The Discovery of Marilyn Monroe

Nov 2016
On the day Norma Jeane Doughterty returns to her working place in the Radioplane factory, 25-year-old Corporal David Conover is sent there with other army cameramen and photographers by Captain Ronald Reagan.

In the Marilyn literature, the period ´Autumn 1944´ is usually given as date of this event. However, that's way too imprecise. Since Norma Jeane visited her niece Bebe in Huntington shortly after October 28, 1944 and only stayed there for a short time, and, as can be seen from the letter to Grace Goddard dated June 4, 1945 quoted below, the camera team showed up at the factory "the day I went back to work after my trip back East with you ," the time of the event can be determined with greater precision: The discovery of the future Marilyn Monroe took place in the second week of November 1944 at the latest.

Reagan, the later US president and a Hollywood actor detached to the 1st Motion Picture Unit of Hal Roach Studios, wants to demonstrate to the front soldiers how energetically they are supported by patriotic girls in their homeland. This objective distinguishes the campaign from the 'Rosie the Riveter' campaign, with which the army has been using photos and posters of female armaments workers to recruit American women for the weapons factories for years. The photos will appear in the army magazine Yank. As a professional photographer with his own photo studio, Conover is the right man for the job.

If you read the different reports about this event (four by Norma Jeane/Marilyn and one by Conover), you will notice some differences. In order to determine Conover's role in the discovery of Marilyn Monroe, one should compare these reports and peel out something like a true core to get an idea of the actual circumstances. This has not yet been sufficiently done in Marilyn literature.

19-year-old Norma Jeane reports about her meeting with Conover in a letter to Grace Goddard dated June 4, 1945:

(…) The day I went back to work after my trip back East with you, there had some Army photographers there (sic) at work and they were taking Movie pictures for Army training. The first thing I knew the leadlady and the leadman had me out there, having the Army taking Pictures (sic) of me. They all asked where in the H---- I had been hidding (sic). I told them I had been east on leave of absence, with my folks. They took a lot of moving pictures of me and some of them asked for dates etc. (Naturally I refused!). They were all nice army officers and men. A (sic) army Cpl. by the name of David Conover told me he would be very interested in getting some color still shots of me. He use (sic) to have a studio on ´the strip´ of Sunset. He said he would make arrangments (sic) with the Plant superintendent if I would agree so I said okay. He told me what to wear and what shade lipstick etc. so the next couple of weeks I posed for him at different times when ever he could get over to the plant. He had to come from Culver City each time. He is now with the 1st Motion Picture Unit. He called me at the plant one morning later and said that all the pictures came out perfect, also he said I should by all means go in Modelling prof. He also said that I photographed very well and that he wants to take a lot more. Also he said that he had a lot of contacts in which he wanted me to look into. I told him I would rather not work when Jimmie was here so he said he would wait, so I´m expective to hear from him most any time again (...)“

According to an interview with Pete Martin in 1956, that's how things went:

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?’“

In 1960, Marilyn gave this version in an interview with Georges Belmont:

And then one day the Air Force wanted to take pictures of our factory. I'd just come back from my vacation when the office called me in.

"Where have you been?" I nearly died and I said, "But I had permission for a vacation !"- which was true. They said, "It's not that. Do you want to pose for some pictures?"

Well, the photographers came and took the pictures. They wanted to take more, outside the factory, but I didn't want to get in trouble - because I would have missed work - so I said,

"You´ll have to get permission." Which they got, so I worked as a model here and there for several days, holding things in my hand, pushing things around, pulling them...“

Finally, Marilyn reports to photojournalist George Barris in 1962:

Well, one day a photographer came to our plant from the Army’s Pictorial Center in Hollywood to take some pictures of people—he called them morale-booster types—showing how they were doing their part, working in defense plants, too. When this photographer, David Conover, passed by where I was at work, he said,

You’re a real morale booster. I’m going to take your picture for the boys in the Army to keep their morale high.’

First he took pictures of me in my overalls. When he discovered I had a sweater in my locker, he asked if I would mind wearing it for more pictures. ‘I want to show the boys what you really look like,’ he said.

Those pictures he took of me were the first that ever appeared in a publication. They were used in hundreds of Army camp newspapers, including Yank and Stars and Stripes.“

Conover's own report in his Marilyn book from 1981 reads like this:

"I moved down the assembly line, taking shots of the most attractive employees. None was especially out of the ordinary. I came to a pretty girl putting on propellers and raised the camera to my eye. She had curly ash blond hair and her face was smudged with dirt. I snapped her picture and walked on. Then I stopped, stunned. She was beautiful. Half child, half woman, her eyes held something that touched and intrigued me.

I retraced my steps and introduced myself. 'And you'?

'I'm Norma Jeane Dougherty.' She smiled and offered her hand."

(to be continued)
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Nov 2016

The differences between the reports are partly considerable.

It seems natural to take Norma Jeane's letter to Grace as the version that comes closest to the truth, since it is relatively contemporary (about 7-8 months), while the other versions originated at least 11 years later.

