Marilyn Monroe's Early Career

Marilyn's 1946 contract with Twentieth Century-Fox brought her a modest salary of $75 a week -- typical for young unknowns at the time. See more pictures of Marilyn Monroe.

For her first few months on the Twentieth Century-Fox lot, Marilyn Monroe landed no speaking roles in any films. Instead, she was placed in dancing, singing, and pantomime classes alongside other new contract players.

She also posed for an endless series of publicity shots. With her talent for posing in front of the still camera, Marilyn brought an excitement and sparkle to her photos simply not found in the publicity shots of most other starlets.


The Fox publicity department also manufactured a studio biography for their latest contract player, one that insisted that Marilyn had been discovered when she turned up as a babysitter for a Fox talent scout.

Marilyn Monroe Image Gallery

Marilyn also made a point of getting to know on a first-name basis some of the reporters permanently based at the studio. Courting the press was a tactic she would use for most of her career, but in the early years she went out of her way to do them favors.

She went so far as to pose at the beach one chilly November in a skimpy bathing suit. Reporters considered her a good sport and a good story, and in 1948 she was awarded the title "Miss Press Club."

One of the reporters who would remain a close friend until her death was New York Post writer Sidney Skolsky. He wrote an entertainment column that could literally make or break a performer's career.

The powerful columnist was more impressed by Marilyn's ambition than by her lack of experience: "It was clear that Marilyn was prepared to work hard to improve herself," Skolsky recalled later. "She wanted to be an actress and a movie star. I knew nothing would stop her. The drive and determination and need inside Marilyn could not be halted."

In addition to her weekly classes at the studio, Marilyn was pressed into service as an extra on a variety of films. Though no exact list of these movies exists, some film buffs claim to have spotted her in the musical comedies The Shocking Miss Pilgrim and You Were Meant for Me, as well as in the western Green Grass of Wyoming.

Appearing as an extra not only allowed contract players an opportunity to understand the process of making a movie but accustomed them to the unique "hurry up and wait" pace of filmmaking. Often actors were rushed into makeup and costume, only to stand around for hours until the director was ready for their scene.

In the spring of 1947, Marilyn was finally given her first speaking role -- a bit part in a musical comedy called Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! A bit role differs from extra work in that the actor gets at least one line as well as an acknowledgment of the appearance by the studio. Graduating from extra work to bit parts can be an important step in an actor's career -- many an aspiring star has been noticed by milking a bit into a memorable screen debut.

Marilyn's big scene featured her character, Betty, dressed in a pinafore and walking down the steps of a small-town church. Betty passes the main character, played by June Haver, and says, "Hi, Rad," to which Haver replies, "Hi, Betty."

Hardly earth-shattering material, but Marilyn was supposed to get at least one close-up. After she became a star, the Twentieth Century-Fox publicity department circulated the story that her only line in this film had ended up on the cutting room floor. Marilyn herself repeated the anecdote in 1955, on Edward R. Murrow's television interview program, Person to Person.

However, according to film historian and noted Monroe buff James Haspiel, the story is not true. Haspiel maintains that Marilyn's brief line remains intact in complete versions of the now-obscure Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, as does a shot of Marilyn and another starlet paddling a canoe. Neither shot appears in close-up, however, indicating that Marilyn's close-ups had been edited from the film.

Marilyn's part in this mediocre B-film -- remembered now only because of her appearance -- did little for her career, and it was several months before she got another bit role. In the meantime, she worked on her acting talents. Learn more about this on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe Develops Her Acting Talents

The juvenile-delinquent drama Dangerous Years had a bit part for Marilyn, who played a waitress.

One day while walking across the Fox lot, Marilyn recognized an older man in a limousine as one of the studio executives. She smiled as he passed by, causing him to stop and chat with her. The man was Hollywood pioneer Joseph Schenck, then nearly 70 years old and an executive producer at Fox.

Schenck, who began in the film industry about 1912, founded 20th Century in 1933 and became chairman two years later when his company merged with Fox Films. A stint in jail on charges involving union payoffs forced him to resign his position in 1941, but Schenck came back as an executive producer a short time later.


He took an immediate liking to Marilyn that afternoon and invited her to his home for a dinner party the following week. The unknown starlet became a regular at Schenck's small, intimate dinner parties, and the two grew quite close.

Allegations that Marilyn was his mistress and used that position to further her career remain unverifiable, even dubious. Given Schenck's advanced age and the fact that Marilyn's career floundered for several more years after their meeting, it is unlikely that the relationship was more than that of a grand old man of Hollywood advising a beautiful protégée in the ways of "the business."

Marilyn was not the only starlet who attended his dinner parties, and her presence at such functions was probably calculated by Schenck to impress and innocently amuse his colleagues.

Schenck remained Marilyn's friend and sometimes mentor for several years, until she made a conscious effort to remove herself from the Hollywood scene during the mid-1950s. Schenck died in 1961, just a year earlier than Marilyn. Confined to bed near the end of his life, the elderly mogul was delighted when Marilyn came to visit him for what would be the last time.

On the way home, according to Marilyn's friend and publicist Rupert Allan, she cried openly. Marilyn's respect for Schenck's power and position went beyond the level of what he could do for her career.

She talked of sitting at his feet for hours and listening to his stories about Hollywood. "He was full of wisdom like some great explorer," she recalled. "I also liked to look at his face. It was as much the face of a town as of a man. The whole history of Hollywood was in it."

Despite Marilyn's obvious charms, and the fact that Fox had hardly given her a proper chance to prove herself, the studio dropped her option in the summer of 1947.

In August of 1947, Marilyn was assigned a role in the drama Dangerous Years, a film exploiting America's rising concern over postwar juvenile delinquency. Her role as a waitress in a local teen hangout was small but slightly more substantial than her part in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!. This time she was given a close-up, which is important in establishing or reinforcing an actor's image. She received fourteenth billing in a film that credited 15 actors.

Though Dangerous Years would seem to have been a logical step in Marilyn's fledgling career, Fox did not renew her contract when it expired a few days after her shots had been completed. This would not be the last time that Marilyn got caught up in the turnover of contract players at option time.

Though the reasons behind Fox's decision to drop her option are not known, the studio exhibited little interest in developing her acting career at this juncture. Fox had seemed content simply to feature her in dozens of cheesecake publicity photos or to shuttle her around to publicity events, such as the Fox Studio Club golf tournament. Marilyn proved adept at publicity functions, particularly if there were photos involved, but she seriously desired to be an actress.

The major star at Fox during this era was another blonde actress, Betty Grable, whose popularity had soared during World War II because of her famous pinup photos. Marilyn, too, had an extensive background in modeling for pinups, but Grable also had a great deal of experience in show business.

By the time she was Marilyn's age, Grable had already toured in vaudeville, appeared on the stage, and performed on radio, giving her a confidence and style that Marilyn lacked. Marilyn's lack of show-business experience may have prevented the studio from grooming her to follow in Grable's footsteps -- a role the studio did assign to singer-dancer June Haver.

Out of work and out of luck, Marilyn responded to a general casting call advertised in the Los Angeles Times for a play at the Bliss-Hayden Miniature Theatre in Beverly Hills. Marilyn landed the second lead in the play, a lighthearted spoof of Hollywood entitled Glamour Preferred.

The Bliss-Hayden, which no longer exists, had been established in the 1930s by stage performers Harry Hayden and Lela Bliss. The theater was best known as a showcase for the talents of young movie hopefuls, who needed to catch the attention of important agents or studio talent scouts.

Students or performers from the Bliss-Hayden who went on to careers in the movies included Veronica Lake, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, Craig Stevens, and Jon Hall. Los Angeles theatergoers who regularly attended the Bliss-Hayden in the fall of 1947 through the summer of 1948 were fortunate enough to witness a young Marilyn Monroe perform in her only extensive attempt at public stagework.

Though Glamour Preferred ran for just three weeks in October and November of 1947, Marilyn appeared in at least one other play at the small theater. According to Don Hayden -- son of Harry Hayden and Lela Bliss -- Marilyn costarred in a production of Stage Door in the late summer of 1948.

In a 1975 interview, Lela Bliss recalled Marilyn's experiences at the Bliss-Hayden: "She could have played anything. We never had any struggle about parts with her -- she was always happy to play what you cast her in."

While still under contract to Fox, Marilyn had begun taking acting lessons at the Actors Lab, a practice she continued after she was dropped by the studio. She paid for her lessons with occasional modeling jobs, though the Lab allowed her some leeway in paying her bill.

The Actors Lab, operated by Roman Bohnen, J. Edward Bromberg, and Morris Carnovsky, was considered a West Coast offshoot of the Group Theatre of New York. By most accounts, Marilyn was a quiet and shy student while at the Lab; any influence that her two years of studies there may have had on her acting ability was probably slight.

Like the Group Theatre, the Lab was left of center in its political orientation, and some have suggested that Lab members may have influenced Marilyn's thinking. Never an overtly political person, Marilyn nonetheless always considered herself a part of the working class and remained unfazed by the Lab's leftist politics.

In the early 1950s, after Marilyn had left the Actors Lab, Carnovsky and his wife were labeled Communists by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an official committee of the U.S. House of Representatives assigned to investigate allegedly un-American organizations, particularly those suspected of Communist affiliations.

HUAC would descend on Hollywood with a vengeance in the early 1950s. The result was extensive blacklists of actors and other industry personnel suspected of Communist leanings; a fear gripped Hollywood in which no actor or actress wanted to be remotely associated with leftist groups.

At that time, a studio executive visiting the set of All About Eve noticed Marilyn reading The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens. Steffens was a famous journalist who had made his name by exposing the corrupt practices of government and business. The executive considered it "dangerous to be reading such radical books in public," but Marilyn continued to read the book anyway.

In the end, Marilyn suffered no consequences as the result of her association with the Actors Lab, probably because her burgeoning image as a sex symbol completely overshadowed any other aspects of her personality. Throughout her life, and to no detriment to her career, she would foster friendships with intellectuals associated with the political left.

