During the first part of her career, Marilyn Monroe rose from a bit player to a bona-fide movie star, even attaining her own star on Hollywood Boulevard following the success of her film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
How to Marry a Millionaire, Marilyn's next film, became the first comedy to be released in CinemaScope. If there was some trepidation that a comedy would not be able to make adequate use of the new widescreen process, then Twentieth Century-Fox hedged its bets by featuring three top blonde stars in the main roles.
Though supposedly based on a non-fiction best-seller by Doris Lilly, Fox executives discarded just about everything but the title and based the screenplay on a handful of plays that the studio owned.
Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable costarred with Marilyn in the film, with William Powell, Rory Calhoun, David Wayne, and Cameron Mitchell rounding out the male half of the cast.
How to Marry a Millionaire was directed by Jean Negulesco and scripted by the well-respected Nunnally Johnson.
Though several unkind remarks about Marilyn would later be attributed to Johnson, she got along quite well with Negulesco, who had a reputation in the industry as a woman's director.
During the production of the film, the artist-turned-director painted an oil portrait of his timid star and lent her several books, which he and Marilyn discussed at length.
However, in recountings of the production of this particular film, it is not how well Marilyn got along with her director that is best remembered but how well she got along with her female costars.
Just as the entertainment press had eagerly anticipated a feud between Marilyn and Jane Russell during Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, so they were hoping for some sparks to fly between Marilyn and Betty Grable on the set of Millionaire.
Considering the manner in which Marilyn's path had fatefully crossed Grable's during their careers, tension between the two stars would have come as no surprise.
Yet, Grable was unselfishly kind to Marilyn and harbored no resentment toward the new blonde on the Fox lot. Grable had defended Marilyn earlier that year over the controversy concerning her dress at the Photoplay awards, telling reporters that she was "a shot in the arm for Hollywood."
Later, in front of several people on the set, Grable reportedly told Marilyn, "Honey, I've had it. Go get yours. It's your turn now." Undoubtedly, Grable did feel she was being pushed aside, but she never blamed Marilyn. Instead, she directed her anger at Zanuck and Twentieth Century-Fox; on July 1, 1953, she stormed into Zanuck's office and tore up her contract.
Marilyn reciprocated Grable's kindness in small ways, despite the problems she often had coping with shyness and communicating with some of her peers. For instance, when Grable went home to care for one of her children who had become ill, Marilyn was the only person who called to inquire about the boy's condition.
After Grable left Fox, Marilyn inherited her dressing room, which was located in the Star Building on the Fox lot. Photographers wanted Marilyn to pose in front of the dressing room while Grable's name was still on it to suggest that Marilyn had succeeded her at Fox. She refused; she wanted no part of making Betty Grable feel as though she were finished.
Lauren Bacall found it more difficult to warm up to Marilyn than Grable had, perhaps because of Marilyn's continual tardiness on the set, her constant need for approval from Natasha Lytess, and her request for incessant retakes -- behavior Bacall considered unprofessional.
Marilyn's insecurities about her acting abilities and her sensitivity to the criticism of others made working in front of a movie camera much more difficult for her than modeling for a still camera had ever been. Her anxieties intensified as her roles became larger and her films more important, resulting in her need to bolster her confidence before appearing on the set.
Most often, her insecurities took several hours to overcome. She was consistently late to the set, which caused hard feelings because the rest of the cast had to wait for her, often for several hours.
Marilyn needed the approval of Lytess for each scene and looked directly at her at the end of each take; if Lytess shook her head disapprovingly, Marilyn requested a retake. The timid star tended to become more secure and give a better performance with each additional take, while her costars often lost their edge and spontaneity as the number of retakes increased.
But despite any hardships Marilyn put the cast through during the production of Millionaire, Bacall never spoke harshly of her costar.
The gracious actress later wrote in her autobiography: "A scene often went to 15 or more takes ... not easy, often irritating. And yet I didn't dislike Marilyn. She had no meanness in her -- no bitchery ... There was something sad about her -- wanting to reach out -- afraid to trust -- uncomfortable. She made no effort for others and yet she was nice."
Marilyn's role in Millionaire showcased her talents as a comedienne, which many biographers and industry personnel have suggested was her true calling. As Pola Debevoise, Marilyn played a nearsighted department store model who never wears her glasses because, as Pola soberly notes, "Men aren't attentive to girls who wear glasses."
Pola's poor eyesight causes her to walk into walls, trip across the floor, and stumble on stairs. The sight of such a beautiful, voluptuous star as Marilyn Monroe blundering gracelessly into walls heightened the comic effect.
Marilyn's ability to perform physical stunts so adroitly was probably the result of her keen awareness of her body. She had always used her physical attributes to suggest aspects of her film characters; she had a knowledge and understanding of anatomy that other actresses did not possess.
She had studied human bone and muscle structure to help accentuate her physical presence, and coworkers have often testified how she practiced walking, gesturing, and even moving her facial muscles in front of a mirror.
Her work began to pay off in How to Many a Millionaire. Though generally regarded as lightweight fare, the picture was a critical and popular success. Marilyn was singled out in the majority of film reviews for her comic performance, though, once again, critics were reluctant to admit that she was truly talented.
Shortly after the release of Millionaire, an unusual criticism of Marilyn appeared in East Germany's Berliner Illustrierte. A front-page article in the communist newspaper blamed the young star for many of the political ills plaguing America. The paper claimed that her function was to make the American people forget about the Korean War and the high cost of living.
The paper pontificated: "During the premiere of [How to Marry a Millionaire] in New York, fans literally tore her clothing from her body and hardly noticed that at the same time [Senator Joseph] McCarthy was violating the great democratic traditions of the American people."
The article is not only amusing in its dogmatic interpretation of Marilyn's impact on our country, but also indicates that her fame extended worldwide.
Next up: River of No Return. Learn about Marilyn's role in this film in the next section.
Marilyn was featured in three consecutive box-office hits in 1953, a streak of good fortune that made her the hottest screen star of that year. Reviews of these films often singled her out for acclaim or attention, and she continued to receive vast quantities of fan mail each week.
Her romance with American baseball hero Joe DiMaggio kept her name in the news on a regular basis. Thus, it remains a mystery to biographers and fans why Twentieth Century-Fox did not take advantage of Marilyn's celebrity to showcase her image and talents in a quality production.
Instead, the studio assigned her to River of No Return, an action-oriented western that made wiser use of its CinemaScope format than it did of Marilyn's talent and image. This lack of foresight lends credence to Marilyn's contention that studio head Darryl F. Zanuck had little interest in her career as a serious actress.
River of No Return was directed on location in Canada by Otto Preminger. Marilyn starred as Kay Weston, a struggling saloon singer earning a meager wage in a backwoods mining camp.
Together with rugged homesteader Robert Mitchum and his young son, played by Tommy Rettig, she embarks on a journey by raft down the legendary River of No Return -- a trip made perilous by the presence of Indians, thieves, and white-water rapids.
The production of the film was pretty perilous, too, thanks to hard-nosed Otto Preminger, who fought with Marilyn and Natasha Lytess during most of the shoot. Marilyn's dependence on Natasha's coaching infuriated Preminger, who objected to someone else "directing" the star of his film.
The Austrian-born actor-director actually banned Lytess from the set at one point, supposedly for upsetting little Tommy Rettig so badly that he could not remember his lines. Marilyn responded by phoning Zanuck to request that Lytess be reinstated on the condition that she promise not to speak to cast members other than Marilyn; Zanuck sided with Marilyn and telegraphed Preminger to let the repentant coach back on the set.
