Marilyn Monroe in the unfinished Something’s Got to Give ( 1962)
Marilyn Monroe’s first appearance in a movie was in the 1948 picture Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! She uttered just two words, ‘Hi, Rad’, as she walked down some church steps behind eight year-old Natalie Wood. Two years earlier she had been told to change her name from Norma Jean Dougherty (her first husband (1942-46) was Jim Dougherty). She never felt comfortable being called Marilyn and it took her until 1956 to get around to legalising the change.
In those early days she was ‘kept’ by her much older agent Johnny Hyde. Determined to get ahead in the industry, she serviced him and the even older Joseph Schenck and George Jessel. At first she refused to go to bed with Columbia mogul Harry Cohn, a decision that certainly restricted her career opportunities at that time, but in the end she came around. ‘Harry just told you to get into bed without saying hello’, she remembered. No matter. Business was business and it did result in a tiny role in Ladies of the Chorus released in 1949.
Her early Hollywood days sometimes meant trading her body for money or a meal. Quick sex for $15 a shot in cars parked off Santa Monica Boulevard or in nearby motel rooms did not trouble her. Nor did stripping for photographers, something she would often do even before being asked. From such sleazy beginnings it was a simple progression to men who could help her gain a toehold in the movie industry. ‘I met the right men and gave them what they wanted, she said.
Former silent star Ben Lyon was casting director at 20th Century Fox in his later years. He often sent her on the rounds of studio executives at Fox with a letter of introduction personally signed by him. Almost to a man they read the letter and unzipped their flies. Later, she found out that the letter read: ‘This girl really likes giving head’. Whether she did or not Marilyn adapted quickly to the studio system. ‘I spent a great deal of time on my knees’, she recalled without rancour. ‘If you didn’t go along, there were twenty-five girls who would’.
Seventy year-old Joe Schenck was a founder of Fox. He soon learned of her expertise and installed her in a bungalow at his home. ‘Sometimes it took hours’, she told a friend. ‘I was relieved when he fell asleep. At all night poker games she was one of several starlets who performed orally under the table as the executives played. According to legend it was a point of honour among these ‘gentlemen’ that they show as little emotion as possible while the girls worked on them.
Whichever way you look at it Marilyn had the morals of an alley cat. In fact, if alley cats could read, I imagine quite a few of them might very well be offended by the comparison. She used men to get what she wanted and they in turn used her; all in all a recipe for disaster sooner or later. On the set she was usually un-cooperative and always arrived late. She was also selfish and self-centred. Writer Nunnally Johnson pretty much gave up on her during the shooting of How to Marry a Millionaire. ‘My conviction is that she just bored the hell out of everybody. She just didn’t have the intelligence…When I tried to talk to her, I felt as if I was trying to talk to somebody underwater’.
When Marilyn made Some Like it Hot (1959) opposite Tony Curtis and under the direction of Billy Wilder, she became pregnant early in the production. She was married to writer Arthur Miller at the time, but Curtis was convinced the baby was his, the result of their one-night stand during the shoot. Marilyn thought so too and said as much to her husband! She liked to ‘kiss and tell’, just to watch his reaction. Miller was enraged, not only with Curtis, but also with Eddie Robinson Junior. Marilyn reminded him of her long ago intimacy with the bit player as well.
About a month after filming finished she miscarried her baby. Miller privately and publicly blamed Wilder for it, accusing him of working her too hard in century plus heat throughout the production. His accusations were completely unfounded. Everyone involved in the making of the picture, especially Wilder, had shown her extraordinary kindness and patience. It was Marilyn who behaved in a thoroughly selfish manner for most of the fourteen weeks.
Needless to say, Wilder was not the only director to have trouble with her. George Cukor handled the volatile star in Let’s Make Love and had this to say about her: ‘…I think she was quite mad. The mother was mad, and poor Marilyn was mad…She admired and trusted the wrong people…In certain ways she was very shrewd. I once heard her talk in her ordinary voice, which was quite unattractive. So she invented this appealing baby voice’.
Her death has been covered in some detail in Hollywood Warts ‘N’ All, but it is interesting to note the comments of Danny Kaye when he was asked for his assessment of her final hours. ‘If Peter Lawford had been nicer to Marilyn, she might still be alive today’, he said, echoing the sentiments of several of his peers. ‘He’s a creep’.
The same could be said of Frank Sinatra and other ‘Rat Packers’ present at the casino at Cal-Neva on the weekend Marilyn nearly died from a combination of drugs and booze. Photos, since destroyed, are said to have shown her naked and drugged out of her mind, on her hands and knees being serviced by mobster Sam Giancana in one of the rooms. He often bragged about his ‘conquest’ later.
There are so many unanswered questions regarding her last day. Did Bobby Kennedy’s limousine roll up outside her house that afternoon? Neighbours said it did. Was her death a suicide, an accident or murder? Was her corpse moved after death and before the police arrived? If so, who moved it and why? Was she pregnant to RFK and was she about to announce it publicly? What happened to her diary?
And so on…Most people are familiar with the iconic pictures of Marilyn, her head thrown back, her mouth open in that stupid, sex-kitten pose, but if you look at the above shot, her genuine, girlish good looks are plain enough to see. The truly sad thing about this shot is that it was taken shortly before she died, on the set of her unfinished film Something’s Got To Give. She really was at the peak of her unique beauty. The picture was never finished. A year later it was remade as Move Over Darling starring Doris Day. Were Marilyn alive today ( 2015 ) she would be expecting her 80th birthday next year.