It was working for the Blue Book Modelling Agency, hired by her agent Emmeline Snively, that Marilyn’s career began. At that time she was still Norma Jeane and was a brunette with curly hair. Snively stated Norma Jeane “had a fresh girl next door look in a completely American way. She was very beautiful.” However, Snively began working on Norma Jeane’s appearance from the first day she walked into the agency. Snively recalled that Norma Jeane smiled too high and then her nose looked too long. She taught her to keep her upper lip lowered, resulting in the iconic, quivery, unlikely smile. Initially Marilyn was hired as a model, not an actress and she made the cover of many cheesecake magazines. This was an important move in Marilyn’s career. Marilyn was labelled with many sexy titles such as “Girl Most Likely to Thaw the Aleutians” by military men stationed in Alaska. Such accolades didn’t escape the notice of 20th Century Fox. It was the Blue Book Modelling Agency that helped her to secure her initial contract with Fox. After she was given bit parts in two of her earliest films Marilyn was able to add “Most Promising Actress” as yet another title given to her by the press. By then she was a platinum blonde and had re-named herself Marilyn Monroe. Through her modelling career and due to its accompanying public accolades, Marilyn managed to secure small parts in Hollywood movies with 20th Century Fox.
Her early roles as a starlet were generally brief and unremarkable. Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hey! was her first film. She wore the god-awful costume of a girl in the musical Oklahoma! and she had one word: “hello.” However after a number of commercials, including a commercial for Coca-Cola and Royal Triton Oil, Marilyn was offered a second leading role in a banal film called Ladies of the Chorus. This was her largest role to date. The set was cheap and the plot ridiculous, but Marilyn performed very well. She used her natural speaking voice, rather than the breathy voice that would eventually become her trademark. She sang beautifully. She wore glamorous but modest gowns. Yet the movie was a box office bomb. Marilyn herself described it as “a terrible story and everything was terribly photographed. Oh everything was awful about it.” In fact the studio dropped her after six months. as if it was her fault.
One of Marilyn’s small but pivotal roles as a starlet was the part Johnny Hyde, an agent working for William Morris, secured for her in Asphalt Jungle. Marilyn didn’t play it very well and some of her lines were just silly, including “why don’t you leave me alone you big banana head!” Sometimes it is mind-boggling that Marilyn reached the level of stardom she did. She played her first leading role in Don’t Bother to Knock. In just another of a string of ironies in Marilyn’s life, she plays a mentally disturbed babysitter who tries to harm a little girl.Later in the film Nell reveals slash marks on her wrists and admits she tried to kill herself after her boyfriend died. Director Roy Ward Baker (coincidentally) was the director and he had it shot in black and white. Marilyn’s stage fright was so intense she often vomited before entering the set. Marilyn modelled Nell Forbes around her mother. Truthfully Marilyn’s acting in this role was ill-suited for the film. She was all about sex instead of appearing sinister. The strange pronunciation of her lines and her attempt to portray a woman on the edge of sanity were a disastrous combination.Needless to say, the movie didn’t do well at the box office or with critics. Yet strangely, Marilyn was able to continue with her acting career, something most relatively unknown starlets wouldn’t have been able to do after two major flops.That Marilyn continued to plod away at getting roles and working on her acting skills is as significant a reason for her film success as her beauty. It was around this time that she and Joe DiMaggio began dating. Even though Marilyn had obviously sexy scenes, DiMaggio didn’t seem too bothered, perhaps because it was very early in their courtship.
In between films, Marilyn was clever enough to court the press. She knew the importance of good media from her early career as a model. She had a number of favourite photographers and photojournalists, Eve Arnold being one of them. Although Arnold claimed they shared a good professional relationship for 11 years, she described Marilyn has having “short, chubby legs...some days it would just break your heart because she looked a little dumpy. And then you would photograph her and she would photograph ten pounds lighter, which is against every rule in the book. She would bring herself up and sort of stretch…” Dumpy, apparently worked for Marilyn but then again, everything did.
Marilyn was eager to take the role of the Girl as she was known in the bubbly comedy The Seven Year Itch. In particular, she wanted to film the subway scene where a subway train blows her dress up to her thighs. Marilyn fans know the risqué publicity for The Seven Year Itch. The gorgeous sundress flying up over Marilyn’s head is still considered a movie classic in the 21st Century. The final version however was considerably more modest. It was shot in a Los Angeles studio and the dress merely blew up to the middle of her thighs. The Seven Year Itch also had outtakes that contained lines considered to be too “provocative” for that era.
Marilyn’s visit to Korea to entertain the troops was a notch in her belt in America’s eyes. Not only was she their sex goddess, she was a compassionate one, willing to take time away from not just her career but her honeymoon with baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio to fly to Korea from Japan. This wasn’t a publicity stunt on her part. When Bob Hope asked her to entertain the army, she was happy to go, seeing the value in keeping army morale high. Press around the world recorded the event.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a musical, was another major film about two showgirls looking for love and security. She starred with Jane Russell who took a back seat to Marilyn’s character Lorelei Lee. The movie was a box office hit and is one of Marilyn’s most memorable films. The studio wanted to film a sequel to the movie and asked Marilyn to star in it. Wisely she said no. Unwisely, Russell actually returned for the film, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. It was one of the stupidest sequels of the 1950s. No one saw it.
Bus Stop was the next career milestone for Marilyn’s films. In order to make Bus Stop Marilyn left Hollywood and went to New York City to study Method Acting with the Strasbergs. Marilyn also established a professional partnership with Milton Greene, a renowned fashion photographer. It was during this time that Marilyn strove to change her image as a dumb blonde. she also wished to move away from musicals and comedies. She formed her own production company with Greene entitled Marilyn Monroe Productions. Marilyn’s character in Bus Stop, Cherie, a chanteuse, was her most dramatic and challenging role since Don’t Bother to Knock. As Cherie she was far better and Bus Stop was a successful film, a major triumph in Marilyn’s career. Under her own production company Marilyn made her second and last film in conjunction with Sir Laurence Olivier’s production company entitled The Prince and the Showgirl. Personally I find the film to be an utter bore. As usual Marilyn plays a sexy singer and actually seduces Olivier by singing him a silly song while practically lying on top of him. This role seemed a complete contradiction in what it was Marilyn Monroe Productions was intended to do for Marilyn’s career. After Bus Stop it was a major disappointment, doing poorly at the box office and with critics.
The Misfits was Marilyn’s final attempt at starring in a dramatic role. The climax of the movie is when her character, Roslyn, screams in anguish at her three co-stars Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Tom Ewell. Audiences didn’t like it. They guffawed at their sexy blonde raging at three broken-down cowboys. Marilyn had worked hard to leave the image of a dumb blonde behind. Sometimes she succeeded but ultimately she wouldn’t be remembered for her role in Bus Stop. Most people picture a bosomy blonde with a breathy voice, her white sundress flying up over her head as she straddles a subway grate. Marilyn may have failed in leaving behind her wish to be taken seriously as an actress but she left behind a legacy that has never been matched.
By the time “Something’s Got to Give” was filmed, studio audiences were ready for risqué scenes and Marilyn was happy to swim nude in a pool, then pose carefully to hide her breasts et al as she climbed out of it. The movie never saw the box office of course, since Marilyn died during filming. It was salvaged decades after her death and the remaining pieces of film were spliced into the beginning of what would have been the movie. From what i can tell of the remnants the film was quite funny and would likely have been yet another success for Marilyn Monroe.