If the expression dumb like a fox is sarcastic, actually referring to a person’s brilliance, then 21st Century Fox must have been the only fox in Hollywood history that displayed some of the stupidest moves by its executives. Marilyn made Fox millions of dollars annually yet they paid her paltry fees compared to other actresses, whether they had completed more films than Marilyn or not. Marilyn was a huge box office draw but they treated her with apathy. In the middle years of her career, they ignored Marilyn’s wish to play “serious, dramatic roles” and in response she walked out of her contract with Fox and fled to New York. Recognizing its loss Fox offered her many concessions, including the formation of her own production company in order to make Bus Stop, a film that generated solid reviews from critics. It was only after Marilyn. In order to bring her back Marilyn was allowed to form her own production company and won many concessions with the studio, in particular director approval.
It came as no surprise to Marilyn when Fox refused to even consider allowing her to explore unchartered waters onscreen. From as early an age as 24, Fox was harsh in its treatment of her.One day Marilyn was in crisis. She was working on a 1950 film calledAs Young As You Feel. When she finished work on this picture, she had no further assignments. After today, she had nothing to do and nowhere to go. A career that meant everything to her might well be over. Though Marilyn was under contract to Twentieth, Darryl Zanuck, who loathed her, was unlikely to pick up her option in May. Zanuck was known to call her “strawhead.” Amy Greene commented in an interview “he had really done some wonderful things, this was a major, major person … never got her message.” Though she had signed a three-year contract with the William Morris Agency as recently as December 5, suddenly no one there would take her calls. Marilyn felt as if she were about to fall off the face of the earth.
Highlighting Marilyn’s predicament was the fact that she had just had the best year of her professional life. She owed it all to Johnny Hyde, a partner and senior agent at William Morris Agency. For two years, he had worked tirelessly on her behalf. Very much in love with Marilyn, the dwarf-like agent believed in her, and in her dream of being a star. Hyde was the real reason William Morris didn’t return her calls. Johnny had just died in Palm Springs of a heart attack. It was Hyde who had championed Marilyn’s stardom and it was because of him that she was even appearing in As Young As You Feel. Without Hyde there was no one else to promote her and she was once again completely alone in the world.
So that was it for Marilyn. Her work on the picture was done. Since Johnny’s death, her phone had rung constantly, but it was always Charlie Feldman, a prominent Hollywood agent and film producer, or one of the other men in his group, eager to be first to sleep with Johnny’s girl before passing her on to the others. This was typical for aspiring starlets. The only sign that anyone else remembered her was a package from Johnny’s family, containing a stack of nude photographs of Marilyn that had been discovered in the top drawer of his bureau.
As luck would have it, another producer would offer Marilyn a continued exposure to producers and directors in the business. This was the first time Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller actually met. He and Elia Kazan had just traveled cross-country by train from New York. Kazan was eager to meet Marilyn. Both he and Miller were fatally attracted to her beauty and sexuality. When Kazan met the unhappy Marilyn he offered to take her out for dinner. Marilyn began to spend nights in Kazan’s room at Feldman’s, while Miller slept alone in a room down the hall. Marilyn, appointed “mascot,” accompanied Kazan and Miller on their rounds. someone decided to play a practical joke on Harry Cohn, the production chief at Columbia. Kazan would introduce Marilyn as his private secretary, Miss Bauer, who was there to take notes on Cohn’s reaction to the script. In fact, Marilyn and Cohn had met in the past, and he banned her from the lot after she refused to accompany him on a yacht to Catalina Island. Marilyn’s rage over the incident had festered, and now she welcomed an opportunity to laugh at his expense.
Although her relationship with Kazan was without incident, after only a few weeks he tired of her and chose another girl to drive home from a party. He passed her off to Arthur Miller, although for now Marilyn was still considered to be Kazan’s girl. That was fine with Marilyn who had a strong attraction to Miller. When Kazan’s chase after the new girl ended in disappointment he returned to Marilyn. After a few more weeks, Kazan decided to return home to New York. Desperate for work and unhappy that Kazan hadn’t offered her a role in his new film Marilyn made a fatal misstep: she told Kazan she was pregnant. Kazan left anyway and Marilyn wrote him a letter assuring him she’d had a miscarriage. The damage was done however, and Kazan ended their dalliance,
Once again, Marilyn was alone in the world, with no means of financial support, no agent, and no offers for work with Fox or any other film company. To the powers that be, she was merely another pretty girl they could pass around. They didn’t have Hyde’s insight into Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps Johnny Hyde was working on Marilyn’s career in heaven because as it would turn out, regardless of personal grudges, Zanuck couldn’t ignore the thousands of fan letters Marilyn was receiving weekly. He grudgingly renewed her contract for one more film and she stepped into a role that was quite sizeable in Love Nest.
Marilyn’s stability still wasn’t assured. Her career suffered several setbacks for years. One minute she had a role, the next minute Fox dropped her. It took Fox years to recognize her potential, not just as a movie star but a goddess. After her death, Zanuck finally got it right in a quote to the press. “No one discovered her. She made herself.”