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The New Marilyn Monroe

Published: April 25, 2016

 

 

This three-part series by Pete Martin was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, May 5–19, 1956:

The New Marilyn Monroe

By Pete Martin
Originally published on May 5, 1956

A Post editor’s surprisingly candid report on the girl with the horizontal walk. He reveals things about the phenomenal blonde that even Marilyn herself doesn’t know.

Marilyn Monroe

The new Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood after returning from her self-imposed exile in New York. Not quite 30, she possesses what is possibly the most photographed face and figure in history. (Gene Lester, © SEPS)

I said to Marilyn Monroe, “Pictures of you usually show you with mouth open and your eyes half closed. Did some photographer sell you the idea that having your picture taken that way makes you look sexier?”

She replied in what I’d come to recognize as pure Monroese. “The formation of my lids must make them look heavy or else I’m thinking of something,” she told me. “Sometimes I’m thinking of men. Other times I’m thinking of some man in particular. It’s easier to look sexy when you’re thinking of some man in particular. As for my mouth being open all the time, I even sleep with it open. I know, because it’s open when I wake up. I never consciously think of my mouth, but I do consciously think about what I’m thinking about.”

Tucked away in that paragraph like blueberries in a hot muffin were several genuine Monroeisms. I had studied the subject long enough to be able to tell a genuine Monroeism from a spurious one.

When I asked her, “Has anyone ever accused you of wearing falsies?” she came through with a genuine Monroeism.

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“Yes,” she told me, her eyes flashing indignantly. “Naturally,” she went on, “it was another actress who accused me. My answer to that is, quote: Those who know me better know better. That’s all. Unquote.”

Another Monroeism followed hard on the heels of that. I said, “I’ve heard that you wowed the marines in Korea when you climbed up onto a platform to say a few words to them, and they whistled at you and made wolf calls.”

“I know the time you’re talking about,” she said. “It wasn’t in Korea at all; it was at Camp Pendleton, California. They wanted me to say a few words, so I said, ‘You fellows down there are always whistling at sweater girls. Well, take away their sweaters and what have you got?’ For some reason they screamed and yelled.”

Another example came forth when Marilyn was asked if she and the playwright, Arthur Miller, were having an affair. “How can they say we’re having a romance?” she replied. “He’s married.”

Still another Monroeism had emerged from a press conference in the Plaza Hotel, in New York City. It was held to announce her teaming with Sir Laurence Olivier in an acting- directing-producing venture — a get-together described by one of those present as “one of the least likely duos in cinematic history.” The big Monroeism of that occasion was Marilyn’s answer to the query, “Miss Monroe, do you still want to do The Brothers Karamazov on Broadway?”

“I don’t want to play The Brothers,” she said. “I want to play Grushenka from that book. She’s a girl.”

Listening to her as she talked to me now, I thought, Nobody can write dialogue for her which could possibly sound half as much like her as the dialogue she thinks up for herself.

Nunnally Johnson, who produced the film, How to Marry a Millionaire, costarring Marilyn, told me, “When I talked to her when she first came on the lot, I felt as if I were talking to a girl under water. I couldn’t tell whether I was getting through to her or not. She lived behind a fuzz curtain.”

Johnson also directed How to be Very, Very Popular, and when Sheree North took Marilyn’s place in that film, he announced: “Sheree will not use the Monroe technique in How to be Very, Very Popular. She will play the entire role with her mouth closed.”

Marilyn’s last sentence to me: “I never consciously think of my mouth, but I do consciously think about what I’m thinking about” seemed a trifle murky, but I had no time to work on it, for, without pausing, she said, “Another writer asked me, ‘What do you think of sex?’ and I told him, ‘It’s a part of nature. I go along with nature.’ Zsa Zsa Gabor was supposed to write an article for a magazine on the subject: ‘What’s Wrong With American Men,’ and I did marginal notes for it. The editor cut out my best lines. I wrote, ‘If there’s anything wrong with the way American men look at sex, it’s not their fault. After all, they’re descended from the Puritans, who got off the boat on the wrong foot — or was it the Pilgrims? — and there’s still a lot of that puritanical stuff around.’ The editor didn’t use that one.”

I carefully wrote down every word she said to me. She told me that she’d rather I wouldn’t use a tape-recording machine while interviewing her. “It would make me nervous to see that thing going round and round,” she insisted. So I used pencils and a notebook instead. But I didn’t use them right away.

