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Authors: Adela Gregory

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BOOK: Crypt 33
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Her visits with Aunt Ana Lower were good for her. Ana continually persuaded her to dream, pumped up her self-confidence, and encouraged her to take chances. During the workweek, Norma Jeane felt safe and secure in the elder Mrs. Dougherty's home. Jim thought she was protected too—his mother would be watching her every move.
Norma Jeane became increasingly resentful that her husband was gone most of the time, and she made arrangements to move in with Aunt Ana. Her newfound freedom gave her even more confidence.
Still employed by Radio Plane Company, Norma Jeane started to save her money. She played cards on the weekends and won many times, too. Dauntless confidence in her sexual desirability may have been the aphrodisiac that drew sudden opportunity to her.
In the wartime effort, actor Ronald Reagan, serving in the First Motion Picture Unit for Hal Roach Studios (then called “Fort Roach”) in Culver City, was looking for fresh faces. He assigned photographer David Conover to help with the search. In the plant Conover noticed Norma Jeane bubbling with enthusiasm, and she was chosen to be photographed that day. The cameraman had her change clothes and took shots of her outdoors. Norma Jeane loved the attention and Conover was inspired by her girl-next-door look—the girl the GIs would want to come home to—and by her natural modeling ability. Even the developer at Eastman Kodak remarked on the sensational photos and complimented Conover on his work.
One photograph was published in the military magazine
Stars and Stripes
. Norma Jeane proudly showed Aunt Ana the results of her first modeling job and was assured by her aunt that she was indeed a photogenic young lady.
Another modeling stint was waiting for the ingenue. Conover scheduled another session and advised her to quit her dreary job for a career in modeling. He wanted to shoot her first portfolio, as it was obvious to him she would be needing one.
Emmeline Snively was a smart businesswoman with an eye for new talent. David Conover had done work for her company, the Blue Book Modeling Agency, many times. The offices were situated in the landmark Ambassador Hotel in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. The twenty-three-acre parcel was landscaped with luscious gardens and fountains. The hotel grounds included tennis courts and a health club. Many politicians and celebrities vacationed at the Ambassador, which housed the Academy Awards ceremony each year in the Coconut Grove. Built in 1919 and lavishly decorated in rococo, the Ambassador identified the Hollywood of the twenties. (Strangely enough, the location of the start of Marilyn's career was the same place that marked the end of one of her lovers. On June 6, 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated at this same hotel while making his bid for the presidency of the United States.)
Norma Jeane knew that she had “arrived” as she passed through the door to Emmeline Snively's office. Conover had touted Norma Jeane as an up-and-coming star, and Snively could see her potential clearly. This young woman had the right looks and was photogenic enough to command top fees. Snively knew the girl-next-door look was salable and suggested that Norma Jeane enroll in modeling school to enhance her talent. The enrollment fee could be a problem—she would need one hundred dollars.
The Holga Steel Company's industrial show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium provided a perfect solution; she would be paid ten dollars a day for ten days as a hostess for the convention. She grabbed the assignment, dragged through the routine of her work, and was ready to begin her schooling.
As Snively had promised, Norma Jeane soon became one of the agency's busiest models, giving her the confidence to quit her job at Radio Plane. She became more sensitive about her looks and invested more in trying to improve her image for the camera. A photographer told her her nose was too long; Snively suggested she change the way she smiled and to hold her lips a certain way to give the illusion of a shorter nose. She practiced the smile and won the temporary battle; later in life she had subtle plastic surgery to correct her nose and build a stronger chin.
Dougherty was stationed off the coast of Argentina. While on leave in New York he phoned his wife at Aunt Ana's. He was told she was not at home much, and apparently he began to fear losing Norma Jeane. Jim applied for a release from the Maritime Service, but it was not granted. Then he phoned again and she was gone. After yet another call he found she was out of town with Hungarian André de Dienes, a photographer who depicted beautiful women naked in the desert. Snively had arranged for such a session with Norma Jeane, and Aunt Ana had sanctioned it—but the nude photographs were never taken; instead, Norma Jeane and the photographer had an affair.
