Goodbye, Norma Jean: Marilyn Monroe Tribute Artist Diana Dawn Hangs Up Her Platinum Wig

How does one pay tribute to a tribute artist? I suppose before anyone pays anything, we should clarify our terms ? a ?tribute artist? is not a mere impressionist or impersonator, which, respectively, might suggest a Monet or an identity thief. Instead, a tribute artist is a performer whose portrayal of a culturally-relevant personality is so nuanced and realized that it stands as an affectionate homage to the original.

When it comes to in-the-flesh depictions of the iconic Marilyn Monroe, few, if any, can rival the thousands of performances masterfully rendered by Sonoma?s own Diana Dawn.

On June 1, Marilyn Monroe?s birthday, Dawn, a local celebrity in her own right, will hang up her platinum blond wig for the last time. She?s retiring her tribute of Monroe after 27 years of bringing Monroe vividly back to life.

Dawn?s decision isn?t the result of a 27-year-itch, or even the fact that she?s outlived the actress who died 1962.

As Monroe herself said, ?A career is wonderful, but you can?t curl up with it on a cold night,? and Dawn is ready for new and varied pursuits.

She had originally considered retiring the act when she herself was 36, in deference to both the star, who died at 36, and the fact that playing a single role was obstructing her other acting pursuits. But the gigs as a Marilyn Monroe tribute artist kept coming.

By her own estimation, Dawn has sung ?Happy Birthday? (in the mode of Monroe?s famous recital for President Kennedy) about 10,000 times. Often, she would be in-character three times a night, performing local Bay Area gigs or on far flung adventures cruising Baltic Sea or launching commemorative collectibles in Asia. Marilyn has been good to Dawn and Dawn has endeavored to honor the icon in return.

Along the way, Dawn has met or worked with several of Monroe?s real life contemporaries, including Jackie Mason, Mickey Mantle and Kirk Douglas, among others. During the peak years of her tribute career,

Dawn even enjoyed the rare opportunity to try on a couple of Monroe?s own gowns. They fit perfectly and it?s no wonder ?

?36-24-36,? says Dawn without missing a beat, before one can even finish the question. To those of a younger generation, these numbers might read like the cypher that confounded viewers of Lost. A reader whose cultural currency has accrued more interest will recognize the bombshell measurements of the 20th century?s most enduring sex symbol.

?The interesting thing is, this wasn?t something I planned to do. It was after meeting Joe DiMaggio when I was about 19 -years-old at a City of Hope Golf Tournament,? recalled Dawn, referring to Monroe?s second husband, Yankee?s slugger ?Joltin? Joe.?

DiMaggio sought Dawn as a hostess in his Joe DiMaggio Invitational Tournament, in large part because she reminded him of ?Norma Jean,? which, if you happened to miss Elton John?s pre-Princess Di tune, ?Candle in the Wind,? was Monroe?s original name.

?I did accept his invitation and a few other invitations after that and he came to my house with a bottle of champagne to thank me and of course, I?ve been bubbling over it ever since,? says Dawn, who seamlessly slips into a Monroe voice for emphasis. It?s a beguiling transformation that has captivated audiences for nearly three decades, though it wasn?t until a family friend encouraged the Marin County native to enter a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest that her tribute began to take shape.

She was hesitant at first but she rationalized, ?Well, I?m putting on a wig, I?m putting on makeup, nobody?s gonna know who I am so, if it doesn?t work, I can just step backwards and go back to my regular life and nobody will have to know about it.?

Dawn adds, ?But I did it and it was such an overwhelming and positive experience that people made me feel again that I embodied Marilyn?s essence, her spirit, her walk, her talk, her moves.?

Ironically, she didn?t win that particular contest. She won a career instead.

?That day changed the course of what I thought was going to be my life,? she says. Globetrotting adventures and sometimes misadventures soon ensued. While in Taiwan for the release of a Monroe-themed stamp, she was assigned an entourage of a dozen people and circulated through the nation?s top talk shows.

?They decided they wanted me to be as authentic as possible and didn?t want me to wear a wig. They wanted me to be blonde,? says Dawn, whose hair color is naturally a few shades darker than Monroe?s artificial platinum.

A pair of Taiwan?s top colorists arrived to make the change but something was lost in translation and Dawn?s hair ended up orange. She used the wig after all.

Without Marilyn Monroe in her life full-time, Dawn is looking forward to exploring new professional pursuits. Likewise, she will continue hosting ?Some Like it Hot,? her radio chat show, which airs Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. on KSVY 91.3 FM, and she?ll keep managing her tribute artist booking agency at

?There are so many things I want to explore in my life, and 27 years is a good run. A lot of people have said, ?You should write a book, I?d love to read about your adventures,?? says Dawn. ?I think it?s time to sit down and relive all the adventures on paper and share them with everybody.?

Via SonomaNews

The Young and The Combless: Why Do Young Versions of Movie Characters Have Big Hair?

The Young & the Combless

It used to be that you could put the word “Young” in front of the name of an iconic character and have a fair shot at the box office. Consider Mel Brooks’ 1974 smash Young Frankenstein, which remains the gold standard of the “Just Add ‘Young’” formula.

Director Barry Levinson would follow 11 years later when exploring the Edwardian youth of a super-sleuth with Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985. Lauded mostly for its then-groundbreaking CGI, the film did moderate business and pointed to the viability of the nascent “Youngin” genre. And, yes, I made that term up because no one else had – you know why?

Because an Aussie named Greg Pead killed it dead. Better known as the comedian qua conceptual artist Yahoo Serious (six long years before Jerry Yang flipped the switch on, this one-man cultural wrecking ball wrote, directed, produced and starred in a tragical history tour of Albert Einstein’s early life entitled Young Einstein.