Find out about Marilyn Monroe's days with Columbia Pictures in the next section.

Marilyn Monroe Signs with Columbia Pictures

Thrust once again into the grind of publicity photos, Marilyn remained hopeful about her prospects with a new studio.

Marilyn's developing talent was cultivated not just by her classes at the Actors Lab, but by a number of individuals with connections to the industry.

At a publicity function in the fall of 1947, she met actor John Carroll and his wife, Lucille Ryman, a talent scout at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Marilyn signed a personal contract with the Carrolls in December of 1947, much to the chagrin of her agent.


In addition to helping her finance her acting classes, John Carroll gave her singing instructions. Her ties to the Carrolls were so close that at one point she moved in with them, an arrangement that did not last for long. Eventually, Marilyn moved back to the Studio Club, where former residents remember her lifting weights and jogging every morning to keep her figure.

In March of 1948, Marilyn signed a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures. Exactly how Marilyn landed her contract at Columbia is open to debate, though the consensus is that Joe Schenck interceded on her behalf.

Schenck supposedly talked directly to Columbia head Harry Cohn about Marilyn's contract, though there is no written memorandum or personal testimony by Marilyn to confirm this. An alternative account is that executives at Columbia had been checking around Hollywood about her, perhaps at the urgings of her agent, or even the Carrolls.

As soon as Marilyn signed her contract, she went to a Hollywood bookstore to open a charge account. Her roommate at the Studio Club remembers her purchasing a classic study of bone structure entitled De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, as well as notable works of literature.

Even at this early juncture, Marilyn took great pains to educate herself, a practice her detractors claim was merely part of her publicity campaign. The facts show her pursuit of knowledge and culture to be sincere, however, as her early bookstore charge accounts and library cards help substantiate.

Marilyn's last tie to her life as Norma Jeane was broken shortly after she received her Columbia contract. Ana Lower died on March 14, 1948, long before Marilyn achieved stardom. Marilyn's relationship with Aunt Ana proved to be one of the longest and most satisfying of the actress's short life.

After Aunt Ana's death, Marilyn told Studio Club roommate Clarice Evans: "There's only one person in the world that I've ever really loved. That was Aunt Ana ... Aunt Ana was sure -- surer than I am now -- that I was right in my ambition to be an actress and that I'd be a success. But she'll never know whether she was right or wrong."

Marilyn's first film for Columbia proved to be her only film for that studio. She received second billing in Ladies of the Chorus, a low-budget musical featuring Marilyn as a burlesque star who falls in love with the son of a socially prominent family. In keeping with the magic of the movies, Marilyn was cast as star Adele Jergens's daughter, though Jergens was only nine years older than Marilyn!

Marilyn had a nice on-screen rapport with top-billed Adele Jergens, who is best remembered for her frequent portrayals of worldly glamor girls and gun molls.

The script called for Marilyn to sing two songs in the film, a ballad entitled "Anyone Can Tell I Love You," and the enticing "Every Baby Needs a Da-Da-Daddy." For the first time in her screen career, she revealed a pleasant, competent singing voice.

Marilyn's part was considerably larger than those she had been assigned at Fox; on screen, she held her own against the considerably more experienced Jergens. Columbia executives hedged their bets by setting their new starlet up with singing and acting lessons.

Fred Karger, the musical director of Ladies of the Chorus, coached Marilyn to prepare her for her two production numbers. A man dedicated to his craft, Karger improved Marilyn's vocal and musical skills immensely.

During the course of their professional relationship, Marilyn began dating Karger, and the two became quite close. He brought her home to meet his family, which included his daughter by a previous marriage, his sister and her children, and his mother. Marilyn, who had felt alone since the death of Ana Lower, embraced Karger's family wholeheartedly, particularly his mother, Anne.

Mrs. Anne Karger, whom everyone called "Nana," was the widow of one of the founders of MGM. She had been a part of the grandeur of Hollywood in the 1920s, when she used to hold open house in a permanent suite at the Hollywood Hotel. There, such Hollywood luminaries as Rudolph Valentino, Jack Pickford, and Nazimova would gather for food and drink.

Marilyn's costar Rand Brooks had had a featured role as Scarlett O'Hara's first husband in Gone With the Wind, but he worked mainly in B-movies. His bland good looks were no match for Marilyn's on-screen charisma.

Nana Karger enjoyed the company of Marilyn Monroe, an up-and-coming actress of the new generation of Hollywood, and advised the young starlet in a motherly fashion. Marilyn's friendship with Nana would outlast her relationship with Fred, who never seemed to take the romance as seriously as she did.

Marilyn hoped to marry into the Karger family, but when it was apparent that Fred had no inclination in that direction, she stopped seeing him. Though heartbroken for several years over her lost love, Marilyn benefited not only from Karger's professional help in terms of her vocal skills but also from his advice on other matters. He suggested, for instance, that Marilyn visit an orthodontist to have her slightly protruding front teeth fixed, a minor adjustment that improved her already striking good looks.

Within a year of his breakup with Marilyn, Karger married actress Jane Wyman. Karger and Wyman would eventually divorce, and then remarry and divorce again.

Years later, after Marilyn's death, Karger called his first wife, Patti, in a desperately nervous state, telling her that Marilyn had appeared to him in a dream. He died on August 5, 1979 -- the anniversary of Marilyn's death.

While Fred Karger assisted Marilyn with her singing, Columbia's head drama coach, Natasha Lytess, was asked to help develop her acting skills. Lytess had been a member of a well-respected acting ensemble headed by famed theatrical director Max Reinhardt, and she had parlayed her experience into a job at Columbia Pictures.

A serious woman with a strict and demanding personality, Lytess became the first to recognize that Marilyn did possess true acting talent. The experienced coach was also impressed by the starlet's determination to improve, and by her willingness to work hard no matter how grueling the schedule.

Natasha Lytess served as Marilyn's personal acting teacher for seven years, even quitting her job at Columbia in 1950 to coach her most famous pupil on an exclusive basis.

Karger and Lytess's work paid off, because Marilyn received her first review notices with her performance in Ladies of the Chorus. Though a modest B-film shot in just 11 days, Ladies was by no means a failure. A review in the Motion Picture Herald reads, "One of the brightest spots is Miss Monroe's singing. She is pretty, and with her pleasing voice and style, shows promise."

In 1952, when Marilyn was beginning to make a name for herself, Columbia lifted her performance of "Every Baby Needs a Da-Da-Daddy" from Ladies of the Chorus and spliced it into a war film entitled Okinawa.

Columbia's head drama coach, Natasha Lytess, was a major influence during the formative years of Marilyn's career. In time, Lytess worked with Marilyn exclusively.

­ Aside from Ladies of the Chorus, and her relationships with Fred Karger and Natasha Lytess, Marilyn's months at Columbia proved less than fruitful. The only other "appearance" Marilyn made in a Columbia production occurred when her photograph was used in the 1949 Gene Autry film Riders of the Whistling Pines.

Columbia was ruled by Harry Cohn, the most ruthless and headstrong of the legendary movie moguls who once ran Hollywood with an iron hand. Most of the moguls made occasional miscalculations regarding an actor's potential, but Cohn was prone to more than his share because of his volatile temper and vengeful personality.

According to Hollywood writer Garson Kanin in the book Tracy and Hepburn, Marilyn tested for the role of Billie Dawn in the classic Born Yesterday, but Cohn could not be bothered to walk the few feet from his desk to the screening room to watch the results. Consequently, Marilyn was not even considered for the part.

When Marilyn's contract expired in September of 1948, her option was not renewed. According to former Columbia employees, Cohn complained that Marilyn not only looked too heavy in Ladies of the Chorus but she also had no acting talent.

Marilyn, on the other hand, always claimed that Cohn had invited her to spend a weekend aboard his yacht. When she refused, he snapped at her, "This is your last chance, baby." Shortly thereafter, her contract came up and Cohn refused to renew it.

Whatever the circumstances, Cohn's bad decision would come back to haunt him in the form of continual criticism for not recognizing the star quality of Marilyn Monroe. Hollywood insiders claim that the irritable mogul tried to compensate for his blunder by grooming Kim Novak as his version of a blonde bombshell.

In the next section, find out how a bit part in a Marx Brothers movie leads to bigger and better things for Marilyn.

Marilyn Monroe and the Marx Brothers

As a freelancer, Marilyn won a tiny but noticeable role in 'Love Happy,' the last film the Marx Brothers made as a team.

After being released from Columbia, Marilyn experienced several lean months. Often penniless, often hungry, she returned to modeling for some much-needed cash. The jobs, however, were few and far between.

One unsavory rumor about Marilyn's attempts to stay afloat at this time claim she worked as a stripteaser in downtown Los Angeles. The rumor is likely to have originated with people who saw a young stripper named Dixie Evans, who performed at L.A.'s Mayan Theatre, and who bore a remarkable likeness to Marilyn. Evans would later exploit this resemblance by billing herself as "the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque."


Another, particularly persistent, rumor cites Marilyn as the "star" of a stag film entitled Apples, Knockers and Cokes; film historians have refuted this allegation. Some researchers, in fact, claim to have identified one of Playboy magazine's early centerfold models as the performer in question. Coincidentally, this model later became a bit player at Columbia.

Despite her lack of a studio contract, Marilyn still had the support of her agent, Harry Lipton, as well as that of Karger, Lytess, and the Carrolls. Through the efforts of one of these associates, Marilyn auditioned for producer Lester Cowan for a walk-on bit in a Marx Brothers film, "Love Happy." Marilyn was required mainly to catch the eye of Groucho Marx (who plays a private detective) as she sidles past him.

According to Marilyn, she practiced walking in front of a mirror for a week. Of the three girls who auditioned that day, it was Marilyn whom Groucho asked to repeat her interpretation of a sexy walk. Groucho approved and Marilyn landed the role.

As she glides toward the camera in the slow, undulating walk that would become one of her trademarks, Marilyn's character tells Groucho, "I want you to help me ... Some men are following me." Groucho gives his patented leer and remarks, "Really? I can't understand why!"

