Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Unheralded Marilyn Monroe

What’s left to say about Marilyn Monroe? I mean seriously, what can I tell you? She was beautiful, she had a body, she dripped sex, plus all of the other clichés in the sexy-lady-describer book. I had all of this explained to me at some point in my teens, but it didn’t really sink in until the first time I saw her on the screen — at some point in my early 20s, in Some Like It Hot — and I finally understood what all the fuss was about.

After you see her onscreen, you think you understand, but even then, you don’t. Because today’s Monroe, the Monroe that has been flattened into posters, Warhol-ed, turned into pulp biographies, and evacuated of all actual meaning, is a mere shade of the Monroe that bulldozed through the ‘50s. Today’s Monroe is a time capsule: The public used to like curves in actresses! Visceral sexuality, stars had it!

But in the 1950s, Monroe was a presence impossible to ignore. Her image signified vitality and brazenness, sexuality and innocence. It reset the standard of what it meant to be sexy, and what it meant to be sexy in public. No star has troubled the status quo as significantly since.

But what made Monroe more than a sumptuous body and a breathy voice was, of course, her life — and more importantly, the way that she and others spoke about it. Because Monroe also had business acumen, personal volition, and a startling, if subtle, awareness of her own image. She made her studio, 20th Century Fox, a tremendous amount of money in the 1950s, when predictable hits were few and far between. Yet Monroe was no meek studio star. She tested the weakened boundaries that governed star contracts in the early ‘50s, and fled Hollywood, formed her own production company, and chose her own projects.

Monroe “acted out what mattered” to people in the 1950s — which is to say, she acted out sex — and did so in a manner that seemed to heighten and soothe anxieties about sexuality during the era. Sexuality was the very foundation of Monroe’s star image, and her studio, her agent, and Monroe herself had zero qualms about forwarding that image. Ten years before, Monroe’s image never would have been possible, let alone palatable. In the 1950s, however, it reconciled innocence and sexuality — the amalgamation of the virgin and the whore — in a manner that seemed to arouse and appease sexual appetites without guilt or shame.

But let’s go back: Monroe spent most of her childhood being traded among foster homes and extended family, dropping out of school to marry the son of a next-door neighbor, getting a start in modeling, divorcing, and posing for cheesecake photos (read: soft porn, usually printed in calendar or trading card form) to make ends meet while trying to make it in Hollywood.

To scrap her way to the top of the Hollywood heap, Monroe relied heavily upon a very powerful and much older boyfriend. This boyfriend — Johnny Hyde — was an agent at William Morris, one of the most powerful agencies of the post-war era.

A very young Monroe and a very wooly Hyde.

Hyde was absolutely besotted with Monroe, and helped land her a string of bit-parts, including a small but significant turn in All About Eve. Have you seen this film? If not, then how will you possibly understand what it feels like when you’re in your 40s and used to be fabulous and are, still, arguably fabulous, if not even more fabulous, but everyone keeps looking at some hot piece who’s 20 and wears those Nike exercise shorts all the time even though she doesn’t even exercise and has great skin and steals all the attention and men? I mean, that's basically the plot of All About Eve, give or take a few gin-pickled evenings with Bette Davis, and even though it sounds like a weepie, it is hilarious times 10.

Point is, Monroe plays a dim-witted actress willing to sleep with those above her to make it to the top, and the part established the ground note of Monroe’s image. Over the next five years, her roles would be variations on the same theme: beautiful, seemingly clueless girl smartly manipulates others’ reactions to her body in order to get what she wants.

Hyde was slowly dying, but he set the table for the feast that would be Monroe’s future, arranging private acting lessons, nabbing Monroe a Photoplay profile, and securing Monroe a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox.  When Hyde passed away at the end of 1950, Monroe’s future was secure. Her film roles remained, for a time, unremarkable, yet her exposure was growing. She was a regular feature on Stars and Stripes, the magazine for soldiers in Korea. Look and Life both put her on their cover, and various “Monroe-isms” — “I never suntan because I love feeling blonde all over” — were in wide circulation.

A high-profile romance with Joe DiMaggio made her a fixture in the gossip columns, and theater owners began putting her name above classic stars like Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant. Wherever the Monroe name and image appeared — on the screen, in the pages — profits followed.

But America was conflicted: Who was this lady, all bosomy and breathy and taking over all the magazine covers?  Did readers feel the same sort of curious anguish and confusion that I felt when some normal-looking lady with an asymmetrical haircut and 52 babies started taking over People and Us in the summer of 2009?

One male Photoplay reader complained that Monroe “seems to think that the only way she can get noticed is to shed her clothes,” yet conceded, “I don’t mean that she should hide those gorgeous curves ... but she doesn’t need to disrobe to appeal to us men. I enjoy looking at her, who wouldn’t?” Translation: “I totally want to see Monroe naked, but maybe if I send this letter to my wife’s fan magazine, I’ll convince both her and myself that I don’t?” This reader, like many other fans, was drawn to Monroe, yet conflicted about the way SHE WAS TOTALLY MESSING SHIT UP.

Photoplay addressed the conflict head-on with a November 1952 article, ostensibly penned by Monroe herself, that essentially suggested that Monroe was sexual because:

1) She was vulnerable and lonely.

2) She had a troubled past.


3) She had no female friends to tell her when to put it away.

Put differently, she was lacking a Hairpinnerverse.

Monroe — or, rather, the press agent writing as Monroe — also played to female readers’ concerns about the star’s actions, admitting:

Up until now, I’ve felt that as long as I harmed no other person and lived within the bounds of good taste, I could do pretty much as I pleased. But I find that isn’t really true. There’s a thing called society that you have to enter into, and society is run by women. Until now, I’ve never known one thing about typical ‘feminine activities.’ … All I know about cooking is how to broil a fine steak and make a good salad. That, you see, is all any man wants for dinner … I don’t sew. I don’t garden. But now … I’m beginning to realize that I’m missing something.

That missing something: female friendship, duh. Marilyn just wants to be BFFs, homely fan magazine readers! She’s totally not trying to make your husband masturbate to your picture in the bathroom while you’re making pot roast!