I had to wait for her to walk from her bedroom into the living room of her apartment, where I sat ready to talk to her. It took her an hour and a half to make that journey. At 3:45, Lois Weber, the pleasant young woman who handled the Monroe New York publicity, admitted me to the apartment Marilyn was occupying. She pushed the buzzer outside of a door on the eighth floor of an apartment building on Sutton Place South, and a voice asked, “Who is it?”

“It’s me,” said my chaperone.

The lock clickety-clicked open, but when we went in, Marilyn was nowhere in sight. She had retreated into a bedroom. Her voice said to us through the door, “I’ll be out in just seven minutes.”

A publicity man to whom I’d talked at Marilyn’s studio in Hollywood had warned me, “She’ll stand you up a couple of times before you meet her. Then she’ll be late, and when I say late, I mean real late. You’ll be so burned at her before she walks in that you’ll wrap up your little voice-recording machine and get ready to leave at least three times — maybe four times — before she shows. But somebody will persuade you to wait, and finally Marilyn will come in, and before you know it, she’ll have you wrapped up too. For she’s warmhearted, amusing and likable, even if her lateness is a pain in the neck. And after that, if somebody says, ‘That was mighty thoughtless of old Marilyn, keeping you waiting like that,’ you’ll want to slug him for being mean.

“What you won’t know,” that studio publicity man went on, “is that while you’re having hell’s own headache waiting for her, whatever publicity worker is trying to get her to see you is having an even bigger headache. Marilyn will be telling that publicity worker that her stomach is so upset that she’s been throwing up for hours; she hasn’t been able to get her make-up on right; or that she’s got a bum deal in the wardrobe department and hasn’t anything to wear.”

So, in an effort to be witty, when Marilyn said, through the closed door, “I’ll be out in just seven minutes,” I said, “I’ll settle for eight.” Time was to prove it the unfunniest remark I’ve ever made. One hour later I asked Lois Weber, “What do you suppose she’s doing in there?”

“You know how it is,” my publicity-girl chaperone said soothingly, “a girl has to put on her face.”

“What has she got, two heads?” I asked politely. A half hour later I suggested that Lois Weber go into the next room and see what was causing the delay.

Waiting for Lois Weber, I roamed the apartment. On a table lay a play manuscript. Typed on its cover was: Fallen Angels, by Noel Coward. Among the books which seemed in current use were Bernard Shaw’s Letters to Ellen Terry, Shaw’s Letters to Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Gertrude Lawrence as Mrs. A., by Richard Aldrich.

Mute evidence of Marilyn’s widely publicized drama studies at the Actors’ Studio, where she was said to be seeking out the secrets of artistic acting, was a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Several lines of dialogue from that volume had been penciled on a piece of paper, obviously to be recited by or to a group of drama students; then the piece of paper had been thrust part way into the book. Lying on the floor was a large recording of John Barrymore as Hamlet.

That dialogue from Ulysses and the Barrymore recording represented one of the reasons why I was there. I’d read that Marilyn had gone “long hair” and “art theaterish,” and I wanted to see for myself. Just seeing it in print didn’t make it true.

Millions of words had been written about the alluring blonde in whose living room I sat, but most of those words had been of the “authorized” or “with-Marilyn’s-blessing” variety. Several millions of them had appeared in fan magazines — after having first been O.K.’d by the 20th Century-Fox publicity department.

I’d read a lot of those words, but I still felt that I didn’t understand this dame and I was sure that a lot of other people felt the same way about her and that, like myself, they’d been asking themselves for years, “What’s she really like?”

On top of that, they were probably asking themselves other questions — as I was doing. “Why did she blow her marriage with Joe DiMaggio? Why did she walk out on a movie career which was paying her heavy money? Why did she duck California in favor of New York? Why, after she holed up there, did she attend the art-for-art’s-sake Actors’ Studio — surely an unlikely place for a girl who, up to that time, had done most of her acting with her hips?”

I hoped that when I talked to her she would tell me the answers to some of these things. Maybe I’d even see the “new Marilyn Monroe” I’d heard existed.

Lois Weber came back to report: “She thinks the maid must have gone off with the top of her tapered slacks. She’s running around without a top on.”