Many have attempted to explain "the walk," including Natasha Lytess, who claimed she invented it for Marilyn, as well as Emmeline Snively, who insisted it was the result of weak ankles.

Gossip columnist Jimmy Starr believed Marilyn simply shaved a bit off one high heel in order to undulate in that manner, while Marilyn herself declared that she had always walked that way.

"Love Happy" is a minor, unfunny comedy that captured the Marx Brothers at the tail end of their film careers as a team. Still, Marilyn made enough of an impression on producer Cowan for him to release a publicity statement about her to columnist Louella Parsons. Cowan told Parsons that Marilyn was an orphan who had been raised in a series of foster homes in the Hollywood area.

Despite the brevity of Marilyn's role in "Love Happy," Parsons mentioned the starlet in her column. The writer became an early champion of Marilyn and later defended her on the occasions when Marilyn ran afoul of the press or her studio.

Marilyn agreed to travel to New York to help promote "Love Happy." Having always heard that New York was much cooler than Los Angeles, Marilyn packed only heavy, woolen suits to wear to the various publicity functions.

Cowan and Marilyn arrived in New York in the midst of a summer heat wave. The producer graciously purchased a simple cotton dress for Marilyn, though some publicity shots show her wearing a woolen suit while eating three ice cream cones, supposedly in an effort to keep cool.

While in New York, she participated in a publicity stunt for Photoplay magazine, in which she presented movie fan Virginia MacAllister with a brand-new home that MacAllister had won in Photoplay's "Dream House Contest." Photographs of the presentation appeared in the magazine's November 1949 issue.

Nearly simultaneously, Marilyn appeared in the October 1949 issue of Life magazine, in which she was photographed "emoting" with seven other Hollywood starlets. Together, these articles generated some much-needed publicity for the young actress.

She also landed a bit role in the forgettable Twentieth Century-Fox musical "A Ticket to Tomahawk," though she was still working without a contract.

During Marilyn's first three years in the film industry, she suffered rejection on both a professional and personal level; she sought the counsel of many who claimed to have an inside track to Hollywood success, only to be disappointed by their lack of results; she worked hard to please those who could help her; and in order to pay her bills, she was forced to make sacrifices and compromises others would later criticize. Looking back over Marilyn's early film experiences, one is struck not by the glamor of Hollywood but by its harsh reality.

Fortunately, Marilyn's small bit in "Love Happy" would prove to be more of a break than she anticipated. In addition to the attention she received by promoting the film in the East, she attracted the eye of respected Hollywood agent Johnny Hyde, who saw the comedy at an advance screening.

Hyde tracked down the agent of the beautiful blonde with "the walk" and negotiated with Harry Lipton to take over the contract of Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn needed an opportunity, she needed expert guidance, and she needed confidence. She would get all of that -- and more -- from agent Johnny Hyde.

Just before meeting Hyde, however, Marilyn was desperate for money. Learn about her nude photo shoot in the next section.

Marilyn Monroe's Playboy Photographs

Between the production of Love Happy in 1949 and its release in the spring of 1950, Marilyn hit her lowest point financially. With no film work on the horizon and few modeling prospects, she could not make ends meet.

Desperate for cash, she agreed to pose completely nude for photographer Tom Kelley on the condition that his wife, Natalie, be present during the session. Kelley had asked Marilyn previously but she had always refused.


On May 27, 1949, Marilyn posed for the calendar photograph that would one day make her a household name. She signed the release form "Mona Monroe" in a halfhearted effort to mask her identity.

Kelley produced 24 transparencies of two basic poses, one a full-length profile of Marilyn lying on a swatch of red velvet, the other a seated Marilyn with her head tossed back and legs tucked beneath her.

Contrary to popular belief, the full-length profile shot -- entitled "A New Wrinkle" -- became the original calendar photo. Only after the girl on the red velvet cloth had been identified as Marilyn Monroe did the second pose turn up.

Titled "Golden Dreams," the second pose became the most exploited of the two, appearing on calendars, decks of cards, key chains, coasters, glasses, and a host of other collectibles. One entrepreneur sculpted a three-

dimensional, rubberized version of "Golden Dreams," which would move suggestively at the turn of a handle. In December of 1953, "Golden Dreams" was used to launch the premiere issue of Playboy magazine.

Though the nude calendar shots are two of the most famous photographs in Hollywood history, Marilyn received only $50 for her efforts. Kelley himself received only a pittance when he sold the two shots to the Western Lithograph Company, but crafty manufacturers and slick promoters made a great deal of money selling bootleg versions of the calendar and other merchandise.

Original sales of the calendar reached eight million copies by the mid-1950s, with millions more sold of the bootleg versions. Some of Kelley's transparencies, which had not been sold for calendar purposes, were mysteriously stolen from his studio in the early 1950s.

Marilyn's career takes an upswing after she meets Hollywood powerplayer Johnny Hyde and gets cast in The Asphalt Jungle. Learn more about her role in the movie on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe in 'The Asphalt Jungle'

Top Hollywood agent Johnny Hyde gave Marilyn invaluable career guidance. He was also completely intoxicated by her, and begged her to marry him.

"In Hollywood a girl's virtue is much less important than her hairdo. You're judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood's a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer enough and held out for the fifty cents." -- MARILYN MONROE

Johnny Hyde, an executive vice president at the prestigious William Morris Agency, met Marilyn Monroe for the first time at the Racquet Club in Palm Spring. Marilyn sensed that Hyde had more taste and refinement than most Hollywood types she had known, and she was impressed with his low-pressure style.


Hyde, who was 53 when he met Marilyn, had been working for the William Morris Agency for more than 30 years. He had represented actors Howard Keel, John Hodiak, Dale Evans, and Guy Madison, but his reputation had been earned through his guidance of such big-name stars as Rita Hayworth and Betty Hutton.

Marilyn and Hyde became friends almost immediately, and he began escorting the 22-year-old starlet around town to notable Hollywood establishments. Though Hyde suffered from heart disease, and his doctor

had warned him to slow down, he actually accelerated his work schedule in order to firmly establish Marilyn's career.

Despite his long-time marriage to Mozelle Cravens, Johnny Hyde quickly fell in love with his beautiful and vibrant client. He repeatedly proposed marriage to Marilyn, with the promise of leaving a small fortune to her upon his death. She refused. Marilyn realized that she did not love him with the same passion he felt for her, and she did not want to take financial advantage of the relationship.

Short in stature, Hyde was nonetheless a big man in Hollywood. Though Marilyn respected his opinions and his stellar reputation, she could not return his love.

Marilyn later said of Hyde, "He not only knew me, he knew Norma Jeane, too. He knew all the pain and all the desperate things in me. When he put his arms around me and said he loved me, I knew it was true. Nobody had ever loved me like that. I wished with all my heart I could love him back."

Hyde steered every facet of Marilyn's life relating to her career. He arranged for her to have cosmetic surgery, including the removal of two blemishes from her chin and a slight reshaping of her nose. He hired the best hairdressers to do her hair coloring on a regular basis, and he bought her suitable clothes for all occasions.

Most importantly, he arranged for her to audition for director John Huston's searing drama The Asphalt Jungle. Talent scout Lucille Ryman had heard about the role during the course of her job at MGM. Always keeping an eye open for a part for Marilyn, Ryman had sent the script to Hyde, who secured the audition almost immediately.

John Huston (left) was one of Hollywood's most thoughtful directors; his films are characteristically vivid and uncompromising. A filmmaker of strict standards, Huston was very pleased with Marilyn's performance in The Asphalt Jungle.

Marilyn worked hard to prepare for her reading with Huston. She and drama coach Natasha Lytess spent the better part of three days and nights going over her interpretation of the material.

Marilyn was to read for the part of Angela Phinlay, the mistress of a crooked lawyer who participates in the planning of a jewel robbery. Because "mistress" was not a word the censors generally approved of in that era, the script referred to Angela as the lawyer's "niece."

The audition was held on a sound stage on the MGM lot. Marilyn asked Huston if she could recline on the floor for her reading as part of her interpretation of the character, and he agreed.

Afterward, Marilyn requested to do it one more time. Though Huston allowed her another reading, it really wasn't necessary: He had decided to give her the role following her first attempt.

Aware of all the efforts Hyde had made on Marilyn's behalf, Huston remarked, "Marilyn didn't get the part because of Johnny. She got it because she was damned good."

The Asphalt Jungle is classic film noir, that genre of film that finds human conflict in the bleaker quarters of America's cities.

Marilyn crossed paths with John Huston more than once during her career. Huston first met her during her short-lived tenure at Columbia, when he had thought of testing her for a role in a film with John Garfield. The test was called off for reasons that are not clear.

Some speculate that testing an unknown actress for a single role in a specific film was

too expensive and that someone with more authority than Huston canceled the test. Others suggest that Marilyn was simply being set up for "the casting couch," and that Huston canceled the test himself when he found out.

Whatever the case, Huston remembered Marilyn when she auditioned for The Asphalt Jungle, and he is responsible for hiring her for her first significant film role. He would also direct her last completed film, The Misfits -- a fateful twist to her life story that could have been taken from the pages of a Hollywood script.

Marilyn's performance in Huston's film brought her critical acclaim and some favorable attention in Hollywood. A hard-bitten, gritty crime drama, The Asphalt Jungle was hailed for its taut direction and memorable performances by a worthy cast.

Huston had a reputation for selecting actors who could give potent performances, regardless of whether or not they were stars. The Asphalt Jungle featured no major box-office draws but several highly regarded actors, including Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, and Jean Hagen. That Marilyn held her own in this cast is a testament to her hard work and talent.

It is also a testament to Huston's genius as a director, because it was Huston who first utilized Marilyn's image to its best advantage. He understood the complexity of that image -- something that escaped a number of less-talented directors Marilyn would encounter later.

The storylines of a significant number of Huston's films revolve around a group of men in pursuit of a quest that ultimately fails, often because a woman lures or distracts the men from their goal.