Other problems plagued the production of the film as well, including cost overruns when the shoot fell behind schedule. Robert Mitchum tagged the film "Picture of No Return," alluding to its potential as a box-office disaster.
Preminger's insistence that the cast perform many of their own stunts resulted in several accidents. In one incident, Marilyn and Mitchum were riding the raft when it became stuck on the rocks in the middle of the river. Just as the raft was about to turn over, a couple of stuntmen reached the two stars by lifeboat, averting disaster.
Some time later, Marilyn injured her left ankle, though the severity of the injury is debated among those who knew her. Doctors did put a plaster cast on her leg, but actress Shelley Winters -- a friend of Marilyn's who was working on another film nearby -- claims in her autobiography that Marilyn faked the severity of the sprain so that Preminger would treat her more sympathetically.
DiMaggio rushed to the set with his own doctor after hearing of the injury and spent several days with Marilyn while she recuperated. The couple continued to dodge questions from reporters about wedding plans, though it was obvious that the two celebrities were romantically involved.
Whether Preminger was moved by Marilyn's injury or by the need to complete the film, he did treat her with more respect for the rest of the shoot. Between Joe's presence on the set and the change in Preminger's attitude, she managed to finish the film without further incident.
Though River of No Return was not the unmitigated disaster humorously predicted by Mitchum, the film was not a box-office sensation and received only lukewarm reviews.
Marilyn herself was much harsher in her opinion of the film than any critic had been, referring to River as "a Z cowboy movie in which the acting finishes third to the scenery and CinemaScope."
In 1954, Marilyn finally married Joe DiMaggio. Find out about the proposal and wedding on the next page.
Marilyn: "It was so wonderful, Joe. You've never heard such cheering."
Joe: "Yes, I have." -- MARILYN MONROE TO JOE DIMAGGIO, AFTER ENTERTAINING THE TROOPS IN KOREA, 1954
After the unsatisfying experience of River of No Return, Marilyn began to worry about the quality of the films she would be assigned in the future. Seeking control over future roles as well as a better salary, she tried to renegotiate her contract in the fall of 1953. Zanuck refused.
Marilyn then requested a role in an upcoming drama titled The Egyptian. Instead, the studio assigned her to a lightweight B-musical with the tentative title The Girl in Pink Tights (also known as Pink Tights).
Marilyn's costar on this fluffy musical comedy was to be Frank Sinatra, who would receive $5,000 per week while working on the Fox lot. Though Marilyn was indisputably the bigger star at the time, she was still earning only $1,500 per week.
Tempers flared when Marilyn demanded a copy of the script to read before she would agree to step before the cameras. Zanuck refused, standing firm in his belief that Marilyn was under contract and should simply do as she was told.
The studio ordered her to report for the first day of shooting on December 15, 1953. This time, Marilyn refused, and Twentieth Century-Fox suspended her.
According to some accounts, the studio relented at one point in the feud and sent her a copy of the script. When Marilyn discovered that the story was a trite one revolving around a schoolteacher turned saloon dancer, she notified Fox that her participation in The Girl in Pink Tights was out of the question.
The studio threatened to dismiss her, spreading rumors that a dynamic blonde dancer named Sheree North was being groomed to replace her. Apparently unfazed, Marilyn responded by marrying Joe DiMaggio on January 14, 1954.
Reportedly, DiMaggio had asked Marilyn to marry him several times, but she had turned him down. Rumors had been flying for several months, speculating on when the couple involved in the storybook romance would finally take the plunge.
Though others have claimed in the recent past to have dated Marilyn during her courtship with DiMaggio, no solid proof exists that she was serious about anyone except the famous Yankee Clipper.
DiMaggio had always tried to protect Marilyn from the machinations of the studio executives; finally, during this battle of wills between Marilyn and Twentieth Century-Fox, he succeeded in pulling her away from their iron grip.
Marilyn garnered a lot of public and media support as a result of her marriage to an American idol. A few days after the wedding, Fox relented and told Marilyn all would be forgiven if she came back to work. A truce was finally worked out in which Marilyn's salary was adjusted and The Girl in Pink Tights permanently shelved.
Marilyn had promised Fox publicist Harry Brand that if she and DiMaggio decided to marry, he would be the first to know. True to her word, she called him on the morning of January 14. Brand, in turn, notified everyone else, including all the news services.
The hallways of the courthouse in San Francisco, where the two said their vows, were jammed with photographers and reporters. A crowd of more than 500 quickly gathered outside, trying to catch a glimpse of the fairy-tale couple. If DiMaggio had thought he could shield their private life from the watchful eye of the public and press, he was sadly mistaken.
After a few days in Palm Springs, the DiMaggios left for Japan on their honeymoon. Joe had planned to combine their trip with some baseball business with partner Frank "Lefty" O'Doul.
At Tokyo's International Airport, the massed fans, photographers, and reporters were so manic in their enthusiasm for Marilyn and Joe that the couple had to scramble back into their airplane. The honeymooners managed to escape a short time later through the baggage hatch.
Marilyn was the number-one foreign box-office draw in Japan at that time, and fans pushed each other into hotel pools, broke plate glass windows, and jammed themselves into revolving doors in frantic efforts to see "the Honorable Buttocks-Swinging Actress," as she was referred to by the Japanese media.
If DiMaggio was unhappy at the constant barrage of attention aimed his way, he must have been livid at the suggestive questions the Japanese press hurled at Marilyn during a press conference.
One reporter asked her opinion of the Kinsey report on female sexuality, and a photographer ungraciously inquired if she slept in the nude. Another illustrious member of the news media wanted to know if she wore underwear.
Frantic fans and rude reporters aside, Marilyn spent much of her time in Japan relaxing. At a cocktail party in Tokyo, a high-ranking American Army officer asked Marilyn if she would consider entertaining the troops stationed in Korea. Marilyn was thrilled at the request, though DiMaggio was concerned about the potential danger involved.
The new bride decided in favor of Uncle Sam and interrupted her honeymoon to be airlifted by helicopter to Korea. Though some versions of this story suggest that Marilyn left for Korea over DiMaggio's serious objections, other accounts indicate that he merely voiced disapproval over her decision.
Whatever the case, Marilyn's side trip did become a point of contention between the newlyweds.
Marilyn would say more than once in her life that the adulation she felt in Korea by the servicemen -- a group of fans who had helped make her a star -- was the high point of her career. As she performed before thousands of troops in bitter cold temperatures, wearing only a scanty, plum-colored dress, she acknowledged her debt to them as they warmed her with their unconditional adoration.
She sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," "Bye, Bye Baby," and "Do It Again," interrupting her performance to crack jokes with the soldiers about their fondness for sweater girls. "You fellas are always whistling at sweater girls," she teased. "Well, take away their sweaters and what have you got?"
Marilyn returned to Japan from her exhausting four-day trip with a 104-degree temperature and a slight case of pneumonia. DiMaggio nursed her back to health before the couple continued their honeymoon, touring some of Japan's smaller villages.
Like the eye of a hurricane, this peaceful interlude lulled the couple into thinking the worst of the storm had passed. Find out what happened when the couple returned to the States in the next section.
Back in the States, Joe and Marilyn took up residence at his home in San Francisco, where the DiMaggio family owned and operated a restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf. City residents allowed their famous native son and his new bride to have their privacy, but tourists continually disrupted their homelife.
An award from Photoplay magazine as Best Actress for her performances in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire prompted Marilyn's return to Hollywood, as did the starting date for her next film.
Twentieth Century-Fox persuaded Marilyn to appear in the star-studded but hopelessly dated musical There's No Business Like Show Business by promising her the leading role in the film version of The Seven Year Itch.