As hokey as the article might seem, it was doing some serious damage control. Monroe’s studio understood that Monroe’s appeal, at least in the early ‘50s, was lopsided. For her to become an authentic star, as opposed to a Megan Fox-esque sex object, her seemingly intrinsic sexuality needed to be complemented with an authentic sense of humanity, supported by pleas for protection and affection. Monroe needed women to like her, and articles like this one — along with dozens of other interviews, all playing up her vulnerability and innocence — went a long way toward making that happen.

The years 1953 and 1954 marked the height of Monroe fever — a fever that was at once a symptom of America’s fascination with sexuality and a catalyst for that fascination, kinda like how my Anthropologie habit is both a symptom of my white yuppieness and a catalyst for continued white yuppieness. During this period, Monroe appeared in a a quick succession of films — Niagara, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire — that essentially made her into a huge, no-fucking-question star.

Sure, she basically plays the same part in all three. Sure, Niagara is 88 minutes of characters pretending they’re involved in a film noir, as opposed to a film based solely on what it feels like to look at Marilyn Monroe. You can see the tension here:

(Niagra also has an amazing scene where, when asked why she put on a particular song, Monroe replies “There are no other songs.” I know the feeling, Marilyn. That’s how I responded when people asked me why I listened to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” for five weeks straight).

And okay, fine, How to Marry a Millionaire is derivative. BUT YOU GUYS, Gentleman Prefer Blondes is a stone cold classic.

It’s a classic for Jane Russell’s dance routine with a troupe of near-naked synchronized swimmers (please watch. Please. I guarantee it will be the queerest thing you see all day), but also because Monroe’s character, Lorelei, is a near-perfect projection of Monroe’s star image.

Monroe plays up her man-eating, money-hungry image in a publicity still.

Through her performance, Monroe hints that Lorelei’s dumb-blonde-ness is all an act — a very deliberate means to an end. Which would mean, by extension, that the Monroe star image could also be a very carefully constructed act. In this way, Monroe and her director (the brilliant Howard Hawks, champion of strong female characters) make the strings of her studio puppetry visible, but only to those who were willing to see.

Off-screen, Monroe’s popularity continued to snowball: Photoplay named her Star of the Year and, in January 1954, she married Joe DiMaggio. What’s more, 1954 was, as all of you with past lives in women’s and gender studies know, the year of the Kinsey Report on Women, which created a huge, anxious, oh-no-girls-masturbate shitstorm of media coverage. Monroe ostensibly had nothing to do with the Kinsey Report — or did she have everything to do with it?

But we are not even close to done. Because 1954 also marked the inaugural issue of Playboy. And I will give you one fattie guess who was on the cover.

There was Monroe, in a photo taken during her tenure as Grand Marshall of the 1952 Miss America Parade. Please, take a moment, forget every time you have gone to Vegas and witnessed bachelorette parties full of girls scheming for drinks, and look at that dress with fresh eyes. That dress was smokin'. It had sparked a huge debate back in 1952 and was perfect for Playboy, evoking the brazen, guilt-less sexuality that a very, very young Hugh Hefner wished to associate with his fledgling brand.

Of course, the real money shot was the magazine’s very first centerfold: a reprint of Monroe, posing nude, from the “Golden Dreams” calendar. Monroe had posed for art photographer Tom Kelley all the way back in 1948, and the photos had been reprinted in numerous calendars, of which “Golden Dreams” was the most famous. (Pictures available here.)

When Monroe’s star rose in the early ‘50s, she was identified as the model in the photos. But her response to the revelation became as fundamental to her image as the photos themselves. Instead of attempting to avoid or deny the rumors, Monroe answered them head-on: She had been “hungry,” was “three weeks behind with rent,” and had insisted that Kelley’s wife be present. “I’m not ashamed of it,” she averred. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Once the potential for scandal had dissipated, she promised “I’m saving a copy of that calendar for my grandchildren,” admitting “I’ve only autographed a few copies of it, mostly for sick people. On one I wrote ‘This may not be my best angle.’”

And this is where you must realize that Monroe was not dumb. “This might not be my best angle”??? That shit is HILARIOUS. And by confronting the rumors, Monroe had performed an incredible feat of public relations: She transformed a potentially scandalous story into one that further bolstered her image. And it was this understanding of sex — as something that one need not apologize for — that Playboy and Monroe both represented.

Later in 1954, Monroe was at the center of another scandal, this one involving the Photoplay Gold Medal Awards Dinner — the People’s Choice Awards of its day. Monroe showed up very late, long after the rest of the major stars had been seated. Please picture Mila Kunis arriving late, and instead of sneaking in through the back, just sauntering down the carpet. Or, take this description, courtesy of the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham:

Monroe “wriggled in, wearing the tightest of tight gold dresses. While everyone watched, the blonde swayed sinuously down the long room to her place on the dais. She had stopped the show cold.”

In short: Girl made an entrance.

Joan Crawford denounced Monroe’s “burlesque show,” claiming ‘Kids don’t like Marilyn … because they don’t like to see sex exploited.” Photoplay played up its role as “host” of the feud, sensationalizing the story under the title “Hollywood vs. Marilyn Monroe.” And let me tell you, this article is a doozy. After hooking the reader with the promise of sex and scandal, the author turns moralizing: Everybody knows that Crawford had been a “hey-hey” girl (a.k.a. big floozy) in the late ‘20s; who was she to shame Monroe?

The article also made it clear that the fan magazines were shifting alliances. Joan Crawford, a steady presence in the magazine for over two decades, was out; Monroe, in all of her glittery slinking magazine-selling-ness, was in. Monroe’s agent and the gossip industry had come to some sort of understanding: Defend Monroe in the magazine, and we’ll give you some dish. Indeed, the next month, Photoplay boasted its “SCOOP!” of intimate details of the Monroe-DiMaggio romance.

And here’s where it gets all gross and anti-feministy, with Photoplay framing her marriage to the uber-conservative DiMaggio as a catalyst for a profound personality change. At home, where their lives were “as ordinary as a couple’s in Oklahoma City,” Monroe “slips into an apron and begins opening cans and getting things ready for the big fellow’s dinner, which she cooks with her own hands.” Another article proclaims Monroe’s marriage philosophy, which called for “candlelight on bridge tables, budgets and dreaming of babies” — simple, plain, domesticity. “Joe doesn’t have to move a muscle,” Monroe boasted. “Treat a husband this way and he’ll enjoy you twice as much.”