In The Asphalt Jungle, Marilyn's character, Angela Phinlay, isn't a bad girl; regardless, she causes the ruination of the lawyer played by Louis Calhern. His need to hold on to her as though she were a priceless possession, despite the expenses and personal risks involved, results in his downfall.

The erotic innocence of Marilyn's image helped her to flesh out Angela and make her real. The girl is never painted as conniving or calculating, yet the lawyer's obsession for her is no less believable.

Natasha Lytess was excited enough by her pupil's performance in The Asphalt Jungle to resign her job at Columbia and become Marilyn's personal acting coach. Hollywood insiders who had thought that Johnny Hyde's unwavering faith in Marilyn was unwarranted began to look at her in a different light. Still, no handsome offers from the major studios were forthcoming.

Marilyn excelled in The Asphalt Jungle as the naive beauty who is the mistress of a crooked lawyer.

In another of those twists of fate that seem to characterize Marilyn's life, former husband Jim Dougherty, by that time a Los Angeles policeman, was assigned to keep the fans behind the barricades at Grauman's Egyptian Theater, where The Asphalt Jungle premiered.

Dougherty watched the celebrities as they got out of their limousines, hoping to catch a glimpse of Norma Jeane Dougherty. He did not know that Marilyn had been advised by Hyde not to attend the premiere. It was not really Norma Jeane that Jim Dougherty would have seen anyway.

In the next section, learn about the importance of another bit part for Marilyn -- Miss Caswell in the film All About Eve.

Marilyn Monroe in 'All About Eve'

Marilyn's bit part in Right Cross let her play opposite popular leading man Dick Powell, but the picture was a minor one.

Just before The Asphalt Jungle was released, Marilyn found work in two minor films distributed by MGM: a prizefight drama entitled Right Cross and Hometown Story, an industrial film financed by General Motors.

Marilyn was cast in the former as a model with the unlikely name of Dusky Ledoux. She uttered only a few trivial lines in her single scene, a brief dinner-date bit with star Dick Powell.


Hometown Story, which was never released commercially, featured Marilyn as Miss Martin, a secretary in a newspaper office. One of Hometown Story's few public showings was at the Loew's Metropolitan in Brooklyn in June 1950. After that, this hour-long propaganda film for American industry did not surface again until 1962, when it was released in Australia as a Monroe oddity.

Because of her success in The Asphalt Jungle and her brief appearances in Right Cross and Hometown Story, Marilyn was hoping for a contract from MGM, but none was offered.

In addition to these films, Marilyn took a bit part in a Mickey Rooney vehicle entitled The Fireball. Rooney's career was at a low ebb at this time, as the energetic actor struggled through a bleak period a few years before the first of his famous comebacks. The Fireball, a lightweight story of a roller-skating star, attracted very little notice and did nothing to further Marilyn's career.

Marilyn's other notable effort from this period was a television commercial for the Union Oil Company of California. In a provocative voice, Marilyn introduces her car, "Cynthia," and expresses her confidence in Union Oil's Royal Triton gasoline, the only gasoline good enough for Cynthia's "little tummy." The commercial was aired in California during the 1950-1951 television season.

Even the ever-energetic Mickey Rooney (far right) could not salvage The Fireball, a tired programmer about professional roller skaters. Marilyn's part was tiny.

Marilyn actually worked a great deal in 1950 because of the efforts of Johnny Hyde, but both were striving for the security of a lucrative contract from a major studio. Hyde took an important step toward that goal by securing for Marilyn a role in Joseph Mankiewicz's enormously successful adaptation of All About Eve, a sharply cynical look at theater life.

Marilyn's role was slightly smaller than her part had been in The Asphalt Jungle, but Hyde convinced her of the wisdom of appearing in a small role in a film by a major director rather than in a larger role in a film directed by a minor talent.

Hyde proved to be correct, as Marilyn's part was pivotal to the narrative of All About Eve. Her character, Miss Caswell -- an empty-headed actress who, according to one character, graduated from "the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art" -- has no pretense about using her beauty and her body to get a break in the theater.

Miss Caswell provides a counterpoint to the more cunning Eve (Anne Baxter), who uses underhanded tricks to get to the top. After Eve is exposed for the cruel manipulator that she is, Miss Caswell's more obvious methods are seen as almost honest in comparison.

Marilyn found herself in some fast company in All About Eve. From left, Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn, George Sanders.

As she had done in The Asphalt Jungle, Marilyn made a strong impression amidst a powerfully talented cast: Baxter, Bette Davis, George Sanders, and Celeste Holm.

Darryl F. Zariuck of Twentieth Century-Fox was impressed enough with Marilyn's interpretation of Miss Caswell to offer her another screen test and the chance for another contract. Learn how the screen test went on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe Returns to Twentieth-Century Fox

Re-signed by Twentieth Century-Fox at the end of 1950, Marilyn was plunged into a fresh round of studio publicity photos.

Near the end of 1950, Marilyn returned to the sound stages of Twentieth Century-Fox for a second screen test. This time the test was done with sound, and Marilyn was given a scene to do with another actor. The scene involved a dispute between a gangster and his girlfriend, with established actor Richard Conte playing opposite Marilyn.

In an interview conducted shortly before his death in 1975, Conte recalled Marilyn as a serious actress whose acting style looked quite natural on screen. Their scene had involved a tense, emotional confrontation, and Conte remembered Marilyn's total concentration on her character.


Perhaps as a token of good luck, or as a reminder to Fox executives of her recent series of roles, Marilyn wore the same dress for her screen test as she had worn in The Fireball, Hometown Story, and in the last scene of All About Eve.

Zanuck viewed the test in December of 1950 and requested that Marilyn be put under a six-month contract immediately. When reminded that she had been under contract once before and dropped, he roared, "I don't care. Bring her back." Marilyn closed her second deal with Fox on December 10, 1950.

The Fox contract was probably the last piece of business Johnny Hyde helped negotiate for Marilyn. Just about the time she signed with the studio, Hyde entered Cedars of Lebanon Hospital after complaining of breathing difficulties.

Though released a few days later and sent to Palm Springs to recuperate, the end was near for the prominent agent. On December 17, Hyde suffered a serious heart attack and died the next day. Supposedly, his last intelligible words were about Marilyn.

The Hyde family, including Johnny's sons, ex-wife, and brother, were brutal in their treatment of Marilyn, whom they blamed for the breakup of their home. Through various channels, they let her know that she would not be welcome at the funeral.

Some of Hyde's closest associates urged her to go if she wanted to, and Marilyn decided to attend with a couple of his business friends. There she broke down completely, throwing herself on the casket and sobbing Johnny's name.

Marilyn was inconsolable at Hyde's death and grew increasingly despondent in the days after the funeral. Staying with Natasha Lytess during this painful period, she remained in her room most of the time.

Very quickly, photo editors and moviegoers became aware of Marilyn's "flesh impact" -- the way in which her presence radiated from still photos and movie screens with remarkable immediacy.

One day Lytess returned home to find a distressing note from Marilyn on her pillow: "I leave my car and fur stole to Natasha." Lytess discovered Marilyn in her bedroom, unconscious from swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills. Fortunately Lytess had arrived in time to avert disaster.

This was Marilyn's second, or possibly third, attempt at suicide, setting up an alarming pattern of disappointment, depression, and self-destruction that would haunt the actress in the years to follow.

Marilyn found some solace in her career, which had finally developed far enough to bring her a measure of financial security. Fox put her to work almost immediately in the comedy As Young as You Feel.

The picture was tailored to the talents of character actor Monty Woolley, but Zanuck asked the scriptwriter, Lamar Trotti, to flesh out Marilyn's character without changing the role. Marilyn portrayed Harriet, a secretary for a corporation that forces Woolley's character to retire at age 65 because of company policy.

As Young as You Feel garnered good reviews and a healthy box office at the time of its release. Bosley Crowther, a well-known reviewer for The New York Times, noted, "Quite as refreshing as the story is the manner in which it is played, with the whole cast working adroitly as a selfless and perfectly balanced team." Crowther singled out Marilyn's portrayal of Harriet as "superb."

In the early part of 1951, Marilyn's spirits were lifted by two incidents, both of which gained recognition for the young actress with the movie-going public. A color photo of her was featured in Life magazine, and she was asked to be a presenter at the Academy Awards ceremony.

Her inclusion as a presenter was probably based on her appearance in All About Eve -- one of the most prominent feature films of the previous year. Marilyn presented the Oscar for outstanding achievement in sound recording to Thomas T. Moulton for his work on All About Eve.

Fox emphasized the glamorous aspect of Marilyn's nature.

In addition to her film assignments, Marilyn was required once again to pose endlessly for publicity photos. Sometimes these photos were inspired by a specific stunt or event.

Once Marilyn was chastised by a female newspaper columnist for wearing a low-cut red dress to a party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. According to Marilyn, the columnist called her cheap and vulgar. Not stopping there, the writer then suggested that the actress would look better in a potato sack.

The studio publicity department capitalized on the story by shooting some stills of Marilyn in a form-fitting, burlap potato sack. The photos were published in newspapers throughout the country.

As a result, a potato farm in Idaho sent Marilyn a bag of potatoes. Marilyn recalled, "There was a potato shortage on then, and the boys in publicity stole them all. I never saw one. It just goes to show why I always ask, 'Can you trust a publicity man or can't you?' "

Regardless of whether the photos Marilyn posed for were directly related to her films or just for general release, she used her experience as a model to wonderful advantage. Marilyn's studio pinups attracted the attention of servicemen, film fans, and newspaper editors from around the world.

The real Marilyn was more concerned with weightier matters. Note the framed photograph (left) of the great actress Eleonora Duse, whom Marilyn idolized.

Requests for photos of Marilyn quickly exceeded those for any other Fox star. Darryl F. Zanuck suspected that someone who knew Marilyn was tampering with the mail tabulations on her behalf. When he realized that this was not the case, he began assigning her to any film he felt called for a gorgeous blonde.

Zanuck realized that publicity and the right roles would make Marilyn's image and personality not only useful but profitable. But many believe that Zanuck had no faith or interest in her as a serious actress; Marilyn herself had no illusions about Zanuck's opinion of her acting ability.