In this letter from 1945 it is Norma Jeane's foremen who send for her, so that the army men can take pictures of her. According to Martin's interview of 1956, she is discovered and contacted by the army men directly at the workplace as a potential model. In the Belmont interview of 1960, a superior calls her to the office and asks her if she wants to be photographed by army men. In the interview with Barris in 1962, it is Conover who asks her whether she would like to be photographed. Conover's 1981 report corresponds fairly closely to Marilyn's 1962 account, so he discovers Norma Jeane alone, without other army men or a superior of Norma Jeane making a preselection.

It turns out that the version that Conover discovered her on his own, still widely favored in Marilyn literature, is the latest in the series of reports Marilyn herself gave of it. Conover's own report appears even later, 19 years after the Barris interview. In historical science, the principle applies that reports are all the more credible the closer they are to the reported event, unless there are compelling reasons against that. Why should this be handled differently here? It therefore makes little sense to take Marilyn's latest version as the most authentic, simply because it coincides with the version of Conover, the credibility of whom is in no good shape anyway (Donald Spoto: "Conover was a talented photographer but a patent fabulist, too").

There are also contradictions as far as permission for outdoor shots is concerned. In the letter of 1945 Conover makes arrangements with the "plan superintendent", presumably for release from work, so that he can photograph Norma Jeane privately in the next few weeks. There is no question of a permit for outdoor photographs on the day of the first encounter. In the 1956 report, it is army men in the plural who, due to Norma Jeane's refusal to leave her place of work, provide a special permit to photograph her outside the dope room. According to the 1960 report, Norma Jeane is asking the army to obtain a permit for outdoor photography. The 1962 Marilyn report and the 1981 Conover report do not mention a special permit of this kind.

Vitacco-Robles writes in 'Icon', Vol. 1, Chap. 6, that Conover had to obtain written permission from her direct supervisor for the outdoor shots in the factory because Norma Jeane "refused" without this condition. Such a procedure does not, however, appear in Marilyn's various reports, not even from the 1945 letter if one reads it carefully, nor from Conover's account. Moreover, Vitacco-Robles dubbed Conover "Captain" and not correctly a much lower ranking "Corporal", probably because he mistakenly interpreted Norma Jeane's abbreviation "Cpl" in the letter to Grace.

Strange discrepancies also consist in who asks Norma Jeane on the first day after her long absence where she has been. In the Grace letter it is "they all" ('they all'), which refers either to the foremen ('leadlady and leadman') and army men ('army') mentioned in the preceding sentence or, more probably, only to the foremen, for why should the army men be interested in it? Strangely enough, it is precisely the army people who ask Norma Jeane about it in the 1956 report, and not their superiors. In the 1960 report it is again a superior who asks Norma Jeane the question in his office. The 1962 report does not even mention the question, also not Conover´s 1981 report.

Marilyn's answers to that question vary. In 1945 and 1960 she states, certainly truthfully, an approved leave. In the interview in 1956, however, she justifies her absence with a short-term sick leave ('I was out on sick leave for a few days'). Perhaps this was the case after her return from the trip to the East, in order to let the previous vacation end in peace, without her mentioning it in 1945 and 1960.

In his description of the first encounter, Conover deviates from Marilyn's first two reports, according to which a group of army men photographed her and Conover belonging to them is then the one who makes personal contact with her. The mention of "propellers" that are "put on" by Norma Jeane as he approaches her is particularly incongruous. This has nothing to do with Norma Jeane´s painting work in the Dope Room. Conover's photographs of Norma Jeane are obviously not taken at Norma Jeane´s actual working place, but elsewhere in the factory. In the Belmont interview, Marilyn says:

"(...) so for a few days I stood for them in different places, holding things in my hand, pushing and dragging things (…)"

In Conover's pictures she holds a propeller in a way that wouldn't make sense in the assembly process, or she puts a screwdriver in a place where there's nothing to screw.

From all this follows: Conover's assertion that he saw her for the first time during the assembly of propellers can't be true. His report is a construct. And he doesn't discover Norma Jeane alone, but benefits from a pre-selection made by other people. This point has received too little attention in the Marilyn literature.

As for Marilyn's statement in the Barris interview that Conover's Radioplane photos were seen "in hundreds of Army camp newspapers (...), including Yank and Stars and Stripes," this is not true. Yank has never used any of the pictures, either on the cover or inside, although some authors claim the opposite, e.g. Vitacco-Robles in 'Icon' and Ted Schwarz in 'Marilyn Unrevealed', where on page 20 Jim Dougherty sees his Norma Jeane on the Yank cover on August 2, 1945 - which is impossible because such a cover never existed.

"The arrangements were finalized on August 2, 1945. It was the same day that Norma Jean's (sic) husband, Jim Dougherty, had his first hint of what was happening with his wife. He, and everyone else in the military who picked up a copy of the current edition of Yank, saw Norma Jean's defense plant photo on the cover."

That Schwarz erroneously dates Conover's encounter with Norma Jeane on page 17 "early 1945" is only to be mentioned incidentally.

