BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — “Blonde,” a controversial new movie that fictionalizes Marilyn Monroe’s life, has renewed interest in the late actress. However, what’s not mentioned is her connection to Alabama.
Although she never visited the state or filmed any movies there, Monroe did once meet and have her picture taken with Miss Alabama during the Miss America competition in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 2, 1952.
According to the Marilyn Monroe Collection, a website that collects rare photos of the actress, Monroe served as grand marshal of the Miss America parade to promote her movie, “Monkey Business.” As part of her visit, Monroe was photographed with several contestants. One of those was Gwen Harmon, who had been crowned Miss Alabama the previous month. A photo of the two still remains.
Harmon grew up in Birmingham and had just graduated from Shades Valley High School a couple of years before being named Miss Alabama in 1952. During the Miss America competition, Harmon placed as third runner-up to winner Neva Jane Langley of Georgia.
After her time as Miss Alabama, Harmon went on to have a career as a singer and actress, starring on Broadway in “Me and Julia,” “Seventh Heaven” and “Shinbone Alley.” She also regularly appeared on different television shows.
In fact, Harmon’s first marriage was on TV. According to the Miss Alabama Organization, Harmon and Birmingham native James Tidd were married on live television during CBS’ “Bride and Groom” in 1953. They would later have a son, Mike.
Harmon was also an accomplished singer, performing across the country as a solo act.
“As far as I’m concerned Miss Harmon really doesn’t have to do anything more than just stand quietly before her audience for a prescribed length of time,” Lily May Caldwell wrote in the Birmingham News in 1958 regarding a performance Harmon she was set to do in Las Vegas. “She is that lovely.”
Harmon would go on to start her own band with her second husband, Ray Doris, called Gwen Harmon and the Players, which would often play in her adopted home state of Arizona.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to have to compete today,” Harmon told the Birmingham Post-Herald in 1995 about beauty pageants.
Harmon died in 2017. She was 83.