Consequently, what Zanuck considered "the right roles" were endless variations on the Miss Caswell character -- the buxom blonde who was both sexually attractive and amusingly naive. But contrary to the opinions of many Monroe biographers, not all of these films were "bad." A few, such as As Young as You Feel, received good reviews at the time of their release and performed adequately at the box office.

However, these films were not the big-budgeted productions that Hollywood and the public considered star material. In addition, Marilyn was cast in secondary roles that became virtually interchangeable from film to film.

Marilyn would continue to get cast in movies for Fox, including parts in minor comedies. Find out more about these roles on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe's Minor Comedies

A Love Nest lobby card. Note the prominence of Marilyn's billing.

Love Nest was Marilyn's second feature under her new Fox contract. In this minor comedy about the day-to-day happenings in a small apartment building, Marilyn portrays a former WAC named Bobbie who disrupts the marriage of June Haver and William Lundigan.

The film is memorable not only for Marilyn's presence but also for the participation of prominent screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, who later partnered with writer-director Billy Wilder, a man Marilyn would come to know well in the years ahead.


Television personality Jack Paar had a secondary role in Love Nest; he is one of the few of her costars from this period who has spoken unkindly of her. Paar has commented that he saw Marilyn carry around several books by Marcel Proust while on the set, but he claims that she never read one.

Paar has also said that her attempts to become well read were mere pretensions, remarking that "beneath the facade of Marilyn there was only a frightened waitress in a diner."

Paar's opinion -- although echoed by other people through the years -- lacks credibility. He apparently did not know that during the production of Love Nest, Marilyn was enrolled in the adult extension program at the University of California at Los Angeles.

While at UCLA, she took courses in literature and art appreciation. Marilyn was bright and intellectually ambitious. Her only "failing" in this regard was that she was untutored, a condition that she took pains to correct.

Despite an accomplished cast, Let's Make It Legal does not rise above transparent romantic comedy. From left, Barbara Bates, Macdonald Carey, Claudette Colbert, Zachary Scott, and Marilyn.

Let's Make It Legal, originally titled Don't Call Me Mother, was released shortly after Love Nest and featured Marilyn as a voluptuous golddigger who hunts for a wealthy husband at a luxury hotel.

Reviews of this film were not kind; Time magazine called Let's Make It Legal "one of 1951's worst comedies." The critics were less harsh regarding Marilyn's physical appearance, and any positive commentary regarding the film focused on her striking beauty or remarkable shape.

This reception did suggest a sort of progress, but Marilyn began to tire of these secondary roles in minor comedies -- parts that she was often handed as an afterthought. For details on Marilyn's dramatic endeavors, see the next section.

Marilyn Monroe's Dramatic Desires

Not getting the types of movie roles she desired, Marilyn went to the William Morris Agency for support and advice. Those at William Morris who had known Johnny Hyde were cool toward her, perhaps even blaming her for his death. No one there had any interest in helping her with her career.

She called her former agent, Harry Lipton, for advice, and he suggested that she see Hugh French at the Famous Artists Agency. French agreed to become her agent, though he and Marilyn would never have the close personal relationship that she and Johnny Hyde had. Their association was always strictly professional.


When Marilyn's contract was up in May 1951, French helped negotiate the renewal, extending her term at Fox from six months to seven years.

Despite French's efforts on his new client's behalf, it was probably Marilyn's sensational appearance at the Fox exhibitors' party in the spring of 1951 that helped land her a seven-year contract.

In attendance that evening were such famous movie stars as Susan Hayward, Tyrone Power, Gregory Peck, June Haver, and Jeanne Crain. Marilyn not only upstaged these Hollywood luminaries but also secured a seat at the table of Fox president Spyros Skouras.

Arriving late and somewhat out of breath, Marilyn made a true Hollywood entrance, stealing attention from more prominent stars. The exhibitors (the owners and operators of movie theaters across America) promptly turned their attention to Marilyn, clamoring to know which movies she was scheduled to star in.

A reporter for Collier's magazine captured the effect of her entrance: "Amid a slowly gathering hush, she stood there, a blond apparition in a strapless cocktail gown, a little breathless as if she were Cinderella, just stepped from the pumpkin coach."

After attaining a seven-year commitment from Fox, Marilyn's film roles did get better. Though still not cast in starring roles, she received juicier supporting parts in films by more notable directors.

Marilyn's best scenes in Clash by Night were opposite rugged actor Keith Andes. The film was an important career break for both of the young performers.

To improve her skills in the hopes of upgrading her roles, Marilyn enrolled in an acting course with Michael Chekhov, a Russian character actor who had studied under the legendary Stanislavsky.

Chekhov had been recommended to Marilyn by actor Jack Palance. Like Marilyn, Palance had feared he was being typecast in the industry and had sought out a teacher who could improve his overall acting skills.

Marilyn arranged to study with Chekhov in the fall of 1951. Her tenure as Chekhov's pupil provides an early example of her inclination toward Method acting, in which the actor attempts to personally experience or live out

the emotional content of his role.

This interest would culminate in her tutelage under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio during the mid-1950s.

In addition to her classes with Chekhov, Marilyn continued to work under the guidance of Natasha Lytess. Beginning with Clash by Night, Lytess coached Marilyn on the set of her films, much to the chagrin of her directors and costars.

Fox had loaned Marilyn to RKO Pictures for Clash by Night (an act of largess that Fox executives would not repeat after Marilyn became a star). Based on a play by Clifford Odets, Clash by Night represented a considerable improvement over the pictures Marilyn had been assigned at Fox.

Directed by Fritz Lang, the film was a moody melodrama about a woman who tries to settle down with an honest, hard-working fisherman but is attracted to the excitement offered by a more aggressive younger man. Barbara Stanwyck was selected for the starring role, with Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, and Keith Andes rounding out the cast.

Marilyn portrayed Peggy, a worker in a fish cannery who is engaged to the character played by Andes. A working-class girl in a gritty, slice-of-life setting, Peggy was far less glamorous than the characters Marilyn had been playing.

The character also had a no-nonsense independence of spirit that Marilyn had never before had a chance to express on the screen. The young actress was essentially cast against type -- and effectively so -- for one of the few times in her career.

Fritz Lang, a noted director in the German silent cinema before making a name for himself in Hollywood, fought constantly with Marilyn and Lytess over the latter's presence throughout the shoot. He attempted to bar Lytess from his set, but Marilyn objected to Lang's order and complained to studio executives. Eventually, a compromise was reached but not before the incident caused bad feelings among Marilyn, Lang, and Lytess.

Costar Paul Douglas was another person who resented Marilyn's insistence on having her coach close by. The veteran actor also was irked by Marilyn's constant tardiness. Barbara Stanwyck, on the other hand, was generally tolerant of Marilyn's behavior, recognizing her insecurity among a cast of movie veterans.

Peggy's relationship with her boyfriend in Clash by Night is roughly physical, and she reacts to the bit of domination shown above by hauling off and socking her fella on the jaw. To Marilyn, the character's vigor must have been sweet relief after the succession of two-dimensional glamour-girl roles.

Though the production of the film was not a comfortable experience, Marilyn garnered good reviews for her role, and Clash by Night did a smashing business at the box office.

In the next section, find out what happened when news broke of Marilyn's nude calendar photo shoot.

Marilyn Monroe's Publicity Blitz

Audiences of the 1950s were fascinated by Marilyn's unique mix of provocative sexuality and fresh-faced innocence.

One of the reasons for the box office success of Clash by Night was undoubtedly due to the publicity blitz that occurred when wire-service reporter Aline Mosby discovered that Marilyn Monroe had posed nude for a calendar photo. Mosby found out about the calendar in February 1952, possibly through a clandestine tip from Clash producer Jerry Wald.

The following month, she interviewed Marilyn about the circumstances surrounding the photo session. At first, Fox executives were frantic over the discovery and urged Marilyn to deny everything. Others advised her to admit the truth, a decision Marilyn opted for because she saw no reason to be ashamed of what she had done.


In her interview with Mosby, Marilyn simply told the truth about why she had posed nude: "I was broke and needed the money." Though some reporters seemed shocked, the press was generally delighted with her candor and wit about the incident.

The publicity proved a boon for RKO's Clash by Night, which opened in limited release during the same month Mosby made the fateful discovery.

The release of Marilyn's calendar story to the press and public has become one of the most widely told tales of her career, and biographers seem almost compelled to embellish it. Because the story worked to Marilyn's advantage in terms of attracting sympathetic attention without damaging her career, some have claimed that Fox officials tipped Mosby off about the photos, or that Marilyn herself did it.

Whatever the specifics of the incident, exactly why Marilyn got away with such a potentially scandalous escapade is rarely touched upon.

Today, the decade of the 1950s is remembered as conservative and naive. That perception tells only part of the story. In truth, the era had an undercurrent of conflict and turmoil in which issues of sex, racial inequality, and other controversial topics began to be openly discussed.

A franker attitude toward sexuality, particularly as it related to women, was signaled by the release of the Kinsey report on female sexuality just a few months after the calendar story broke. Then, in December of 1953, the first issue of Playboy -- a magazine that would quickly become famous for its open attitude toward sex and nudity -- hit America's newsstands with a photo of Marilyn on the cover and a reproduction of one of her calendar photos as the centerfold.

Marilyn's image seemed to embody the contradictory viewpoints on sex that existed in that era. Overtly sensual, Marilyn was also demure, natural, and honest -- almost innocent -- about her sexuality. The calendar story captured all of these delightful contradictions perfectly.

Given this increasing fascination with sexual freedom in a society still labeled conservative, Marilyn's success over the next few years is no coincidence. That she found herself trapped by her image during this period should be no surprise.

Well-wishers sent flowers as Marilyn recovered from an appendectomy at L.A.'s Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.

Marilyn was surrounded by a barrage of publicity for the rest of 1952. In May, she had her appendix removed. Preparing to operate, the doctor found a handwritten note attached to her stomach that read, "Please take only what you have to. And please, please, no major scars."