Marilyn agreed, but her part in Show Business was secondary compared to the star turns of Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey. The remainder of the cast included dancers Donald O'Connor and Mitzi Gaynor as well as sob-singer Johnnie Ray.
Instead of showcasing the individual talents of each of the performers, this wildly uneven musical merely emphasized their differences. Merman's brassy singing style overwhelmed those of her fellow cast members, while Ray, known for the tune "Cry" and similarly fevered pop records, appeared stiff and artificial throughout.
And beside the manic tap routines of O'Connor and Gaynor, Marilyn's soft singing voice and sensual mannerisms seemed inappropriately languid.
The film's liveliest production number was a torrid version of "Heat Wave" performed by Marilyn and a bevy of male dancers. Considered controversial at the time, the number featured Marilyn in a flamenco skirt slit all the way up the front.
The bumps and grinds that were part of the choreography revealed the black leotard-bottom underneath her costume, and outraged some observers who were not accustomed to this sort of unblushing display. Reviewers added to the controversy by singling out the number as vulgar or crude.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times stated that Marilyn's "wriggling and squirming . . . are embarrassing to behold." Time magazine intoned that Marilyn "bumps and grinds as expressively as the law will allow."
Whatever the reasons for assigning Marilyn to There's No Business Like Show Business, Fox executives miscalculated once again in regard to her talents and image. Marilyn eventually became adamant -- almost stubborn -- about certain details or bits of dialogue in her films, a habit that was probably caused by years of being pushed around and ill-used by the studio.
Marilyn's personal life took a downward turn when she divorced Joe DiMaggio after just a few months of marriage. Learn more in the next section.
As soon as the movie There's No Business Like Show Business wrapped, Marilyn was ushered immediately, without a rest, to the set of The Seven Year Itch. Production began in Hollywood in August of 1954 and continued in New York the following month.
Husband Joe DiMaggio did not accompany Marilyn on her trip east. After just a few months as husband and wife, Joe and Marilyn were experiencing problems.
She had collapsed three times during the production of Show Business, supposedly because of the tension at home, and he had visited her on the set only once.
Most accounts of her life reveal that the marital discord resulted from Marilyn's career. DiMaggio became increasingly annoyed with the phoniness and artificiality of the movie industry and was further angered by the studio's repeated efforts to imprison Marilyn in blonde bombshell roles.
Despite the fact that The Seven Year Itch was based on a successful play by renowned playwright George Axelrod, DiMaggio saw Marilyn's part only as another in a series of sexy, dumb blonde roles.
DiMaggio eventually joined his wife in New York, but their relationship moved from disharmony to disaster after the shooting of one of Marilyn's most legendary scenes, the moment in which she stands above a subway grate to feel the rush of air that passes whenever a train rushes beneath her.
The shot of Marilyn's white dress billowing up to reveal her shapely legs is so identified with her image that it has become a virtual icon, at once celebrating her sexuality and encapsulating her legend.
The scene was shot at 52nd Street and Lexington in New York City in the middle of the night. Despite the late hour, thousands of fans showed up to catch a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe.
So many flashbulbs went off each time director Billy Wilder tried to shoot a take that he made a deal with the amateur photographers and the press: If they would allow him to shoot the scene, he would ask Marilyn to pose for them.
During the proceedings, DiMaggio walked onto the set, dismayed at the sight of his wife on exhibit for more than 2,000 strangers. His oft-quoted remark, "What the hell's going on here?" reflects his disdain not only for the public display of Marilyn's physical charms but also for her profession, which required it. Shortly after this highly publicized event, Marilyn and Joe filed for divorce.
Just as their courtship, marriage, and honeymoon had been played out on the front pages, so the announcement of their divorce would generate a barrage of publicity and media attention.
In early October, after the cast and crew returned to Hollywood, the distraught actress called director Billy Wilder and Fox publicist Harry Brand to tell them that she and Joe were divorcing.
Brand released the information to the news services, and reporters descended on the DiMaggios' Beverly Hills residence en masse, staking out the house for more than two days.
On October 6, Marilyn was scheduled to hold a news conference but was too upset to say very much. As she and famed Hollywood lawyer Jerry Giesler walked out of the front door, reporters and photographers lunged forward, hurling embarrassing questions at her.
Joe Hyams, then a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, was still appalled by the memory of the spectacle years later.
He said he could still see "as clearly as I had seen it then, her tear-stained face as she came out of the front door, the half-a-hundred newsmen crowded in on her like animals at the kill. Only little Sidney Skolsky tried to protect her. Something about the scene and my profession of journalism sickened me."
With her personal life in the dumps, Marilyn focuses on her part in The Seven Year Itch. Learn about her role in the next section.
A short time after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn attempted to report to the set of The Seven Year Itch, which was wrapping production in the studio in Hollywood. Wilder sent her home. With a bit of understatement, he said, "She has a comedy part, and she couldn't see much comedy in life today."
Marilyn had been late to the set several times before the announcement of the divorce, and the producers now feared the worst. But, surprising everyone, Marilyn jumped back into her role with total concentration.
She was so engaged in her work that Wilder often got what he wanted after only one or two takes.
None of the turmoil of Marilyn's personal life ended up on the screen. The Seven Year Itch is considered one of Marilyn's best films, for a variety of reasons: the inspired performances by Marilyn and costar Tom Ewell, the direction by Wilder, and the script by Wilder and George Axelrod.
Though Marilyn's character of the "The Girl" may appear to be just another dumb blonde, the sheer force of Marilyn's talent and personality grants the character an innocence and dimension beyond the reach of lesser actresses.
The film's simple storyline revolves around the inner conflicts of Richard Sherman, a role Ewell was reprising from the Broadway production. Sherman is a very married New Yorker who daydreams and fantasizes about The Girl, a gorgeous model who has sublet the apartment above him.
Sherman's wife and young son have gone away for the summer, and he seizes the opportunity to get to know The Girl. Torn between his fantasies about The Girl and his guilt over betraying his wife, Sherman eventually sees the wisdom of remaining a faithful husband.
As the object of his fantasies and desires, The Girl is, in part, a figment of Sherman's imagination. We learn little about her as an individual; she doesn't even have a name. As such, the potential exists for the character to be shallow and even unsympathetic.
Yet, Marilyn's ability to combine sexuality with a childlike innocence, plus the way her natural warmth and sincerity shine through her surface glamour, elevates the character of The Girl above the level of mere sex object.
The Girl is far from a buffoon; to the contrary, she is clearly at ease with her sexuality. Even when Sherman's fantasies become wild and extreme (and extremely funny), The Girl remains in control of the relationship. When she makes it clear to Sherman that romance is out of the question, she does it with wit and kindness.
The role of The Girl was perfectly suited to Marilyn's screen image, and The Seven Year Itch garnered the actress some of the finest reviews of her career. With a few notable exceptions, critics focused on Marilyn's flair for comedy rather than on her shapely figure, even comparing her to the highly regarded comedienne Judy Holliday.
Aside from giving Marilyn one of the best parts of her career, The Seven Year Itch playfully acknowledged Marilyn's star status by incorporating elements of her own life into the character.
The Girl models for men's magazines, much like Marilyn had done in her salad days. She also once posed for "an artistic picture," a tongue-in-cheek reference to Marilyn's famous calendar photo.
The in-joke is carried to its extremes when a friend asks Sherman who the woman is in his kitchen, and he teasingly replies, "Marilyn Monroe."
