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Authors: Adela Gregory

Crypt 33 (8 page)

BOOK: Crypt 33
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To a certain extent, Marilyn instinctively directed herself throughout her career. After all, she had spent many afternoons as a child watching her mother cut films in the labs for RKO and Columbia and had picked up a good deal of knowledge about the art of film editing. But women in Marilyn's day were not directors, and any efforts by her or Lytess in this regard were certainly not appreciated by the male directorial bastion.
Fritz Lang complained loudly to Wald, saying, “I do not want somebody directing behind my back. I want this Lytess woman off my set.” When Lytess was banned, Marilyn refused to report for work. A two-day stalemate ensued. Ultimately Lang had to compromise to complete his film, allowing Lytess on the set, where she agreed not to contradict his orders.
At the preview of
Clash by
at the Crown Theater in Pasadena, Monroe's performance garnered resounding applause. Most critics commended her, although the
New York Times
concluded that Marilyn could not act. The public disagreed completely; the film was a box-office smash.
Marilyn returned to Twentieth feeling elated. Even without a partner by her side, she was feeling more self-confident than ever before. The front office was buzzing about her success in
Clash by Night
. Producers and directors alike were now searching for the new box-office sensation's next vehicle.
Zanuck chose
Don't Bother to Knock
. Marilyn would attempt the risky role of a psychopathic nursemaid working out of a New York hotel. Her costarring love interest was Richard Widmark, who played an airline pilot rebounding from a recent breakup with a cabaret singer. Nursemaid Marilyn mistakes him for her former fantasy lover. The movie closes with her attempts to kill a child in the hotel and subsequent commitment to an insane asylum. The director, Ray Baker, shot the film in sequence like a play, with no retakes. By this method, he shrewdly figured he could better control his set and pull the reins in on the actress who was developing a reputation for being difficult.
During this period Marilyn had the heaviest working schedule of her life. Evenings were spent quietly recuperating in her apartment. She was already tired of the Hollywood scene, and she had not been interested in dating since Johnny Hyde's death. The actress steered clear of even the most extraordinary men in the movie business, spending time only with a few friends, like Sidney Skolsky or Whitey Snyder and his children. Fortunately she had found a few honest, sincere people she could trust.
One afternoon during filming, Marilyn received a disturbing phone call. Twentieth's executives were in a spot. They had heard that a nude calendar was circulating in Hollywood, but they didn't know that Marilyn had distributed it herself a couple of years earlier. The actress hadn't paid much attention to the morality clause in her contract with the studio.
Her producer was hysterical about the potential problem. His entire production could be lost. Marilyn wondered what all the fuss was about. After all, she saw nothing obscene about the photos that even the photographer's wife had witnessed. The story broke in almost every newspaper in the country: “A photograph of a beautiful nude blonde in a 1952 calendar is hanging in garages and barbershops all over the nation today. Marilyn Monroe admits that the beauty is she.” As publicity goes, it was the best thing that could have happened. The public flocked to the theaters and for the first time marquees around the country spelled out her name. Being candid had been smart, despite the inherent risks. Monroe had gambled her contract and won.
No sooner did this fiery event fade, than another even more revealing skeleton came out of her closet. A reporter got wind of the truth—that her mother was not dead, but alive in a sanitarium. Ashamed of her exposed deception, Marilyn confessed falsely that she had never known her mother and only recently discovered she was alive in a hospital. She wanted more than anything to disassociate herself from her younger days, but she was to find that the dark truths would always surface.
The front office could not find that right vehicle for the actress, but they wanted to keep her on the screen as much as possible to satisfy the public's craving for her. The studio tried to find a new way to exploit its new and precious commodity. Zanuck was stuck on the idea of an episodic film based on O. Henry's short stories. It would contain five different casts and require five different directors... a risky venture for any producer. Zanuck failed miserably in this impetuous attempt at creativity. The critics made a mockery out of his choice of material and the public panned the film.
Producer and writer Nunnally Johnson wrote
We're Not Married
, a light comedy directed by Edmund Goulding. Revered as a director, Goulding was also known for his ability to handle actresses. Although her performance in the film was not outstanding, Marilyn was an eyeful for her fans, and the film was a hit.
The entire creative staff at Twentieth was challenged to generate yet one more vehicle for their box-office success. Her presence on screen commanded at least half a million dollars in revenues per film, a windfall even then. Nunnally Johnson, Charles Brackett, and Sol C. Siegel were the producers most enthralled by her potential.
