When she was fired as a replaceable actress, Monroe knew her worth and boldly advocated for herself.
“She found her strength,” said photographer Nancy Lee Andrews. “Becoming Marlyn isn’t a tragedy. It’s a triumph.”
When you view this iconic movie star off-camera, the depth of her life comes into full view. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how Monroe strategically navigated her career.
Not just any dumb blonde
One of Monroe’s early hits was the musical comedy “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” She played a dim-witted blond prospector named Lorelei, a showgirl who sailed to France to marry a rich man.
“I can be smart if it’s important. But most men don’t like it,” she says in the film, a phrase Monroe always wanted to use.
Despite the lack of female representation, Monroe found power by adding complexity to these simple characters.
“It was pivotal in the evolution of Marilyn’s career and star character because Lori is the dumb blonde who isn’t as dumb as you think she is,” said Sarah Churchwell, a professor of American literature at the University of London.
Monroe played on assumptions to catapult himself to stardom.
“If you’re not only able to pull the joke, but also master it, that’s the mark of a genius to me,” actress Amber Tamblyn said.
Finding her strength and fighting for her worth
Monroe starred in several big hits in 1953, including “How to Marry a Millionaire,” where she once again played a dumb blonde. The film earned Fox $15 million, which is equivalent to $150 million today.
After being asked to play another beautiful one-note lead in the musical comedy “The Girl in Pink Panty,” Monroe was fed up. She literally called it “trash bin” and returned it to studio head Darryl Zanuck, according to biographer Cindy De La Hoz-Sipala.
“She was the main attraction,” said actress Mira Sorvino. “I mean, she was the reason people flocked to the theater. So it was insane that she didn’t get a much more powerful position in salary.”
Monroe declined the role until her salary and terms improved.
“For anyone who thinks Monroe was a perpetual victim, she walked off the ‘Pink Tights’ set. Enough said,” said Molly Haskell, author and film critic.
The film was never made and the studio changed Monroe’s contract, giving her a raise for future roles.
Monroe’s David vs Goliath Guess
In 1954, Monroe filmed the most famous moment of her career: when her dress blows up over a subway grille. The scene is featured in “The Seven Year Itch,” which was a huge hit at the box office.
She was at the height of her success, but was still being typecast. So she left Hollywood.
She broke her contract with Fox, went to New York and launched her own film company, Marilyn Monroe Productions. She also took classes at the Actors Studio. This was all in an effort, as she said, to be seen as a “serious actress.”
Within a year, Fox relented and offered Monroe a new contract, which gave her a higher salary, director approval, and the freedom to make films through her own production company.
“She got everything she wanted, everything that was unheard of in 1955,” said Amy Greene, Monroe’s friend, who was with her when she heard the news.
Proving her acting
Monroe’s first film under her new contract was “Bus Stop.” This was her chance to show off her acting achievements.
She played a failed musician named Chérie, who aspired to become a major star. Monroe put on ghostly makeup because she believed this character never got out into the sunlight. She also perfected an Ozark accent for the role.
“We can see Marilyn Monroe’s physicality being treated differently than previous films,” said Jeanine Basinger, a professor of film studies at Wesleyan University. “It has a different quality. It’s more realistic. It’s less voyeuristic.”
Critics praised Monroe’s performance.
“A lot of people said she really deserved an Academy Award nomination for that role,” said film critic Christina Newland.
Monroe is making a movie with her own production company
Monroe’s next move was to produce the movie “The Prince and the Showgirl” with her production company.
“‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ would finally show everything she’d fought for for a decade, that she’d get all the credibility she wanted,” Churchwell said.
Marilyn played Elsie, an American showgirl, who falls in love with a European prince, played by Laurence Olivier. There were challenges during filming, such as Monroe’s slowness, but on camera she sparkled.
“People who worked with her talked about these clever notes she would give after watching the… [footage], where she said very specific things that she wasn’t happy about and why,” said Turner Classic Movies host Alicia Malone. “They were the symbol of a woman who knew her craft and knew exactly what she wanted and exactly what she needed. had. “
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