Marilyn received get-well greetings from thousands of fans, and publicity photos of her recuperation were released to the press.

Marilyn's operation wasn't the only thing that excited the public's interest in her at this time. Just prior to her hospitalization, a reporter had discovered that Marilyn's mother was confined to a state mental hospital. Marilyn had always allowed the press to believe that both of her parents were dead.

When the discovery was made, she again told the truth, explaining that she had never really known Gladys Baker and did not want to put the vulnerable woman in the spotlight. When her parentage became public knowledge, Marilyn removed Gladys from the state facility and moved her to Rockhaven, a private sanitarium in Verdugo, California.

The rising star with a rising income also acquired a business manager, Inez Melson, who was appointed conservator of Gladys's estate. Marilyn visited her mother at Rockhaven only occasionally, but she took financial responsibility for her care until her own death in 1962. At that time, her estate met this need.

Not all of the publicity surrounding Marilyn at this time was of a shocking nature, or a "hot scoop." In April 1952, Marilyn appeared on the cover of Life magazine for the first time.

The magazine had sent photographer Philippe Halsman to Hollywood with a list of young actresses to profile in the hopes of getting an eye-catching photo essay. Halsman suggested to the magazine that Marilyn be added to the list. He had photographed her for Life in 1949 for the "Eight Girls Try Out Mixed Emotions" article, and he knew her increasing popularity was due in part to the efforts of photographers.

Halsman decided to photograph Marilyn in her apartment in a variety of situations. While there, he noticed a bookcase filled with such books as The Story of Fabian Socialism and The Negro in American Literature. He also observed a few framed photographs, including one of 19th-century actress Eleonora Duse.

Thinking the books and photos an affectation, Halsman asked Marilyn about Duse. To his surprise, she revealed a depth of knowledge about the legendary actress. The photographer also noticed a pair of dumbbells lying on the floor. Marilyn said she used the weights to strengthen her torso and flatten her stomach.

Halsman's photos of Marilyn were sensational enough for Life's editors to center the whole story around her and to put her on the cover. The article intoned, "Every so often, more in hope than conviction, Hollywood announces the advent of a sensational new glamor girl, guaranteed to entice people from all lands to the box office. Usually the sensation fizzles. But today the most respected studio seers, in a crescendo of talk unparalleled since the debut of Rita Hayworth, are saying that the genuine article is here at last: a sturdy blonde named Marilyn Monroe."

Later that year, an article in Time magazine profiled Marilyn, the most talked-about starlet in Hollywood, and claimed that she was receiving over 5,000 letters a week from "smitten admirers." Soldiers stationed on the Aleutian Islands voted her "the girl most likely to thaw out Alaska," while a whole battalion in Korea volunteered to marry her.

Students in the 7th Divisional Medical Corps elected her "the girl they would most like to examine." The article also commented on the effect her popularity and publicity had had on the box-office tally of her latest films. Some exhibitors showing Clash by Night, for example, were luring more fans to their theaters by putting Marilyn's name at the top of the marquee, instead of star Barbara Stanwyck's.

The article also offered some of Marilyn's oft-repeated quotes: When asked if she really had nothing on in the famous calendar photos, Marilyn replied, "I had the radio on." When asked what she wore to bed, Marilyn said with a straight face, "Chanel No. 5."

Marilyn courted the members of the press, playing them as a skilled musician plays an instrument. The Time magazine article and similar ones -- combining anecdotes about Marilyn's popularity with her witty remarks -- reinforced her image as a hot blonde bombshell who was disarmingly guileless.

The publicity blitz that surrounded Marilyn in 1952 generated respectable box-office receipts for all of her films released that year. After Clash by Night, she appeared in secondary roles in a handful of films released by Fox, most of them comedies.

Monkey Business cast Marilyn as a ­ good-looking but incompetent secretary. Although peripheral to the main action of the plot, Marilyn made the most of her amusing scenes with star Cary Grant.

We're Not Married featured Marilyn and costar David Wayne as one of five couples who discover they were never legally married. The anthology film O. Henry's Full House contained adaptations of five separate stories by American writer O. Henry. In Marilyn's episode, entitled "The Cop and the Anthem," she portrays a young, sensitive streetwalker opposite the renowned Charles Laughton.

Marilyn compared the experience of working with Laughton to having an audience with God, though she and the mighty actor got along quite well. Despite the film's respectable literary source, it was not well received, primarily due to the uneven quality of the different episodes.

The best of this modest series of films is probably Monkey Business, a madcap screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks. Marilyn is featured as Charles Coburn's secretary, Lois Laurel.

One of the picture's running gags is Lois's complete lack of secretarial skills, and that she has been hired only for her obvious physical attributes. Coburn repeatedly barks to Marilyn, "Find someone to type this!" Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers starred in Monkey Business, which was written by top-notch scriptwriters Ben Hecht, I.A.L. Diamond, and Charles Lederer.

Though none of these comedies were considered major releases, most of them feature big-name actors and the handiwork of well-respected directors and scriptwriters -- a step up from the quality of films Marilyn had appeared in just the year before.

Despite her continued disappointment over the caliber of her roles, Marilyn was more secure in the industry at this juncture than she had ever been in the past. There was a logical progression to her career after she landed her second Fox contract, though Marilyn was worried -- and rightly so -- about the sameness of her roles.

Marilyn would get a chance to break out of her usual character in the dramatic film Don't Bother to Knock, although the script and direction were lacking. Learn more about this role on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe's First Dramatic Role

Don't Bother to Knock was a milestone in Marilyn's career because it marked her first attempt at a heavily dramatic starring role. This lobby card shows her with costar Richard Widmark and child actress Donna Corcoran.

Still pining for a dramatic role she could sink her teeth into, Marilyn got the opportunity she had been waiting for with the drama Don't Bother to Knock, which was released a few months before Monkey Business but made at roughly the same time.

Cast in the starring role as Nell, a psychotic babysitter who threatens to harm the innocent little girl left in her charge, Marilyn attempted to make use of her training and hard work to deliver a good performance -- and perhaps deliver herself from a succession of "dumb blonde" characters.


Richard Widmark costarred as a stranger whom Nell mistakes for her dead lover. Nell's confusion over past and present events pushes her over the edge and becomes the catalyst for her actions against the child.

Unfortunately, neither the scriptwriter nor the director provided Marilyn with much to work with in terms of understanding and developing the character of Nell. The script offered only the vaguest suggestion for the causes of Nell's mental imbalance and provided no credible account of the weaknesses in her personality that might have led to insanity.

Roy Ward Baker, a competent but not outstanding director, offered Marilyn no key with which she might have unlocked the mysteries behind Nell. According to some of her later directors, Marilyn often needed that sort of insight in order to come to grips with her characters' motivations, and to play a role convincingly. She received no help of that kind during the shooting of Don't Bother to Knock.

Consequently, most of the reviews of her performance were brutal. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, who had recognized Marilyn's potential in earlier films, summed up the tone of many reviews when he wrote, "All the equipment that Miss Monroe has to handle the job are a childishly blank expression and a provokingly feeble, hollow voice."

Other reviewers mocked her attempt at a dramatic role. Archer Winsten of the New York Post quipped, "In Don't Bother to Knock at the Globe, they've thrown Marilyn Monroe into the deep dramatic waters, sink or swim, and while she doesn't really do either, you might say that she floats. With that figure, what else can she do. . . ."

Dispelling these negative perceptions of Marilyn's performance in the film is this testimony to her skills by costar Anne Bancroft: "It was a remarkable experience. Because it was one of those very few times in all my experiences in Hollywood when I felt that give and take that can only happen when you are working with good actors. There was just this scene of one woman seeing another woman who was helpless and in pain, and [Marilyn] was helpless and in pain. It was so real, I responded. I really reacted to her. She moved me so that tears came into my eyes."

Don't Bother to Knock does have its share of melodrama, as in this scene, in which the babysitter threatens to brain her well-meaning uncle, played by Elisha Cook, Jr.

In addition to her dramatic role in Don't Bother to Knock, Marilyn starred in the "Statement in Full" episode of the NBC radio program Hollywood Star Playhouse in August 1952. She was cast as a scheming murderess, a character that foreshadowed her role as Rose Loomis in Niagara -- the film that would finally allow her to fulfill her hard-fought goal of being a genuine movie star. For more on this role, see the next section.

Marilyn Monroe in 'Niagara'

Of all the stunning outfits Marilyn wore in her films, none are as startling in their impact as the red dress she wore in Niagara.

Producer Charles Brackett wanted to do a film against the dynamic backdrop of Niagara Falls and summoned writers Walter Reisch and Richard Breen to work up a suitable script based on his ideas. As devised by these veteran screenwriters, the plot was perfect to display not only Marilyn's talents as a dramatic actress but also her image as a blonde bombshell.

Shot on location in the late spring and summer of 1952, Niagara was directed by Henry Hathaway, a competent craftsman who had built a secure reputation in Hollywood.


Marilyn starred as a cunning adulteress named Rose Loomis, a character much harsher than those she had played in her earlier films.

Niagara revolves around Rose's plot to murder her neurotic husband, George, who suffers painful memories of his war experiences. Rose uses her young lover, played by Richard Allan, to carry out her plan.

Joseph Cotten costarred as George, who -- like Rose -- is an unsympathetic yet oddly likable character. Jean Peters and Casey Adams rounded out the cast as a honeymooning couple caught up in the intrigue of Rose's plan.

Rose Loomis exhibits none of the naiveté that was a key element of Marilyn's image; the character uses her sexual attractiveness and her bold good looks to manipulate her husband and lover into doing what she wants.

Rose's effect on men is symbolized by the famous sequence in which Marilyn was photographed from behind briskly walking in her undulating, hip-swaying fashion.

Actually, the picture features three walking sequences; the one that received the most attention is often referred to as "the longest walk in cinema history" -- 116 feet of film of Marilyn in a black skirt and red sweater walking away from the camera into the distance. In a daring shot for the era, the camera eye remains firmly focused on Marilyn's swaying posterior.