Director Billy Wilder was fond of such cinematic references to real-life Hollywood and often incorporated amusing or cynical comments on screen legends in his films. It was an element he exploited in the next film he would direct with Marilyn, Some Like It Hot.
The Seven Year Itch was released in June of 1955. By that time, Marilyn was embroiled in another dispute with Fox and had formed her own production company to secure better roles.
There had been a few worthwhile roles along the way, but Marilyn was generally dissatisfied with the type of parts she was assigned by Fox. She realized that the studio executives, particularly Darryl Zanuck, did not believe she had the potential to become a serious actress.
Moreover, they did not want her to become a serious actress. She had been stereotyped as a dizzy blonde bombshell who specialized in comedies and musicals, and the studio would continue assigning her these types of roles because she had been so successful at them.
In retrospect, it is difficult to understand the level of control the film studios had over the actors under contract to them; if Fox determined that it was not in their financial interest to assign Marilyn dramatic roles, then they would not do so, no matter how big a star she became.
In the few years since Niagara, Marilyn had gone from rising star to Hollywood goddess. Her salary had increased and her acting had improved tenfold.
She had become the top box-office attraction in America as well as in other parts of the world. With the increase in stature came an added pressure, which was often magnified by the turbulent events of her private life.
Despite the burdens of her personal and professional lives, and despite her status as a star, Marilyn decided to leave Hollywood for New York to study acting. She was determined to become a serious, dramatic actress -- with or without the studio.
Though a bold move for any actor, the decision was particularly courageous for Marilyn, who battled more insecurities and personal demons in a single day than most of us will in our lifetimes.
As another way to get more control over her career, Marilyn developed Marilyn Monroe Productions, Inc. Learn more about this move on the next page.
"I feel wonderful. I'm incorporated." -- MARILYN MONROE, 1955
In December 1954, shortly after the completion of The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn formed Marilyn Monroe Productions, Inc., with photographer Milton Greene.
Marilyn had met Greene the previous year on the Fox lot when he had traveled to Hollywood to photograph her for Look magazine. The photographer and the former model hit it off instantly, and when they met again at a party a few days later, the two began discussing a possible partnership.
Throughout 1954, Greene conferred periodically with Marilyn about his partnership proposal. During the production of The Seven Year Itch, negotiations began in earnest, and the company was formed a few weeks later.
Marilyn Monroe Productions was established with 101 shares of stock; Marilyn controlled 51 shares, while Greene retained the remaining 50. Marilyn's function was to star in the films selected by the company, while Greene was to conduct all of the business and pay the bills.
Greene; his wife, Amy; his attorneys; and his accountant were all New Yorkers, an apparent reflection of the disdain Marilyn felt at this time for Hollywood and its industry personnel.
Marilyn fled Hollywood for New York after the partnership came together, leaving Twentieth Century-Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck behind. Once again, she refused to appear in a minor musical that Fox had assigned her. And once again, Fox tried to threaten Marilyn by touting Sheree North as her replacement.
The studio proceeded to make the film, titled How to Be Very, Very Popular, with North in Marilyn's role and Betty Grable as her costar. Fox, eager to prove that the film could be successful without Marilyn Monroe, virtually flaunted the production in her face.
Nunnally Johnson, who had penned How to Marry a Millionaire, wrote the script, while one of Marilyn's favorite cameramen, Milton Krasner, was assigned to be the film's cinematographer. Charles Coburn and Tommy Noonan, two of her costars from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, were brought in to round out the cast.
But if Fox was convinced it could make a successful Marilyn Monroe film without the genuine article in the starring role, the studio was sadly mistaken. How to Be Very, Very Popular proved very, very unpopular at the box office and garnered only poor to mixed reviews. It remains notable mainly for a wildly exuberant dance number performed by North, and because it was the final film of Betty Grable.
Marilyn refused other offers by Fox at this time, in particular the part of showgirl Evelyn Nesbit in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing -- a role that eventually went to Joan Collins. Marilyn disavowed her contract with Fox, leaving the legalities of her actions to her lawyers.
After the defection of its biggest star, Fox released the following statement: "No one can handle her. No one can give her advice. She has always decided everything for herself. We're getting 200 letters a day demanding we get rid of her, but we have $2,000,000 tied up in this picture [The Seven Year Itch], and we're trying to protect that."
By generating bad publicity about her, Fox was making sure that if it couldn't have Marilyn Monroe, then no other studio would want her.
Hollywood columnists delighted in such mudslinging and printed a number of statements released through the Fox publicity department, including one that must have hit a raw nerve with Marilyn. Hedda Hopper printed this statement, supposedly from an "unnamed" Fox stockholder: "It's disgusting. She's had four or five years' training -- enough to produce ten competent actresses -- and she still can't act."
Marilyn moved in with the Greenes in their Weston, Connecticut, home, far away from the machinations of Twentieth Century-Fox. In January 1955, at the height of the bad publicity generated by Fox surrounding her defection, Marilyn held a press conference in New York to formally announce the formation of Marilyn Monroe Productions, Inc., and her plans to "broaden her scope."
She complained about the dumb blonde roles she had been assigned at Fox and, after some prompting by reporters, announced she would like to tackle something as challenging as Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.
The press seized on that comment to ridicule her ambitions, snidely inquiring which of the brothers she wanted to play. She patiently replied that she would like to play Grushenka, the leading female character.
Marilyn's remarks about The Brothers Karamazov would be widely misquoted in print over the next few months, with the result (probably deliberate) of making Marilyn look quite foolish. Reporters questioned whether she could spell "Grushenka," let alone play the role.
Over the years, the press had emphasized the sexual aspect of Marilyn's image to such a degree that they would not allow her to escape her identity as a sex symbol. When she tried, they ridiculed her.
The weeks spent at the Greenes' home proved restful for Marilyn. She could not appear in a film until her contract with Fox was negotiated to her satisfaction or officially terminated.
In the meantime, she read, studied, and enjoyed the outdoors. She became close friends with Milton's wife, Amy; this warm relationship was one of the few that Marilyn enjoyed with a woman her own age.
Amy Greene -- a former fashion model -- helped Marilyn select a new wardrobe, one more suitable to her new, more mature image, and Marilyn babysat for the Greenes' son, Josh.
Since Marilyn was generating no income of her own, Milton Greene paid all of her expenses, including the rent on the Manhattan apartment Marilyn eventually occupied. Greene was dedicated to Marilyn Monroe Productions, even to the point of mortgaging his home to subsidize Marilyn's stay in New York.
On April 8, 1955, Marilyn appeared on Person to Person, a popular television interview program hosted by noted broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow. Murrow enjoyed a sterling reputation as a newsman, and being selected for Person to Person was both an honor and an ordeal for Marilyn.
Murrow asked his questions from the CBS studios, but the program originated live from the guests' homes. Marilyn's interview was conducted out of the Greenes' home, with both Milton and Amy appearing on camera with the glamorous star.
Marilyn was petrified by the thought of appearing on live television, but Amy Greene discreetly guided her through the interview. Among other things, Murrow inquired about Marilyn's move to the East Coast, her new production company, and her desire to act in dramatic roles. The program treated her defection from Twentieth Century-Fox as a positive decision, rather than as the impulsive act of a spoiled star.
In the next section, find out about Marilyn's romance with playwright Arthur Miller, who she met while living in New York.
By the summer of 1955, Marilyn was living in her New York apartment in the Waldorf-Astoria Towers. New York City represented a new life for her. She acquired new friends who respected her, new business associates who understood her desires to showcase her dramatic skills, and a new romance -- with playwright Arthur Miller.
