Marilyn appeared in 29 films over the course of her career. As the young struggling Norma Jeane, she took any role she could get and any modelling job too. Norma Jeane couldn’t afford to be picky where both her finances and her future as an actress were concerned. This blog mostly details movies that provided both small but early successes as well as lead roles, in her career. In her early-mid career films, Marilyn co-starred in maybe six films in an early Fox contract including As Young as You Feel, (small role as a secretary – 16:58) Ladies of the Chorus, (second lead) Hometown Story, (Iris Martin – a shapely secretary 15:33), Love Nest (Roxanne, a female WAC 31:33), Clash By Night, ( supporting female role as a factory worker – she was loaned out by Fox to RKO studios) and We’re Not Married (Annabel Norris, beauty queen contestant, 27:56). In this list, only Ladies of the Chorus and Love Nest provided her with a significant enough role to consider her a co-star, regardless of how she was billed.It is better to state that she had walk-ons, bit parts, brief appearances, and cameos rather than real roles.In O’Henry’s Full House (a 3-minute role as a streetwalker where she weeps when an actor calls her a “lady” 13:41),is a good example. She also had a small role as a pretty waitress, her hair blonde but not cut short,in Dangerous Years. Her first line was “hi, small change,” (4:06) in a voice remarkably natural, nothing like the iconic breathy voice she would develop as Marilyn Monroe.
Her beautiful picture was often featured prominently on movie posters where she co-starred but even in these films she seldom made more than a 5 – 10 minute appearance in the entire movie. Hollywood recognized her beauty instead and began to capitalize on it long before she became a star. But it was her role in Asphalt Jungle with a role that featured her intermittently for approximately 12 minutes, that made Columbia Pictures aware they had a future star on their hands. Her acting was very convincing and lived up to the role. Chillingly, her longest scene in the film was about another character’s suicide.
Marilyn fared well in another Columbia picture, Ladies of the Chorus. She had a prominent role in the low-budget film, and continued to establish herself at the box office. She had begun to develop her iconic whispery voice. Marilyn herself hated the film. She said the lighting was terrible and the film itself was a mess, Although her work was good Columbia dropped her after only 6 months. Marilyn explained this was because Harry Cohn, head of casting, had invited her to spend the weekend on his yacht and she refused. After Chorus It was her appearance in Love Happy that would define her image as a dumb blonde for the rest of her career. By this time she had been fired by Columbia Pictures but her role with Groucho Marx provided her with temporary employment. In 1953, by the end of filming As Young As You Feel, Marilyn was in turmoil. Her agent, Johnny Hyde, had negotiated a 7-picture deal for her with 20th Century Fox, but he suddenly died and she feared she would be dropped again. Her fears were founded after the release of Ladies of the Chorus and it was a long time before Marilyn found work onscreen. Instead she was forced to return to modelling. Fox’s Chief Producer, Darryl Zanuck, hated Marilyn for reasons only he knew but Zanuck wisely recognized her earning potential and he signed her on for future films, one of which was a comedy named Monkey Business. Marilyn wasn’t impressed by the wide, loose skirts she was forced to wear. During a scene at a roller rink Marilyn parted her butt cheeks, stuffed the skirt pleats inside, and skated around in that manner, smirking at the director, “fooled you, Billy (Wilder). You and your big silly skirt!”
Her first starring movie was in the poorly received film, Don’t Bother to Knock, and Marilyn was not terribly remarkable in it. It was a black and white film about a babysitter who loses her mind while caring for a little girl, threatening to kill her. Marilyn drew on her experiences as Glady’s daughter in order to prep for the role. Marilyn declared it showcased some of her best acting. Personally I wasn’t convinced by her character. She emphasized her sexiness rather than her emotional instability in every scene. The film wasn’t well-received however Zanuck signed Marilyn for her next starring role where she was considerably better: Niagara. Niagara was a film noire with Marilyn starring as the deceitful wife of a man she plans to murder. Her role was quite intense and she was convincing in it. Her voice wasn’t as whispery thin in some scenes. She was the antagonist in this role and it improved her performance remarkably. Nonetheless, the film’s publicity emphasized her sexiness and billed it as Marilyn Monroe and Niagara Falls, the two natural wonders of the world. She was still filming Niagara when she was dating Joe DiMaggio. It was during this movie that he began adamantly courting her but she was able to stay focused on her job. He had recently retired from his career. Hers was just beginning.