Then there is the famous red dress, a clinging, low-cut dazzler that Marilyn wore when she crooned the song "Kiss." When the character played by Casey Adams spies Rose's entrance in this dress, he remarks to his wife, "Get out the fire hose!" Millions of moviegoers shared that sentiment.

Interestingly, though the filmmakers undoubtedly realized the box-office potential for Niagara because of the publicity surrounding Marilyn's wardrobe and lingering views of her undulating body, the film did not exploit Marilyn as much as it showcased her.

The walking sequences and the sexy outfits were essential to the film's plot because they demonstrated Rose's effect on men -- her power to persuade them into actions they might not otherwise consider.

The variety of form-fitting outfits worn by Marilyn in Niagaratook on added dimension when the star swung into the famous "Monroe walk."

Niagara is filled with clever touches that enhance the story and capture the dynamic quality of Rose Loomis. The character represents pure sexuality. If water is a literary symbol for woman, then to place Rose against the roaring backdrop of Niagara Falls is to imply that she is "all woman." It is no coincidence that both Rose's husband and lover die by going over the Falls.

The association between Rose and the Falls was made complete by one of the poster ads for the film, which depicts a larger-than-life Marilyn lying atop the Falls with the water flowing over her scantily clad body.

As much a natural wonder as the Falls themselves, Rose consistently wears clothes that are variations of black and red -- two colors associated with women who are alluring, cunning, and powerful.

Clever set design contrasts Rose's open sexuality and lust for life with George's worrisome, neurotic behavior: Rose is associated with wide open spaces while George hides himself in closed, cramped quarters.

The role of Rose Loomis was tailored to take advantage of the sexual nature of Marilyn's image yet gave her a valuable opportunity to stretch her rapidly developing acting skills.

Despite the melodramatic plot, Niagara was a tightly woven combination of excellent casting, taut direction, and clever production design. Touting the film's strong points in most reviews, the critics deemed the film a success and singled out Marilyn for her performance.

Often, however, reviewers complimented her in a backhanded way, acknowledging her powerful presence yet maintaining that "Miss Monroe is not the perfect actress at this point," or that she "is not an actress, heaven knows."

This type of remark would characterize critical reaction to Marilyn's work throughout her career. Reviewers were unable to understand that her use of her physical attributes to express aspects of a character was as much an acting skill as the ability to convincingly deliver dialogue.

Marilyn Monroe and Niagara Falls: the meeting of two great natural wonders.

Critics may have had their doubts about Marilyn, but the public made her a full-fledged star after the release of Niagara in January 1953. The film grossed over six million dollars that year, a tidy sum for the era.

After many years of struggle, Marilyn had at last attained her goal. But at that time, as always, she understood perfectly who was responsible for her success. Marilyn commented, "... I want to say that the people -- if I am a star -- the people made me a star; no studio, no person, but the people did."

In the next section, you'll learn about the courting of Marilyn by baseball legend Joe DiMaggio.

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio

Marilyn was the first -- perhaps only -- actress to match the impact of Jean Harlow.

During the production of Niagara, the press began to compare Marilyn to Jean Harlow, the famous blonde sex symbol of the Depression era. After the film's release, the comparisons between Monroe and Harlow intensified.

Typical of this sort of commentary was an article by Erskine Johnson in the New York World Telegram & Sun titled "Marilyn Inherits Harlow's Mantle." Johnson wrote: "Hollywood took 14 years, three-score screen tests and a couple of million dollars to find a successor to Jean Harlow ... "


Aside from their platinum blonde hair, Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe did share some common characteristics. Both were able to project a healthy sexuality on the screen, without appearing vulgar or artificial. Publicity for both of the actresses emphasized their sexy glamor with such tantalizing tidbits as "she sleeps in the nude," or "she loves champagne."

Both had been married as teenagers before breaking into the film industry, and during the height of their celebrity, both were romantically linked with older, sophisticated men.

As Marilyn's popularity soared, the Harlow comparison faded, though the spectre of Jean Harlow haunted Marilyn in other ways. During the mid-1950s, columnist Sidney Skolsky, who had befriended Marilyn during her years as a starlet, wanted her to star in a biopic (biographical movie) of Harlow's life.

Though interested, Marilyn was disappointed in the sensationalism of the script offered her by Twentieth Century-Fox. After reading it, she prophetically told her agent and friends, "I hope they don't do that to me after I'm gone."

Skolsky continued to campaign for a Harlow biography starring Marilyn Monroe until the year Marilyn died. According to the columnist, "On the Sunday they found Marilyn dead, I had an appointment with her for that afternoon at four to work on The Jean Harlow Story." (A pair of mediocre Harlow biopics did finally appear in 1965, one starring Carol Lynley, the other featuring Carroll Baker.)

Aside from making her a full-fledged star who invited comparisons with a legend of Hollywood's past, Niagara was important to Marilyn on a more personal level as well.

Joe DiMaggio's courtship of Marilyn fascinated the world. Here, the couple shares a quiet moment in Banff, Canada, in 1953.

During the shooting of the film in the summer of 1952, Joe DiMaggio began to seriously court Marilyn Monroe. Earlier that spring, a mutual acquaintance of Marilyn and Joe's had arranged for them to meet at DiMaggio's request.

The legendary ballplayer -- retired since 1951 -- had seen a publicity photograph of Marilyn with Chicago White Sox players Joe Dobson and Gus Zernial, and he had tracked her down from there.

Marilyn was reluctant to meet DiMaggio. She didn't follow baseball and was not attracted to sports figures. She expected DiMaggio to be wearing flashy clothes and to have slicked-back hair.

"I had thought I was going to meet a loud, sporty fellow," she said later. "Instead I found myself smiling at a reserved gentleman in a gray suit, with a gray tie and a sprinkle of gray in his hair. There were a few blue polka dots in his tie. If I hadn't been told he was some sort of ballplayer, I would have guessed he was either a steel magnate or a congressman."

Though DiMaggio had made a good first impression, Marilyn hesitated to go out with him again. She reportedly told the man who had introduced them, "He struck out."

The soft-spoken DiMaggio was smitten, however, and he phoned Marilyn repeatedly. His persistence eventually paid off, and despite their differences, the unlikely couple began dating.

Their relationship was fraught with problems almost from the beginning, mostly stemming from the public nature of Marilyn's career. A shy man, DiMaggio shunned publicity and the press, while Marilyn's career thrived on it.

As her fame escalated in the early '50s, Marilyn's image adorned the covers of magazines, including digest-size "men's" magazines like Eye.

DiMaggio disliked the hustle and limelight of Hollywood; Marilyn was inextricably caught up in it. DiMaggio protected Marilyn to some degree from the brutal side of Hollywood: the steel-hearted studio executives, the phony hangers-on, the snide remarks in the press about her acting abilities. He could not understand her devotion to such a distasteful business.

As a further annoyance, DiMaggio and Natasha Lytess had a mutual dislike and distrust for each other. Lytess thought Marilyn could do better than a former baseball player, while DiMaggio resented Lytess's control over Marilyn. As Marilyn and Joe grew closer, the relationship between the actress and her coach became less personal and more professional.

Complicating the issue was the change in Marilyn's star status from the time of the couple's initial meeting through their serious courtship. At the beginning of their romance, Marilyn was still appearing in minor or secondary roles at Fox. In the aftermath of the nude calendar story and throughout the production of Niagara, the publicity surrounding Hollywood's hottest starlet rapidly increased.

Marilyn began to participate in more and more promotional functions -- just the sort of events DiMaggio shunned. Bandleader Ray Anthony, for example, introduced a song called "Marilyn," written by Ervin Drake and Jimmy Shirl.

The song was presented to Marilyn by Mickey Rooney and Anthony at a party at Anthony's home. In true Hollywood style, Marilyn arrived at the poolside party in a helicopter. She was wearing the provocative red dress she had worn in Niagara.

More the impetus for a publicity stunt rather than an exciting, new pop song, "Marilyn" never made the top ten. With such lyrics as "No gal, I believe, beginning with Eve, could weave a fascination like my Ma-ri-lyn," the tune was doomed to novelty status.

A month later, Marilyn was the Grand Marshal for the parade for the 1952 Miss America pageant. During the festivities, she was asked to pose with several women from the armed services.

The low-cut summer dress she was wearing caught the attention of a photographer, who stood on a chair to better capture the outfit's full effect. Upon seeing the photo, an Army information officer ordered it killed because he did not want to give the parents of potential recruits the "wrong impression" about Army life. Information about the suppression of the photo was leaked to the press and then turned into frontpage news.

"Leg art" photo sessions were a never-ending part of Marilyn's career, and one that she worked at with enthusiasm and good humor.

When asked her opinion of the situation for a story titled "Marilyn Wounded by Army Blushoff," Marilyn replied in her tongue-in-cheek manner, "I am very surprised and very hurt. I wasn't aware of any objectionable décolletage on my part. I'd noticed people looking at me all day, but I thought they were admiring my Grand Marshal's badge!"

The relentless emphasis by reporters and press agents on Marilyn's physical attributes became a sore point with DiMaggio as the romance progressed. Many assume that his quiet dignity and conservative demeanor made it difficult for him to accept any display or discussion of Marilyn's sexuality or famous figure.

It is possible that DiMaggio was just as angered by the press's condescending and often snide attitude toward Marilyn. As a popular, even beloved, celebrity himself, DiMaggio had had many personal encounters with the press and an adoring public. But the attention given him since the start of his own memorable career had been of a completely different nature than the attention paid to Marilyn.

In the end, DiMaggio's unhappiness with the press's treatment of Marilyn did nothing to alter the tone of the coverage. In fact, after the release of Niagara, the number of stories revolving around Marilyn's sexuality both on and off the screen steadily increased.

All this publicity did help Marilyn receive the film roles she was looking for. Next up: Gentleman Prefer Blondes.

Marilyn Monroe in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'

'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' provided a lively showcase for the singing and dancing of the beautiful costars.