Serious’ effort was anything but, having removed all factual matter from the physicist’s  biography and replaced it with juvenile humor. As summarized on IMDB, in this film “Albert Einstein is the son of a Tasmanian apple farmer, who discovers the secret of splitting the beer atom to put the bubbles back into beer.”

The only “fact” that Serious included was that Einstein seemed to be in the midst of a perpetual bad hair day. Having tresses in tumult is, I’ve come to realize, the unified field theory (sorry Young Einstein) that unites these films. Why would all youngin films feature leads with biggish, bushy hair? Is it an earmark of their burgeoning genius, a signifier of greatness to come? Or did the hair and makeup department just phone it in with a rat-tail comb and a can of Aquanet? We may never know since no one has dared release a Youngin film since. Because of Yahoo. And his stupid hair.

Bass Fishing in America: The Search for Meaning in a Beer Bottle

Did Richard Brautigan drink Bass Ale?

Bass Fishing in AmericaAs an armchair Jungian, one of my factory-default-settings is a heightened sensitivity to synchronicity – the perception that separate phenomena may share some shared significance but without “any discernible causal connection.” Think of it as pattern-recognition-plus or being bisociatively-curious.

Connecting the dots in this manner might be an earmark of  genius or paranoia, depending which side of the meds one wakes up on. I’m neither a genius or paranoid, nor, for the record, a paranoid genius, but no matter how disparate or faint the stars, I can usually make out (or make up) a constellation.

I’m presently trying to wrestle some meaning out of the following folly, which has absorbed several precious hours this weekend:

Years ago, Trane DeVore snapped a photo of me with my hands through a large film reel as if I was locked in stocks like a 17th century ne’er-do-well. After some Jurassic-era Photoshopping (this was the early 90s), the result became the de facto logo for SCAM Magazine and other of my early enterprises. When packing for a recent move, I unearthed an original print of the image and, for safe-keeping, stowed it in a handy copy of Dylan Thomas’s Adventures in the Skin Trade until I could file it in my Smithsonian Box.

Lock, stock and two smoking barrels.
I forgot about this sentimental souvenir until a couple weeks ago when reading a quote from Debbie Millman’s Brand Thinking (via Brainpickings) that traced the origin of branding and trademarks to the “Trade Mark Registration Act” passed in the UK circa 1876. The first “brand” to receive official trademark status was Bass Ale for “its now-quintessential red triangle…”

Product Placement

Millman went on to cite Bass Ale cameos in Manet’s 1882 painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergèreand 40 odd works by Picasso (all with “Bouteille de Bass” in their titles) as milestones in “product placement.” My interest piqued, further research yielded an appearance of Bass in Chapter 14 of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the so-called “Oxen of the Sun” chapter in which Leopold Bloom contemplates the logo:

During the past four minutes or thereabouts he had been staring hard at a certain amount of number one Bass bottled by Messrs Bass and Co at Burton-on-Trent which happened to be situated amongst a lot of others right opposite to where he was and which was certainly calculated to attract anyone’s remark on account of its scarlet appearance.

This is where the synchronicity kicks in for me. Naturally, after our move I couldn’t find the aforementioned Thomas title behind which I slipped the seedling of my own nascent efforts in branding. My wife, incidentally a woman whose career is in brands, found it instantly and sure enough, on the cover is depicted a comic scene in which a man’s little finger is stuck in a bottle of Bass & Company Pale Ale (a nod to the protagonist of the title story who suffers the same fate).

Adventures in the Skin TradeThis discovery provided me an occasion to wonder what all this Bass-branding might portend and more broadly, branding in general and my relationship to it. And is this synchronicity – how one semi-loaded notion seemed to spill into another like so much pale ale? Sure, if you’re drinking from a Klein bottle. And speaking of Bass, should I have another? Or should I just drink less – period? Should I be wary of red triangles? Avoiding Red Square has seemed sensible enough at times, but where’s Red Triangle? Turns out, according to Wikipedia, I live near it:

The Red Triangle is the colloquial name of a roughly triangle-shaped region off the coast of northern California, extending from Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, out slightly beyond the Farallon Islands, and down to the Big Sur region… Around thirty-eight percent of recorded great white shark attacks on humans in the United States have occurred within the Red Triangle…

Bass Ale: No Discernible Causal Connection

I’m not worried about shark attacks or getting my finger stuck in a bottle or having some kind of existential Joycean moment whilst propping up a bar (a hazard when you’re a drinker named Daedalus). I do fear missing meaning when its revealing itself to me, nearly as much as I fear I’ve simply going mad. I can’t help, however, wanting to believe the universe provides such signs and symbols as an invitation to better understand it and perhaps ourselves within it.

Perhaps when there’s no “discernible causal connection” we have to make one, lest we live in a universe that produces only an elegant chaos that is little more than a light show. If, as they say, we are made of stardust, then mapping meaning in the phantom constellations between us is a worthy endeavor – whether one finds the Summer Triangle as in tonight’s stars or, like Manet, Picasso, Joyce and Dylan Thomas before me, a trademarked trivium of bloody angles.

Minotaur + Mini Cooper = Vanity Plate Gold

Since our brains are really overhyped pattern-recognition devices, our species has a tendency to see significance where perhaps there is none. Like when you buy a new car then suddenly, it seems, the same make and model is everywhere – as if your particular purchase somehow unleashed the others from the Guf. You’re like the first Japanese macaque to wash a potato – now they all do it. You’re a trendsetter – or your witnessing a frequency illusion also known by the rather sinister-sounding (or at least extremely German) name Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Continue reading “Minotaur + Mini Cooper = Vanity Plate Gold”