´Stars and Stripes´, if you can believe Rollyson's statement in 'Marilyn Monroe Day by Day', at least used one of the pictures and allegedly also placed it on the cover on August 2, 1945. However, there is neither textual nor pictorial evidence for such a publication on the Internet. That Conover photographed Norma Jeane on June 26, 1945 (instead of November 1944) is unfortunately also circulated by Rollyson.

Why ´Yank´ refused publication is unclear. Possibly it was due to the above mentioned technical inconsistencies on Conover´s photos (propellers held upside down, screwdrivers placed in a pointless place).

Also wrong is, for reasons already mentioned, Conover's dating of the first encounter on June 26, 1945 (in 'Finding Marilyn'), his 26th birthday. The strange coincidence of birthday and wrongly dated first encounter can hardly be a coincidence, but has not been noticed in Marilyn literature so far, perhaps out of ignorance of Conover's birthday. It is hardly conceivable that he produced this coincidence with deceptive intent; on the other hand, however, he must have been aware at the time of writing that this day falls on his birthday.

Be that as it may, he had already met Norma Jeane about seven months earlier, in November 1944.

Of course, Conover´s merit for the discovery and promotion of Norma Jeane is unaffected by the shortcomings in his report. Sooner or later another photographer would have noticed her with high probability, but this is speculation. When in 1946 the famous Pinup photographer Bruno Bernard, to name one example, became aware of her near his photo studio on the Sunset Strip and approached her, she was already a trained model with the appropriate styling and appearance, thanks indirectly to Conover, who pointed her in this direction with advice and action.

"My own future with Norma Jeane was in jeopardy," says Dougherty later, "when this army photographer clicked his shutter." Conover recognized her talent with his sure eye and advised her to give up the poorly paid factory job in favor of a modeling career in order to work with him and other photographers. He offers her 5 Dollars per hour, which is a significant improvement over the 20 Dollars per week at Radioplane. (1 Dollar in 1944 = 14,5 Dollars today)

The photos on the assembly line were taken by Conover in black and white and with a 4x5 roll film camera, they are subsequently colored and are now known in this version. For the outdoor shots he uses a 35mm camera with a Kodachrome film. He is enthusiastic about Norma Jeane's girl-next-door charm and her natural talent for posing while enjoying the focus of a camera lens and the attention of a photographer. After the shooting he expresses the wish to photograph her more often in her spare time for a fee if the pictures are as well received as he suspects. So she gives him her phone number.

Conover can develop only the black-and-white film in his own studio, so he leaves the color Kodak film to an Eastman Kodak laboratory for this purpose. The inspector responsible for the development and technical testing of the film is fascinated and asks Conover about the extraordinary model, because she looks so vital and happy, as if the camera lens were her lover. Conover is delighted that a professional photographer has confirmed his assessment of Norma Jeane's potential. She, in turn, is delighted when Conover returns to the factory and tells her how well the shots are received.
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Nov 2016
Entry into the Blue Book Modelling Agency

Sometime in July 1945, Potter Hueth sends some of his Norma Jeane photos to Emmeline Snively at the Blue Book Modelling Agency in the Ambassador Hotel. Snively is so taken with it that she sends a brochure of the agency to Norma Jeane, who then meets Snively for an interview. In the Barris interview, Marilyn tells:

"My career as a model started when Potter Hueth showed the pictures he took of me to Miss Snively, who then ran the largest model agency in Los Angeles. I was quite excited when she agreed to see me. An appointment was made, and I couldn't sleep the night before. If she didn't like me, that would be the end of my modeling career—before it started. Calling in sick, I took the day off to go see Miss Snively. I was then nineteen, my marriage was strained, and I was thinking of a divorce."

Once again, there is an inaccuracy in Marilyn's memory, because at that time, at the beginning of August 1945, she had long since stopped working for the Radioplane Company.

(19-year-old Norma Jeane photographed by Potter Hueth)


When Hueth and Norma Jeane appear at Snively's office on August 2, she does not initially have the impression that she is dealing with an unusual girl, but with a "girl next door" (interview from August 1962). One memo says:

“Norma Jeane had been brought to the hotel by photographer Potter Hueth, wearing a simple white dress and armed with her modeling portfolio, which offered no more than a few choice snaps (...) You wouldn’t necessarily wear a white dress to a modeling job, and it was as clean and white and ironed and shining as she was.”

While Snively inspects Hueth's photos spread out on her desk, Norma Jeane stares at the magazine covers and publicity shots on the walls of the office and says:

"These are the prettiest girls I've ever seen."

Then, turned to Snively, “Do you think I could ever get my picture on a magazine cover?”

"Of course," Snively replies. "You're a natural."

Later she notes the body measurements of Norma Jeane and details of her appearance: dress size 34/36 ("size 12"), body size 167 cm, breasts 91, waist 61, hips 86, blue eyes, perfect teeth and blond curly hair.