Marilyn had first met America's premier playwright in 1950, while on the set of As Young as You Feel. Though distraught at the time over the death of Johnny Hyde, Marilyn was honored to meet both Miller and director Elia Kazan.
Actor Cameron Mitchell, who had costarred in the stage and film versions of Miller's Death of a Salesman, introduced Marilyn to the famous dramatist and the prominent director. A few days later, Marilyn ran into Miller at a Hollywood party, where the two struck up a friendship.
Even at this time, Marilyn was quite taken with Miller. She supposedly gushed to Natasha Lytess, "It was like running into a tree! You know -- like a cool drink when you've got a fever. You see my toe -- this toe? Well he sat and held my toe and we just looked into each other's eyes almost all evening."
The beautiful starlet and the wiry playwright exchanged letters and phone calls for some months, but Miller's marriage to college sweetheart Mary Slattery prevented any serious involvement.
When Miller heard that Marilyn had moved to New York City, he obtained her phone number from a mutual friend, and the two began secretly dating in 1955. Despite the fact that he was still living at home with his family, it was obvious that Miller's marriage was in trouble -- if not over -- by this time.
If questioned about their relationship by a nosy reporter, the two quipped that they were just friends, but those who knew Marilyn claimed that she had had her sights set on Miller for some time.
Though she did not set foot on a movie set from the fall of 1954 to the early months of 1956, Marilyn was quite busy in New York. She frequented bookstores and boutiques, visited her Hungarian analyst several times a week, and attended acting classes at the famed Actors Studio.
Often, she was followed around the city by a group of ardent young fans who called themselves the Monroe Six. Consisting of a half-dozen teenagers just out of high school, the Six always seemed to be lingering near the foyer of her apartment building. They often figured out her schedule for the day, an accomplishment that both amazed and amused Marilyn.
Eventually, each of the Monroe Six met their idol as well as many of Marilyn's friends and companions. Together with another fan, a lone wolf named Jimmy Haspiel, the Six put together a mass of off-the-record data on Marilyn's New York period -- clippings, personal photographs, home movies, eyewitness remembrances -- that would prove invaluable to later biographers.
These dedicated fans respected Marilyn's privacy, never interfering with her errands or daily routine, and Marilyn was touched by their adoration. After she married Arthur Miller, she threw a party for them at Miller's Connecticut farm.
Learn more about Marilyn's time with her new mentor Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio on the next page.
Much of Marilyn's time during this period was taken up with her burning ambition to become a serious actress, a goal shared by her new mentor Lee Strasberg.
Marilyn had been introduced to Strasberg in early 1955 by Cheryl Crawford, a producer/director who was one of the founding members of the Actors Studio. Marilyn had confided in Crawford her intention of developing her dramatic skills, and Crawford had insisted she meet Strasberg.
Lee Strasberg had been the artistic director of the Actors Studio since 1948 and had gained worldwide acclaim for the Method, a highly disciplined approach to acting based on the teachings of Konstantin Stanislavsky.
Strasberg had also belonged to the legendary Group Theatre, which served as an actors' training ground as well as a stage company known for its leftist politics and socially meaningful productions.
Though the Actors Studio grew out of the Group Theatre, it was not really an extension of it. The Studio only vaguely recalled the leftist political orientation that the Group had embraced wholeheartedly.
Several former members of the Group Theatre would be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the early 1950s and accused of having Communist ties. The political background of the Group Theatre and the paranoia of HUAC would eventually affect Marilyn in a direct way.
Arthur Miller, who had known several members of the Group Theatre, would be subpoenaed to testify before HUAC, and a Fox executive would pressure Marilyn about her association with him.
Because of her brief association with the Actors Lab in the late 1940s, Marilyn had already been exposed to some of the acting ideas advocated by Strasberg. Morris Carnovsky, who operated the Lab, had been a member of the Group Theatre and also used the teachings of Stanislavsky as the basis for his own approach to acting.
Despite those biographers and former associates who claim that Marilyn was lured by Strasberg and his wife Paula into the Actors Studio and brainwashed with the Method, Marilyn had leaned toward the Stanislavsky approach as far back as her affiliation with both Carnovsky in the late 1940s and Michael Chekhov in the early 1950s.
Stanislavsky had encouraged his pupils to examine their inner selves when attempting to understand their characters. According to the great Russian teacher, an actor should use his or her own past experiences and inner feelings to try to experience the emotions that the character will go through during the course of the play. The actor, in essence, emotionally lives out the experiences of the character.
Lee Strasberg pushed the concept of the inner self a step further. He encouraged his students to not just act the role, but to be the character -- to feel the same emotion the character feels and to live the experiences of the character.
To arrive at that level of performance, Strasberg advocated the actor's total involvement with his or her self, as well as the actor's complete understanding of his or her motivations and inner feelings.
Considering Marilyn's lifelong desire to uncover her identity, her disdain for those who confused her image with her true self, and her search for some inner peace regarding her worth as an individual, her attraction and ultimate devotion to Strasberg's teachings are understandable.
Strasberg regarded Marilyn's heightened sensitivity as a remarkable trait, especially considering her tragic childhood and her struggles in Hollywood. He believed her sensitivity and her luminous quality indicated a talent or gift that could be brought out through training.
He worked with her privately for three months at his apartment, tutoring her on the ability to grasp what was happening inside the character she was playing and then recreate that emotion inside herself. He also improved her powers of concentration.
After that time, she was allowed to join the regular classes at the Actors Studio, though she never became an official member. During her tenure at the Actors Studio, Marilyn focused on her craft with such intensity that she won the respect and admiration of many of her fellow students.
In addition to her class, which met twice a week, she sat in on other sessions at the Studio just to observe. Though she was terrified by performing in front of her class, she managed to work up a scene from Anna Christie for an audience of Studio members. Many were astonished at her skill and amazed at her depth.
Lee Strasberg has been quoted as saying that the two greatest acting talents he worked with were Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. The statement is a testament to his faith in Marilyn, particularly in light of the heavyweight talents who studied with him -- James Dean, Eli Wallach, Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift, Maureen Stapleton, Robert De Niro, Steve McQueen, Jane Fonda, and Al Pacino.
Those biographers and former associates who accuse Strasberg of using the Method to cast a spell on his famous pupil have no understanding of Marilyn's longtime inclination in that direction, and they underestimate her dedication to her career.
Aside from training her in the Method, Lee and Paula Strasberg gave Marilyn some much-needed confidence that helped her to believe in herself. The couple had faith in Marilyn's abilities and encouraged her goals. "For the first time," Marilyn stated, "I felt accepted not as a freak, but as myself."
Eventually, Marilyn dismissed her longtime acting coach Natasha Lytess in favor of Paula Strasberg. Friends and acquaintances have often commented on Marilyn's tendency to cast aside trusted friends and old companions when she felt the forward momentum of her life carrying her beyond them.
Lytess was bitter about Marilyn's decision, particularly because her foremost pupil arranged for the bad news to be relayed to her by an East Coast law firm. Marilyn was not hardened enough to perform the task herself.
In an interview, Lytess claimed that Marilyn wouldn't even ask Twentieth Century-Fox to retain her services as a coach for other actors, though Fox may have wanted to get rid of her for their own reasons. Lytess died in 1964, just two years after Marilyn.
While Marilyn was living in New York, she was encouraged by the Strasbergs to enter analysis. Lee Strasberg believed analysis gave an actor an improved comprehension of his or her motivations and emotions. But Strasberg did not realize that Marilyn was involved in an inner struggle that analysis and the Method would never solve.
