Thursday, June 30, 2022

Notable Californians: A Series (Part 4.1d)

 The Final Months

Monroe next filmed a scene for Something's Got to Give in which she swam naked in a swimming pool.  To generate advance publicity, the press was invited to take photographs; these were later published in Life. This was the first time that a major star had posed nude at the height of their career.  When she was again on sick leave for several days, Fox decided that it could not afford to have another film running behind schedule when it was already struggling with the rising costs of  Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra (1963). On June 7, Fox fired Monroe and sued her for $750,000 in damages. She was replaced by Lee Remick, but after Martin refused to make the film with anyone other than Monroe, Fox sued him as well and shut down the production. The studio blamed Monroe for the film's demise and began spreading negative publicity about her, even alleging that she was mentally disturbed.

"Something's Gotta Give", 1962

Fox soon regretted its decision and re-opened negotiations with Monroe later in June; a settlement about a new contract, including re-commencing Something's Got to Give and a starring role in the black comedy What a Way to Go! (1964), was reached later that summer.  She was also planning on starring in a biopic of Jean Harlow. To repair her public image, Monroe engaged in several publicity ventures, including interviews for Life and Cosmopolitan and her first photo shoot for Vogue. For Vogue, she and photographer Bert Stern collaborated for two series of photographs, one a standard fashion editorial and another of her posing nude, which were published posthumously with the title The Last Sitting.

The Last Sitting by Ben Stern, Vogue

During her final months, Monroe lived at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her housekeeper Eunice Murray was staying overnight at the home on the evening of August 4, 1962.  Murray awoke at 3:00 a.m. on August 5 and sensed that something was wrong. She saw light from under Monroe's bedroom door but was unable to get a response and found the door locked. Murray then called Monroe's psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson, who arrived at the house shortly after and broke into the bedroom through a window to find Monroe dead in her bed. Monroe's physician, Hyman Engelberg, arrived at around 3:50 a.m. and pronounced her dead at the scene. At 4:25 a.m., the LAPD was notified.  At 36, she was only a year past her divorce from her third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller.

Monroe died between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on August 4, and the toxicology report showed that the cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning. She had 8 mg% (milligrams per 100 milliliters of solution) chloral hydrate and 4.5 mg% of pentobarbital (Nembutal) in her blood, and 13 mg% of pentobarbital in her liver. Empty medicine bottles were found next to her bed. The possibility that Monroe had accidentally overdosed was ruled out because the dosages found in her body were several times over the lethal limit.

The Los Angeles County Coroners Office was assisted in their investigation by the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Team, who had expert knowledge on suicide.  Monroe's doctors stated that she had been "prone to severe fears and frequent depressions" with "abrupt and unpredictable mood changes", and had overdosed several times in the past, possibly intentionally.  Due to these facts and the lack of any indication of foul play, deputy coroner Thomas Noguchi classified her death as a probable suicide.

Monroe's sudden death was front-page news in the United States and Europe.  According to Lois Banner, "it's said that the suicide rate in Los Angeles doubled the month after she died; the circulation rate of most newspapers expanded that month",  and the Chicago Tribune reported that they had received hundreds of phone calls from members of the public requesting information about her death.  French artist Jean Cocteau commented that her death "should serve as a terrible lesson to all those, whose chief occupation consists of spying on and tormenting film stars", her former co-star Laurence Olivier deemed her "the complete victim of ballyhoo and sensation", and Bus Stop director Joshua Logan stated that she was "one of the most unappreciated people in the world".

Her funeral, held at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery on August 8, was private and attended by only her closest associates. The service was arranged by Joe DiMaggio, Monroe's half-sister Berniece Baker Miracle, and Monroe's business manager Inez Melson. Hundreds of spectators crowded the streets around the cemetery. Monroe was later entombed at Crypt No. 24 at the Corridor of Memories.

In the following decades, several conspiracy theories, including murder and accidental overdose, have been introduced to contradict suicide as the cause of Monroe's death. The speculation that Monroe had been murdered first gained mainstream attention with the publication of Norman Mailer's Marilyn: A Biography in 1973, and in the following years became widespread enough for the Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Kamp to conduct a "threshold investigation" in 1982 to see whether a criminal investigation should be opened. No evidence of foul play was found.

George Barris is probably best known for the pictures he took of Marilyn Monroe. They had a photo session the summer of 1962, just a few weeks before she died and planned to collaborate on a book.   She wanted to write a book, she said, and Mr. Barris would be her collaborator.

Monroe and Mr. Barris had been friends for almost a decade, having met in New York in 1954 on the set of “The Seven Year Itch,” in which she starred with Tom Ewell. The story he always told was that he was discreetly photographing her derrière while she was leaning out a window. When she caught him, she cheerfully said, “I’ll take a dozen of those.”

Monroe telephoned him two days before her death, he told The Los Angeles Daily News in 2012.  “She called me on Friday, and I was in New York, and she wanted to know if I could come to see her that weekend and that it was urgent,” he recalled. But he had plans to see his family that weekend, so he begged off and promised to visit her on Monday instead. Her body was found by her housekeeper early Sunday morning.  