Norma Jeane's bright white teeth may have been perfect for the demands made on a photo model, but the slight overbite of the incisors is corrected three years later, in 1948, at the suggestion of Fred Karger, who is her vocal coach at Columbia Pictures during this time. Snively's note of "size 12" later led to the misconception that Marilyn was pudgy because today's "size 12" corresponds to size 40. As Snively's body measurements show, however, the chest circumference is in the range of today's medium and the rest in the small range. In the 1980s in the USA the dress sizes had been changed, so that a today's "size 12" corresponds approximately to the measures 38-30-40 (inches) and by no means to the measures 36-24-34 (inches), as Snively noted it. These fall under the clothing sizes 4-6, i.e. small to medium.

According to the Blue Book boss, Norma Jeanne's hair is "actually dirty blonde. California blonde which means that it’s dark in the winter and light in the summer. I recall that it curled very close to her head, which was quite unmanageable. I knew at once it would have to be bleached and worked on.”

When Snively asked her if she could sing, Norma Jeane replies: "Just a little.“ She would also dance only "a little", and asked if she had an ambition to become an actress, she replies: "Not at all". This statement is strange, since Norma Jeane has often expressed her dream of a film career up to this point. Asked about her age she says "20", although she just turned 19. Astrid Franse suspects that Norma Jeane might have been afraid of not getting a job as a teenager. However, according to Franse, such concerns would have been unnecessary, since the Blue Book agency often trained children and teenagers and employed them as models.

When asked about her own wardrobe, Norma Jeane answers modestly that she has a few things, "but not many". According to Snively's memory, she had a white dress, which Snively said looked "great" on her because it was very tight at the front, emphasized the breasts and attracted attention to the figure. Normally models would have been reluctant to wear white clothes. Apart from that, Norma Jeane would only have had a swimsuit and a dark turquoise men's suit "that didn't do a thing for her". She will wear exactly this suit for her first paid model job for American Airlines. To be included in the agency catalogue, the Blue Book, Norma Jeane pays 25 dollars.

(Norma Jeane in 1945 with two other Blue Book models)


(Norma Jeane and other models in front of the Ambassador Hotel)


Snivelys troupe consists of about 20 girls with some experience in the modeling business. There are also girls like Norma Jeane, who are promising, but still have to be trained to meet professional requirements. Many of them are looking for a film career because model jobs in Los Angeles are not well paid. The agency serves the girls primarily as a springboard to the film business or to New York, where posing in front of the camera brings in more money. Founded by Snively and her mother Myrtle in 1936, the "Village School" had moved from Westwood to the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in January 1944 and the name was changed to "Blue Book Modeling Agency" to reflect the expanded business: In addition to their specific training, models are now also mediated to clients. This change is perfectly in line with the trend of the time as the publishing and advertising industries are in a state of upheaval and the demand for pretty women for advertising photos, magazine covers and product fairs is growing. In the film industry, too, there is a growing demand for handsome supporting actresses in small roles whose pay is high enough to secure a considerable additional income for agencies involved in percentage terms.

But it doesn't take long until rumor has it that Blue Book mainly operates an escort service for guests of the Ambassador Hotel, i.e. a hidden form of prostitution. Therefore, the LAPD keeps an eye on the agency. Snively admits that "many of my girls whose husbands were overseas dated on several nights of the week. But not Norma Jeane. She was interested only in legitimate assignments.“ According to William Carroll, the agency is associated with a call girl ring, as Banner says. According to Snively it's up to the models to keep a distance to it or lucratively participate. Full-time call girls are regularly found in the Ambassador Hotel. Part of the hotel complex is also the Coconut Grove Nightclub, a highlight of Hollywood's nightlife.

The 'Blue Book' is an annual model catalogue according to which the agency's objective is to “groom girls for careers in motion pictures, photographic modeling and fashion modeling, with personalized instruction in charm and poise, success and beauty and personalized development”. The agency also organizes beauty contests such as ´Miss May´ and ´Miss Summer´, in which Norma Jeane does not participate because she is still married to Jim. The ´Blue Book´ is associated with 40 shops, a hairdressing salon and Erwin "Steinie" Steinmeyer's photo studio, which takes many test shots of the models.

Snively has a clear principle: she only hires girls whose success she does not doubt and who will certainly find work after sufficient training. Less serious agencies let girls with uncertain chances invest money in a training for their own profit, which later doesn't pay off for them. In Snively's former Village School, most girls had come from wealthy families and were not planning a modeling career, but just wanted to learn how to stand by their husbands at parties and business events as a beautiful looking accessory.