In an effort to keep me from brooding, Lois Weber said, “The azalea people down in Wilmington, North Carolina, want her for a personal appearance in April, but I told them they’d have to call me in April. Who knows where she’ll be then?”

The minutes crawled by and I thought of various things that people had told me about Marilyn before I’d begun my marathon wait in her Sutton Place apartment. Every male friend I had told I was doing a story about Marilyn had asked me, “Can I go along to hold your notebook?” or “You call that work?” or “You get paid for that?” or “Can’t I go along and hold the flash bulbs?” Apparently they felt that if they failed to go into a blood-bubbling, heman routine at the drop of her name, their maleness was suspect. When Marilyn appeared breathless and friendly as a puppy, I told her of this phenomenon. “How do you explain it?” I asked. “Have you become a symbol of sex?”

She gave my query thought before answering. “There are people to whom other people react, and other people who do nothing for people,” she said. “I react to men, too, but I don’t do it because I’m trying to prove I’m a woman. Personally I react to Marlon Brando. He’s a favorite of mine. There are two kinds of reactions. When you see some people you say, ‘Gee!’ When you see other people you say, ‘Ugh!’ If that part about my being a symbol of sex is true, it ought to help at the box office, but I don’t want to be too commercial about it.” Quite seriously she said, “After all, it’s a responsibility, too — being a symbol, I mean.”

I told her I’d heard that among the titles bestowed upon her were Woo-Woo Girl, Miss Cheesecake, The Girl With the Horizontal Walk. “I don’t get what they mean by ‘horizontal walk,’” she said. “Naturally I know what walking means — anybody knows that — and horizontal means not vertical. So what?” I thought of trying to blueprint it for her; then decided not to.

The Hollywood publicity worker who had warned me that she would be “real late” had talked to me quite frankly about Marilyn; he had pulled no punches; but since it is unfair to quote a publicity worker by name, I’ll call him Jones. And since “flack” is Hollywood slang for publicity man, I’ll call him Flack Jones.

Jones worked for 20th Century-Fox during the years before Marilyn staged her walkout. Since then he has moved on to bigger — if not better — things. He has opened his own public-relations office, with branches in Paris and Rome. He is bald as a peeled egg. He is as broad as a small barn door; a junior-executive-size Mister Five-by-Five. He wears black-rimmed glasses instead of the clear tortoise-shell plastic variety.

“A thing that fascinates me is this,” I told Flack Jones: “the first time I ever saw her I was sitting with a friend in the Fox commissary and this girl came in without any make-up on. She was wearing a blouse and skirt, and she sat against the wall. She bore no resemblance to anybody I’d ever seen before, but, to my amazement, my friend said, ‘That’s Marilyn Monroe.’ What I want to know is: Does she have to get into her Marilyn Monroe suit or put on her Marilyn Monroe face before she looks like Marilyn Monroe?”

“This is true of all platinum blondes or whatever you call the highly dyed jobs we have out here,” Flack Jones said. “If their hair isn’t touched up and coiffured exactly right; if they’re not gowned perfectly and their make-up is not one hundred per cent, they look gruesome. This is not peculiar to Monroe; it’s peculiar to every other synthetic blonde I’ve ever known in picture business. There are very few natural blondes in Hollywood and, so far as I know, there have been no natural platinum blondes in mankind’s history, except albinos. They are strictly a product of the twentieth century. They’re created blondes, and when you create a blonde you have to complete your creation with make-up and dramatic clothes, otherwise you’ve got only part of an assembly job.”

I also talked to a member of the Fox Studio legal staff, who told me a Monroe story I found provocative. “One day,” he said, “she was in this office, and I said to her, ‘It would be better for you to sign this contract this year instead of next. It will save you money.’ She looked at me and said, ‘I’m not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful.’ Then she walked out.” The legal light looked at me helplessly and shrugged. “What do you suppose she meant by that?” he asked. I said I had no idea, but that I’d try to find out.

And I asked a friend high enough up in the Fox hierarchy to know the answer, “Why do you think your studio let her come back to work for it after she walked out and stayed in New York for fifteen months?”

“Our attitude was that she’d never work on our lot again,” he announced firmly; then he grinned, “unless we needed her.”

One of my longer talks was with Billy Wilder, who directed her in the film The Seven Year Itch.

“What do you want to know?” he asked when I went to see him in his Beverly Hills home.