Mr. Barris told numerous interviewers over the years that he did not believe that Monroe’s death was a suicide. Barris' daughter said after his death that he never shared whatever he knew about the death, not even with his family. “A lot of things he kept secret,” she added.

When Mr. Barris shot those last pictures, on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., on July 13, Monroe had reason to be troubled. She had been fired the month before from the film “Something’s Got to Give,” reportedly because of her chronic lateness and absenteeism.

“Mr. Barris was obviously a sympathetic coadjutant,” Diana Trilling observed in The New York Times in her 1986 review of “Marilyn,” written by Gloria Steinem, with photographs by Mr. Barris. “Through June and July, Marilyn talked and posed — and drank Champagne. Mr. Barris took many soft, gentle pictures of her, in bathing suit, towels, beach robe, sweater. But this project, too, was not completed.”

Mr. Barris left the United States after Monroe’s death, partly to escape the controversy and any suspicion that he knew more than he was telling, and lived in Paris for two decades.

Even in his old age, Mr. Barris was being asked about Monroe. “She projected such joy when the camera was on,” he told The Chicago Sun-Times in 2004. “And all these years later, the world still can’t forget her face.”

To be Continued . . . 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Notable Californians: A Series (Part 4.1c)

 Marilyn & The Kennedys

Monroe was too sick to work for the majority of the next six weeks, but despite confirmations by multiple doctors, the studio pressured her by alleging publicly that she was faking it. On May 19 (10 days before JFK's birthday), she took a break to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" on stage at President John F. Kennedy's early birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York.  She drew attention with her costume: a beige, skintight dress covered in rhinestones, which made her appear nude. Monroe's trip to New York caused even more irritation for Fox executives, who had wanted her to cancel it.

This performance is regarded by many as the proof that an affair was taking place, believing Monroe to have been luring the president to her with her breathy singing and that Monroe's presence was the reason why Jackie was not at her own husband's birthday party.

Monroe was known for her sexy performances, however, a part of the stage persona that she used for her performance character while Jackie simply didn't attend because the birthday was also being used as a political fundraiser, the like of which she normally declined to attend. 

Monroe is alleged to have given Kennedy a Rolex in the event of his birthday and the watch sold at auction a decade ago for $120,000. The gold Rolex is inscribed: "Jack, With love as always from Marilyn May 29th 1962" and it is said the actress had given the watch to Kennedy aide Kenneth O'Donnell, who passed it on to the president, but when Kennedy saw it, he told O'Donnell to "get rid of it," according to a note that was sold with the watch. 

So, was there an affair between Monroe and JFK?  How did the two first meet?  It had been speculated that the pair met at a dinner party held in JFK's honor in New York at the beginning of 1962, and were introduced by none other than Frank Sinatra, a close friend of JFK's.

Kennedy is then said to have invited Monroe to a weekend at Bing Crosby's house in Palm Springs the following month, where they were not joined by his wife Jackie.

Monroe was named as one of Kennedy's mistresses by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in his book “The Dark Side of Camelot”, yet many of the others who claimed that they knew she was JFK's mistress have since admitted they were lying.

In 1973, Normal Maller was the first person to bring the idea of a Kennedy-Monroe affair to public consciousness but he has since said he "needed the money very badly" and knew that some like a Kennedy conspiracy into Monroe's death would sell some more copies.

As two of the most photographed and documented era of their time, there's barely a trace of Kennedy and Monroe even being in the same place at the same time as each other. 

For example, some had rumored the pair, in fact, first met at the Waldorf Astoria in 1957 and while they are certainly pictured there on the same night with their respective spouses, there is no photographic evidence or otherwise to show that they so much as spoke to each other.

It was also claimed that Monroe attended the Democratic National Convention in 1960, but she was in New York at the time.

While Marilyn's masseuse and close friend Ralph Roberts claims to have been on the phone with Monroe while she was in Palm Springs and that she put Kennedy on the phone soon after to talk about his bad back, the secret service detail at the house that weekend claimed it was on lockdown.

"Marilyn told me that this night in March was the only time of her 'affair' with JFK.... A great many people thought, after that weekend, that there was more to it. But Marilyn gave me the impression that it was not a major event for either of them: it happened once, that weekend, and that was that," Roberts told Monroe biographer Donald Spoto.    

The Kennedy affairs were believed to be numerous throughout his ten-year marriage to Jackie Kennedy and he even stands accused of using his special assistant Dave Powers to line up willing women.

“If I don’t have sex every day, I get a headache,” John F. Kennedy used to tell most people who would listen, according to the NY Post.

There are some speculations and rumors that Jackie Kennedy knew of a relationship between Monroe and her husband if there was one, and that it was the one that annoyed her the most.

The Palm Springs weekend is said to have been the extent of their physical affair but that didn’t mean Monroe didn’t want it to continue, allegedly seeing herself becoming Jack’s second First lady and even calling Jackie Kennedy to tell her so.