Jim had a hard time facing the truth—he was losing his wife, not to another man, but to a career. When Dougherty returned on leave, he found his wife was often working nights, and he was left to his own devices. Angry and impatient, Jim issued an ultimatum—be Mrs. Dougherty or else.
World War II had ended. Japan had surrendered; three hundred thousand American GIs had been killed. The Nuremberg trials were under way. Theater lovers were waiting in line for tickets to Arthur Miller's Broadway hit,
All My Sons
. Lucky Luciano was being deported by the United States government. John F. Kennedy was running for his first political office, a seat in the House of Representatives. Norma Jeane's mother was released from a sanatorium in San Francisco, and the Goddards returned to California from West Virginia.
Gladys needed a place to start her life again. She and Norma Jeane decided to share an apartment near Aunt Ana. Months were expended in an attempt to reestablish the relationship between mother and daughter. During all the years in the sanatorium, Gladys had spent many days and nights concerned about her daughter's welfare. Now Norma Jeane worked and her mother fielded phone calls.
Being with her daughter now was all new—Norma Jeane was on her way to a career that Gladys had always wanted for herself. It gave her some satisfaction and some disappointments as well. The conflict was never resolved. What could she do now when Norma Jeane no longer needed her? She knew she had to let go. Gladys had been away for so long; she still thought of Norma Jeane as a child, but she saw a woman. The regrets sat heavily on her heart.
Gladys was in turmoil but continued to be supportive of her daughter. She understood the unraveling of Norma Jeane's marriage, which was not unlike the disintegration of her own. Gladys knew how it felt to need independence and autonomy, but she knew, too, that freedom and success weren't everything. She didn't know all the answers; her own life seemed a failure; and she hesitated to give Norma Jeane advice.
Jim Dougherty returned from overseas to find all activity centered on Norma Jeane's photo sessions and bookings. He noticed that his wife had spent most of her earnings on her appearance. Hair salons and clothing stores became her focus while her bills went unpaid. Norma Jeane's husband could not understand this frivolous new attitude. He refused to believe that his wife was well on her way to a successful career in modeling.
Everyone but Norma Jeane expected a showdown. She naively hoped that her husband would accept the new life-style. Norma Jeane's main complaint was that he was an absentee husband. He objected to her career and the situations she was placed in—being with other men and displaying her body for the public. It became apparent that their lifestyles were headed in opposite directions. There seemed to be no solution—Jim's position was irreversible and Norma Jeane was enjoying her life for the first time. She would not back down. With the impasse established, Jim returned to his overseas assignment.
Norma immediately returned to her new profession. Emmeline Snively had hired her out to photographer Earl Moran for a session that revealed her attractive bustline. At ten dollars an hour, Norma Jeane became one of the most sought-after models on the West Coast. The Moran photo graced the cover of a popular magazine and Norma Jeane reveled in the subsequent attention. The sweet smell of success motivated her more than ever before.
When a dear-john letter arrived at his base, Jim was not surprised. Norma Jeane pushed for a divorce as soon as possible. Snively suggested the plan—a quickie divorce and a temporary residence in Las Vegas, Nevada, where in six weeks she would be free.
During May of 1946, Norma Jeane followed her dream and went to Las Vegas, where she patiently waited out the six weeks. Snively kept in touch and continued to encourage her. Norma Jeane spent her days tanning and resting. She felt guilty about her husband, but Jim was a hindrance to her new life and guilt was not enough to keep the marriage together. Norma Jeane's mind was made up.
With an interlocutory divorce decree in hand, she returned to Los Angeles. On September 12, 1946, the marriage was officially terminated. It was nothing personal, Norma Jeane thought; she was now a free woman, really free, for the first time in her life.
The agency had plenty of bookings waiting for the new divorcee upon her return. She was tanned and well-rested and buried herself in assignments. Success was looming and confidence was growing.
In later life, Marilyn conceded that Jim had been a fair husband. The divorce papers cited extreme mental cruelty as the cause. Wrongly blamed, Jim knew better—it was her aspiration to be an actress and her loneliness that had done him in. Though they had little contact after the divorce, he never held a grudge, reflecting later, “She was a very sincere person, a good person, always trying to help the underdog.”