“One of the interesting things about this Monroe girl, to me,” I said, “is she seemed in danger of spoiling what had begun as a successful career by running away from it. I began to ask myself: How long can a movie actress afford to stay away from moviemaking and still remain a star? The mere strangeness of her staying away gets her a terrific press for a while and makes everyone in the country conscious of her, but is it possible to stay away so long that you’re forgotten? Was that about to happen to Marilyn?”

“I don’t think there was any danger of Marilyn sinking into oblivion,” Wilder said. “A thing like her doesn’t come along every minute.”

I asked, “What do you mean ‘a thing like her’?”

“She has what I call flesh impact,” he told me. “It’s very rare. Three I remember are Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Rita Hayworth. Such girls have flesh which photographs like flesh. You feel you can reach out and touch it.”

“I’ve heard that it’s a moot question as to whether Marilyn’s an actress or not,” I said.

“I’ve heard that, too,” he replied. “Before we go further I must tell you that I like the girl, but it’s also moot whether you have to be an actor or an actress to be a success in pictures. I’m sure you’ve heard the theory that there are two kinds of stars — those who can act and those who are personalities. I’ll take a personality any time. Something comes down from the screen to you when you see them, in a way that it doesn’t always come from the indifferently paid actors, although they may be perfect at their jobs.”

“It’s nothing against them or for them,” Flack Jones said, when I repeated Wilder’s idea to him. “It’s the way this business is put together. If the public likes a personality, he or she goes over. You take Tab Rock,” he said (only Tab Rock is not the name he used). “Old Tab’s a terrific personality. I doubt if he’s ever made a flop picture, but he’s never made a really good picture. This fellow can’t pick up his hat without instruction, yet he’s always picking up villains and throwing them across a bar singlehanded. He can clean up any barroom on the frontier, but he can’t clean up a kitchen. He’s a nice guy, but no one has ever called him an actor. You take Lloyd Nolan now, or Van Heflin. That’s acting for you. You believe them. There are lights and shades and meaning to what they do. But when old Tab Rock comes on the screen, he’s got to throw somebody around to prove his art. He can do this quicker than anybody in Hollywood, and this is his great value.”

“He sounds brave,” I said.

“No one is braver or more scornful about it,” Flack Jones said. “His bravery is without parallel in the industry. He’s the only man I ever saw who could take a forty-five and go to the Near East and clean the whole mess up in a day or two. He never fails. That’s the difference between a personality and an actor.”

When I talked to Wilder I said that I’d read that when Marilyn had announced that she wanted to appear in a movie version of The Brothers Karamazov, some people hooted.

“The hooters were wrong,” Wilder told me. “She meant that she wanted to play the part of Grushenka in that book, and people who haven’t read the book don’t know that Grushenka is a sex pot. People think this is a long-hair, very thick, very literary book, but Dostoevsky knew what he was doing and there is nothing long-hair about Grushenka. Marilyn knows what she’s doing too. She would be a good Grushenka.

“It was after she said that she wanted to be in The Brothers Karamazov,” Wilder went on, “that she started going to the Actors’ Studio School of Dramatic Arts in New York. She didn’t do it for publicity. She’s sincerely trying to improve herself, and I think she should be admired for that. She could have sat here in Hollywood on her pretty little fanny and collected all of the money any ordinary actress would ever want, but she keeps trying.

“Right now, as of today, no matter what she thinks, Marilyn’s great value is as a personality, not as an actress. [Wilder told me these things while Marilyn was still in New York being groomed by the Actors’ Studio. It may be that what happened to her during her Eastern schooling in new dramatic ways may change his opinion, but 1 haven’t talked to him since her return to Hollywood.] If she sets out to be artistic and dedicated, and she carries it so far that she’s willing to wear Sloppy-Joe sweaters and go without make-up and let her hair hang straight as a string, this is not what has made her great to date. I don’t say that it’s beyond the realm of possibility that she can establish herself as a straight dramatic actress — it is possible — but it will be another career for her, a starting all over.”

Back in New York, when Marilyn made that long, long journey from her bedroom to her living room in her apartment, I said to her, “I’ve heard your childhood referred to as ‘the perfect Cinderella story.’”

“I don’t know where they got that,” she told me. “I haven’t ended up with a prince, and I’ve never had even one fairy godmother. My birth certificate reads Norma Jean Mortenson. I was told that my father was killed in an automobile accident before I was born, so that is what I’ve always told people. There was no way I could check on that because my mother was put into a mental institution when I was little, and I was brought up as an orphan.”