Increased press coverage of Marilyn brought headaches, but it also contributed to an improvement in her status at Twentieth Century-Fox throughout the production of Niagara.

On June 1, 1952, Fox gave Marilyn a surprise birthday present -- the news that she would star as Lorelei Lee in the film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. A smash success on the Broadway stage, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had been running for over two years with Carol Channing starring as the vivacious Lorelei.


Hollywood clamored for several months to secure the film rights to the hit musical. Columbia negotiated for the property as a vehicle for their blonde comedy star, Judy Holliday, while Fox originally wanted it for Betty Grable.

Grable campaigned heavily for the part, realizing the importance of the role to her faltering career. The actress with the million-dollar legs had been Fox's top box-office draw during Marilyn's unsuccessful tenure at the studio in the late 1940s -- an era when many a blonde starlet was molded in Grable's image.

Ironically, by 1952, Marilyn's star was fast eclipsing Grable's.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes began production in November 1952. Reportedly, costar Jane Russell received between $100,000 and $200,000 for her appearance, while Marilyn was under contract for $1,500 per week.

She earned about $18,000 for her work in the picture, while Grable might have cost Fox as much as $150,000. Aware that she was being taken advantage of, Marilyn insisted on her own dressing room. As she told the Fox executives, "I am the blonde, and it is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

Marilyn and Jane Russell developed a strong, friendly relationship during the shooting of the film, much to the disappointment of the popular press, which was eager to report a feud between the two sex symbols. But Gentlemen Prefer Blondes did have some genuine problems.

It was during the production of this film that Marilyn's tendency to show up late to the set greatly intensified. Her makeup man, Whitey Snyder, realized that Marilyn was actually terrified to appear in front of the cameras and had to work up her nerve to begin the day's shooting.

Though she often arrived at the studio an hour before Russell, Marilyn could not bring herself to go out onto the set. Director Howard Hawks -- not known for tolerating the frailties of actors -- became upset at Marilyn's tardiness, which brought a great deal of tension to the production.

Snyder confided his suspicions about Marilyn to Jane Russell, who made it a point to stop by Marilyn's dressing room every morning and walk with the frightened young star onto the set. Russell not only understood Marilyn's insecurities but also the harsh, insensitive nature of the film industry; the savvy actress seemed to sense that Marilyn was unable to withstand the cruelties of the business.

Though Marilyn may have incurred Hawks's wrath with her tardiness, he could not fault her for lack of dedication. Marilyn impressed many among the cast and crew with her willingness to work hard. She continued to rehearse long after others had tired, and she requested retakes of scenes she felt were not up to par.

Original ad art for 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.' The prominence of Howard Hawks' name suggests his box-office clout.

Marilyn realized that she had been given a choice role in a highly publicized film -- a part that other, more respected stars had coveted. She knew that this was her chance for critical acclaim, her chance to garner some respect in the industry.

Marilyn would eventually become notorious for causing difficulties during the production of her films, yet she managed to work with some of Hollywood's legendary directors in her brief career -- actually working with some of them twice.

Howard Hawks, for example, had directed Marilyn before, in Monkey Business. Hawks always maintained that "A great personality illuminates the screen," feeling that a successful end product made any on-set difficulties irrelevant.

During his lengthy career, the veteran director galvanized movie screens with strong films highlighted by excellent performances from John Wayne, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, and Lauren Bacall. The Hawks name is most often linked with that level of larger-than-life screen actor -- a class of performer that most surely includes Marilyn Monroe.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes represents a curious combination of some of Hawks's key themes and characteristics common to his movies. Best known for action films, Hawks tended to stress masculine values.

His storylines often focus on a pair of tough male professionals, who seem to be opposite in type. Rather than a source of friction, however, their opposition is presented as complementary.

In Blondes, Marilyn and Jane Russell have assumed the usually male roles of opposite yet complementary types: Lorelei is blonde while Jane's character, Dorothy, is brunette; Lorelei wants to marry for money, while Dorothy intends to marry for love; Lorelei is presented as the epitome of the dumb blonde while Dorothy is clever and resourceful.

Despite their extreme differences, the two characters not only perform together on the stage but also join forces to resolve problems in the area of romance. By focusing on the point of view of Lorelei and Dorothy as they survey the male population for suitable husbands or companions, Blondes seems to parody those films in which predatory male characters continually eye women as objects of desire.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the production number "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love," in which Dorothy scrutinizes the scantily clad men of the U.S. Olympic team as they flex their muscles in front of her.

Charles Coburn's on-screen attentions to his leading ladies -- particularly Marilyn -- are lecherously funny.

The film's domination by the two female characters is reinforced by the absence of any strong, dashing leading men.

The odd assortment of male figures who flock around Dorothy and Lorelei include a henpecked elderly millionaire, played by jowly Charles Coburn; a little boy with a roving eye, played by young George Winslow; a dull-looking private detective, played by character actor Elliott Reid; and the weak-willed son of a socially prominent family, played by bespectacled Tommy Noonan.

From the film's opening moments to its final shot, Marilyn and Jane Russell simply blow their male counterparts off the screen.

Despite the picture's novel interpretation of the battle of the sexes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has been attacked by contemporary critics for such obviously masculine touches as the set decor in the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number, in which female bodies are lashed to chandeliers as part of their support structure.

The show-stopping 'Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend' number is the dazzling highlight of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.'

Elsewhere, such dated lines as "I can be smart when it's important, but most men don't like it," made even Marilyn cringe when she read them at the time.

Lively and good-humored, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is widely acknowledged as one of Marilyn's best films. It is a credit to the professionalism of both Marilyn and Howard Hawks that none of the friction between them interfered with the results on the screen.

Marilyn's hard work paid off in the form of several well-executed, dynamic production numbers in which both she and Jane Russell -- neither of whom were renowned for their singing and dancing abilities -- sparkled.

Marilyn's show-stopping "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" would become her signature song, highlighting her beauty and grace and also capturing the youthful actress at a high point in her career. In retrospect, the number signifies that moment in time when Marilyn was in control of her life and her destiny -- a moment as fleeting as it was joyful.

Reviews of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes were generally favorable, though many critics still focused on Marilyn's physical attributes rather than on her performance. Those few who did discuss her talents debated among themselves exactly how well she could sing or dance.

According to Time magazine, Darryl F. Zanuck anticipated accusations that the pleasing singing voice of Lorelei Lee was not Marilyn's, so he signed an affidavit affirming that the voice on the soundtrack was indeed hers.

A shower of awards for Marilyn would follow Blondes, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Learn more about this exciting time on the next page.

Marilyn Monroe Earns Her Hollywood Star

Marilyn would continue to battle the emphasis put on her sexuality versus her abilities as an actress.

Although the critics remained divided about Marilyn, the public had long since made up its mind that Marilyn Monroe was a bona fide star. She received a number of awards shortly after the production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that not only signified her popularity with the public but also put her in the spotlight in more ways than one.

In the spring of 1953, Redbook, a woman's magazine that had been generally favorable to Marilyn, honored her with its Best Young Box Office Personality award. She had also won Look magazine's award for Most Promising Female Newcomer of 1952.


However, these tributes to her stardom were totally eclipsed by the circumstances surrounding an award given Marilyn by Photoplay movie magazine in March 1953. Photoplay dubbed Marilyn the "Fastest Rising Star of 1952" and presented her with a plaque during a prestigious awards ceremony.

For the occasion, Marilyn wore one of the dresses designed by Billy Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The form-fitting gold lamé gown was so tight that Marilyn had to be sewn into it.

As she walked away from the podium after receiving her award, the audience hooted and screamed at the sight of her voluptuous body swaying across the stage. Some accounts of the evening's events report that comedian Jerry Lewis leaped up on his table and whistled wildly.

Surprisingly, the press seemed more aghast at Marilyn's presumptuousness for wearing such a costume than they were at the audience's uncivilized behavior.

Time magazine called for Hollywood to "go easier on the sex angle" after reporting on the affair, while former glamour queen Joan Crawford lambasted Marilyn in Bob Thomas's syndicated column.

Crawford told Thomas that the sight of Marilyn caused "those of us in the industry" to shudder (as though Marilyn was somehow not in the industry) and went on to say, "She should be told that the public likes provocative female personalities; but it also likes to know that underneath it all, the actresses are ladies."

Marilyn was tremendously hurt by Crawford's haughty comments and used her ally in the press, Louella Parsons, to fight back.

Parsons quoted Marilyn as saying: ". . . Why should [Crawford] select me to blast? She is a great star. I'm just starting. And then, when the first hurt began to die down, I told myself she must have spoken to Mr. Thomas impulsively, without thinking ... "

The publicity surrounding Marilyn was once again focused on her sexuality at the expense of her identity as a person and as an actress. Though her films revolved to a large extent around that sexuality, her movie roles represented a much more complex use of the sexual aspect of her image.

Her publicity and studio promotion tended to extract her sexuality and emphasize it, resulting in condescending remarks by critics about her acting abilities, criticisms of her behavior by women's groups, and snickering comments by the press about her figure.

Both Marilyn and companion Joe DiMaggio grew increasingly upset at the inability of the press and public to separate her highly artificial image from her off-screen life.

During this period of Marilyn's rapidly rising stardom, it is easy to trace her life and career through a series of major publicity events. The negative reaction to the Photoplay ceremony in the spring of 1953 soon gave way to more positive publicity surrounding the imprinting of her handprints and footprints in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater in June of that same year.

Thanks to the box-office success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn and Jane Russell were asked to appear together to place their prints and signatures in the cement. A hallowed tradition in Hollywood, the honor offered visual proof of an actor's stardom.

In her tongue-in-cheek manner, Marilyn suggested that if these prints were supposed to signify a performer's screen image, then Russell should lean forward so her bust would be imprinted in the cement while she should simply sit in it!

She also suggested that a diamond chip be used to dot the "i" in Marilyn, but officials used a rhinestone instead. Predictably, a star-struck thief soon pried the stone from its place.

To learn about Marilyn's continued career in the movies and her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, read Marilyn Monroe's Later Career.