While Sol Siegel had
Monkey Business
in mind for Marilyn, Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer and I. A. L. Diamond added the jokes. Siegel had written
Love Nest
and later created the wild fantasy scenes in
Some Like It Hot
, one of Marilyn's crowning achievements. Cary Grant, whose career had been on the skids, Ginger Rogers, and Charles Coburn would costar in
Monkey Business
Grant portrays a biochemist who has a fling with his dopey but voluptuous secretary. The wardrobe department worked overtime, and designer Bill Travilla made certain the star's garments were as provocative as possible. He cinched the waistlines and fashioned revealing bathing suits. Gladys Rasmussen and Whitey Snyder made up Marilyn's team of beauty advisers.
The film critics enjoyed Marilyn's performance and her ability to hold her own with her costars, but the dull film wasn't the box office bonanza that Twentieth was expecting.
But as Kate Cameron stated for the New York
Daily News
, “Ginger and Cary are assisted in this amusing nonsense by Marilyn Monroe, who can look and act dumber than any of the screen's current blondes.”
Marilyn's “dumb blonde” routine was gaining attention.
The Actress and the Yankee Clipper
arilyn. was again isolating herself. Unrecognized without her makeup, on weekends she would take long, solitary walks down Sunset Boulevard. Her career was finally flourishing, but she had no one to love. She had become a workaholic since Johnny's death, running away from her needs by plunging headlong into her acting. Fraught with ambivalence all her life, no sooner would Marilyn lament her regrettably lonely life-style than she would have to focus on the hectic next-day schedule. Whenever she felt empty or sad, she instantly blocked it out by focusing on her desire for success. Her childhood fantasy of becoming the most beautiful and successful actress had been replaced by the demands of actually becoming America's most beautiful and successful actress. The daily push-pull of her drive/avoidance pattern wore her down to exhaustion. Several days after production had commenced on
Monkey Business
, Marilyn had come down with a high fever and stomach cramps. Her personal physician, Dr. Elliott Corday, had thought her symptoms serious enough for hospitalization at Cedars of Lebanon, where high doses of penicillin brought her temperature under control. While still recovering in the hospital, the costumers had brought in her dazzling wardrobe, which she relished. Back at the studio, director Howard Hawks had shot around her. Marilyn's health had gradually improved, though she was advised to take it easy during the filming.
Harry Brand, head of publicity at Twentieth, called to make an offer Marilyn could not refuse, though at first she tried. He had a friend in New York, a nice guy named Joe DiMaggio, who wanted to meet her. Marilyn had replied, “Joe who?” After it was explained to her that, next to Babe Ruth, Joe was only the greatest player to ever play the game of baseball, Marilyn vaguely recalled his name. Harry continued to rave about what a regular guy Joe was and how much he wanted to meet her and, after his strong pitch, lonely Marilyn acquiesced.
Since both Joe and Marilyn preferred the privacy of an early dinner date, Harry and his escort arrived at the restaurant first. A few minutes later the shy DiMaggio appeared. Ever since seeing a publicity photo of Marilyn with another ballplayer, he had wanted to meet her. She had been posed in the batting position clad in white shorts and a tight blouse. Joe grew increasingly nervous as they waited. Brand assured him that Marilyn was always late but that she would definitely show up. An hour later, true to form, she did, dressed in a stunning blue evening suit with a seductively low-cut silk blouse. The color of her suit accentuated her blue-gray eyes.
The actress had expected a tasteless jock in a loud checkered suit smoking a cigar and talking shop. Instead, meeting Joe DiMaggio was a pleasure. He was well groomed, elegant, and impeccably dressed in a gray flannel suit and a tie. Each was impressed with the other but spoke very little. Joe finally broke the ice as he demonstrated his proficiency at ordering at fine restaurants, especially southern Italian cuisine. Suddenly, actor Mickey Rooney came over to deliver a long-winded monologue complimenting Joe's baseball and batting averages. Joe graciously handled the inconvenience. When it was time to leave, Monroe offered to drive DiMaggio home. Though she later confessed the two had made passionate love all night long, the Fox publicity department planted press releases that Joe had “struck out.” Whatever happened that evening, it became evident that the two were falling in love as they began to date regularly.