I had read that she spent her childhood being farmed out to foster parents and to orphanages, but, talking to her, I discovered that there’d been only one orphanage, although it was true about the foster parents. “I have had eleven or twelve sets of them,” she told me, “but I don’t want to count them all again, to see whether there were eleven or twelve. I hope you won’t ask me to. It depresses me. Some families would keep me longer; others would get tired of me in a short time. I must have made them nervous or something.”

She thought of something else. “I had one pair of foster parents who, when I was about ten, made me promise never to drink when I grew up, and I signed a pledge never to smoke or swear. My next foster family gave me empty whisky bottles for playthings. With them I played store. I guess I must have had the finest collection of empty whisky bottles any girl ever had. I’d line them up on a plank beside the road, and when people drove along I’d say, ‘Wouldn’t you like some whisky?’ I remember some of the people in the cars driving past my ‘whisky’ store saying, ‘Imagine! Why, it’s terrible!’ Looking back, I guess I used to play-act all the time. For one thing, it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me.

“The first family I lived with told me I couldn’t go to the movies because it was sinful,” Marilyn said. “I listened to them say the world was coming to an end, and if I was doing something sinful when it happened, I’d go down below, below, below. So the few times I was able to sneak into a movie, I spent most of the time that I was there praying that the world wouldn’t end.”

Marilyn Monroe and Cecil Beaton

The famous British photographer, Cecil Beaton, shoots Marilyn. Says the lady: “It’s a responsibility — being a symbol of sex, I mean.” (Hans Knopf, © SEPS)

Apparently I had been misinformed about her first marriage, to a young man named Jim Dougherty. I’d got the idea that she’d married him while they were both in Van Nuys High School; that she’d got a “crush” on him because he was president of the student body there, and a big wheel around school.

“That’s not true,” she told me. “In the first place, he was twenty-one or twenty- two — well, at least he was twenty-one and already out of high school. So all I can say is that he must have been pretty dumb if he were still in high school when I married him. And I didn’t have a crush on him, although he claimed I did in a story he wrote about us. The truth is the people I was staying with moved East. They couldn’t afford to take me because when they left California they’d stop getting the twenty dollars a month the county or the state was paying them to help them clothe and feed me. So instead of going back into a boarding home or with still another set of foster parents, I got married.

“That marriage ended in a divorce, but not until World War Two was over. Jim is now a policeman. He lives in Reseda, in the San Fernando Valley, and he is happily married and has three daughters. But while he was away in the merchant marines I worked in the dope room of a plane factory. That company not only made planes, it made parachutes.

“For a while I’d been inspecting parachutes. Then they quit letting us girls do that and they had the parachutes inspected on the outside, but I don’t think it was because of my inspecting. Then I was in the dope room spraying dope on fuselages. Dope is liquid stuff, like banana oil and glue mixed.

“I was out on sick leave for a few days, and when I came back the Army photographers from the Hal Roach Studios, where they had the Army photographic headquarters, were around taking photographs and snapping and shooting while I was doping those ships. The Army guys saw me and asked, ‘Where have you been?’

“’I’ve been on sick leave,’ I said. “Come outside.’ they told me. ‘We’re going to take your picture.’

“‘Can’t,’ I said. ‘The other ladies here in the dope room will give me trouble if I stop doing what I’m doing and go out with you.’ That didn’t discourage those Army photographers. They got special permission for me to go outside from Mr. Whosis, the president of the plant. For a while they posed me rolling ships; then they asked me. ‘Don’t you have a sweater?’

“‘Yes,’ I told them, ‘it so happens I brought one with me. It’s in my locker.’ After that I rolled ships around in a sweater. The name of one of those Army photographers was David Conover. He lives up near the Canadian border. He kept telling me, ‘You should be a model,’ but I thought he was flirting. Several weeks later, he brought the color shots he’d taken of me, and he said the Eastman Kodak Company had asked him, ‘Who’s your model, for goodness’ sake?’

“So I began to think that maybe he wasn’t kidding about how I ought to be a model. Then I found that a girl could make five dollars an hour modeling, which was different from working ten hours a day for the kind of money I’d been making at the plane plant. And it was a long way from the orphanage, where I’d been paid five cents a week for working in the dining room or ten cents a month for working in the pantry. And out of those big sums a penny every Sunday had to go into the church collection. I never could figure why they took a penny from an orphan for that.”