Though experiencing one of the peak periods of her life and career, Marilyn was plagued by insomnia to such a degree that a bottle of Seconal was always in reach. More significantly, she was apparently unable to reconcile her image as sex goddess "Marilyn Monroe" with her own identity; she regarded "Marilyn Monroe" and her true self as two different entities.
Actor Eli Wallach has remarked how she could walk through the streets of New York City and not be noticed and then, in a moment's time, make some inner adjustment to transform herself into the beautiful, breathy, and sensual movie star that everyone recognized. Heads turned, traffic stopped, and fans came running. "I just felt like being Marilyn for a moment," she would say.
Learn how Marilyn finally achieves the contract she deserves from Fox in the next section.
While Marilyn focused on improving her craft in New York, executives at Twentieth Century Fox were battling with her lawyers and Milton Greene over her contract.
After the extremely successful debut of The Seven Year Itch in June 1955, Fox pulled out all the stops in its efforts to re-sign Marilyn. With the critical and popular acclaim of the film, the studio realized that its biggest asset was Marilyn Monroe, the star who had generated the most box-office revenue for Fox in the past two years.
In September, Variety reported that Fox was finally willing to meet Marilyn's unprecedented demands, which included story and director approval. Further, because Marilyn realized the importance of her physical appearance to the roles she played, she demanded and won cinematographer approval.
In addition, her salary was boosted to $100,000 per film, and she was allowed to make films with independent producers and with other studios. Marilyn signed her fourth and final contract with Twentieth Century-Fox on December 31, 1955.
Though Marilyn's contractual difficulties with Fox during the mid-1950s have been widely documented, few accounts have adequately explained the magnitude of her victory and its ramifications to the film industry.
Her new contract allowed her a measure of creative control that was considered revolutionary for an actor at that time. Her contract stipulated that she would appear in only top-notch productions, or "A-films." Her right to director and cinematographer approval set a precedent for other stars to follow.
Marilyn understood the value of working with directors who had not only talent but personal vision. She also understood the difference between a film that was genuinely suited to her and one that merely exploited her good looks or marquee value.
It was the difference between Niagara, in which her character's sexuality was the motivation for the action of the film, and There's No Business Like Show Business, in which she was cast merely to add some spice to a hack musical.
Marilyn rightly realized that a succession of superficial films by assembly-line directors, in which she would play one sexy blonde after another, might cheapen her value as a star.
Some may find Fox's change of heart toward Marilyn hypocritical considering the bad publicity the studio had generated about her just a few months before. Did the executives at Fox not realize the extent of her popularity until The Seven Year Itch, or did they arrogantly assume she would return to the fold at some point?
Actually, the situation was more complex than it might seem on the surface, and involves much more than Marilyn's dispute with Fox.
Hollywood underwent a number of significant changes during the 1950s, changes that would permanently alter the film industry. The studio system -- designed to crank out formulaic films quickly and cheaply and to give film studios almost absolute power over contract players and other creative people -- began to decline during that era.
Reasons for this decline include growing audience sophistication, the increasing popularity of television, and stars' unwillingness to sign contracts that limited their artistic and financial options. As the studio system withered, so did the enormous power that executives wielded over actors and directors.
Prominent directors and established actors, fed up with the studios' profit-motivated decisions regarding their careers, began setting up their own production companies to make films with artistic merit and to give themselves more equitable profit shares. Films using stage-trained directors and actors began to garner significant critical attention and box-office success.
The major studios clung desperately to outdated production methods in an effort to retain their dominance over the industry. It was those outdated methods -- a dependence on quickly produced, low-budget B-films; a shortsighted tendency to assign big-name stars to minor films to boost the box-office potential -- that Marilyn was fighting against. It was those outdated methods that could trap her in a succession of thankless roles in mediocre films.
As the film companies began to lose money because of the changes in the studio system and because of the competition from television, they grasped at solutions they would not have considered just a few years earlier. After the financial success of The Seven Year Itch, Fox needed the bankability of Marilyn Monroe and was willing to deal to get it.
Marilyn's victory not only became a landmark case but also established Marilyn Monroe as a force to be reckoned with. Suddenly, the press began to take Marilyn Monroe Productions seriously.
In January of 1956, a year after some reporters had laughingly dubbed her "Bernhardt in a bikini," the Los Angeles Mirror News printed the following statement: "Marilyn Monroe, victorious in her year-long sitdown strike against 20th [sic] Century-Fox, will return to the studio next month with a reported $8,000,000.00 deal. Veterans of the movie scene said it was one of the greatest single triumphs ever won by an actress."
Bus Stop was Marilyn's first film under her new contract. Learn about her role in this film on the next page.
Marilyn, in high spirits from her victory over Fox, returned to Hollywood in February 1956 to star in the film adaptation of William Inge's acclaimed play Bus Stop, a property Milton Greene had purchased exclusively for her.
Accompanied by coach Paula Strasberg and friend Amy Greene, Marilyn appeared more confident and serious than she had been when she last worked in Hollywood.
At a press conference to announce her career plans, Marilyn fielded questions with wit and grace. Perhaps recalling how the media had distorted her comments about The Brothers Karamazov, Marilyn requested clarification on many questions and parried reporters' attempts to catch her off-guard.
When one reporter hinted that her attire -- a dark suit with a high collar -- differed from her usual low-cut gowns and was perhaps meant to suggest a "new Marilyn," the actress neatly squashed the attempt to belittle her with the simple reply, "Well, I'm the same person. It's just a new suit."
Marilyn's performance in Bus Stop, her first since her training with Strasberg, remains the finest of her career. In this classic film adaptation, Marilyn plays a sweet, talentless saloon singer who calls herself Cherie.
Cherie hails from the Ozarks but is working her way across the Southwest toward Hollywood, where she hopes to be discovered and "get treated with a little respect, too."
At a rowdy cowboy bar in Arizona, she meets a naive young rancher named Bo, played by Broadway actor Don Murray in his film debut. Bo has traveled to Phoenix not only to participate in the big rodeo but also to find "an angel" -- that is, a wife to accompany him back to Montana.
Despite Cherie's checkered past, Bo sees her as his angel because she seems so fragile -- "so pale and white." He is determined to marry her, though she rejects his bullying tactics.
Only after his male pride is humbled and he apologizes for his domineering manner, does Cherie respond to him. Only after he shows respect for her feelings does she accept his proposal.
Marilyn immersed herself in the role eagerly. She was adamant about the details that would contribute to the realism of the character and promised to walk off the set if her demands weren't met. Her portrayal is vivid and affecting.
As a singer, Cherie is hopeless, completely unaware of her lack of talent and ignorant of the pitfalls that are sure to befall her if she pursues her ill-considered course to "stardom." A luckless girl who wants desperately to better herself, Cherie aspires to more than she will ever attain.
Though highly sexual, the character has little of the glamor that characterized Marilyn's other parts. Marilyn chose to portray Cherie as a ragged, cheaply costumed waif. She rejected the original costume designs and insisted on wearing tattered odds and ends she found in the costume department.
Milton Greene designed the pale, unflattering facial and body makeup that makes Cherie look tired and vaguely unhealthy. The singer's "hillbilly" accent, a key element of Marilyn's performance, was authentic and consistent.
Her training with the Strasbergs had paid off. Marilyn didn't just act the role of Cherie-on-screen, she became Cherie.
Upon hearing that Hollywood's most notorious blonde would star in Bus Stop, director Joshua Logan's initial reaction was, "Oh, no -- Marilyn Monroe can't bring off Bus Stop. She can't act." In a later interview, Logan ate his own words, lamenting, "I could gargle with salt and vinegar even now as I say that, because I found her to be one of the greatest talents of all time."
