squares.
As a little girl, Monroe would visit the front of the theatre with her mother, Gladys Monroe Baker, and her mother’s best friend, Grace McKee, who were both movie buffs. They would step into the footprints of their favorites, hoping there would be some good fortune for the child especially, who was then known as Norma Jeane Mortenson, and sometimes Norma Jean(e) Baker.
Fast forward more than eighty years later, after a young girl dreamt of stardom, and later became a legend, and now, coins are tossed into the fountain truly with her honor in mind; each piece of money collected is donated to Hollygrove, which in Norma Jeane’s day was an orphanage, and one in fact, where she lived from 1935 to 1937.
In 2005, Hollygrove converted from a residential facility, to a campus where crisis and counseling services are offered to at-risk children.
“It really meant to me that anything is possible… almost,” Monroe’s quote on the fountain finished out.
The quote not only reflects the astronomical heights that Monroe drove herself to reach, but might offer inspiration to the children who benefit from the coins collected, as well as those who willingly toss their coins in to offer hope to others.
Hope and living the golden Hollywood dream, was how it started for the many stars who planted their hands and feet in front of the theater. The first one was Norma Talmadge, who is often rumored to have stepped her foot into wet cement by accident, and sometimes the stories vary, giving that credit to Mary Pickford.
It was no accident for Monroe and Russell, who did so to commemorate Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and after the event, dined at Chasen’s Restaurant with their main squeezes (famous athletes, Monroe’s then beau, Joe DiMaggio, and Russell’s then-husband, Bob Waterfield).
Though there are several versions of the origin behind the custom, Jean W. Klossner was the master mason who worked on the projects, and his family created a website to dispel the myths, and give their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, the credit they say he deserves.
The author of this work agrees to do the same, for this hero in the background, who became known as “Mr. Footprint,” and who started the tradition.
According to Klossner’s three living generations of Klossners, three previous generations of Klossners (Jean, James, and William) immortalized their hands in wet cement in other projects, including the Notre Dame Cathedral, other theaters (Egyptian and All-American), the Hollywood Masonic Lodge, Hollywood First Federal Savings, and other projects. Klossner’s own hands are visible in the right-hand side of the theater’s poster frame, and his family shows the photo documentation of it.
John Tartaglia became the mason after Klossner, and carried the torch for the tradition. Click here for his family’s website.
The Klossner family website, gives a thorough detailing of the process their relative did behind the scenes to make it happen. They also said the Grauman version of the story, which alleges a star “accidentally” placed their foot into wet cement, is totally incorrect, a story that Grauman’s has borrowed for themselves over the years, not giving the original credit to the idea, where credit is due.
This article will be one way to dispel the myth, and give credit to Jean W. Klossner, for his idea.
There are many fables that originated in Hollywood, to augment it, including the history of the footprint, and the life story of Marilyn Monroe, which has on the other hand, instead created spins over the years.
The Klossner family said on their website, there was never any wet cement for a star to slip on, and the process was of memorializing the stars’ prints and signatures in concrete, was totally orchestrated by Klossner, and Sid Grauman, the founder of the theater.
The Klossner Family details that the first impressions were made by Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, who partnered with Grauman as financiers of the theater, on April 30, 1927. Photos tell the real story, as both stars are seen with Grauman himself, deliberately placing their prints into eternity.
Talmadge, who many often credit as the namesake for Norma Jeane Mortenson, (another Hollywood fallacy, as Monroe, her mother stated later, was named Norma Jeane, after a young girl who Gladys Baker was a nanny for before her famous daughter’s birth), pushed her hands, feet, and signature, into the wet cement in a ceremonious way as well, on May 18, 1927. According to a video, Talmadge was the first that Klossner personally helped.
Many stars follow and big names, such as Gloria Swanson, Charlie Chaplin (whose prints were removed due to vandalism post World War II), Joan Crawford, The Marx Bros, Jean Harlow, Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Sonja Henie (who imprinted her ice skate prints), Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, John Barrymore (who included his profile), Jack Benny, Carmen Miranda, Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope, Betty Grable (one of her famous legs was imprinted), John Wayne, Lana Turner, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Susan Hayward (who seems to have the most photos on the Klossner family website), and Ava Gardner.