“How did you happen to sign your first movie contract?” I asked.

She tossed a cascade of white-blond tresses from her right eye and said, “I had appeared on five magazine covers. Mostly men’s magazines.”

What, I asked, did she mean by men’s magazines? “Magazines,” she said, “with cover girls who are not flat-chested. I was on See four or five months in a row. Each time they changed my name. One month I was Norma Jean Dougherty — that was my first husband’s name. The second month I was Jean Norman. I don’t know what all names they used, but I must have looked different each time. There were different poses— outdoors, indoors, but mostly just sitting looking over the Pacific. You looked at those pictures and you didn’t see much ocean, but you saw a lot of me.

“One of the magazines I was on wasn’t a man’s magazine at all. It was called Family Circle. You buy it in supermarkets. I was holding a lamb with a pinafore. I was the one with the pinafore. But on most covers I had on things like a striped towel. The towel was striped because the cover was to be in color and the stripes were the color, and there was a big fan blowing on the towel and on my hair. That was right after my first divorce, and I needed to earn a living bad. I couldn’t type. I didn’t know how to do anything. So Howard Hughes had an accident.”

I wondered if I’d missed something, but apparently I hadn’t. “He was in the hospital,” she went on, “and Hedda Hopper wrote in her column: ‘Howard Hughes must be recuperating because he sent out for photographs of a new girl he’s seen on five different magazines.’ Right after that Howard Hughes’ casting director got my telephone number somehow, and he got in touch with me and he said Howard Hughes wanted to see me.

“But he must have forgotten or changed his mind or something,” she said, “because instead of going to see him, I went over to the Fox Studio with a fellow named Harry Lipton, who handled my photography modeling. Expensive cars used to drive up beside me when I was on a street corner or walking on a sidewalk, and the driver would say, ‘I could do something for you in pictures. How would you like to be a Goldwyn girl?’ I figured those guys in those cars were trying for a pick-up, and I got an agent so I could say to those fellows, ‘See my agent.’ That’s how I happened to be handled by Harry Lipton.”

Harry took her to see Ivan Kahn, then head of Fox’s talent department, and also to see Ben Lyon, who was doing a talent-scouting job for Fox.

I asked her how it happened that she changed her name from Norma Jean Dougherty to Marilyn Monroe.

“It was Ben Lyon who renamed me,” she said. “Ben said that I reminded him of two people, Jean Harlow and somebody else he remembered very well, a girl named Marilyn Miller. When all the talk began about renaming me, I asked them please could I keep my mother’s maiden name, which was Monroe; so the choice was whether to call me Jean Monroe or Marilyn Monroe, and Marilyn won.”

I asked Flack Jones, “What happened when she came to your studio?”

“She came twice,” he said. “The first time was in 1946. We did our best with her, but she just hadn’t grown up enough. She was great as far as looks went, but she didn’t know how to make the most of her looks — or what to do with them. That came with practice. Not that you have to mature mentally to be a star. In fact, it can be a holdback. It might even defeat you. Stars who are mature mentally are in the minority. But actually we had no stories lying around at that time in which she would appear to advantage. So we tried her out in a picture or two in which she played bit parts — secretaries, the pretty girl in the background. Then we let her go, and she went over to RKO and did a picture with Groucho.”

“I didn’t see the film,” I said, “but you’d think with the Marx Brothers chasing her, like a bosomy mechanical bunny romping about the sound stage a couple of jumps ahead of the greyhounds, the fun would have been fast and furious.”

“The trouble was that while the Marx Brothers always chased a dame in their pictures,” Flack Jones told me, “they never caught the dame. And usually the dame never became a star, so the whole thing was a waste of time. It was amusing while you were watching it, but the girls usually outran the Marx boys and a career.”

Pete Martin and Marilyn Monroe

The author interviewing Marilyn. Says Pete Martin: “Every male friend I told
I was doing a story about her asked me, ‘Can I go along to hold your notebook?'” (Hans Knopf, © SEPS)

Marilyn gave me her own version of Flack Jones’ story:

“Most of what I did while I was at Fox that first time was pose for stills. Publicity made up a story about how I was a baby sitter who’d been baby-sitting for the casting director and that’s how I was discovered. They told me to say that, although it strictly wasn’t true. You’d think that they would have used a little more imagination and have had me at least a daddy sitter.”