According to “These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie,” the First Lady replied, “Marilyn, you’ll marry Jack, that’s great . . . and you’ll move into the White House and you’ll assume the responsibilities of the first lady, and I’ll move out and you’ll have all the problems.”

The mental health of Monroe had long been a cause of concern for the President until she mysteriously took an overdose in 1962.

How much of this can be believed, however, when she is also rumored to have been calling the Kennedys frequently in the days before her death when her phone records only show her making calls to the Department of Justice where RFK would have been. 

It was also speculated that Monroe had a fling with Robert Kennedy. Letters were found from Jean Kennedy Smith, younger sister of Bobby Kennedy, in which she describes, from what it sounds like from her interpretation, a relationship.  What the birthday bash did give us though is the only known genuine photo of Monroe with either of the Kennedy brothers, a photograph only released in 2010 by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton. 

Many have claimed that it was Marilyn's supposed threats to hold a press conference revealing her affairs with both Kennedy brothers which left to others ending her life. Her biographer James Spada does not believe this, however, but he does claim that “it was pretty clear that Marilyn had had sexual relations with both Bobby and Jack.”

Others are still not so sure that the Kennedys did not play some role and in a 1983 BBC interview that Monroe biographer Anthony Summers conducted with her live-in housekeeper, Eunice Murray, he said there was a “moment where she put her head in her hands and said words to the effect of, ‘Oh, why do I have to keep covering this up?’ I said, ‘Covering what up, Mrs. Murray?’ She said, ‘Well of course Bobby Kennedy was there [on Aug. 4], and of course there was an affair with Bobby Kennedy.’ ”

Spada believes there was a cover up, but not of her murder. “The Kennedys could not risk this coming out because it could have brought down the President. But the cover-up that was designed to prevent anyone from finding out that Marilyn was involved intimately with the Kennedy family has been misinterpreted as a cover-up of their having murdered her,” he said.

Just a few short months later, on August 5, 1962, the famed actress was found dead aged just 36. 

To be Continued . . . 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Notable Californians: A Series (Part 4.1b)

The Studio Years

Monroe spent her first six months at Fox in learning acting, singing, and dancing, and in observing the film-making process. Her contract was renewed in February 1947, and she was given her first film roles, bit parts in Dangerous Years (1947) and Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948). The studio also enrolled her in the Actors' Laboratory Theatre, an acting school teaching the techniques of the Group Theatre; she later stated that it was "my first taste of what real acting in a real drama could be, and I was hooked". Despite her enthusiasm, her teachers thought her too shy and insecure to have a future in acting, and Fox did not renew her contract in August 1947. She returned to modeling while also doing occasional odd jobs at film studios, such as working as a dancing "pacer" behind the scenes to keep the leads on point at musical sets.

During her early years in the Hollywood system, Marilyn worked hard to become a star. When the studio was failing and did not renew her contract, she did not give up. She took acting classes at the Actors Lab and did occasional modeling work. When she was finally picked up by another studio, Columbia, she added daily lessons with a drama coach, Natasha Lytess, to her work load. Marilyn was never content to rely solely on her looks. From her days at the Actors Lab until the day she died, Marilyn was working with a drama coach.

She had a small role in the play Glamour Preferred at the Bliss-Hayden Theater, but it ended after a couple of performances. To network, she frequented producers' offices, befriended gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky, and entertained influential male guests at studio functions, a practice she had begun at Fox.  She also became a friend and occasional mistress of Fox executive Joseph M. Schenck, who persuaded his friend Harry Cohn, the head executive of Columbia Pictures, to sign her in March 1948.

At this point in her life, Marilyn met the executive vice-president of the William Morris Agency, one of Hollywood’s most powerful representatives, Johnny Hyde. They soon began an affair, and Hyde repeatedly begged Marilyn to marry him, but she refused. She had a single goal now: she wanted to be a star. She knew that her marriage to a very wealthy man more than twice her age would make her look like a bimbo and a joke which might prevent her from achieving her goal.

At Columbia, Monroe's look was modeled after Rita Hayworth and her hair was bleached platinum blonde. She began working with the studio's head drama coach, Natasha Lytess, who would remain her mentor until 1955. Her only film at the studio was the low-budget musical Ladies of the Chorus (1948), in which she had her first starring role as a chorus girl who is courted by a wealthy man. She also screen-tested for the lead role in Born Yesterday (1950), but her contract was not renewed in September 1948. Ladies of the Chorus was released the following month and was not a success.

When her contract at Columbia ended, Monroe returned again to modeling. She shot a commercial for Pabst beer and posed in artistic nudes for John Baumgarth calendars (using the name 'Mona Monroe').Monroe had previously posed topless or clad in a bikini for other artists such as Earl Moran, and felt comfortable with nudity. Shortly after leaving Columbia, she also met and became the protégée and mistress of Johnny Hyde, the vice president of the William Morris Agency.