But the rhetorical masonry of the fan magazines buckled under the weight of Monroe’s preexisting image. Even as Monroe proclaimed subservience to DiMaggio during their honeymoon to Japan, she detoured to Korea to appear in 10 shows for 100,000 eager servicemen. As she and DiMaggio played house for the press, Monroe privately complained that “Joe’s idea of a good time is to stay home night after night looking at the television.”

Entertaining tens of thousands of sex-starved troops in Korea: Not Joe’s idea of a good time.

A few months later, Billy Wilder invited the press to observe the filming of the now-famous “air vent” scene for The Seven Year Itch. Hundreds surrounded the shoot as Monroe’s dress flew high, infuriating DiMaggio and inciting a yelling match between the two. They'd divorce soon thereafter, confirming the unspoken speculation that Monroe’s sexuality and DiMaggio's domesticity could not coexist.

Monroe extended her newfound independence to her career, leaving Hollywood and 20th Century Fox in early 1955. It wasn’t the first time that Monroe had rebelled against her studio — in late 1953, she balked when Fox cast her in yet another derivative song-and-dance film, The Girl With the Pink Tights. Eager to appear in more serious roles, Monroe refused to report to the set. Fox put her on “suspension,” which meant that she couldn’t work, and whatever time she was “out” would be added on to the end of her contract. But Monroe was far too valuable to keep out for long, and Fox soon negotiated a deal: Monroe would appear in the mediocre There’s No Business Like Show Business in exchange for the coveted lead in The Seven Year Itch. But after Itch wrapped production, Fox persisted in type-casting her. Monroe was fed up, and acting on the advice of photographer and confidant Milton Greene, she retreated to New York. “The New Marilyn” was born.

“The New Marilyn” attempted to shed her one-note image and cultivate her acting skill, sitting in on classes at the Actor’s Studio. With Greene’s assistance, she self-incorporated, forming Marilyn Monroe Productions. And when The Seven Year Itch proved an ENORMOUS hit, Monroe had the upper hand against her former studio. She renegotiated her contract, leveraging profit participation for her production company and the authority to reject any script or director.

Monroe looking not at all out of place at the Actor’s Studio.

Most doubted the sincerity of her ambitions, but her performance in Bus Stop, the first film under her new contract, received the best notices of her career. (Have you SEEN this film? For me, it’s the saddest of all the Monroe films, if only because it showed how extensive Monroe’s range could be, and how little that range had been tested.)

During this period, Monroe began her relationship with playwright Arthur Miller, best known for those little plays Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. He was 11 years older than Monroe and only slightly less goofy looking than DiMaggio, but the two soon married. Never before had a major star attempted to renovate her image so radically on her own accord.

The gossip industry struggled to reconcile this “New Marilyn” with the Monroe of old. The incongruities were immediately apparent. To announce her production company and new direction, she called a press conference in New York wearing a full-length white ermine coat, which obviously screamed “I’M VERY SERIOUS ABOUT MY ART.”

When asked for names of potential projects she’d like to pursue, Monroe replied “The Brothers Karamozov. She meant, of course, that she would like to play the lead female role of Grushenka. Her response, however, was (purposely) misinterpreted, and word spread that she wished to play one of the brothers, which just made her and her erudite aspirations look absurd.  A Monroe-ism also began to circulate concerning her production company: “I feel so good,” Monroe purportedly told a wardrobe assistant, “I’m incorporated, you know.” The press persisted in reading Monroe’s old image into her new one, effectively suggesting the “New Marilyn” as little more than publicity stunt.

The gossip industry’s other tactic was to explain Monroe in terms of battling images. The Saturday Evening Post divided Monroe into three parts: “the sexpot Monroe” of the early 1950s; “the frightened Marilyn Monroe,” from the tales of her childhood; and “the New Marilyn Monroe,” a “composed and studied performer.” Photoplay distinguished between Monroe “The Legend” and Monroe “The Woman.” “The Legend” was draped in furs and jewels, responsible for “Monroe-isms,” and “robbed The Woman of friends, love, and peace of mind,” while The Woman was “shy, hesitant, removed, and terribly lonely.” Monroe’s marriage to Arthur Miller offered “The Woman” a third chance at happiness, but only if she could put the “frankenstein-like Legend” to rest. And “The Woman also becomes a mother.”

Now we will pause while I go cuddle under my feminist blanket for a little while and recover.

The bifurcation of Monroe’s image served a distinct ideological purpose: sexuality and intelligence, sexuality and happiness — those can’t co-exist! Only dumb girls are sexual; sexual girls all end up miserable. In order to make Monroe (and liking Monroe) less transgressive, the magazines had to siphon off and condemn the sexual components of her image, at least within their pages.

In hindsight, this is all pretty hilarious, and it might have read that way at the time as well. But it’s also evidence of the intense work that media outlets had to do to explain and neutralize a figure like Monroe, overdetermined, as she was, by the sexual anxiety and pleasure of an entire nation.

We all know how Marilyn Monroe's story ends. She collapsed under the weight of her image — her thing-ness, a feeling she despised. This ending is tragic, but it’s important to recall that Monroe challenged the status quo for appropriate female behavior, and made sex visible after a long history of sublimation on the screen. She also confronted, even flaunted, the rules that had theretofore governed acceptable behavior for a star contracted by a studio. At the same time, she proved an immensely lucrative asset to a struggling studio, and leveraged the resultant power against the studio to her artistic and financial advantage. In other words, she was one savvy lady, and much, much more than the sum of her beautiful parts.

Previously: Ava Gardner, the Second-Look Girl.

Anne Helen Petersen is a Doctor of Celebrity Gossip. No, really. You can find evidence (and other writings) here.

161 Comments / Post A Comment


Ok, so basically it's gotten to the point where I see these posts and then scream, "Yessssssssssss!!!" in classic THISISSPARTA fashion. Every time. No matter where I am. <3 you, Scandals of Classic Hollywood!


