Frances Burscough: My day as Marilyn Monroe

Frances Burscough as screen goddess Marilyn Monroe

As the new film about Marilyn Monroe is released, Frances Burscough needed no excuse to hit the town after undergoing an amazing makeover as her screen idol

A so-called friend once told me that I had legs like Marilyn Monroe’s. I was overjoyed — who wouldn’t be? — until she finished the sentence: “You know... sort of muscular and chunky...”

I decided to take this obvious back-hander as a compliment anyway. As far as I was concerned Marilyn Monroe is, was and always will be the sexiest woman who ever walked — or wiggled, to be more precise — the earth, and so to resemble her in even the slightest way made me feel as sexy as a six-foot supermodel. No mean feat, when you’re only five foot four.

As a result I’ve happily flashed my chunky legs ever since (when the occasion allows, of course) and always act like I’m hot on the high heels of my silver-screen heroine as I’m doing it.

So you can imagine how utterly overjoyed I was when I was invited to get a complete MM makeover by the bosses at Queen’s Film Theatre, in order to help promote the new biopic “My Week with Marilyn”.

The phrase “chance of a lifetime” crossed my mind.

Of course, I didn’t have to be asked twice, especially when they finished the request with “...because you already look a bit like her anyway”

With me, flattery will get you everywhere and that was the most fabulous bit of flattery ever! Within seconds I was already practicing my pout and giggling like Lorelei Lee. That was a month ago and I’ve been incandescent with glee ever since.

If I ever needed an excuse (which I don’t) to watch a lot of Technicolor musicals and immerse myself in all things Norma Jean, then this was surely it.

So here it is, timed to coincide with the opening of the fantastic film about her visit to England (showing at QFT in December) an intimate account of my own Day With Marilyn...

Getting on the Glad Rags

After much research I was delighted to discover that Drama Queens fancy dress hire in Belfast (next door to Ann Summers) had the exact replica of Marilyn’s halter-neck sun-ray pleated dress in white satin that is featured in The Seven Year Itch and is probably the most memorable of all her outfits.

I couldn’t resist, especially when I discovered it came in my exact size. So, after spending the first part of the morning in front of the mirror, doing the iconic make-up, I arrived for phase two of my transformation.

Colin, the shop’s flamboyant owner, was more than happy to help with the dressing; intricately criss-crossing the satin straps across my bodice with great precision as I squealed in delight like a kid on Christmas eve.

Wow, it fitted like a glove |and I instantly felt half way there to being a living legend as I |looked in the full-length mirror and admired myself like a |born exhibitionist.

Then came the wig — an ash blonde confection of gleaming kiss-curls — which took some adjusting and tweaking to get just right. I knew that this was make-or-break time: I was either going to look like Marilyn Monroe or Lilly Savage. But, boy-oh-boy! |Did it work a treat! From the moment it was lovingly cosseted into place I felt like the proverbial |million dollars.

All that was left to do was to slip on the long satin gloves and a pair of strappy sling-backs and then I was off, to mince and wiggle my way around Belfast, air-kissing and waving at everyone in my path and loving every minute of my reincarnation as a glorious goddess of the silver screen...

Queens Film Theatre

So I asked myself, what would Marilyn do if she was visiting Belfast for the first time? And the answer was obvious — she’d head straight to the nearest movie theatre for a photo-call among the throngs of adoring fans who’d have been tipped-off in advance by her press agent.

Now I don’t have a press agent, but I did tip them off in advance. Unfortunately the throngs of adoring fans hadn’t materialised as yet when I got there (they must have all got caught up in traffic) so I had to make do with a solo photo call in front of my own photographer, the freelance paparazzo Stephen Potter, who had kindly agreed to act as my chauffeur for the day too. Which is just as well, considering the next stop on my whirlwind tour...

The Crown Bar

Look, anyone who visits Belfast has got to get a pint of the black stuff, don’t they? It’d be rude not to!

Thanks to my trusty chauffeur, who sadly doesn’t drive a limo or a Cadillac but the next best thing — a Fiat Punto, I was dropped off at The Crown and made my dramatic entrance at the busiest time on the busiest day of the week — Friday lunchtime — where the world and his wife (or someone else’s) was starting to get wound down and well-oiled for the weekend.

Well, it’s fair to say I was the centre of attention from the moment I set foot inside this glorious gin palace. People kept buying me drinks! What’s a girl to do? (drink them, of course. It’d be rude not to...) as well as requesting songs such as Happy Birthday (Mr President), and I Wanna Be Loved By You. Naturally, I obliged. Well, it’d also be rude not to.

I was even invited behind the bar by the staff, who wanted a picture of me pulling a pint for their website. Slainte!

Lunn’s Jewellers

Of course there’s no way Marilyn would have come to Belfast without making a bee-line for a posh jewellers. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend after all. Bearing in mind that this is the closest I’m likely to get to diamonds in my everyday existence as a working, single mother, I decided to milk this opportunity for all it’s worth.