In part because his family contrasted so sharply with hers, Marilyn was mesmerized by Joe's background. The eighth of nine children, he loved telling stories. about his huge, close-knit clan. His mother had died in 1949. Joe's father was a fisherman. The family lived a simple life-style that Marilyn began to romanticize might be her own some day. Part of her longed for a big family of her own, and in Joe's she found the perfect role model. Their down-to-earth approach to life was refreshing and appealing.
Marilyn enticed the ordinarily quiet man to talk about himself in detail. DiMaggio spoke of his glory days with the New York Yankees—his record-setting fifty-six-game hitting streak, the ten out of thirteen seasons his team had captured the American League pennant, and their four consecutive World Series championships. He had recently retired from the game and was involved with his family in the restaurant business in San Francisco.
Though the reserved superstar loved talking baseball to Marilyn, he wanted her to experience the game firsthand. So he invited her to an All-Star warm-up game in which he hit a home run. From the box seats Marilyn was ecstatic, thrilled to take a seat in the shadows while the sports legend basked yet one more day in glory.
As the two merged into an item, tabloids worked overtime to churn out the “truth” about America's first sweethearts. On the set of
Business reporters and publicists hounded her for a scoop, about possible marriage plans. Amused by the commotion, Marilyn would confide in Whitey Snyder about their escapades of the previous night. She would play the hit single “Joltin' Joe DiMaggio” on her old Victrola and sing the lyrics while Whitey applied makeup. She listened to the song over and over, laughing and reveling in her happiness. Before she and Whitey left the room she would carefully place the 78-r.p.m. record underneath a stack of singles just in case Joe showed up. Though truly in love with him, Marilyn didn't want him to know she fantasized about their future together.
Marilyn moved into her second luxury apartment on Doheny Drive bordering Beverly Hills, decorating her new home in white, cream, and beige. At an auction she was surprised to locate the very same white lacquered piano her mother had given her years before to grace her living room. She took immense pride in making a plush yet cozy nest for her man. During the filming of
Monkey Business
they would spend their nights together. In the morning, while she bathed languorously in her tub, her favorite pastime, he would go pick up coffee and doughnuts from a local restaurant. Arriving at 7
, Whitey would share the breakfast with Joe. This daily ritual provided Whitey with the opportunity to get to know Marilyn's new lover while they both waited for the mistress of the house. DiMaggio's comfort in the flat was evident.
Occasionally Joe would appear on the set, but he felt awkward drawing cast and crew like a magnet for autographs and congratulations. He didn't want to embarrass or upstage Marilyn, so he attempted to stay in the background.
By the time of Marilyn's next film,
Don't Bother to Knock
, tension had become acute between Joe and Marilyn's acting coach, Natasha Lytess. Since early 1948 Natasha had been ingratiating herself more deeply with Marilyn. Lytess had fallen on hard times after her husband's death and she was left alone to support their daughter. At the suggestion of some writer friends in the local immigrant community, but without any formal training in the acting profession, she managed to convince studio executives at Columbia that she had studied extensively in the European school of drama, and was given her own office on the studio lot. In reality Lytess was familiar with classical literature and possessed an impressive library, which she offered to further Marilyn's quest for knowledge of the classical arts. Natasha was ostensibly brought onto the set of
Ladies of the Chorus
as Marilyn's acting coach, but Marilyn regarded her as more than that. After Ana Lower's death, Lytess had become her new surrogate mother.
At this time, Marilyn's renewed lack of funds made it expedient for her to move in with Natasha. Natasha began to exert increasing control over Monroe's personal life and acting career. When Lytess complained about not having transportation, the good-hearted Marilyn handed over her 1941 Pontiac. When Lytess learned that the license fee had not been paid, she had the audacity to nag Monroe into taking care of it. Whitey Snyder was incensed by all of this manipulation. Division in the ranks was forming. Natasha had latched onto Marilyn as her only meal ticket. In addition, the acting coach began to imagine herself as Marilyn's live-in lover. Natasha had hopes that while she taught Marilyn to be vulnerable and tender in front of the camera, Marilyn would return the favor by supporting her and falling in love with her. Still earning only seventy-five dollars per week under contract, Marilyn couldn't possibly provide for Natasha, too. But Marilyn felt obliged to repay Natasha with a lover's favors. Since Marilyn sought male companionship throughout the time she knew Natasha, any intimacy that developed between them was brief and sporadic. Marilyn respected Natasha and wanted to please her, but that didn't extend to becoming a permanent bedmate. In her need for approval and reassurance, Marilyn compromised her own principles and beliefs by accommodating Natasha's desires.