Thus, in 1949, on the eve of the 1950s, the decade in which women were leaving the workplace and returning to the domestic sphere, Marilyn Monroe steadfastly refused to do so. On the contrary, as 1950 approached, she could be seen jogging through the service alleys in Beverly Hills each morning and lifting weights to preserve her figure—two activities, as Spoto phrased it, “not commonly undertaken by woman in 1950." She also enrolled in an evening course in world literature at UCLA which she attended in jeans—neither her college attendance nor her apparel were commonplace at that particular historical moment.

Through Hyde, Monroe landed small roles in several films, including in two critically acclaimed works: Joseph Mankiewicz's drama All About Eve (1950) and John Huston's film noir The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Despite her screen time being only a few minutes in the latter, she gained a mention in Photoplay and according to biographer Donald Spoto "moved effectively from movie model to serious actress". In December 1950, Hyde negotiated a seven-year contract for Monroe with 20th Century-Fox. According to its terms, Fox could opt to not renew the contract after each year. Hyde died of a heart attack only days later, which left Monroe devastated.

In 1951, Monroe had supporting roles in three moderately successful Fox comedies: As Young as You Feel, Love Nest, and Let's Make It Legal. According to Spoto all three films featured her "essentially [as] a sexy ornament", but she received some praise from critics: Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described her as "superb" in As Young As You Feel and Ezra Goodman of the Los Angeles Daily News called her "one of the brightest up-and-coming [actresses]" for Love Nest.

Monroe found herself at the center of a scandal in March 1952, when she revealed publicly that she had posed for a nude calendar in 1949. The studio had learned about the photos and that she was publicly rumored to be the model some weeks prior, and together with Monroe decided that to prevent damaging her career it was best to admit to them while stressing that she had been broke at the time. The strategy gained her public sympathy and increased interest in her films, for which she was now receiving top-billing. In the wake of the scandal, Monroe was featured on the cover of Life as the "Talk of Hollywood" and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper declared her the "cheesecake queen" turned "box office smash". Three of Monroe's films —Clash by Night, Don't Bother to Knock and We're Not Married!— were released soon after to capitalize on the public interest.

Despite her newfound popularity as a sex symbol, Monroe also wished to showcase more of her acting range. She had begun taking acting classes with Michael Chekhov and mime Lotte Goslar soon after beginning the Fox contract, and Clash by Night and Don't Bother to Knock showed her in different roles. In the former, a drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and directed by Fritz Lang, she played a fish cannery worker; to prepare, she spent time in a fish cannery in Monterey. She received positive reviews for her performance: The Hollywood Reporter stated that "she deserves starring status with her excellent interpretation", and Variety wrote that she "has an ease of delivery which makes her a cinch for popularity". The latter was a thriller in which Monroe starred as a mentally disturbed babysitter and which Zanuck used to test her abilities in a heavier dramatic role. It received mixed reviews from critics, with Crowther deeming her too inexperienced for the difficult role, and Variety blaming the script for the film's problems.

Her popularity with audiences was also growing: she received several thousand fan letters a week, and was declared "Miss Cheesecake of 1951" by the army newspaper Stars and Stripes, reflecting the preferences of soldiers in the Korean War. In February 1952, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association named Monroe the "best young box office personality". In her private life, Monroe had a short relationship with director Elia Kazan and also briefly dated several other men, including director Nicholas Ray and actors Yul Brynner and Peter Lawford. In early 1952, she began a highly publicized romance with retired New York Yankees baseball star Joe DiMaggio, one of the most famous sports personalities of the era.

As one of the most marketable Hollywood stars; she had leading roles in the film noir Niagara, which overtly relied on her sex appeal, and the comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, which established her star image as a "dumb blonde". The same year, her nude images were used as the centerfold and on the cover of the first issue of Playboy. She played a significant role in the creation and management of her public image throughout her career, but she was disappointed when she was typecast and underpaid by the studio. She was briefly suspended in early 1954 for refusing a film project but returned to star in The Seven Year Itch (1955), one of the biggest box office successes of her career.

Monroe's three other films in 1952 continued with her typecasting in comedic roles that highlighted her sex appeal. In We're Not Married!, her role as a beauty pageant contestant was created solely to "present Marilyn in two bathing suits", according to its writer Nunnally Johnson. In Howard Hawks Monkey Business, in which she acted opposite Cary Grant, she played a secretary who is a "dumb, childish blonde, innocently unaware of the havoc her sexiness causes around her".

We're Not Married!

In O. Henry's Full House, with Charles Laughton she appeared in a passing vignette as a nineteenth-century street walker. Monroe added to her reputation as a new sex symbol with publicity stunts that year: she wore a revealing dress when acting as Grand Marshal at the Miss America Pageant parade, and told gossip columnist Earl Wilson that she usually wore no underwear. By the end of the year, gossip columnist Florabel Muir named Monroe the "it girl" of 1952.

During this period, Monroe gained a reputation for being difficult to work with, which would worsen as her career progressed. She was often late or did not show up at all, did not remember her lines, and would demand several re-takes before she was satisfied with her performance. Her dependence on her acting coaches—Natasha Lytess and then Paula Strasberg—also irritated directors.  Monroe's problems have been attributed to a combination of perfectionism, low self-esteem, and stage fright.