In addition to her training in social appearance and posing in front of the camera, Norma Jeane is taking a make-up and beauty course with Maria Smith and a fashion course with Mrs. Gavin Beardsley. On 2 September, test shots of her and eight other models are taken in front of the Ambassador Hotel. From 5 September, she is working at a California industrial fair. Dressed in a long black dress with a flower on her bosom, she talks to visitors for ten days as hostess of the Holga Steel Company, hands them brochures and demonstrates an aluminium filing cabinet. In his Marilyn biography, Norman Mailer imagines how Norma might have felt about her unusual surroundings. He does not hide the fact that at that time she did not yet possess the flawless beauty of her later years:

"We can picture her as she sits at this exhibition. Her hair is a dark blonde, almost brown, and long and too heavy in its ringlets which are thick in a permanent’s curls, her little nose is not yet little — in fact it is near to bulbous (...), but these flaws are not nearly so significant as her aura. She now realizes that men — not boys nor service personnel, but men — are flocking around her booth, executive businessmen full of financial deeds actually seem to like her. Deeds rather than dudes now like her! The clear sense of ambition is taking on its edge."

According to Snively, however, she doesn't feel at all comfortable with this work, but does it reliably and to the great satisfaction of the client. She repays the fees owed to the agency without withholding anything from her salary. Snively likes this behavior so much that she decides to get her new model as much work as possible from now on.


(Emmeline Snively and Marilyn Monroe on the set of ´There Is No Business Like Showbusiness´ in 1954)


(Robert Kennedy, who was somehow involved in Marilyn´s death in 1962, fatally injured in the Ambassador Hotel in 1968)

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Nov 2016
How Marilyn gets her first studio contract

On 24 July 1946 Norma Jeane has an interview with 20th Century Fox mediated by her agent Helen Ainsworth. Usually July 17 is given as the date (e.g. Spoto), but according to Morgan, Norma Jeane is in Las Vegas until July 18, and a memo (see below) announcing a screen test is dated July 25, which suggests that the interview is on July 24. Her contact person is Ben Lyon, who wrote the memo. He was a successful actor himself until the early 1940s and has been a film partner of many female stars, including Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Mary Astor and Norma Jeane's idol Jean Harlow, who made her breakthrough at Lyon's side in the 1930 Howard Hughes production 'Hell's Angels'. During the last years of the war he served in England in the Royal Air Force and since his return he has been working for Fox as their best talent scout and casting manager.

When Norma Jeane visits him in his office, she has to do a reading rehearsal, a few lines from the Fox production 'Winged Victory' from 1944, which Judy Holliday speaks in the film. Nothing else has been recorded about the meeting than Lyon's alleged comment „It's Jean Harlow all over again!“.

(Ben Lyon and Marilyn in 1954, on the set of ´The Seven Year Itch´)

Lyon sends the aforementioned memo to a colleague with the instruction to draw up an optional contract for the candidate in case she passes the upcoming screen test. This is set for August 14 (according to Morgan, unlike Spoto, who states July 19). Actually, the decision to do a screen test is up to studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck, but he's out of town, so Lyon has the authority.

(Ben Lyon´s memo, including Marilyn´s phone number...)

Also in July, Snively —according to her own statement— invents a splendid fiction to push the interest of 20th Century Fox in Norma Jeane. At the centre of the fiction is Howard Hughes, the world-famous multi-billionaire, inventor, record pilot, film director and president of RKO Pictures, who lies in a hospital wrapped in plaster casts after a serious accident with his private plane. Snively fakes the news that he, when browsing a staple of magazines, saw a Laff cover with Norma Jeane and wanted to know more about her. She tells that the Los Angeles Times gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper. On July 29th, the Los Angeles Times' Film News reports: "Howard Hughes is on the mend. Picking up a magazine, he was attracted by the cover girl and promptly instructed an aide to sign her for pictures. She is Norma Jean (sic) Dougherty, a model."

This magazine must be the June issue of Laff, whose cover shows Norma Jeane in a striped bikini and the name 'Norma Jean Dougherty', with 'Jean' without an 'e' at the end. So the cover and the newspaper report are real, but not —according to Snively— the Hughes-related content. Of course Lipton informs Fox about the news. It goes without saying that the fiction that RKO Pictures, in shape of Howard Hughes, want to fish Norma Jeane should not only make her more interesting for 20th Century Fox, but also increase the pressure on them to make decisions.

(Laff magazine from June 1946)

In the early morning of August 14th Norma Jeane appears on the set of the musical 'Mother Wore Thights' and is introduced to the illustrious team for the screen test. There is Leon Shamroy, whose camera work on 'The Black Swan' with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara won him an Oscar in 1943. He will later shoot 'There Is No Business Like Showbusiness' with Marilyn. There is make-up artist Allan 'Whitey' Snyder, who worked for Betty Grable and Linda Darnell. There is director Walter Lang, who is shooting this year with stars like Maureen O'Hara, Dorothy McGuire and Mary Astor. And there's costume designer Charles LeMaire, who is also on the team of 'The Razor's Edge' in 1946 with Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter. Casting Manager Lyon has done his best to provide his new Jean Harlow with optimal conditions. Nevertheless, a discrepancy arises on the set. According to Zolotow, make-up expert Snyder reports:

“She’d been modeling, and so she came to us knowing everything about everything, or so she believed. I remember thinking that here was a very determined and ambitious girl, despite her obvious nervousness.“

She asks him to apply a thick make-up, as she is used to for model photos. Snyder argues that this is incompatible with a Technicolor shoot. For a similar reason —disturbing shades of green on the indispensable make-up of Curtis and Lemmon— Billy Wilder shot 'Some Like It Hot' in black and white twelve years later. Snyder gives in to the newcomer, however, which is why Shamroy pans him when he sees the mess:

“Whitey, what the hell have you got on that face? We can’t photograph her that way! Take this girl downstairs, wash the damn stuff off, do her face the way you know it ought to be and bring her back up!”