With newfound freedom and courage, Norma Jeane moved out of the apartment she shared with her mother and into the Studio Club, a Hollywood residence for young women with aspirations to stardom. She had cut the cord.
The Blonde Strikes a Deal
mmeline Snively convinced Norma Jeane that she would get more work as a blonde. Her dishwater-blond hair absorbed too much light and looked dull in photos. As in the past, she accepted Emmeline's advice and decided to become a blonde. The hairdresser had a difficult time stripping the color from her coarse, curly hair, but the end result brightened her eyes, and her face looked more radiant than ever.
Norma Jeane dressed in becoming pastels, spent hours coiffing her shoulder-length hair, and on July 16, 1946, marched gallantly onto the lot at Twentieth Century-Fox on Olympic Boulevard.
Without bothering to make an appointment, which probably would have been impossible anyway, Norma Jeane announced herself to the secretary of the head of new talent, Ben Lyon. Hundreds of black-and-white eight-by-ten glossies were scattered about his utilitarian desk. Hardly a day would pass without the arrival of another dozen photos of Hollywood hopefuls. Tired of looking at the same monotonous faces, he was immediately impressed by Norma Jeane's fresh, girl-next-door-look. He wondered whether Norma Jeane had a sugar daddy waiting in the wings; he speculated that this kind of girl was probably lavished with beautiful clothes, furs, jewelry, and fancy cars, and had open charge accounts. Sensing his preconception, Norma Jeane told him where she lived. A quiet life in the Studio Club implied that she was different. She was sincere.
Without any hesitation, Ben presented her with the facts. First there would be an obligatory screen test. If she passed, a binding seven-year contract would be drawn. She would start at seventy-five dollars a week for the first six months, increasing another twenty-five dollars a week for the second six months, and another twenty-five dollars for the six months after that. After seven years, her salary would be fifteen hundred dollars per week.
The only catch was that the studio arbitrarily determined whether to exercise its option to renew. Every six months, it would decide if her acting was progressing enough. Norma Jeane would be required to attend myriad training courses and promotional events. She would also be cast with walk-ons or one- or two-liners until the top brass felt she was ready for more important roles.
Lyon enlisted the help of cinematographer Leon Shamroy. Head of costume design, Charles Lemain supervised her wardrobe, dressing her in a resplendent gown. Allan “Whitey” Snyder was asked by Ben Nye, makeup department head, to apply the makeup, and Irene Brooks, head of hairdressing, supervised her hairstyle.
Shamroy shot one hundred feet of film. Norma Jeane was asked several questions and talked casually, allowing the cinematographer to catch her natural speaking voice and film presence. Though apprehensive and nervous, at least she was used to being photographed, and she was thrilled by the opportunity and eager to see the results.
In the projection room, the opinionated and autocratic studio head Darryl Zanuck responded favorably to Norma Jeane's screen test, asking Ben who the gorgeous girl was, and if they had her under contract. Ben knew what that meant. “Sign her up” was the dictum.
After being called into Ben's office for the good news, Norma Jeane was so elated she broke down and cried. She could barely believe that only two weeks after her divorce was granted, she was to be signed to a lucrative seven-year contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. And she didn't even have to sleep with anyone.
Ben politely suggested that she needed a stage name, something more glamorous than Norma Jeane Dougherty. Together they browsed through the players directory, a list of all the available performers, looking for ideas. He spotted the name Marilyn Miller, the star of
, two of his favorite musicals. Maybe Marilyn could be the start. Norma Jeane had fond subconscious memories of her grandmother, Della Monroe, whose surname she did not attribute to a man. She asked if she could use it, and they agreed that her new name would be Marilyn Monroe.
Changing her name felt glorious. It gave the ingenue the opportunity to start anew. Nobody had to know about her past; about the father who abandoned her and the incompetent, crazy mother. She could create a new identity.