She disliked her lack of control on film sets and never experienced similar problems during photo shoots, in which she had more say over her performance and could be more spontaneous instead of following a script. To alleviate her anxiety and chronic insomnia, she began to use barbiturates, amphetamines, and alcohol, which also exacerbated her problems, although she did not become severely addicted until 1956. According to Sarah Churchwell, some of Monroe's behavior, especially later in her career, was also in response to the condescension and sexism of her male co-stars and directors. Similarly, biographer Lois Banner has stated that she was bullied by many of her directors.

Monroe starred in three movies that were released in 1953 and emerged as a major sex symbol and one of Hollywood's most bankable performers. The first was the Technicolor film noir Niagara, in which she played a femme fatale scheming to murder her husband, played by Joseph Cotten. By then, Monroe and her make-up artist Allan "Whitey" Snyder had developed her "trademark" make-up look: dark arched brows, pale skin, "glistening" red lips and a beauty mark.  According to Sarah Churchwell, Niagara was one of the most overtly sexual films of Monroe's career. In some scenes, Monroe's body was covered only by a sheet or a towel, considered shocking by contemporary audiences. Niagara's most famous scene is a 30-second long shot behind Monroe where she is seen walking with her hips swaying, which was used heavily in the film's marketing.

"Niagra" promo shot

When Niagara was released in January 1953, women's clubs protested it as immoral, but it proved popular with audiences. While Variety deemed it "clichéd" and "morbid", The New York Times commented that "the falls and Miss Monroe are something to see", as although Monroe may not be "the perfect actress at this point ... she can be seductive—even when she walks". Monroe continued to attract attention by wearing revealing outfits, most famously at the Photoplay awards in January 1953, where she won the "Fastest Rising Star" award.  A pleated "sunburst" waist-tight, deep decolleté gold lamé dress designed by William Travilla for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but barely seen at all in the film, was to become a sensation. Prompted by such imagery, veteran star Joan Crawford publicly called the behavior "unbecoming an actress and a lady".

While Niagara made Monroe a sex symbol and established her "look", her second film of 1953, the satirical musical comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, cemented her screen persona as a "dumb blonde". Based on Anita Loos' novel and its Broadway version, the film focuses on two "gold-digging" showgirls played by Monroe and Jane Russell. Monroe's role was originally intended for Betty Grable, who had been 20th Century-Fox's most popular "blonde bombshell" in the 1940s; Monroe was fast eclipsing her as a star who could appeal to both male and female audiences.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

As part of the film's publicity campaign, she and Russell pressed their hand and footprints in wet concrete outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in June. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released shortly after and became one of the biggest box office successes of the year. Crowther of The New York Times and William Brogdon of Variety both commented favorably on Monroe, especially noting her performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"; according to the latter, she demonstrated the "ability to sex a song as well as point up the eye values of a scene by her presence".

In September, Monroe made her television debut in the Jack Benny Show, playing Jack's fantasy woman in the episode "Honolulu Trip". She co-starred with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall in her third movie of the year, How to Marry a Millionaire, released in November. It featured Monroe as a naïve model who teams up with her friends to find rich husbands, repeating the successful formula of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It was the second film ever released in CinemaScope, a widescreen format that Fox hoped would draw audiences back to theaters as television was beginning to cause losses to film studios. Despite mixed reviews, the film was Monroe's biggest box office success at that point in her career.

Monroe was listed in the annual Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll in both 1953 and 1954, and according to Fox historian Aubrey Solomon became the studio's "greatest asset" alongside CinemaScope. Monroe's position as a leading sex symbol was confirmed in December 1953, when Hugh Hefner featured her on the cover and as centerfold in the first issue of Playboy; Monroe did not consent to the publication. The cover image was a photograph taken of her at the Miss America Pageant parade in 1952, and the centerfold featured one of her 1949 nude photographs.

Her work in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire catapulted her to stardom and Monroe had become one of 20th Century-Fox's biggest stars, but her contract had not changed since 1950.  She was paid far less than other stars of her stature and could not choose her projects. Her attempts to appear in films that would not focus on her as a pin-up had been thwarted by the studio head executive, Darryll F. Zanuck, who had a strong personal dislike of her and did not think she would earn the studio as much revenue in other types of roles. Under pressure from the studio's owner, Spyros Skouras, Zanuck had also decided that Fox should focus exclusively on entertainment to maximize profits and canceled the production of any 'serious films'.  In 1953 a photographer friend, Milton Green, suggested that she start her own production company after he heard her complain about the studio system — she was forced to play roles she didn’t choose and was paid an absurd salary considering what her films were making.  