@pterodactgirl I was JUST thinking, I need more "Scandals of Classic Hollywood," and, when i saw this (!!!) RACED to the comments to say, "hot DAMN! Candybeans WINS!!!"
and now to read it. cannot wait.


@candybeans I know! I saw that Grace Kelly post earlier and it was giving me cravings for SOCH. Can we get a Grace Kelly edition Anne Helen Peterson? Because I hear she GOT AROUND, but I don't actually know if that's true or just slut-shaming from jealous mid-century bitches.


@pterodactgirl I saw it up on the banner and thought I had a mild stroke, or was dreaming. YUESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!


This essay makes me look like the opposite of an unhappy rabbit. (So yes, a happy rabbit, SHUT UP IT'S A REFERENCE.)


praise the hairpinnerverse, without which we would all be lonely, sloppy, poorly dressed, drunken hos.


@becky@twitter Hey! I resemble that remark!


@JessicaLovejoy at times, so do i. ;)


Well, just reading this brought some joy to MY Wednesday. So interesting, so juicy, so much I didn't know, so many great links (yes, the queerest thing you'll see all day no doubt). So interesting to see some of these pictures of her and really look at her face, instead of her hair or clothes or body.


@thebestjasmine oh shoot. I definitely just commented about how I love looking at her clothes. I'M NOT SHALLOW! I SWEAR!


@activisty No, I love looking at her clothes too! That striped thing while she's so perfectly reading in a park? Awesome. But I feel like I don't even really know what her face looks like, because every time I look at her it's her clothes or hair or her voice, and not her face.


@activisty And maybe some of that is just because there are so many (SO MANY) celebrity photo shoots/movies/costume parties etc. where they dress up like Marilyn, and so it seems like to look like her you just need the hair and the clothes and the body, but no one really cares about how beautiful she was, and all of her snarky little lines.


@thebestjasmine Queerest in every single sense of the word.




@a5ouncebird THE EARRINGS! That was my first thought when watching that video!






ps - how'd you get your hair so shiny?

:Cinnamon Girl:


kid madrigal

HOORAAAAAAYYYYYY! I love these posts entirely too much.


"kinda like how my Anthropologie habit is both a symptom of my white yuppieness and a catalyst for continued white yuppieness." DYING.


Oh gosh, I love this post. I grew up on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and it really is amazing (and now it's on Instant). And sure, How To Marry a Millionaire is derivative, but it also has plenty of charm, even if William Powell ends up alone (WHY).


@Lucienne YES! I am humming "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" to myself right now. "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds," "Some Like It Hot" and "Gigi" were in pretty heavy rotation throughout my childhood. (I quote Aunt Alicia on a weekly basis, at least)


@Bitca? Yes, Gigi! So underrated and so quotable. "A TOPAZ? Among MY jewels?" is something I say . . . a lot.


@Lucienne: William Powell ends up alone at the end of a movie?!?!? Does. Not. Compute.


@Lucienne How To Marry A Millionaire is one of my all time re-watching favourites, and is extremely underrated. Marilyn's so delightful in it! And she wears glasses!! As a young glasses wearing girl, I found her very inspirational.


@Bitca? Because of Gigi, I will probably never feel like a real adult until I know how to pick a good cigar by listening to it.


@theharpoon The ones that I tend to apply to my daily life are "Bad manners have destroyed more marriages than infidelity" and my personal favorite "Wait for the first class jewels; hold on to your ideals." And Aunt Alicia taught me how to hold a cup and saucer. (If I ever eat ortolan, she will have taught me that too. (This is also why I need to try ortolan.))


I LOVE THESE PICTURES! Every time I see photos of her, I wanna dress just like her. Look at that last picture! How ballin would it be to wear an outfit like that? Or that striped top she's wearing while reading? My other fave is the green wrap-top and black pants. Sigh.

Lady Humungus

Ahhh Scandals of Classic Hollywood! They're going to come in handy when I'm on Jeopardy someday...


The photos make me realize how absurdly photoshopped things are nowadays, and makes me wish they would please stop.


@Xaxa I know, right? LOOK AT HER TUMMY WRINKLES!!! I think they are absolutely refreshing.


@muddgirl And thighs! And bumpy kneecaps! It's actually relatable!


@Xaxa Oh no, are bumpy kneecaps a thing?


So I went to the link to see Marilyn all nakey and found this:

"In the aftermath of the calendar confession, Marilyn was harangued by journalists. In typical fashion, when asked if it was true she had nothing on when she posed, she replied 'Oh no, I had the radio on.'"

akdfhslkdjglkajdlkajdg love. her.


@cmonster That just made me smile!


Just found out Anne Helen Peterson has a FB page called 'Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style', so we can get this golden gossip all the time!

dracula's ghost

Oh god I love this post so much. I've seen all the films mentioned and can not recommend them highly enough, especially Some Like it Hot, but seriously GPB get outta town! That scene where Marilyn snookers the little boy into pretending to be her lower body under the blanket when she's trapped in the porthole of the ship cabin? Jesus

Also in H to M a M she plays a girl who is blind without her glasses, but as we all know men hate girls in glasses, so she always takes them off when she's around men, which causes her to GET ON THE WRONG AIRPLANE and meet the legitimate love of her life instead of the weird eye-patch-wearing Saudi pirate or whatever she was about to go sailing off with. Also LAUREN BACALL, give me a break with how awesome you are!

"And when I say no, he hits me with a chicken!"
"A REAL chicken?"
"No a BAKED chicken. Stuffed!"

How I miss the classy dames of old-school Hollywood.

Poor Marilyn, bless your heart! RIP 4EVER DUDE


@dracula's ghost yes! I saw GPB for the first time a few weeks ago and was howling with laughter the whole time. when they drug the detective? and that voice. oh she is heavenly.


@heyits "Just equal parts of scotch, vodka, brandy, and gin!" I think generally Dorothy's lines are better ("Nobody chaperones the chaperone. That's why I'm so right for this job." C'mon!) but Marilyn is SO GOOD.


Came down here to the comments before finishing reading this to tell everyone who hasn't seen All About Eveto go see it right now, because it is beyond fabulous.

dracula's ghost

@Bittersweet seriously


@Bittersweet AAE is probably one of the best movies of all time ever. Marilyn, Bette, ANNE BAXTER. So good. So damn good.