Emmeline Snively approved, suggesting that Norma Jeane would need representation. She introduced her to Helen Ainsworth, head of the West Coast division of the National Concert Artist Corporation. Helen would later take pride in bragging that it was she who had landed the Fox contract. Ainsworth assigned Harry Lipton as agent for the new Marilyn Monroe. In their first meeting he learned something of her background, and realized that she had deep-seated insecurities. Her distinctive nervous twitter set her apart. He knew her career choice would make her life more difficult, but he sensed that she had guts of steel.
On the heels of signing her first contract, Marilyn's attorney had sent Jim, now stationed in Shanghai, the divorce papers that still needed his signature to become final. He could not endure the rejection, and deep down he believed she still needed him.
When he arrived in San Pedro Harbor, Jim immediately called the Studio Club once he found out where Norma Jeane was living. She told him of her new contract and her new identity. Not only was she no longer married to him, but she had a new name to prove it. Twentieth Century-Fox owned her, at a price that was far higher than anything he could afford.
She begged him to understand. Her reasons were apparent. The studio would not sign a married woman, period. She was shrewd. If she could keep Jim as a “sort of” husband, her job would be easier. She could foil potential sexual advances if she said she was married.
Marilyn tried to get Jim to sign the divorce papers while remaining her “husband.” He had a difficult time understanding what his new position was to be, but he was cornered; it was a clever way of making him feel wanted. He relented and signed, but the end results angered him and he left town again. He did not want his ex-wife to know how much her ploy had hurt him.
Gladys was still living in the Culver City apartment beneath Ana Lower. Grace Goddard was helpful with involving Gladys in outside activities, but Grace had her own life. Though always generous with her time, with the responsibilities of raising her own family, she could only give so much. Gladys saw herself as an outsider: unwanted and unneeded. Her daughter's life was taking off without her. Her own career was gone. She felt useless. No sooner had her daughter's contract gone into effect than Gladys was requesting readmission to the hospital. She had been inadequately prepared for returning to society.
Marilyn gave her mother no reason to stay. She wanted more than ever to cut her ties to the past, and she planned to do far better than her mother had. Officially Marilyn went on record: her mother was dead and she did not have a father. At twenty years of age, she was reborn.
At Twentieth, her career progressed slowly. There were dozens of other starlets in the same position. The studio had little time to attend to their development, but they were required to attend acting classes, voice lessons, and body movement classes. Photo sessions were frequent, the publicity shots part of their promotion, and Marilyn enjoyed the attention and the chance to wear beautiful clothing. She was scheduled, as were the others, to attend ribbon-cutting ceremonies, open markets and restaurants. It was all part of the game plan.
Marilyn appeared to be a happy-go-lucky girl. Always willing to learn, she asked all the right questions, but her real desire was to act. With the studio concentrating on their biggest box-office stars—Betty Grable, Gene Tierney, and Loretta Young—Marilyn was shifted to the background. The release of the film
The Razor's Edge
was then Twentieth's predominant concern. Darryl Zanuck, the man who thought she was gorgeous, now had no time for her.
After six laborious months, Marilyn was signed for her first film role in
Scudda-Hoo, Scudda-Hay
, starring the then popular actress June Haver. She was to appear in only one shot, a scene in which she and another woman were boating. The director filmed a close-up of her, but it was later cut, leaving only the long shot. Unfortunately she was unrecognizable. The film editor made the choice. How she wished her mother had been there cutting the film. Marilyn hadn't appreciated her mother's talent and power in the film business until now. Once again she longed for a mother or father.
Marilyn caught the roving eye of Joseph M. Schenck, an executive producer who had cofounded Twentieth Century Pictures with Darryl Zanuck, then later merged with William Goetz of Fox. He had a powerful position on the lot, even though he had just served part of a prison term. Schenck had received a one-year sentence to the Federal Correction Institute for tax evasion and kickbacks to gangsters in the stagehand's union. President Harry Truman had pardoned him, and he had gratefully returned to his former position at Fox.
Passing a gorgeous blonde on the lot, Schenck stopped his limousine dead in its tracks to hand Marilyn his card and invite her to dinner the following week. Something about the elderly man attracted her. Schenck's formidable appearance and noticeable self-confidence ignited her interest.