Flack Jones had filled me in on some more Monroe chronology: “After she left us she went to Metro and appeared in The Asphalt Jungle, directed by John Huston,” he said. “Marilyn’s role was small. She was only a walk-on, but she must have looked good to Darryl Zanuck, for when he saw it, he re-signed her. Asphalt Jungle was one of those gangster things. There was a crooked legal mouthpiece in it, a suave fellow, played by Louis Calhern. Marilyn was his ‘niece’; which was a nice word for ‘keptie.’ She’d say a few lines of dialogue; then she’d look up at him with those big eyes and call him ‘Uncle.’”

“When did you first notice her impact on the public?” I asked.

“Once we got her rolling, it was like a tidal wave,” he said. “We began to release some photographs of her, and as soon as they appeared in print, we had requests for more from all over the world. We had the newspapers begging for art; then the photo syndicates wanted her; then the magazines began to drool. For a while we were servicing three or four photos to key newspapers all over the world once a week — and that was before she had appeared in a picture.

“Once this building-up process started,” Flack Jones explained, “other people got interested in her. We called up the top cameramen around town who had their own outlets, and we told them what we had, and we asked them if they’d like to photograph her. They said, ‘Ho, boy, yes.’

“We told them what the deal was,” Flack Jones went on. “We said, ‘We think this girl has a great future; she’s beautiful, her chassis is great, and are you interested?’ Each guy had his own idea of what he wanted, and he let his imagination play upon her. This is the way such things get done. They’re not created by one person. They’re the creation of all of the press representatives who cover Hollywood for all the publications in the world, which means about three hundred and fifty people.

“Everybody in the studio publicity department worked on her.” Jones ticked them off on his fingertips, “The picture division, the magazine division, the fan-magazine division, the planters who plant the columnists, the radio planters, and so forth. Then, when you make a motion picture, a ‘unit man’ or ‘unit woman’ is assigned to cover its shooting, and he or she handles publicity for that film alone. In addition, the whole department works on the same picture. Our department is highly specialized, but each specialist makes his contribution to the personality we’re erecting in the public’s mind.”

“I’ve met a couple of press agents who’ve been unit men on Marilyn’s films,” I said.

“But the unit man is not always the same for a certain star’s pictures,” Jones said. “Sonia Wilson’s been unit woman on Monroe pictures, and Frankie Neal’s been a unit man on her pictures, but Roy Craft has been her unit man more than anyone else. Roy likes her. He gets along with her fine.”

There was something else I wanted to know. “In addition to distributing her photographs,” I asked, “did you have her show up at different places where you thought her appearance would do her good?”

“We took her to all of the cocktail parties we thought were important,” Flack Jones said. “For instance, one picture magazine had its annual cocktail party, and we told Marilyn she ought to show so we could introduce her to various editors, columnists and radio and TV people. She waited until everybody had arrived; then she came in in this red gown. That gown became famous. She’d had sense enough to buy it a size or two too small, and it had what Joe Hyams calls ‘break-away straps.’

“When she came in, everybody stopped doing what they were doing and their eyes went, ‘Boing, boing,’” Flack Jones went on. “The publisher of the magazine who was picking up the tab for the party shook hands with her a long, long time. After a while he turned to one of his associate editors and said, ‘We ought to have a picture of this little girl in our book.’ Then he looked at her again and said, ‘Possibly we should have her on the cover.’”

Flack Jones grinned. “So that’s the way things went,” he said. “Some months there were as many as fifteen or sixteen covers of her on the newsstands at once. She came back to the Fox lot in 1950 to appear in All About Eve, but she was not anyone’s great, big, brilliant discovery until we got our still cameras focused on her and started spreading those Marilyn Monroe shots all over the universe.”

“What did she do in All About Eve?” I asked. “I don’t remember.”

“She’s the dumb broad who walks into a party at Bette Davis’ place leaning on George Sanders’ arm,” he said. “There’s dialogue which shows you that Sanders is a critic, like George Jean Nathan; and he brings this beautiful dish Marilyn in, and he sights a producer played by Gregory Ratoff. Sanders points at Ratoff and says to Marilyn, ‘There’s a real live producer, honey. Go do yourself some good.’ So Marilyn goes off to do herself some good while Sanders stays in his own price class with Bette.”