Great article on MM. I've always admired her. As a friend of mine once said, "She got famous being a dumb blonde, when she was neither dumb nor blonde."

oh, disaster

@Bittersweet One of my absolute favorites. Bette = THE BEST.

dracula's ghost

@andrea disaster ANNE BAXTER!!!! I couldn't think of her name the other day when I was talking about her SURREAL AND INCREDIBLE performance in "The 10 Commandments."

"Bring it back to me....STAINED WITH HIS BLOOD"


@Bittersweet I'm just going to give a quiet shout-out to George Sanders right here. Because he is the best.



YES. Every day in every way, ALL ABOUT EVE is just a masterpiece of backstage bitchery. And Ms. Monroe displays simply genius comic timing in her two brief scenes.

Great photo choices here!


@dracula's ghost: That's right, Anne Baxter was in The Ten Commandments. And that quote... a;lskdfj;lskdjfsdlk.


Is that "I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure... But if you can't handle me at my worst..." quote actually a Monroe-ism? Because I hate it so.

a horde of great crab things

@ylime I call bullshit on that as a Marilyn Monroe quote, personally. I speak as someone who literally spent three years of my teenage life reading nothing but books about MM, watching films about MM, buying reproduction photos of MM which I then kept in a very special brown envelope- I was a teenage Marilyn Monroe geek the like of which. And, for serious, I saw that quote attributed to her for the first time *last month*. Not that I've filed away a record of everything Marilyn Monroe ever said in public or private with her mouth or anything, but it rings super- false to me.


Great article, thanks. Could do with some typos cleaning up:
"— in late 1953, she balked when Fox cast her in yet a derivative song-and-dance film, The Girl With the Pink Tights."
"Eager appear in more serious roles, Monroe refused to report to the set."
and "and word spread that she wished to play one of the brothers, which just made her look, and her erudite aspirations, absurd." (maybe?)

Edith Zimmerman

@disco_clone Thanks! Got 'em.

oh, disaster

I can't get enough of this series. And I love that photo of Marilyn reading Joyce.


Yesssssssssssssssssss! This was amazing in every way! Thank you, more please! Every day! Can I request Joan Crawford, please?! PLEASE!?


@NormaDesmond YES, Joan Crawford. And Hedy Lamarr. And Barbara Stanwyck. And Vivian Leigh. (Too much?)


@NormaDesmond Definitely NOT too much! Also Marlene Kate Hepburn, basically everyone ever, please!!


I'm curious to reconcile Jane Russel and Lauren Bacall's opinions of Marilyn. In TCM interviews, Jane said that Marilyn was smart and a wonderful person on set and off. Bacall said that neither she nor Betty Grable got to know Marilyn. She said that there was no one there really, but when the camera came, Marilyn turned it on. Bacall doesn't seem like a petty person, so I wonder what that means?


@acookieaday Maybe it had to do with how depressed she was or wasn't at any given time? It's possible she was in a good place when filming with Jane, but maybe wasn't in such a good place when she filmed with Bacall, and only had enough energy to turn it on for the cameras?


@acookieaday Indeed, Bacall doesn't seem like a petty person and her comment is fascinating. I get the feeling Marilyn was shy/private/guarded about just being herself and exposing her true personality around others -- particularly women. What I take from it is that Marilyn was a mystery, perhaps even to herself. Despite the reports of her showing up late to sets toward the end of her career, at one point perhaps she was all business with people on set and had a "I'm here to work, not make friends" coping mechanism. It is so sad to think she didn't have any true, close female friends.

Also: Anne, thank you so much for this series. Each one leaves me in awe of your formidable talent of breaking down the lives of these complicated people.


@HeyThatsMyBike: I hope you're right, because Bacall is my designated Old Hollywood Movie Star Best Friend (OHMSBF) and I'd hate to think she was at all petty.

(Seriously, imagine a double date at 21 or the Stork Club with Bogie and Bacall, and Gregory Peck or William Holden as your guyfriend. The mind reels...)


"All I know about cooking is how to broil a fine steak and make a good salad." #classichollywoodhumblebrag


i totally just put Bus Stop as the first movie on my netflix queue

dracula's ghost

@honeybadger get ready to cry. Also get ready to watch a movie that was made back before "stalking" was considered creepy! YIKE


@honeybadger It's so good! I haven't seen it in forever though...now this "stalking" comment is making me wonder if I should revisit it, because I don't remember that at all!


@dracula's ghost This made me add it to my Netflix queue.

Addendum: There is a movie entitled "Thor at the Bus Stop." Just thought we all needed to know this.


@sam.i.am i might have just saved that to my queue too


@honeybadger It's a beautiful, tender movie. It's the movie that made me realize Marilyn was really more than I'd thought till then. I watch it over and over. That scene in the end where she puts on the jacket is solid gold Marilyn.


@carolita oohh yay! now i'm really excited for it. i just have to hurry up and finish the disc of big love that i've been holding on to forever... :-/


Oooo, you included my all-time favorite photo of her... reading what is apparently Molly Bloom's soliloquy. My life changed a little bit the first time I saw it.


The photo of Marilyn in the polka dot dress with the flower? SWOON.


@QuiteAimable She is so beautiful in that picture.


@QuiteAimable I can totally see ScarJo in that picture.


@QuiteAimable I stared at that picture for a good ten minutes, it's absolutely beautiful.


I worked for an autograph dealer for a time after college and got to study Monroe books, pics (even hair!) and developed a fascination with her that has never left me. She is simply captivating and Some Like It Hot is perfection.


"this may not be my best angle" -- oh how, as a normal civilian and non-starlet, i wish there was a situation in which i could use this line effectively. hilarious is spot on.


THIS - (Niagra also has an amazing scene where, when asked why she put on a particular song, Monroe replies “There are no other songs.” I know the feeling, Marilyn. That’s how I responded when people asked me why I listened to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” for five weeks straight). Girl, me too.

Also, I loved this post. So delicious, start to finish!

Anne Helen Petersen

@CrescentMelissa OH MY GOD THANK YOU. I feel much less alone.