In January 1954, Zanuck suspended Monroe when she refused to begin shooting yet another musical comedy, The Girl in Pink TightsThis was front-page news, and Monroe immediately took action to counter negative publicity. Eager to change her image from the sultry, dumb, gold-digging blonde and perform roles with more depth, Marilyn Monroe defied the formidable Darryl Zanuck, left Hollywood in the middle of her contractual obligation to Twentieth Century-Fox, started her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions and married Joe DiMaggio at the San Francisco City Hall on January 14. They then traveled to Japan, combining a honeymoon with his business trip. From Tokyo, she traveled alone to Korea, where she participated in a USO show, singing songs from her films for over 60,000 U.S. Marines over a four-day period. 

After returning to the U.S., she was awarded Photoplay's "Most Popular Female Star" prize.  Monroe settled with Fox in March, with the promise of a new contract, a bonus of $100,000, and a starring role in the film adaptation of the Broadway success The Seven Year Itch.  

During this period, her desire to change her image — perhaps intensified by redoubled societal pressure to re-domesticate “Rosie the Riveter" following the release of Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior and the Human Female and the launching of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine (both in 1953) — led Marilyn into her with DiMaggio who represented the wholesome, all-American, heroic image she wanted herself. During her time of growth in New York, Marilyn also read widely and wrote poetry. The following is one of her better works:

“To the Weeping Willow"

I stood beneath your limbs

And you flowered and finally
clung to me,
and when the wind struck with the earth
and sand—you clung to me.
Thinner than a cobweb I,
sheerer than any—
but it did attach itself
and held fast in strong winds
life—of which at singular times
I am both of your directions—
Somehow I remain hanging downward the most,
As both of your directions pull me.

Here Marilyn reveals her anguish over the contradictory pushes and pulls between such issues as societal values, her husbands’ demands, and her own desires. This contemplative mood was a theme in New York; Marilyn was exploring her intellectual side, the side that wrote poetry and attended serious theater, and the second husband she chose, Arthur Miller, unveils her need to change her image once again and align herself with theater intellectuals.

In April 1954, Otto Preminger's western River of No Return, the last film that Monroe had filmed prior to the suspension, was released. She called it a "Z-grade cowboy movie in which the acting finished second to the scenery and the CinemaScope process", but it was popular with audiences. The first film she made after the suspension was the musical There's No Business Like Show Business, which she strongly disliked but the studio required her to do for dropping The Girl in Pink Tights. It was unsuccessful upon its release in late 1954, with Monroe's performance considered vulgar by many critics.

In September 1954, Monroe began filming Billy Wilder's comedy The Seven Year Itch, starring opposite Tom Ewell as a woman who becomes the object of her married neighbor's sexual fantasies. Although the film was shot in Hollywood, the studio decided to generate advance publicity by staging the filming of a scene in which Monroe is standing on a subway grate with the air blowing up the skirt of her white dress on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The shoot lasted for several hours and attracted nearly 2,000 spectators. The "subway grate scene" became one of Monroe's most famous and The Seven Year Itch became one of the biggest commercial successes of the year after its release in June 1955.

The publicity stunt placed Monroe on international front pages, and it also marked the end of her marriage to DiMaggio, who was infuriated by it. The union had been troubled from the start by his jealousy and controlling attitude; he was also physically abusive. After returning from NYC to Hollywood in October 1954, Monroe filed for divorce, after only nine months of marriage.  He wanted her to retire, to wear less revealing clothing, and to be an accommodating housewife. Spoto stated, “A traditionalist, [DiMaggio] resented her income, fame and independence." When she resisted the role he had designed for her, he became abusive.  She would not give up her career, and she would not endure an abusive husband.

After filming for The Seven Year Itch wrapped up in November 1954, Monroe left Hollywood for the East Coast, where she and photographer Milton Greene founded their own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions (MMP)—an action that has later been called "instrumental" in the collapse of the studio system. Monroe stated that she was "tired of the same old sex roles" and asserted that she was no longer under contract to Fox, as it had not fulfilled its duties, such as paying her the promised bonus. This began a year-long legal battle between her and Fox in January 1955. The press largely ridiculed Monroe and she was parodied in the Broadway play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955), in which her lookalike Jayne Mansfield played a dumb actress who starts her own production company.

After founding MMP, Monroe moved to Manhattan and dedicated 1955 to building the company and began studying method acting under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Later that year, Fox awarded her a new contract, which gave her more control and a larger salary. Her subsequent roles included a critically acclaimed performance in Bus Stop (1956) and her first independent production in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role in Some Like It Hot (1959), a critical and commercial success. Her last completed film was the drama The Misfits (1961).

She took classes with Constance Collier and attended workshops on method acting at the Actors Studio, run by Lee Strasberg. She grew close to Strasberg and his wife Paula, receiving private lessons at their home due to her shyness, and soon became a family member. She replaced her old acting coach, Natasha Lytess, with Paula; the Strasbergs remained an important influence for the rest of her career.  Monroe also started undergoing psychoanalysis, as Strasberg believed that an actor must confront their emotional traumas and use them in their performances.

