LIFE With Sheree North: The Woman Who Would Be Marilyn

Actress Sheree North, 1955.
Loomis Dean—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. "Sheree's thigh-length stockings have fake tops which studio later removed for fear of censorship."
Celebrity
'50s

“Sheree Goes in for Marilyn,” read the title of an article in the March 21, 1955, issue of LIFE magazine — reinforcing the message splashed across the cover of the issue itself: “Sheree North Takes Over From Marilyn Monroe.” (See the cover below.) Monroe, it seemed, was irritating her bosses at 20th Century-Fox by turning down scripts for what she evidently considered weak roles, and North was by all accounts being groomed to try and fill her ultimately unfillable shoes.

Meanwhile, the “champagne-haired, bop-tongued movie hopeful,” as LIFE described the 22-year-old North, seemed well aware that “replacing” Monroe wasn’t really in the cards.

“Let’s not kid,” LIFE quoted her as saying, “Marilyn’s an institution like Coca-Cola and who’s gonna replace that?”

Born Dawn Shirley Crang in Los Angeles in 1932, North had already appeared with varying degrees of success in movies (Living It Up with Martin and Lewis, for example), on Broadway and on TV by the time 1955 rolled around. Her energy — a frenetic dance number in a Broadway musical reportedly got her noticed by Hollywood in the first place — and her vaguely Monroesque good looks probably seemed like a godsend to studio producers and suits tired of dealing with Marilyn’s sometimes erratic behavior in the mid-1950s. That Monroe’s marriage to baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio was in trouble probably contributed to what so many saw as her instability.

North never became the star that 20th Century-Fox hoped for — for almost a decade. from the late ’50s through the mid-’60s she had no film work — but she nevertheless ended up enjoying a longer and fuller career than most actors and actresses can dream of. Her television credits, for example, range from appearances in classic shows like The Untouchables and Gunsmoke in the early 1960s to Mannix, Kojak, Hawaii Five-O and King Fu and, well into the ’80s, Magnum, P.I. and The Golden Girls.

In the 1990s she even starred in a couple of episodes of Seinfeld — as Kramer’s mom, Babs. (It was Babs who revealed that Kramer’s first name, long a secret on the show, was Cosmo.)

A working actress across five decades; not too shabby for a woman who, at the start of her movie career, was (according to LIFE) “kept on ice merely as a decoy to scare Marilyn Monroe.”

Sheree North was married four times and was the mother to two daughters. She died in Los Angeles in November 2005. She was 73 years old.

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Loomis Dean—LIFE Magazine

Loomis Dean—LIFE Magazine

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