Out came the full portfolio of finest pieces — some so precious and valuable that they wouldn’t even tell me (Marilyn Monroe, no less) the actual price. Nevertheless I was treated like a celebrity, brought a glass of champagne and such fabulous jewellery that it was a wrench to actually hand them back. I did even consider ‘accidentally’ dropping a diamond solitaire rock down my cleavage.

Then I saw the burly security guard watching me like a hawk and I decided I’d go peacefully.

The Merchant Hotel

M M — or at least her character in How To Marry A Millionaire — would have certainly approved of my last port of call, the newly-opened Veuve Cliquot Champagne Lounge in the Merchant Hotel.

Now this place is so posh and so exclusive that I decided to ring ahead and make an appointment. Unfortunately when we finally got there after a lengthy walkabout (being stopped all along the way for photographs, waves and kisses by my adoring public) I was still greeted with a frosty stare from a member of staff who seemed less than impressed to have a superstar in his midst.

As he looked me up and down I felt like saying: “Young man, don’t you know who I am? Or at least who I’m pretending to be?” But then I remembered that the last time I’d set foot in the Merchant Lounge I’d been dressed as a zombie for a sponsored walk and had upset the residents so much I’d been politely but firmly shown to the door. Whoops... He must have recognised me!

At long last he did bring me a glass of champagne. It tasted flat. Then he left us alone in a darkened room to take our pictures.

So ultimately my grand finale was a bit of an anti-climax, but I certainly wasn’t going to let one person burst my bubble. I’d loved every minute of my day as Marilyn. And so, for now, it’s...

Goodbye Norma Jean

How I got Marilyn’s look

As a lifelong cosmetic junkie, I decided to tackle the make-up on my own, using the famous photographic portraits of Marilyn as a reference, as well as a few tips from her personal beautician Allan “Whitey” Snyder. He was her makeup artist throughout her career, from her first screen test at 20th Century Fox in 1946 to her funereal makeup in 1962.

I was able to follow the exact beauty regime from start to finish with his step-by-step guide — published now in it’s entirity online — on how to do the full Marilyn. Here’s a breakdown of the basics and how I adapted them for my own features.

1 Moisturise. I used a Clarins makeup base primer to iron out flaws and shadows.

2 Whitey recommends a makeup base in the lightest tone suitable for your skin so I used my usual crème-to-powder foundation by Maybelline in “Beige Dorée” shade.

3 Concealer. On imperfections, dark under eyes, lumps and bumps, etc. I then used a cake cover-up by Dermablend which is as close to the colour of my makeup base as possible.

4 With a big soft complexion brush I used a light dusting of translucent powder to set the makeup base and concealer. My usual Rimmel powder in “translucent” did the trick.

5 Eyebrows. I used a light brown/blonde eyebrow pencil from Clinique and made small feathered strokes, following my brow line and flared these upwards into Marilyn’s distinctive sharp triangle shape. I then continued the line about half an inch beyond its natural extent to elongate the brows.

6 Eyeliner 1: Snyder always lined the inside of Marilyn's eye with a white kohl pencil. Fortunately I still had one of these from my days on the stage, but Rimmel do them too.

7 Eyeliner 2. Marilyn's eyeliner was rarely black. Most often, it was brown or dark brown. You can do this with liquid or pencil, but a cake with brush (made wet) is best. I used Mac’s new gel liner which comes with an angled brush. Do a narrow line at lashline top and bottom, and continue towards the corner of the eyebrow.

8 Eyeliner 3. Above the thin line of brown on the upper lid, Marilyn always had an even thinner line of gold liner. I already had one of these, bought from a Christmas collection of metallic shades at Superdrug.

9 Eyeliner 4: With either a lip pencil or a lipstick brush (bright red), the smallest red dot is placed in the inside corner of the eye to make it look brighter.

10 Marilyn's eyeshadow was very subtle. Whitey applied some light brown shadow to the crease of the eyelid, and to the outer area below brow. He then added a shiny off-white to the center of the lid, brow bone, above the brow, and in the corner of the eye. I did the same, using a “smokey eye” palette from No7.

11 Finally, the false eye-lashes. My own trick came in very handy – using a black lash adhesive to stick them in place. The falsies came from Boots and were actually too big for my eyes so I had to trim them to fit.

12 Contouring. To accentuate the cheekbones, jawline, and make your nose seem more narrow, Whitey would apply a contouring color with a blush brush below Marilyn's cheekbones, on her temples, and around and under her jawline. I did this using a bronzing powder.

13 Highlighting. Apply a shimmer highlight on top of the cheekbone in a line all the way to the corner of the eye, on top of the chin, on the t-zone, and on the forehead.

14 Lips. First, Whitey would line above Marilyn's top lip with a white pen to make the top lip look fuller. Then, he would blend it in and powder it. The lips were then lined with a red pencil The outer edges were brushed with a darker red and the middle of the mouth with a lighter red, to make lips more voluptuous. Gloss next, with a thicker dollop in the centre of the bottom lip.

15 Powder. A final dusting of translucent powder to set all the makeup.

16 Lastly, mascara is added to the lashes (both real and false) very carefully. In that era, mascara was a cake mascara but I prefer using One By One by Maybelline.

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