“Do you remember the first day she came to work?” I asked.

“Do I remember?” he said. “She was in an Angora sweater out to there. While we were shooting her in photography, the word got around and the boys rushed across the hall to get an eyeful. Next we did some layouts with her for picture magazines. We put her in a negligee, and she liked it so much that she wouldn’t take it off. She walked all over the lot in it, yelling, ‘Yoo hoo’ at strangers as far away as the third floor of the administration building. Pretty soon the whole third floor was looking down at her. The first and second floors looked too.”

Flack Jones did an abrupt shift into the present tense, “It’s a bright, sunny day; the wind is blowing and she has Nature working with her. It has taken Nature quite a while to bring her to the ripe-peach perfection she reaches on that day, but it finally makes it. The wind does the rest. She walks all over the lot, has a ball for herself, and so does everybody else.”

Then he shifted back again, “After that we took her to the beach with a lot of wardrobe changes. But the basic idea was that this is a beautiful girl with a great body, and that idea was always the same, although we had different approaches to it. We had color shots, we had black-and-white shots, we had mountain shots, we had field shots, faked water-skiing shots — every type of approach we could think of. Picnicking, walking — anything a person does, we let her do it. When we began to see what she did best, we concentrated on it.

“Women always hate the obvious in sex,” Flack Jones said, “and men love it.” Apparently he had given this matter a lot of thought. He had even worked out a philosophy about it. “Guys are instinctively awkward and blundering and naïve — even worldly-wise ones — and subtlety in sex baffles them. Not only that, but they don’t have the time. Women who are not supporting a husband have all the time in the world for it. But men have other things to do, like making a dollar; and they like their love-making without preliminaries which last four or five hours. Instinctively Marilyn knows this. She is very down-to-earth, very straightforward.”

I asked Marilyn when I talked to her back on Sutton Place, “Do you think men like their sex subtle or fairly obvious?” This was a double check. I already had the male answer.

It seemed to me that she hedged. “Some men prefer subtleties and other men don’t want things so subtle,” she said. “I don’t believe in false modesty. A woman only hurts herself that way. If she’s coy she’s denying herself an important part of life. Men sometimes believe that you’re frigid and cold in the development of a relationship, but if they do, it’s not always your fault. Religion has to do with it and how you’re brought up. You’re stuck with all that.”

I remembered something else Wilder had told me before Marilyn’s recent return to Hollywood to make the film version of the New York stage hit Bus Stop. “You take Monroe, now,” he remarked. “Aside from whether she’s an actress or not, she’s got this lovely little shape, it twitches excitingly, and the public likes to watch it, either coming toward them or going away. There are two schools of thought about her — those who like her and those who attack her — but they both are willing to pay to watch her. Their curiosity is good for eighty cents or a dollar and a quarter or whatever the price of the ticket.”

He shook his head thoughtfully. “And she went back East to study at a slow-take arty place, where they feature understatement. Here’s a girl who’s built herself a career on overstating something, and she’s made up her mind to understate. It won’t be long before we’ll know whether she’s right and whether she needs the wardrobe department and the hairdressing department as much as she needs artistic lines to say. It’ll be interesting to watch and I hope it works out the way she wants it to, but the lines that the public really wants from her so far are not written in English. They are her curves.”

The voice of Flack Jones echoed in the back of my head. “I forgot to tell you. When she finished that Marx Brothers picture, she went over to Columbia for a couple of shows, but she didn’t click, and they released her too. After that she was around town for a while going broke. It was then that she posed for that famous nude calendar — the composition of glowing flesh against a red velvet background which threw the public into a tizzy when they learned about it.”

I asked Marilyn to tell me the story of that nude calendar herself, and she said, “When the studio first heard about it, everybody there was in a frenzy. They telephoned me on the set where I was working in a quickie called Don’t Bother to Knock. The person who called asked me, ‘What’s all this about a calendar of you in the nude? Did you do it?’

“‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Is there anything wrong with it? So they’ve found out it’s me on that calendar. Well, what do you know!’

“‘Found out!’ he almost screamed. ‘There you are, all of you, in full color!’ Then he must have gotten mixed up, for first he said, ‘Just deny everything’; then he said, ‘Don’t say anything. I’ll be right down.’”

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