@Anne Helen Petersen The words, to that song, get me choked up? For some reason...it just is my jam.

amateur hour

@CrescentMelissa haha. One of the coolest couples I know have claimed that as "their" song, which I find both hilarious and completely sweet.


My goodness but she looks like Scarlett Johansson in that picture where she's wearing the blue dress.

I think it's interesting how different her face can look depending on the picture. For example, to me, the photos of her face when she's younger look nothing like her face in the photo of her and Jane Russell. At first I thought it was just age, but then I looked at her face in the picture of her and Arthur Miller, and it looked like her face in the younger pictures. Am I seeing things?


@wee_ramekin I don't know if this is confirmed but I've read that one of the things that older boyfriend did for her early in her career was get her some plastic surgery. It does look like her face got a bit more stylized and streamlined from those younger pictures to the older ones.


@bitzyboozer Her nose and eyes definitely look different, and her chin, too, maybe?


@sam.i.am I definitely remember reading that she had the tip of her nose reshaped and a chin implant. The nose especially looks waaaay different to me.


@bitzyboozer Could it just be her hair & makeup? Did they even do plastic surgery back then (sorry, I'm clueless)?


@heyad I'm sure some of it is makeup and styling, hard to say how much. They did do plastic surgery back then--just look at Marlene Dietrich! As far as I know she never admitted to it, but it's a pretty widely disseminated claim. Here's an article that talks about it (bonus: scary Tara Reid bikini pic!) http://inyourface.ocregister.com/2010/06/04/memories-of-marilyn-monroe-plastic-surgery/17963/


@wee_ramekin I don't know, but I tend to think no plastic surgery. My driver's license is up for renewal this year, and my face looks noticeably different now (32) than it did then (27) - much thinner and more defined, somehow, even though I'm about the same weight.

fondue with cheddar

@bitzyboozer I thought the same thing about her nose.


For a brief moment in my youth I thought "Yes! I get what all the fuss is about." Then it passed, and now I totally do not get what all the fuss is about. She was a fricking movie star. That's all. She didn't invent the polio vacine. She didn't write anything. She didn't live her life in a particularly successful manner. Things happened to her and she got famous, slept with some famous men and either committed suicide or was murdered. Yawn. Why must she be brought up again and again every decade like she was of real importance in the world. WHY?



fondue with cheddar

@Trilby I didn't get what all the fuss was about either, until I read this. NOW I get it.


@melis Oh, yeah! The kurds! I almost forgot. Wuh?


@Trilby what @melis is saying is, popular culture matters. Popular culture icons matter. That is what the whole Scandals of Classic Hollywood series is about. This particular one is just one facet of that bigger argument.

So "she's just a dead pop icon whose life and work are insignificant" doesn't work, not for her in particular and not for any of the stars discussed in the series.

The KURDS is gently picking on the "there are so many better and more noble things to worry about than his insignificant dead person" line you are writing here.

It's also an indirect invitation to observe a variation of Moff's Law, which is... if it's not that special or important to you, don't waste your typing time to tell people for whom it is interesting and important they are doing something wrong.

Just don't read the article and don't comment. Your disinterest will be noted by your resounding silence.


Can I gush about photo choice for a second? That last photo is absolutely the perfect way to end the article. It looks a lot like the others at first, posed and image-y and ready to fit into that weird Marilyn-shaped hole that's been worn in my brain by living in this culture for some reason, but then there's that little bit of blur on her left hand and right leg, and I remember that I'm seeing a living, imperfect person who was never a universal cultural constant while she was alive, and whose place in culture is the result of her decisions that she made over the years, and the decisions of other people that were all made in real time, when none of it was history yet. Which is what the scandals series does, every time, and it is my favorite kind of history writing.
And then I rush down to the comment box and write this really pompous comment, but I'm not a witty enough person to say this in a non-pompous way.
So, in conclusion, thank you and kudos.

Anne Helen Petersen

@Cawendaw thank you for articulating exactly why i chose the photo but didn't even realize that that's why i chose it.


Brava! Way to make me way more interested in someone I never really gave two shits about before! Really compelling!


@kayjay Seconded. I inherited something of a Marilyn-hater attitude from my super-feminist mom who hated that Marilyn was known for being a sex symbol (tangentially, this is the same woman who would only get me the 'Working Mother' Barbie doll who sported both a business suit (with shoulder pads! and frosted streaks in her hair!) and also an outfit for washing her tiny, plastic baby [<3 u, Mommie!]).

I really appreciated that this article talked about Marilyn's smarts and business-savvy and also cited her role in the America's changing attitudes towards sex. It gives my brain a lot to munch on.

Mad Dog

Excellent, fresh take on something that has been generally beaten to death by pop culture. Also A+ for recommending two of my favourite films (All About Eve! Gnetlemen Prefer Blondes!).

And since it was not mentioned in the post, I will recommend The Misfits, Monroe's final film. It is definitely...unsettling but well worth the watch for Monroe's performance alone.


@NatashaMcG Montgomery Clift is also really good (and tragic) in The Misfits, and they have great chemistry. I always went to save them both when I watch it.

dracula's ghost



@NatashaMcG It is so good, but so hard to watch. The horse scenes, my god, they're so agonizing and seem to go on forever...it's no wonder Clark Gable died so soon after they finished filming it.


@dracula's ghost So beautiful and so sad.

Mad Dog

@Lucienne Oh god, isn't he? In that film as in life.

Anne Helen Petersen

@dracula's ghost Monty Clift will be coming soon to a Scandals of Classic Hollywood post near you....


@Anne Helen Petersen: a;sdfja;sldfj;lkadl;jk. Having just finished a history of ballet with a chapter on Jerome Robbins, I can't wait to read it.

Katie Scarlett

I know you haven't asked for requests but I have so many! Bette Davis! Katharine Hepburn! Judy Garland! Olivia de Havilland vs. Joan Fontaine! More! More! More!


@Katie Scarlett Totally off-topic: love your avatar of Midge. Vertigo is my ultimate, favorite-favorite film of all time! Barbara Bel Geddes is the oft-unsung hero of that film; she adds such an interesting edge. She makes it achingly obvious why Scottie falls for Madeleine, and also highlights just how sexy Jimmy Stewart is (not that he needs any help).