The number 104 immortalization of stars, or teams of stars in Grauman’s cement, was Monroe and Russell. On the Klossner family website, the Monroe and Russell event is depicted the second most in photos, behind Hayward’s, on the family’s website.
What is unique about the Monroe and Russell ceremony is that in one of my photos, the one I purchased in 2009, there is an unidentified pair of sneakers, and tan cuffed pants. Without knowing the identity of that person, one might imagine those feet and legs belong to a youth, standing on the sidelines, among those who are suited up and watching Monroe and Russell from feet away.
On the Klossner family website through many of the photos, one sees Klossner standing by, the unsung hero speaking with celebrities, helping to guide their hands and feet into the cement. In some of the photos, he stands by, leading the process from the sidelines. Klossner has his own unique style, from suspenders to a bevy of different hats, including berets.
In some of the Monroe and Russell photos on the Klossner website, one sees an older gentleman sporting a light-colored shirt, with casual pants, and what appears to be an object, like a tool, in his back pocket. In one of the photos, this gentleman, who is Klossner himself, is visible in a photo of Jane Russell, standing over glistening cement, before the cushion was placed for Monroe and Russell to cement their names into fame.
To Russell’s right is Klossner, appearing very busy before the ceremony, pointing towards the virgin cement blocks, about to be emblazoned with the stars’ personalities. His sneakers are easily identifiable and match the shoes of the man in my image.
In the double slides set that I was able to acquire in 2013, Klossner’s full identity is revealed. One sees the same sneakers, a khaki pair of pants, a yellowish colored man’s dress blouse, and a black beret.
In some video footage of Klossner during an interview with television personality Art Baker, Klossner was interviewed for Baker’s show, You Asked For It, in 1955. He described his years working at Grauman’s, and Baker asked him about Monroe and Russell.
“And for you Jean, these two glamour queens will always hold a special place in your heart, Monroe and Russell,” Baker posed to Klossner.
“Yes, they will,” Klossner replied, ” because after that ceremony, I retired.”
Tartaglia took over the task after Klossner retired. At this point, Klossner, the cement sculptor, outlived many that he had worked with, including Grauman himself, who died at age 70 in 1950, with Klossner stating to Art Baker he trained his men to “carry on Sid Grauman’s wishes.”
For Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, as well as Jean Klossner, it was a day that was a milestone for them all.
For the Klossner family, they keep up their own tradition at home, and have done imprints of their family members, as well as famous friends. And Charlie Chaplin’s prints, which were removed due to vandalism, are where they have been for the last fifty years; safely in the care of a Klossner family member in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles.
According to a post on Tara Hanks’ (author of The Mmm Girl) blog that she wrote in tribute to Russell after she passed away in 2011, Russell later told Monroe biographer John Gilmore, Monroe marveled at the significance of placing their hands and feet in the cement.
“It’s for all time, isn’t it?” Monroe was said to have asked Russell.
As told to Hanks by Gilmore, Russell said, “Yes, I told her, it’s for all time, as long as the cement lasts.”
Russell expressed she was moved to tears by Monroe’s sweetness.
Like Monroe, Russell as a young girl, also spent time at Grauman’s, like many young hopefuls, sticking her hands and feet into the prints of her favorite stars.
At Monroe’s unexpected death in 1962, less than a decade from the day when she placed her prints there, fans gathered to surround the blonde beauty’s cement block on the day she died, and placed a massive bouquet there.
Monroe, Russell, and so many stars will never be forgotten. As an author, I am ensuring that Klossner will never be forgotten on my watch; sadly, his family recognizes he already has, with the deeply moving statement about how Klossner has been “gone and forgotten.” His story is overshadowed by so many untruths with how he began the tradition, a silent figure, who was so visible throughout it all. Klossner, in my book, will live on as the artist who helped to “cement” this tradition into history, and one so many visitors to Hollywood have continued to enjoy what he created.
This time capsule that Monroe, Russell, the other Hollywood legends, and Klossner and Grauman were a part of, will always remain, like a live color snapshot version of the day their presence first touched that very nostalgic corner of Hollywood.