This makes Norma Jeane so nervous that she starts to stutter and sweat, and red blotches form on her face. Snyder talks to her in a calming way while he removes her make-up, assuring her that she doesn't have to recite any text and that it is only about her visual performance. That is balm for her soul. Years later, when she puts together her personal crew, she will remember Snyder and hire him as her make-up man. Finally, the director tells her what to do in the twelve-minute scene. Then comes his obligatory call: "Action!"

On the set, it gets quiet as a mouse. In her dress, chosen by LeMaire, Norma Jeane walks back and forth, takes a seat on a chair, lights a cigarette, grinds it out in an ashtray and walks to a stage window. The film team makes the same experience as the photographers who dealt with Norma Jeane before: as soon as she is in the focus of a camera, she is a different person. All nervousness is gone, she radiates an unbelievable calm, and her smile is infectious.

Shamroy remembers his impressions while watching the developed film:

„When I first watched her, I thought, this girl will be another Harlow. Her natural beauty plus her inferiority complex gave her a look of mystery. I got a cold chill. This girl had something I hadn't seen since silent pictures. She had kind of a fantastic beauty like Gloria Swanson, and she got sex on a piece of film like Jean Harlow. Every frame of the test radiated sex. She didn't need a sound track, she was creating effects visually. She was showing us she could sell emotions in pictures.“

A few days later the film is presented to Darryl F. Zanuck, whose placet is required for a contract to be concluded. Zanuck began as plot author for numerous silent movies and from 1924 he also wrote for Warner Bros. where he went into management in 1929 and became head of production department in 1931. In 1933 he quarrels with Jack Warner because of different salary expectations and a little later he founds 20th Century Pictures Inc. together with Joseph Schenck, which is expanded to 20th Century Fox Inc. in 1935 by the takeover of the bankrupt Fox Studios with Schenck as president and Zanuck as vice president. In 1942 Spyros Skouras replaces Schenck, who in future operates from the background. In 1944 Zanuck returned to Fox after three years of a sometimes dramatic military service and as studio head put the business back on track after his less inspired successor William Goetz moved to Universal Pictures. It is very likely that Zanuck, like most Hollywood moguls, also communicated with starlets in ways other than verbal. Rumor has it that the hour between 4 and 5 pm in his office was dedicated to so-called 'conferences' with starlets. In an interview in 1971 he denies — of course. One thing is certain: Marilyn Monroe was not one of them.

(Darryl Zanuck)

Unlike the screen test team, the mogul is not convinced by the candidate. This is partly because he prefers brunettes and believes his studio is sufficiently staffed in the blonde section with Betty Grable. On the other hand, Norma Jeane has had neither acting lessons nor any film experience so far. He can't see a new Jean Harlow in her either. Strictly speaking, he doesn't recognize anything in her at all. But because a contract doesn't bear any risk in view of the low starting salary and Lyon and Shamroy believe in the candidate, he gives his approval. In the Barris interview of 1962 Marilyn presents Zanuck's reaction as much more positive —"This is a damn good test. Who is this girl? I hope you signed her!"—, but that's certainly not what happened. Zanuck has always thought Marilyn was untalented, and even after her breakthrough, he still values her only as a guarantee for box-office hits. In 1971, in the aforementioned interview, he even states that he hated her. Until 1951 he will block Marilyn's career and only under the pressure of chief mogul Skouras will he grant her more important roles.

So after Zanuck half-heartedly agrees, Lipton goes to Fox and takes care of the contractual details. These stipulate that Norma Jeane will receive 75 dollars a week for the first six months, 100 dollars for the following six months, 125 dollars a week from the first year and 150 dollars a week after eighteen months, regardless of whether she works or not. That is an astonishing amount when measured against purchasing power. Even the initial salary of 75 dollars a week is 25 dollars above the average income of a journalist and is not only enough to get a whole family through the month, but also to save something on a rainy day. But because Norma Jeane can't manage her money, she will be constantly broke even after the first half of the year, when the salary is raised to 100 dollars — because she spends almost everything on cosmetics.


(to be continued)
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Norma Jeane signs the contract on August 24. Because she is not yet of age, Grace also has to sign to make it legally binding. This is a significant step forward for Norma Jeane, but also for Grace it is a confirmation of her ambition to turn her foster daughter into a film star in the line of Jean Harlow. The contract is valid for seven years, but can be terminated after the first six months. This makes Norma Jeane one of about forty young women who are under contract with Fox under the same conditions and most of whom are dropped after six months. This is largely dependent on the attention these starlets attract in the studio's publicity department, the so-called 'flacks'. These PR promoters, about 90 in number at Fox, are paid to inundate the print media with often fictitious 'information' about starlets that is interesting enough to be printed in newspapers and magazines such as Photoplay, Silver Screen etc. In short, flacks do their part to 'make' a star.