Monroe continued her relationship with DiMaggio despite the ongoing divorce process; she also dated actor Marlon Brando and playwright Arthur Miller.  She had first been introduced to Miller by Elia Kazan in the early 1950s. The affair between Monroe and Miller became increasingly serious after October 1955, when her divorce was finalized and he separated from his wife. The studio urged her to end it, as Miller was being investigated by the FBI for allegations of communism and had been subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, but Monroe refused.  The relationship led to FBI opening a file on her.

By the end of the year, Monroe and Fox signed a new seven-year contract, as MMP would not be able to finance films alone, and the studio was eager to have Monroe working for them again. Fox would pay her $400,000 to make four films, and granted her the right to choose her own projects, directors and cinematographers. She would also be free to make one film with MMP per each completed film for Fox.   The press now wrote favorably about her decision to fight the studio; Time called her a "shrewd businesswoman" and Look predicted that the win would be "an example of the individual against the herd for years to come".  In contrast, Monroe's relationship with Miller prompted some negative comments, such as Walter Winchell's statement that "America's best-known blonde moving picture star is now the darling of the left-wing intelligentsia."

In 1956, Marilyn Monroe Productions negotiated a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox for its first project. Together, they brought the hit Broadway play Bus Stop to the screen and filming began in March.  The lead role in this project was exactly the kind of work Marilyn wanted to do.  Monroe began filming the drama Bus Stop, her first film under the new contract.  She played Chérie, a saloon singer whose dreams of stardom are complicated by a naïve cowboy who falls in love with her. For the role, she learned an Ozark accent, chose costumes and make-up that lacked the glamour of her earlier films, and provided deliberately mediocre singing and dancing.  Broadway director Joshua Logan agreed to direct, despite initially doubting her acting abilities and knowing of her reputation for being difficult.  The filming took place in Idaho and Arizona, with Monroe "technically in charge" as the head of MMP, occasionally making decisions on cinematography and with Logan adapting to her chronic lateness and perfectionism.  The experience changed Logan's opinion of Monroe, and he later compared her to Charlie Chaplin in her ability to blend comedy and tragedy.

Bus Stop was released in August 1956 and became critical and commercial success. The Saturday Review of Literature wrote that Monroe's performance "effectively dispels once and for all the notion that she is merely a glamour personality" and Crowther proclaimed: "Hold on to your chairs, everybody, and get set for a rattling surprise. Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress."  She also received a Golden Globe for Best Actress nomination for her performance.

At a Party for "Bus Stop", 1956

On June 29, Monroe and Miller were married at the Westchester County Court in White Plains, New York; two days later they had a Jewish ceremony at the home of Kay Brown, Miller's literary agent, in Waccabuc, New York.  With the marriage, Monroe converted to Judaism, which led Egypt to ban all of her films.  Due to Monroe's status as a sex symbol and Miller's image as an intellectual, the media saw the union as a mismatch, as evidenced by Variety's headline, "Egghead Weds Hourglass".

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller

The second project her company undertook was The Prince and the Showgirl,  a 1953 stage play by Terence Rattigan. Filming began in  August at Pinewood Studios in England and for her leading man, she chose the most “serious" actor in the world: Lawrence Olivier.  The Prince and the Showgirl was also to be directed and co-produced by Olivier.  Marilyn negotiated a deal with Jack Warner, MCA, and Olivier’s production company again in open defiance of Zanuck and Twentieth Century-Fox. Indeed, Spoto has argued that the eventual “collapse of the studio system and its ownership of actors owed much to her tenacity and to the success of efforts exerted by her, Greene, and his attorneys." Wisely, she also kept control of 51% of MMP, so Greene, the attorneys, or Zanuck could not seize power. On January 30, 1956, Time magazine announced, “There is persuasive evidence that Marilyn Monroe is a shrewd businesswoman."

While filming The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn earned the praise of one of the supporting actors, Dame Sybil Thorndike. Thorndike was one of the legendary actresses of the English stage, Shaw had even written St. Joan for her decades earlier, and she saw talent in Marilyn. Several weeks into filming, she tapped Olivier on the shoulder and said, “You did well in that scene, Larry, but with Marilyn up there, nobody will be watching you. Her manner and timing are just too delicious…We need her desperately. She’s the only one of us who really knows how to act in front of a camera."

The production was complicated by conflicts between him and Monroe. Olivier, who had also directed and starred in the stage play, angered her with the patronizing statement "All you have to do is be sexy", and with his demand she replicate Vivien Leigh's stage interpretation of the character.  He also disliked the constant presence of Paula Strasberg, Monroe's acting coach, on set.  In retaliation, Monroe became uncooperative and began to deliberately arrive late, stating later that "if you don't respect your artists, they can't work well."

Monroe also experienced other problems during the production. Her dependence on pharmaceuticals escalated and, according to Spoto, she had a miscarriage.  She and Greene also argued over how MMP should be run. Despite the difficulties, filming was completed on schedule by the end of 1956. The Prince and the Showgirl was released to mixed reviews in June 1957 and proved unpopular with American audiences. It was better received in Europe, where she was awarded the Italian David di Donatello and the French Crystal Star awards and was nominated for a BAFTA.