Katie Scarlett

@BScottie Preach, gurl.


Okay, loving this so far, but I just had to pause halfway through reading to say, DID YOU JUST SAY HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE IS DERIVATIVE? How dare you, sir! I die. I die. I love almost all Marilyn Monroe movies (everything except for Bus Stop and The Prince & the Showgirl, both of which I groaned all the way through), but How to Marry a Millionaire is my favorite! It's hysterical! Lauren Bacall kinda sucks all the air out of the movie at times, but Marilyn and especially Betty Grable are hilarious in it. My favorite part is when all three women are asleep and dreaming of their wildest fantasies. Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe both have dreams related to all kinds of fabulous riches and luxury, but then we get to Betty Grable, who is dreaming about a giant sandwich, licking her lips as she sleeps. Loooooove it.

dracula's ghost

@werewolfbarmitzvah I fucking love this movie too. Grable kills me. "Whoever thought of skiing on SNOW?" "Well how would YOU go skiing?" "Well the natural way, silly! ON WATER!" Love that dream sequence with the sandwich--and she picks up the original millionaire at the deli counter!

Also I LOVE the meta-moment when Bacall is trying to convince her nice old man that it's okay he's so much older than her (which is already a meta joke because everyone would have known she had begun her torrid long-term love with wet-lipped old-man Humphrey Bogart by this point) and she's naming all the old men she loves, and she includes "And old whats-his-name, from The African Queen!"


I love Bacall in that movie. I love her dream sequence. "I'll take that and that...and that and that....and that...and that and that. AND CHARGE IT"


@dracula's ghost
"She's awfully good with a quarter" is one of the BEST LINES EVER.


@werewolfbarmitzvah 100% on board with the love! It's one of my all time favourites. I can't even count all my favourite lines - there are too many!

Hot mayonnaise

Oh Johnny Hyde. Those mandals.

Beck Rea@facebook


Poor Jane.
You're on the wrong side of town, honey.

And I need your jumpsuit.



@Beck Rea@facebook Haha...for a minute, I thought you were talking to Jane Marie and threatening to take her jumpsuit and using a homophobic slur to denigrate Anne Helen Peterson's work, and ALL my "Must Defend The 'Pin" bells went off.

But then I realized that I was being dumb. See, I'm learning!


@Beck Rea@facebook WORD to loving Jane's jumpsuit. Where are the jumpsuits like that, because I would like to buy one pls. And did you see her earrings?!?

dracula's ghost

so much secretly gay stuff in these delightful oldies. I mean, please examine the oeuvre of Charlton Heston if you wish to die laughing. Ben Hur? Please! Every other scene is like "Ah Judah, remember how we once measured our spears together as boys? Is your spear still straight and stiff? Let us measure our spears again together!....Ah Judah, your spear is still swifter than mine. How I love you" etc. I read somewhere that the entire cast was sort of intentionally skewing it toward The Gay but they explicitly didn't tell Heston. It makes for a heady brew, I'll say

Not to mention how COMPLETELY KNIFE-CUTTABLE the sexual tension is between Moses and Pharaoh (YUL BRYNER!!!!) in the 10 Commandments, but again, Heston seems to be the only one not aware of it.

I truly hate Charlton Heston (as a person!) so these films give me much joy.


@dracula's ghost Really, I kind of hate him as an actor too. His entire range is "I have a remarkable jaw."

Tragically Ludicrous

@dracula's ghost Well, Gore Vidal did rewrites on it, so.


@dracula's ghost Have you seen the documentary The Celluloid Closet (about the history of the depiction of Teh Gay in Hollywood)? So good, and they talk about Ben Hur, if I recall correctly. And a bunch of other good ones. It is a documentary I highly recommend. Funny and interesting and sad.


Oh yyyyyeahhhh it's back!!! *goes to get a cup of tea and packet of biscuits*


She -flouted-, not 'flaunted' the rules.

Gracefully and Grandly

Has anyone read Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates? I've started it ages ago and never finished it but this post makes me want to pick it up again.


@ferdinand the bull It was good... really sad. Makes you wonder how much of it is true, since it's fictionalized, but so much of it could be true.


Like if you totally looked at the nudie pics (I definitely did, also the response to the nudie pics is the only response you should ever have, in my opinion).

tin can phone

LOVE this article. This, in fact, may be the only article about Marilyn that I have actually enjoyed. So interesting! All the props in the world for making such an over-discussed icon into a real person and for not falling onto the usual Marilyn-worship traps. In short, more more more!!!


Can I just recommend to anyone and everyone to pick up the book of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? It.Is. Amaaaazingly Funny. Once you read that book, you will realize that there is no actress in the world other than Marilyn who could have played that role. Then read the follow up: "But They Marry Brunettes" Two of my favorite books on the planet, and written by a female screenwriter in Hollywood.


This may mark me as a total film philistine, but I always thought All About Eve was about a hundred million bajillion times better than that Citizen Kane snoozefest. It was the first thing I ever saw MM in, and then I saw Some Like it Hot and I was like, OH. I get it. Or at least a shadow of it.


Not to rain on the Marilyn parade anymore than I already did, but. My brother once had a girlfriend who was a model and looked exactly like all the blond, outdoorsy archtype models of that era. Once he took her to a party and another guest said "You're so beautiful." And she said "And I'm smart too!" PS- she wasn't.


@Trilby I bring this up in response to the photo of marilyn "reading" a book.


@Trilby Giiiiiiiiiirl, not to rain on your parade-raining, but I think you are a little bit missing the point? If not of the entire Marilyn Monroe phenomenon then at least of this post? Also that story/"reading" are a little the most raising my feminist hackles I AM JUST SAYING. Like, this year starts with a 2, I think we are all cool to acknowledge by now that ladies can be (and frequently are) capable both of publicly displaying or even using their sexuality and also being functionally literate human beings?

Anyway. I'm sure you didn't mean anything on-purpose offensive by it, there was just something there that didn't sit well with me & I hope you don't mind my pointing it out.

Now we can all get back to talking about how All About Eve is the best movie ever in the history of movies. Yes? Yes.