Before signing, Lyon clarifies one more point: Norma Jeane needs a stage name, because Dougherty doesn't suit an up-and-coming star. Name changes are not uncommon in Hollywood anyway: Harlean Harlow Carpenter called herself 'Jean Harlow' from 1928 for obvious reasons, and Rita Cansino was renamed 'Rita Hayworth' (after her mother) in 1937 in order to appear less exotic.

There are several stories about the way 'Marilyn Monroe' came about. According to Summers, who relies on Tommy Zahn's testimony, Lyon initially chooses 'Carol Lind', but this reminds too obviously of an opera singer and a dead actress. This choice is probably made in Lyon's office, the later change to 'Marilyn Monroe' is then made during brainstorming at Lyon's beach house in Malibu, in the presence of Lyon's wife Bebe Daniels, who has grown fond of Norma Jeane. ´Monroe' was the surname by marriage of her grandmother Della Mae. This choice is made by Norma Jeane herself.

The search for a suitable first name is more difficult. According to Spoto, who locates the following, presumably counterfactual, in Lyon's office, Norma Jeane talks about her youth while brainstorming. She would have been called "the Mmmmmh girl" in high school because she tended to stutter and then produce a sound like this. This inspires Lyon for 'Marilyn', since he feels reminded of the actress, singer and dancer Marilyn Miller, with whom he stood before the camera in 'Her Majesty, Love' in 1931 and with whom he probably also had a relationship in private. The blond Miller was one of the most successful Broadway stars in the 1920's and 1930's and died in 1936 at the age of 37 because of an operation — only one year older than Marilyn Monroe at her death. `Marilyn' is a contraction of 'Mary' and 'Lynn', the first names of Marilyn Miller's paternal grandparents, and she is the first woman ever to bear this name. Originally written as 'Marilynn', Miller later changed it to 'Marilyn'. Although the name will one day blend perfectly with her iconic status, Norma Jeane is not immediately thrilled because it sounds too artificial in her ears. But she is persuaded, not least because the name has become popular in the USA through Marilyn Miller and many girls have been given it as their first name.

While most of the other starlets sleep in until 11 a.m., Marilyn goes to the studio by bus or bike at 8 a.m. In Hollywood's classic era, a studio not only functions as a dream factory with an output of one film per week, but also as an academy for filmmakers and actors, who are taught a wide range of skills. Marilyn attends classes in acting (led by Helena Sorell and Craig Noel), singing, speaking, drama, pantomime, dancing and even fencing. One of her classmates is Jean Peters, who is the same age as Marilyn and later has a successful career. In 1953 she is in the main cast of 'Niagara' together with Marilyn. According to her memory, Marilyn had a "fantastic energy" at that time. In the classes of Sorell and Noel she would have played "wonderful" scenes, e.g. as a peasant girl, who on a windy day hangs damp laundry on a line and to whom a farmhand holds the skirt so that the wind does not whirl it up, foreshadowing the famous scene with Marilyn´s blown-up dress above the subway ventilation shaft in 1954.

Marilyn also acquires knowledge about lighting, cameras, modern and historical costumes, textiles and underwear. The studio does not offer any courses for this, she simply approaches people who know about it, electricians and cameramen, and asks them questions. According to make-up expert Snyder, she was "desperate to absorb all she could”. That's why 'Whitey', named after his prematurely greying hair, also teaches her about make-up techniques that are suitable for black-and-white and color shots. Of course, it does not escape his attention how fragile her self-confidence is with regard to her appearance:

“I could see at once that she was terribly insecure, that despite her modeling she didn’t think she was pretty. It took a lot of convincing for her to see the natural freshness and beauty she had, and how well she could be used in pictures.”

(Snyder and Marilyn on the set of ´There Is No Business Like Showbusiness´ in 1954)

Part of a starlet's routine is posing for publicity photos for magazines, newspapers and advertising agencies. Marilyn prefers to appear in front of the camera in short swimsuits and almost transparent negligees, as she is used to as a model. One of the pictures appears next year, on January 30, 1947, on page 2 of the Los Angeles Times. It shows her in a white bikini sitting on a stone block. The accompanying text rejuvenates her by two years:

"THROUGH SITTING - Marilyn Monroe, a baby sitter, walked into talent scout´s home for a sitting job. The studio will train her for year before giving her film role. BABY SITTER LANDS IN FILMS. She didn´t know it at the time, but when an 18-year-old bloond baby sitter walked into a 20th Century-Fox studio talent scout´s home, the other night she was on the road to possible stardom. The baby sitter, Marilyn Monroe of West Los Angeles, isn´t a baby sitter any more. She was signed to a contract which appraises her possibilities so greatly that she will be groomed in dramatic work for a year before being assigned a role. Marilyn, a native daughter, attended University and Van Nuys high schools.“