Schenck had once started a studio on Forty-Eighth Street in Manhattan where he produced films for his wife, actress Norma Talmadge. Marilyn had always worshipped Norma, the actress she was named after.
The sixty-seven-year-old had a certain charm. For a man in his position, he was considerably down to earth. The starlet did not hesitate to tell him how she acquired her original name. He felt comfortable with her, too.
Their relationship expanded after their first dinner date. The aging Schenck was nearly impotent, so they practiced oral sex; Marilyn didn't mind. His home was lovely, the food was good, and he educated her about the movie business. They connected in their peculiar way.
Zanuck noticed the affair and began to despise Marilyn. He had “discovered” her beauty in the first place, and, as far as he was concerned, that gave him first claim to her favors. With Marilyn conspicuously involved with Schenck, Zanuck childishly took out his anger on her.
Marilyn equally despised Zanuck. Schenck had described to her in detail the scurrilous behavior of his partner. The hate between them would continue throughout her career at Twentieth as Zanuck annoyed her constantly with scripts she detested. He never forgave her for taking his impotent partner as a lover.
Monroe and Schenck's association continued to flourish, but he could not open any career doors for her. Their second six months were uneventful, except that Marilyn was cast in her first speaking role, a small part in
Dangerous Years.
A “B” picture about juvenile delinquency, the film was intended to revive the career of the formerly famous Dead End Kid Billy Halop. Released on December 8, 1947,
Dangerous Years was
virtually ignored by the press and flopped. The actress played a waitress attending tables for teenagers who caroused in the diner. Immediately after final shooting wrapped on August 25,1947, she was officially dropped from her contract. But it did give Marilyn Monroe her first speaking role.
Resorting to living on unemployment compensation, she was running out of money. Her income was a mere three dollars a day, compared to the $75 weekly salary she'd received under contract. Monroe called Emmeline Snively for modeling jobs, but the requests for her type were not as frequent as they had been. Marilyn took whatever jobs came her way.
During her contract with Twentieth, Marilyn had developed a relationship with another buxom blond beauty, Shelley Winters. They shared lunches and gossip. They tattled about the behavior of their bosses. They commiserated about their plight. Shelley remembers Marilyn as a girl who wore skin-tight halter tops and carried books like encyclopedias and dictionaries. After Marilyn's dismissal Shelley convinced her to get involved with theater groups. Charles Laughton had a group in his home, but Marilyn was terrified by his superiority as an actor. Another possibility was the Actors Lab, headed by Morris Carnovsky, an alleged communist who in 1952 was cited by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Eventually Winters's efforts to get Marilyn involved with the theater paid off. She appeared as second lead in the play
Glamour Preferred.
There were no offers for paid work, but Huntington Hartford, heir to the A&P fortune, approached her backstage after the performance and invited her to dinner. Shelley had reminded the actress that in Hollywood it was whom you knew, not what you knew. Marilyn accepted the invitation.
Joe Schenck continued to call her for dinner, and the impoverished divorcee willingly accepted. Enjoying his company, Monroe would listen to his tales of Old Hollywood long into the night. Marilyn adored him and worshipped his knowledge; his way with words intrigued her, too.
The intimate dinners paid off. Schenck could not stand seeing his favorite girl miserable, so he finally made a call to his old friend and crony, Harry Cohn, who ran Columbia Pictures in Burbank. Cohn had a penchant for gorgeous girls and Schenck was certain he would appreciate Marilyn's beauty. Perhaps Cohn had already spotted her in one of her two feature films, but whatever the reason, he placed the blonde on contract in March 1948.
To be close to the studio, the starlet took up residence with a family as a housesitter. Returning late one evening, she found herself confronted by an off-duty policeman who had had too much to drink. Supposedly he claimed that her beauty had driven him to make unwarranted advances. Marilyn cried for help, and he was arrested. The
Hollywood Citizen-News
picked up the story and she got her first dose of unfavorable publicity.
BOOK: Crypt 33
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