[EDIT: further apologies for use of 'hackle-raising', possibly one of the grossest-sounding expressions ever]


@Trilby OK, point taken. But my thing is, like with my brother's gf, everyone is jealous as fuck b/c you are beautiful but you are not happy with that, you have to claim brains too, which you may or may not have.

Oh, maybe it's the Jaegermeister talking now. G'night all.

oh, disaster

@Trilby Just wanted to add that Marilyn was known for her love of reading.


@Trilby Jealous =/= Respect. Jealous =/= Like. I suppose it's possible that one can be happy for having people envy one's looks. But if that is the kind of person your brother's GF is, she's also probably the kind of person who would like to have people be jealous of her smarts, such as they are. Go for the whole enchilada, I say.

And, if your brother's girlfriend isn't the type to take pleasure in envy... well, I don't see what's wrong with wanting to be smart, or be seen as smart, or have what smarts one has be as appreciated in addition to one's beauty.


@AnthroK8 But you don't get people to respect you for your smarts by TELLING them that you are smart. (Or by ostentatiously holding up a book in front of your eyes.) That's actually the funny part. By saying "I'm intelligent too," she was clearly demonstrating that she was dumb. Wanting to be smart and BEING smart are not the same.


@andrea disaster By who, her publicist? Sorry, I just don't buy it. A needy person does not enjoy spending time alone, which is what you are when you are reading.


@Trilby Okay, so I don't know your Brother's GF, so I am in no position to state how smart that particular person is, and how much she likes reading.

But I will tell you I am God's Own Extravert AND have, at times in my life, been really rather needy. And my favorite thing to do, always, and forever, has been read. I am also very smart. And I didn't just un-smart myself by telling you this.

It is possible for those things to co-exist and they frequently do.

Also society is fully ready to not see that women are smart, especially beautiful women. And if a woman has the temerity to TELL SOCIETY she is smart, she automatically is no longer worthy of respect because not only is she PERFECTLY CLEARLY STUPID, she is ALSO ARROGANT AND OUT OF HER PLACE.

oh, disaster

@Trilby The link I provided lists some of the books found in her home after she died, which included works by heavy hitters Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Sigmund Freud. If you think a publicist planted those so she'd look more intelligent post-humorously, then you're pretty determined to disregard her as a reader no matter what evidence is provided (and much more morbid than I am). Since she died unexpectedly at 32, I highly doubt those books were planted.

Also, the 'needy people must not enjoy reading because they do not enjoy being alone' logic doesn't add up because it's not an A + B = C situation. Not all needy people dislike being alone (some may in fact be introverts) just as not all people who enjoy reading like being by themselves (some, like myself and the person above, might be extroverts).

oh, disaster

@andrea disaster That came off much more persnickety than I intended. I'm going to get some coffee.


@Trilby 1) Anyone who declares that MM wasn't intelligent, well-read or at least without an intense intellectual curiosity needs to read "Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe" (http://www.amazon.com/Fragments-Poems-Intimate-Notes-Letters/dp/0374158355). It really sheds a whole new light on who Marilyn was.
2) Isn't it a little bit arrogant to make a judgmental blanket statement about someone you've never met, even though you think you might know her? I'm just sayin....
3) I happen to be very needy and require a lot of human interaction and attention and have "vapid" interests like makeup, fashion and celebrity gossip, but I also need quiet time to recharge and pursue my creative and intellectual interests. That's just me. Just remember, WE ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL AND UNIQUE SNOWFLAKES.


I love the Scandals of Classic Hollywood columns so much! Even if it is starting to overrun my Netflix queue.


@bluestargirl Same here!
I read this on the train today, grinning from ear to ear.


Oh, I love the photo of her in Korea. Like, she's a figure in a landscape of men and mountains and she still grabs the whole screen. So fab.


@AnthroK8 YES! that picture reminded me of the battle of helm's deep in "the two towers," except she is holding back all the uruk-hai with the power of her marilyn-ness. uh-mazing!


"Niagara" is SOOOO good. I have a great memory of watching that with one of my good friends right after she had her second baby. I think it was a day when TCM was running Marilyn films all day. Wonderful.


This really made me think about Marilyn in completely new way. I don't think I even really noticed how beautiful she was before.
**Also, Scandals of Classic Hollywood = AWESOME


I can't even finish reading this, as I must immediately own that outfit she's wearing in that photo with the money. Holy shit, you guys. MUST. FIND. NOW. AUGHHHHH.


yes yes millions times of yes! Also, this might be out of the purview of your column, but this weekend I watched both "Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" and OH MY GOOD LORD I fell in love with Clint. Anything juicy about him? SO INTRIGUED.


I have been waiting for a new S.O.C.H. FOREVER!!!! (Or 63 days, but who's counting?)
Anne Helen Petersen, will you be my new BFF, so we can watch TCM all day and drink pink champagne cocktails till we pass out and then do it all over again? Check: YES [ ] or NO [ ]
(Also, AHP and Diana Vilibert need to collaborate on a "Happy Hour: Cocktails of Classic Hollywood" article, for reals.)

Anne Helen Petersen

@mrsnickcharles the answer to everything is YES

:Cinnamon Girl:

@Anne Helen Petersen Seriously. I have quite the crush on you Ms. Peterson! May or may not have spent allllllll day long reading stuff on your website. You know when someone writes a fantastic article and then you discover that they have a WHOLE ARCHIVE full of amazing stuff?


Ever since I read this letter Marilyn wrote while institutionalized, wherein she is heartbreaking, intelligent, and all too human, I have seen her in a wholly different light.



@jmelyn15475 That is truly heartbreaking.. Also, I LOVE Letters of Note. I frequently re-read Mr. Rogers' response to a child's letter of appreciation when I need my spirit lifted. :)


Sorry if this is stating the blindingly obvious to pop culture savvy ladies, but I'm getting a serious Lady Gaga's Alejandro vibe from that Jane Russell video! The pant suit! The thrusting athletic males! Yowza.


I love this series, and I love Marilyn. That is all.





at first I was all TL:DR... and then I skimmed a bit and then I when back to the beginning and read the WHOLE THING. Seriously, this was a wonderful read. I cannot love on it enough.

:Cinnamon Girl:

@mulligan SERIOUSLY. Me too. SO GOOD.


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