My life as a Marilyn Monroe impersonator
A Calgary journalist displays her blond ambition as she steps up to the mic as screen legend Marilyn Monroe.
Platinum-blond, my wig rests on its stand in the bathroom. An ivory ostrich-feather stole hangs in my closet. A pink-jacketed book with silver kisses on the inside flap sits on my bookshelf. It’s an impersonator’s manual written by Gailyn Addis, an American entertainer, and for the past few months I have studied it religiously.
At the age of 45, I’ve morphed into Marilyn Monroe, even though we’re a stark contrast in studies. I’m a brunette freelance journalist; she’s the quintessential blond icon. But I’ve always loved to sing — I have a five-octave vocal range and used to sing in a swing choir. Just over a year ago, I walked into an entertainment agency in Calgary, hoping to line up some gigs to pay for my Christmas gifts. Jazzy carols were my specialty. “Our Marilyn just moved to Vegas,” the entertainment coordinator told me. “Are you interested in auditioning?”
Me? As Marilyn? It was worth a try. Throughout December and January, I studied Marilyn’s movies and songs. Karaoke CD? At $40, it’s cheaper than an orchestra. Wig? eBay. Dress? Salvation Army. Marilyn’s characteristic vibrato? Still working on it.
I auditioned on January 31, my birthday. The entertainment agency was next to a bar, so I slipped into the washroom to change into my costume: a pink, strapless dress with a giant bow at the back. Once in the agency office, I performed “I Wanna Be Loved By You” and “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” Unbelievably, they hired me on the spot.Since then, I’ve “roved” with Humphrey Bogart at the Oscar-themed fragrance launch of Yves Saint Laurent’s Cinéma at the Bay in Calgary. I’ve sung “Happy Birthday” John F. Kennedy-style to a 50-year-old guy at The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. I’ve jived with Mr. Rainbow the Clown — he stepped on my pink fluffy sandals with his giant red shoes. And I’ve performed at Race City Motorsport Park, belting out songs over the scream of the race cars. My most treasured compliment has become “Is that you?” when I show people my business card: my Marilyn persona is on it, a silvery-and-white vintage-looking photo.
Sue Oates, the woman who runs the local Sundre Thrift Store, phones me when vintage items come in. “Got a white satin pillbox hat for you,” she enthused one day. Sue sold me a sumptuous black velvet gown with spaghetti straps and a deep side split, which I had altered to fit. She even gave me her white graduation gloves to wear with my costume. She got the real Marilyn’s autograph in 1952 when the actress was staying at Jasper Park Lodge, filming River of No Return. “Her hair was like straw, and she was dressed in capri pants,” Sue told me. “I wouldn’t immediately have known her.” That same autograph fetched $5,000 at a Red Deer auction house last winter. With the money, Sue tore out her worn carpeting and replaced it with laminate floors — no more vacuuming with arthritic knees.
I’ve now performed 38 times as Marilyn. The best part about the job is making people feel special — if you don’t count the guy who walked out before I could even start singing. “But she’s not a stripper; she’s a singer!” someone called out.
“I don’t care; I’m not participating!” replied the 50-year-old birthday boy.
“Anyone else having a birthday?” I asked, with a smile.
“I am!” chirped a sandy-haired guy with spectacles.
“Then you get the birthday-gram,” I said and proceeded with my act.