Because her “coach” seemed so dedicated and loyal, Marilyn allowed Natasha to continue to direct her life. After all, she had taught Marilyn table manners, exposed her to classical literature, and generally endeavored to make of Marilyn a cultured Hollywood film actress. In short, Lytess had struggled to mold Marilyn into something she wasn't, something the studio never wanted. Still on the payroll, however, Natasha continued to work with Marilyn through five films. In reality, Lytess's training and presence actually stifled the natural comedic tendencies of the budding actress.
Throughout this period Marilyn supported both Natasha and Natasha's daughter, including an expensive dental bill for the latter. Friction developed when Marilyn insisted that Natasha accompany her onto the sets. Directors would observe Marilyn looking to her coach rather than them for direction. On several films the director would ban Natasha from the set altogether. On the home front, trouble was brewing as well. At one point Lytess pleaded poverty while claiming she needed surgery for an ailment she refused to disclose. The actress did not have the $1,000 in cash her coach was demanding. Natasha even threatened to quit if she was not given the money. Caving in to the ultimatum, Marilyn sold the mink stole that Johnny Hyde had bought her.
Despite Monroe's difficulties with Lytess, and perhaps partly due to her positive influence, the Fox front office had begun to perceive the actress as more complex. She had been cast in the film
as Rose Loomis, a beautiful young wife who murders her husband, played by Joseph Cotten. Marilyn had acquired a reputation for being difficult and demanding. Director Henry Hathaway insisted that Natasha Lytess be banned from the shooting location near Niagara Falls.
Though Marilyn was not happy with Hathaway's decision and called Natasha daily during the filming, Joe DiMaggio was delighted as he accompanied her to Ben Springs, Canada, the honeymoon haven. Much to Hathaway's surprise, Marilyn remained in line and seemed less insecure than had been reported. Members of the cast and crew attributed her improvement to Joe's presence.
During the first scene of the film, Marilyn displayed her famous gait, swaying her hips as she walked. In an ingenious move to accentuate her walk, the director shortened one heel on her shoes. An instant success, she swayed like never before. But Joe didn't like it. He felt her character was too cheap. He wanted his woman to play more respectable parts.
Monroe had become the hottest actress in Hollywood. Her lover was an all-American hero. The one-million-dollar production of
quadrupled in revenues, turning out to be one of the year's biggest box-office hits.
Though she could barely tolerate premieres by this point, the publicity department made a bargain that if she attended the premiere of
Monkey Business
, she could take a few days off in New York. The chance to enjoy Gotham City with the retired Yankee was enough for her. They were mobbed everywhere they went. Joe wanted to spend more time with his close friends, like George Solotaire, while Marilyn wished to hit all the night spots, the theater, and museums. New York was home for Joe and, like a typical New Yorker, he was not interested in sightseeing. While they argued over what to do, reporters were in a frenzy covering the relationship between the “All-American Gal” and the “All-American Guy.” Their telephone never stopped ringing for interviews.
The mayor of Atlantic City invited the couple to “his city,” where they were welcomed with a police escort and a parade. The streets were jammed with her followers. Marilyn wore her usual low-cut dress, this the one that had raised critics' eyebrows in
. She rode in the backseat of a convertible and threw rose petals to her fans, who roared as her car passed. She created quite a stir, both on the streets and in the tabloids. The press targeted her for her lack of propriety. Though Joe believed that she lacked dignity and respect when she played up her wild sexual image, he kept his feelings in check. He was in love with her. But the die was cast; Marilyn was America's sexiest attraction. This image would soon come to haunt her when she attempted to become a serious dramatic actress.
DiMaggio despised the studio system, which had literally made Marilyn a property. Though he was grateful for his own financial security and independence, he resented his loss of privacy and personal happiness. He had heard the gossip, read the publicity, and was convinced the studio and Marilyn were taking the bombshell image too far. Wanting to protect her from further damage, he decided that the time had come for marriage. Marriage would make a “lady” out of the “tramp,” and he insisted they tie the knot right away. But Miss Monroe had grown to cherish her independence. Making excuses, Marilyn would either avoid the subject entirely or say she wasn't ready. By keeping him at a comfortable distance, she could bask in the security of knowing he was available whenever she needed him.
BOOK: Crypt 33
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