After returning from England, Monroe took an 18-month hiatus to concentrate on family life. She and Miller split their time between NYC, Connecticut and Long Island. She had an ectopic pregnancy in mid-1957, and a miscarriage a year later;  these problems were most likely linked to her endometriosis. Monroe was also briefly hospitalized due to a barbiturate overdose. As she and Greene could not settle their disagreements over MMP, Monroe bought his share of the company.

Monroe returned to Hollywood in July 1958 to act opposite Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Billy Wilder's comedy on gender roles, Some Like It Hot.  She considered the role of Sugar Kane another "dumb blonde", but accepted it due to Miller's encouragement and the offer of ten percent of the film's profits on top of her standard pay. The film's difficult production has since become "legendary".  Monroe demanded dozens of re-takes, and did not remember her lines or act as directed—Curtis famously stated that kissing her was "like kissing Hitler" due to the number of re-takes.

Monroe herself privately likened the production to a sinking ship and commented on her co-stars and director saying "[but] why should I worry, I have no phallic symbol to lose."  Many of the problems stemmed from her and Wilder—who also had a reputation for being difficult—disagreeing on how she should play the role. She angered him by asking to alter many of her scenes, which in turn made her stage fright worse, and it is suggested that she deliberately ruined several scenes to act them her way.

In the end, Wilder was happy with Monroe's performance and stated: "Anyone can remember lines, but it takes a real artist to come on the set and not know her lines and yet give the performance she did!"  Some Like It Hot became a critical and commercial success when it was released in March 1959.  Monroe's performance earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress, and prompted Variety to call her "a comedienne with that combination of sex appeal and timing that just can't be beat".  It has been voted one of the best films ever made in polls by the BBC, the American Film Institute, and Sight & Sound.

After Some Like It Hot, Monroe took another hiatus until late 1959, when she starred in the musical comedy Let's Make Love. She chose George Cukor to direct and Miller re-wrote some of the script, which she considered weak. She accepted the part solely because she was behind on her contract with Fox. The film's production was delayed by her frequent absences from the set. During the shoot, Monroe had an extramarital affair with her co-star Yves Montand, which was widely reported by the press and used in the film's publicity campaign.

Let's Make Love was unsuccessful upon its release in September 1960. Crowther described Monroe as appearing "rather untidy" and "lacking ... the old Monroe dynamism",[210] and Hedda Hopper called the film "the most vulgar picture [Monroe's] ever done".[211] Truman Capote lobbied for Monroe to play Holly Golightly in a film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's, but the role went to Audrey Hepburn as its producers feared that she would complicate the production.[

The last film that Monroe completed was John Huston's The Misfits, which Miller had written to provide her with a dramatic role. She played a recently divorced woman who becomes friends with three aging cowboys, played by Clark Gable, Eli Wallach and Montgomery Clift. The filming in the Nevada desert between July and November 1960 was again difficult. Monroe and Miller's marriage was effectively over, and he began a new relationship with set photographer Inge Morath.

Monroe disliked that he had based her role partly on her life, and thought it inferior to the male roles. She also struggled with Miller's habit of re-writing scenes the night before filming. Her health was also failing: she was in pain from gallstones, and her drug addiction was so severe that her make-up usually had to be applied while she was still asleep under the influence of barbiturates. In August, filming was halted for her to spend a week in a hospital detox. Despite her problems, Huston stated that when Monroe was acting, she "was not pretending to an emotion. It was the real thing. She would go deep down within herself and find it and bring it up into consciousness."

Monroe and Miller separated after filming wrapped, and she obtained a Mexican divorce in January 1961.The Misfits was released the following month, failing at the box office. Its reviews were mixed, with Variety complaining of frequently "choppy" character development, and Bosley Crowther calling Monroe "completely blank and unfathomable" and stating that "unfortunately for the film's structure, everything turns upon her".  It has received more favorable reviews in the twenty-first century. Geoff Andrew of the British Film Institute has called it a classic, Huston scholar Tony Tracy has described Monroe's performance the "most mature interpretation of her career", and Geoffrey McNab of The Independent has praised her for being "extraordinary" in portraying the character's "power of empathy".

Monroe was next to star in a television adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's Rain for NBC, but the project fell through as the network did not want to hire her choice of director, Lee Strasberg. Instead of working, she spent the first six months of 1961 preoccupied by health problems. She underwent a cholecystectomy and surgery for her endometriosis, and spent four weeks hospitalized for depression. She was helped by ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, with whom she rekindled a friendship, and dated his friend, Frank Sinatra, for several months.  Monroe also moved permanently back to California in 1961, purchasing a house at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, Los Angeles in early 1962.

Monroe returned to the public eye in the spring of 1962. She received a "World Film Favorite" Golden Globe Award and began to shoot a film for Fox, Something's Got to Give, a remake of My Favorite Wife (1940).  It was to be co-produced by MMP, directed by George Cukor and to co-star Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse. Days before filming began, Monroe caught sinusitis. Despite medical advice to postpone the production, Fox began it as planned in late April.

To be Continued . . . 

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