The mutual respect that existed between director and star was partially inspired by Logan's background. More active as a stage director than as a filmmaker, Logan was an acclaimed talent who had actually studied with Stanislavsky at the Moscow Art Theater. (He also knew the Strasbergs well enough to ask Paula not to interfere with his direction on the set.)
Like Marilyn, Logan was plagued by insomnia and exhaustion, so it is likely that he understood and was sympathetic to his star's personal problems. Though Marilyn's tardiness was not as evident during the production of this film, her new assertiveness often rubbed her costars the wrong way.
For instance, she did not get along well with her leading man, Don Murray. The relationship came to a boil during the shooting of a specific scene, when Cherie becomes angered at Bo and hits him with the train of her costume, which the clumsy cowboy has inadvertently pulled off.
In executing the action, Marilyn slapped Murray across the face with her sequin-studded costume with such force that blood was drawn. For reasons known only to herself and Murray, Marilyn refused to apologize.
Despite their differences during production, Murray has never harshly criticized Marilyn. "Marilyn Monroe had a childlike quality, and this was good and also bad," he recalled in a later interview.
"Director Joshua Logan wanted a two-head close-up for Bus Stop, one of the first in CinemaScope. She broke me up when, in one of the frames, the top of my head was missing. 'The audience won't miss the top of your head, Don,' she said. They know it's there because it's already been established.' But, like children, she thought the world revolved around her and her thoughts. She was oblivious to the needs of people near her, and her thoughtlessness, such as being late frequently, [was] the bad side of it."
Marilyn's performance in Bus Stop garnered some of the best reviews of her career. The well-respected Bosley Crowther of The New York Times opened his commentary on the film with: "Hold onto your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress in Bus Stop. She and the picture are swell."
Arthur Knight, noted film historian and critic, raved, ". . . in Bus Stop, Marilyn Monroe effectively dispels once and for all the notion that she is merely a glamor personality, a shapely body with tremulous lips and come-hither blue eyes."
Though the critics may have been ready to accept the rebellious star's lofty ambitions and absence from the screen, Hollywood was not. In turmoil and desperately trying to maintain control over its actors, the film industry exacted its revenge for Marilyn's defection by failing to nominate her for an Academy Award.
Critics had speculated in the trade papers that she would be nominated, and Logan, for one, felt she had been snubbed. He stated at the time, "[Marilyn's] performance that year was better than any other. It was a classical film performance." (The Best Actress Oscar for 1956 went to another Hollywood rebel, Ingrid Bergman, for her comeback role in Anastasia.)
In the next section, learn how Marilyn attempts to help Arthur Miller fight against Congress, which was accusing him of Communist leanings.
After the completion of Bus Stop, Marilyn returned to New York amid much speculation that she and Arthur Miller would soon marry. Miller had obtained a divorce from Mary Slattery in Reno, Nevada, while Marilyn had been officially divorced from DiMaggio since November 1955.
Marilyn would soon be flying to London to begin work on her next film, and Miller had applied to regain his passport to accompany her. Holding up Miller's passport and complicating the marriage plans was a subpoena to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Miller was subpoenaed by HUAC in June 1956, but his passport had been invalidated in 1954 because of suspected Communist leanings. His request for a new passport brought his name before HUAC once again; Congressman Francis Walter wanted Miller to testify about the alleged misuse of passports by American citizens.
Angered at this petty invasion of privacy, Miller accused Walter and the Committee of trying to capitalize on his relationship with Marilyn Monroe in order to increase publicity about HUAC's mission.
Though a formidable group in the early 1950s, HUAC had lost much of its bite after the Red-baiting Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy finally overstepped the bounds of propriety in 1954, and was censured by a Special Senate Committee.
The media had become less attentive without the headline-hungry senator around to stir things up, but Francis Walter was determined to press forward. He responded to Miller's accusations by trying to force the left-leaning playwright to identify the persons with whom he had attended a Communist meeting in 1947.
During the proceedings Marilyn supported Miller both privately and publicly, telling newsreel reporters that she believed her future husband would win his case.
Miller was willing to sign a statement declaring that he was not and never had been a Communist, but he refused to inform on his friends or fellow writers. HUAC cited him for contempt of Congress, but Miller's contempt trial would not take place until the following year.
Meanwhile, a wave of worldwide support for the acclaimed playwright from prominent artists and statesmen indicated to the State Department that HUAC's decision could hurt American credibility abroad. The State Department ordered the passport division to issue Miller a passport -- quickly.
Years later, Marilyn would reveal that a certain executive from Twentieth Century-Fox -- probably president Spyros Skouras -- had pressured her to persuade Miller to cooperate with the Committee. When she told the executive that she stood firm behind Miller and his beliefs, he warned her that she could be through in the film industry.
The executive's threats proved idle, however, because Marilyn's popularity eclipsed whatever slight damage that may been done by her indirect link to HUAC's investigation of domestic communism.
Between Miller's problems with Congress and the possibility of marriage between the Beauty and the Brain, the media attention hurled at Miller and Marilyn in the summer of 1956 became unbearable.
Photographers camped out at Marilyn's apartment building in New York, ambushing her as she entered and exited. "Leave me alone, fellas," she would implore, as photos of her in old clothes and without makeup would be wired to papers across the country.
Once a reporter attempted to rationalize his conduct to Miller by declaring, "We only bother you about this because people want to know." Miller's answer seemed to encapsulate his relationship with the press for the next few years: "It is your job versus my privacy. That's a remorseless conflict."
It was a conflict that Marilyn would come to know only too well in the years ahead. The press coverage would only continue, especially as Marilyn and Miller got set to marry. Learn about this time on the next page.
"If I were nothing but a dumb blonde, he wouldn't have married me." -- MARILYN MONROE, ON ARTHUR MILLER
The double excitement of a possible Arthur Miller-Marilyn Monroe marriage and Miller's squabble with the House Un-American Activities Committee was sufficient to turn "the Egghead and the Hourglass" into the biggest news story of the summer of 1956.
Articles that focused on the couple's romance seldom failed to mention Miller's HUAC headache, and stories that described Miller's fight with HUAC inevitably mentioned his relationship with Marilyn.
Not only did the double-edged story make life difficult for Marilyn and her new fiancé in terms of increased press coverage, but it was only a matter of time before one of them inadvertently blurted out too much information about their plans.
On June 21, 1956, during part of his testimony to HUAC, Miller revealed that he needed a passport to travel to England to discuss a possible London production of his play A View from the Bridge. He added, "And, I will be there with the woman who will then be my wife."
Afterward, reporters in Washington nailed him on the latter half of his comment, insisting that Miller announce the date. The beleaguered writer could only mutter that the marriage would take place "very shortly." What occurred next amounted to a virtual feeding frenzy among reporters and photographers as they relentlessly tracked Marilyn and Miller.
When the press camped out in front of Marilyn's apartment building, the couple retreated to Miller's farm in Roxbury, Connecticut. Undaunted, the newsmen quickly set up shop on the doorstep of the Roxbury home. Miller persuaded them to leave only after he promised a news conference for the end of that week.
On June 29, the day of the scheduled press conference, hundreds of newsmen descended on the Miller property, trampling down the grass, even hanging from branches in the trees.
In the early afternoon, the monotony of waiting for the famous couple was interrupted by the sound of a horrible crash. A few seconds later, a car carrying Marilyn and Miller sped up the driveway to the door. All of the car's occupants dashed quickly into the farmhouse.