Marilyn pursued the role of The Girl in The Seven Year Itch. She wanted to be the bubbly blonde who stood over the subway grate while her skirt flew up around her shoulders. Marilyn knew this was another image that would cement her as a sex icon in America. She was always seeking to promote her professional image and she did it very well. In addition, By then, she and DiMaggio were married. The movie had a negative impact on their marriage and within a few months they were divorced.Marilyn then wanted the role of Baby in Baby Doll about a married 17-year-old girl who sleeps in a baby’s crib and teeters on the brink of womanhood. That film ironically was given to a woman whose surname was Baker, being Caroll Baker, herself a new, burgeoning blonde on the Hollywood scene. Unlike Marilyn, Baker was not particularly pretty without glamorous makeup but her acting was solid. Marilyn, seeing a brilliant chance to promote herself, also promoted the film by posing as an usherette while holding a poster for the film. “Dumb like a fox was my friend Marilyn,” Shelley Winters once commented. I quite agree.
Her following films, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return, Some Like it Hot and others simply belonged to Marilyn. Marilyn replaced Betty Grable for the role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She had definitely “arrived.” Between these strong vehicles however Marilyn sometimes played fairly minor roles in other pictures. Marilyn had no choice. She was still locked into the 7-picture contract Hyde had negotiated for her with Fox. The deal seemed to promise stability then for what had been an uncertain future as an actress. Naturally she had no way of knowing this decision would partly work against her.
However of all the roles she played, she particularly loathed the role of Sugar Cane in Some Like it Hot. Marilyn commented, “Who wants to play a blonde who’s so dumb she doesn’t know two guys when she sees them?” Marilyn starred with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. She and Curtis had a strained relationship. Curtis was annoyed by Marilyn’s late arrivals on the set. He didn’t like other aspects of working with her, such as preferential treatment by the directors, “kid gloves” as it were. After filming a kissing scene with Sugar Cane, Curtis was asked what it was like to kiss Marilyn Monroe. His curt answer was “it was like kissing Hitler.” Marilyn heard about it and burst into tears. “You can’t just make comments like that about someone and not have to pay for it,” she stated. Her hatred of her role and of Curtis made it a film she preferred to forget. She may have been pregnant during the role, as additional weight in several scenes is quite obvious. That also irked her. She declared she was “like a pig.“ For these reasons, the film was never mentioned in her house after filming finished.Ironically, it was her most successful film at the box office.
With each new film in Marilyn’s career it is easy to track a newly burgeoning personality and to observe Marilyn’s journey as an actress. Frustrated with Hollywood for insisting on “dumb blonde” roles, she took a big risk with her career and made her own film studio, Marilyn Monroe Productions. When she decided to film Bus Stop , also known as The Wrong Kind of Girl, Renowned photographer Milton Greene worked with her and Josh Logan directed. The film was meant to show Marilyn’s full acting abilities and happily, it was a triumph for Marilyn Monroe. She considered this role to be her most dramatic to date.The film showed a very different Marilyn than the public had ever seen. She screamed in anger, wept in sorrow, revealed herself through incredible facial expressions. She was by far the best actor in the film. Bus Stop received good reviews and Marilyn proved an important point to Hollywood, and Fox in particular. Her second and last film under Marilyn Monroe Productions, The Prince and the Showgirl, co-starred Sir Lawrence Olivier, the stage actor and husband of the movie and stage star Vivian Leigh. Unfortunately Fox wasn’t interested in capitalizing on Marilyn’s talent as a dramatic actress. The studio wanted to keep capitalizing on her “dumb blonde” image.
The Misfits was one of her worst films. Marilyn herself didn’t like it even though she had the opportunity to play another dramatic role. She was very effective as Roslyn Taber, a divorcee, who falls in love with a cowboy (Clark Gable) named Gay Langland.Marilyn worked hard at her role, which was another “serious, dramatic,” role but audiences didn’t like Roslyn. When Marilyn broke into a bloodcurdling scream halfway through the movie, audiences around the country laughed. It was her husband, Arthur Miller who wrote the script. After filming Marilyn was heard to say,“if that’s his idea of a movie for me then I’m not for him and he’s not for me.” Soon after the film wrapped, Miller and Marilyn were divorced. Not an auspicious way to end her film career. It was also the last film Marilyn would ever complete, although at the time Marilyn had no way of knowing that. Probably just as well.
The irony of the title Something’s Got to Give is obvious. Something did give and it was Marilyn. Her work on the set was sporadic and difficult for her. Her absences were legendary, even for Marilyn. A swimming scene in the movie was re-filmed several times, while George Cukor showed increasing impatience.When Cukor admonished the little boy actor in a scene with movie to “sit up and be quiet” Marilyn defended the child by saying “he will.“The movie has been taken from Hollywood archives and spliced together. A creepy line made by an actor in the film was “who’s dead?” in reference to Marilyn’s character. Marilyn’s performance was quite wonderful as it always turned out to be. The film was funny and it would have done very well at the box office. If only something didn’t have to give.