Miller's cousin, Morton, emerged from the house to announce that a terrible tragedy had occurred. A press car carrying reporter Mara Scherbatoff had crashed into a tree while in pursuit of Miller's car.
Scherbatoff's teenage driver, unfamiliar with the winding country roads, had been going too fast in an effort to keep pace with the Miller party. Scherbatoff, the New York bureau chief for Paris-Match magazine, was rushed to a nearby hospital. Her injury proved fatal, and she would die a short time later.
When Marilyn and Miller finally appeared on the lawn, accompanied by Miller's parents, they seemed outwardly calm, though some accounts of the day claim that Miller was livid at the press and Marilyn was almost hysterical over the accident.
Perhaps in fear that the paparazzi's zealousness could result in another tragedy, neither revealed an exact wedding date as originally promised.
Later that evening, Marilyn and Miller slipped across the state line to White Plains, New York, where they were married in a civil ceremony. Whether the accident had anything to do with the promptness of their decision is open to debate.
Certainly, both wanted to put an end to the circus atmosphere. Two days later, on July 1, 1956, they were married in a Jewish ceremony at the home of Miller's agent. Lee Strasberg gave the bride away, and husband and wife celebrated with a reception for 25 close friends and associates.
Despite the tragedy that had preceded the event, Marilyn and Miller were ecstatic at their union, which is clearly evident in their wedding photographs. Marilyn not only adored her new husband, but she admired him for his talent and accomplishments. The usually reserved Miller was openly enamored of his beautiful and sensitive bride.
Marilyn embraced family life, becoming quite close to her in-laws, Isidore and Augusta Miller. She referred to them as "Mom" and "Dad" almost immediately. Marilyn would remain close to her father-in-law until her death, visiting him on occasion and asking him to escort her to important functions.
She also took instruction in the Jewish faith, and it was her decision to marry in a Jewish ceremony. In an interview from that period, Arthur Miller commented, "Until recently, I took my family for granted. But Marilyn never had one, and she made me appreciate what that means. When you see how much a family matters to her and you understand the depth of that feeling, you'd have to be an ox not to respond."
Within weeks of marrying Miller, Marilyn began work on her new movie, The Prince and the Showgirl. Find out more about this role on the next page.
Less than two weeks after their marriage, Marilyn and Arthur Miller departed for London, where she began work on her new film, a version of Terence Rattigan's play, The Sleeping Prince.
Scheduled to produce and direct the sophisticated comedy was England's most celebrated actor, Laurence Olivier, who was also slated to star in the title role opposite Marilyn. Included among the distinguished supporting cast was Dame Sybil Thorndike.
The contracts involving The Sleeping Prince had been signed in February of 1956. At that time, Olivier had flown to New York to join Marilyn for a press conference to announce his plans.
Almost 200 reporters showed up for the event. The atmosphere was highly charged, not only because of the presence of Marilyn and Olivier, but also because the bustle of activity was confined to a too-small room.
After the questions commenced, one of the thin shoulder straps on Marilyn's black velvet dress broke, causing a sensation and diverting attention away from Olivier and the proposed film.
A cynical press, more hostile toward Marilyn during this period than usual, accused her of intentionally breaking the strap. Marilyn denied the charge, angrily retorting, "How would you feel if something of yours broke in front of a whole room full of strangers?"
Years later, Olivier would also contend that Marilyn's strap broke by design, not by accident. Whatever the case, Olivier got a telling preview of what working with Marilyn would be like, particularly in terms of the chaos related to her publicity and the tension generated between her desire to be a serious actress and her image as a movie star.
The film version of The Sleeping Prince, later retitled The Prince and the Showgirl, was the first independent project undertaken by Marilyn Monroe Productions. Milton Greene had purchased the property especially for Marilyn, and the unlikely team of Monroe and Olivier caused some chuckles in the press.
Greene accompanied the Millers to London, as did Paula Strasberg and secretary Hedda Rosten. Olivier eventually clashed with all members of the Monroe entourage, though he managed to remain affable with Greene.
Problems began on the set almost immediately. Olivier had heard of the difficulties working with Marilyn and had sought the advice of her former directors, including Joshua Logan.
Logan advised Olivier not to be commanding or domineering and not to raise his voice in anger; to do so would cause Marilyn to lose her confidence and thus her ability to work. Logan also reassured Olivier that Marilyn's performance would be worth any effort.
Whether Olivier did not fully grasp the meaning of Logan's advice or whether his temperament could not handle the frustration of working with such an insecure actress, he quite quickly brought out the worst in Marilyn. He could not comprehend her tendency to become distracted while taking direction, which he mistook for rudeness or denseness.
He became frustrated with his costar, often raising his voice in anger and occasionally insulting her. Marilyn responded by arriving on the set hours late, sometimes failing to show up at all.
Her tardiness was not the result of any vindictiveness on her part but was due to her innate fear and insecurity, which was heightened by Olivier's authoritative demeanor. Marilyn's fear of performing in front of Olivier and the other seasoned English actors in the cast virtually paralyzed her, a condition she sought to alleviate through prescription drugs.
Other disagreements developed from the presence on the set of Paula Strasberg, for whom Olivier had little respect as a coach. Olivier's approach to acting was the direct opposite of the Strasbergs' Method.
A classically trained stage actor who tended toward impressive but conservative interpretations of Shakespeare, Olivier maintained a lifelong skepticism for the psychological undertones of the Method.
Thus, in addition to any personality conflicts Olivier may have had with Marilyn, there were fundamental differences between the two in terms of how they approached their craft.
Paula Strasberg returned to the States before production was completed. Conflicting accounts of the episodes leading up to her departure blame her abrupt disappearance on everyone from Olivier to Miller. Strasberg eventually returned, and Marilyn's analyst was flown in to help her cope with the mounting tension on the set.
Less sympathetic accounts of the behind-the-scenes turmoil tend to place blame on the Monroe camp. But to do so oversimplifies the situation.
Olivier had directed only a handful of films prior to The Prince and the Showgirl, all of them adaptations of plays by Shakespeare. He was accustomed to directing classically trained actors and actresses much like himself.
The Prince and the Showgirl was his first and last attempt at directing a vehicle for a bona-fide American movie star. If Marilyn was ill-equipped to handle Olivier's rigid, stage-influenced directorial style, then Olivier was equally as inexperienced in interpreting popular material and handling screen idols.
The challenge of maintaining some semblance of a working relationship between Marilyn and Olivier fell on the shoulders of Milton Greene, while Arthur Miller assumed the duties of caretaker and manager for his unstable wife.
Miller was often placed in the awkward position of having to explain or defend Marilyn's behavior. Often, after several hours of waiting on the set, Olivier would have an assistant phone Miller every few minutes at the couple's rented estate in Eggham to inquire as to when the cast and crew could expect to see Marilyn that day.
Marilyn fell into a pattern of chronic insomnia, often becoming hysterical as the long nights wore on. Nightly vigils by her side became a common experience for Miller, who worked very little at his own craft during the four months of the film's production.
It was difficult for those living through the ordeal to have sympathy for Marilyn at the time, particularly after an episode in which she kept the elderly Dame Sybil Thorndike waiting on the set in full costume for hours.
Thorndike, ever the gracious professional, refused to criticize the obviously ill Marilyn. Thorndike insisted, "We need her desperately. She's the only one of us who really knows how to act in front of the camera."
After filming had been completed, Marilyn apologized to the entire cast and crew for her behavior.
The next several months would bring a string of disappointments for Marilyn, including an end to her partnership with Milton Greene and a miscarriage. Learn more in the next article in our series, Marilyn Monroe's Final Years.