(Los Angeles Times from 30 January 1947)

This fairy tale was invented by the Flack team around Fox's chief press agent, Harry Brand. Brand's speciality is imaginative press releases, which have already helped Shirley Temple and Betty Grable to gain publicity. Years later, in June 1950, when Marilyn for the first time gains greater attention with her performance in 'The Asphalt Jungle' and is also convincing in 'All About Eve', the same story, again with two years age diminution and supplemented by the fiction of the starving orphan, is presented in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. At this time Marilyn has had her first beauty surgery on her chin and nose, which greatly improves her appeal. But perhaps her greatest mimic strength is her inimitable way of looking, i.e. her play of the eyes, which of course includes the entire eye area, including the brows. Helene Ainsworth probably already guessed this at the job interview when she saw in Norma Jeane's eyes that she would make a career in film.

While the Fox photographers like to work with one of the most popular models on the West Coast, their colleagues in the press department are a bit annoyed that Marilyn comes in every day and asks them how they can push her publicity. They treat her in a friendly manner, but can't do more for her than the routine demands without special instructions from the boss.

On September 5th the showbiz magazine 'Daily Variety' reports that Norma Jeane Dougherty and Jane Ball have signed new contracts at 20th Century Fox. Ball, who is six years older than Jane, can get a major supporting role in a Preminger film the following year.
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Marilyn´s study with the Actors Laboratory and her first film appearances

In January 1947 Marilyn takes an apartment at 3539 Kelton Avenue in Hollywood. Now she has her own dwellings for the first time. She also begins to frequent Schwab's Drugstore on Sunset Boulevard, which she first saw from the inside through De Dienes in December 1945. There she meets Sidney Skolsky. This is actually unavoidable, since, as already mentioned, the star columnist, as it were, runs his office at Schwab's. Little by little a relationship of trust will develop that will make him part of her inner circle for many years to come.

(Skolsky and Marilyn in 1953)

Steve Hayes, who will later run the well-known 'Googies' Café, also frequents the place. He remembers that he and Sydney Chaplin, one of the Charlie Chaplin sons, had "been talking at the bar in the Garden of Allah, and when it became crowded we walked across Sunset to Frascati’s to grab some dinner. Marilyn hung out there and at The Garden in her early years and when she saw Sydney she quickly joined us for a drink.“

Sydney is like his brother Charlie jr. one of Marilyn´s lovers in 1947. About her intellectual capacity he says:

„Marilyn was anything but dumb. Her only problem was she was incapable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time — and anything for a long time. To combat that she skipped from one subject to another, hoping no one would catch on.“

(Sydney Chaplin & Charlie Chaplin jr.)

Zanuck still refuses to consider Marilyn for a speaking role. But since she is one of the most popular models on the West Coast, it can only be a matter of time before the tide turns. In February, Zanuck can no longer ignore Marilyn. He extends her contract by six months and gives green light for a tiny speaking role in the B-comedy 'Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!'.


The title, which is not easily understood even by native speakers, is a cheer for horses. The film that launched June Haver's career is remembered today only because of Marilyn's, albeit minimal, participation. It is shot in March 1947, but not released until a year later. Marilyn has two scenes, one of which, showing her paddling a canoe, lands on the floor of the editing room and the other lasts barely half a second: June Haver is standing next to 8-year-old Natalie Wood, having a conversation with someone as Marilyn walks by and shouts "Hi Rad!" When Haver replies "Hi Betty!" Marilyn is already out of the picture. She is also practically invisible before that, because the viewer focuses on June Haver and Marilyn scurries by in the left corner of the spectator´s eye. No wonder, then, that she asks Berniece in a letter not to blink when watching the film, because otherwise she will miss the performance — an example of her witty humor.

Marilyn doesn't have a high opinion of her talents during this time, but has the iron will to improve herself:

„My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn! To change, to improve! I didn’t want anything else. Not men, not money, not love, but the ability to act. With the arc lights on me and the camera pointed at me, I suddenly knew myself. How clumsy, empty, uncultured I was! A sullen orphan with a goose egg for a head.“

She doesn't attract attention from the director and the stars, but from the crew:

„Men were smiling at me and trying to catch my eye. Not the actors or the director and his assistants. They were important people and important people try to catch the eye only of other important people. But the grips and electricians and the other healthy looking workmen had grinning friendly faces for me. I didn’t return their grins. I was too busy being desperate. I had a new name, Marilyn Monroe. I had to get born. And this time better than before.“

The daughter of the director of ´Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!', Diana Herbert, also has a small extra role in the film and during the shooting she makes friends with Marilyn. She compares Marilyn like Young to a "frightened rabbit" and continues:

„On the sly, I snuck her into a screening room where my father was viewing for editing, and Marilyn got to see herself in the bit part before it was trimmed. She’d had one line and whispered to me, ‘Do I sound that awful?’”

(Marilyn and Diana Herbert)

February brings also the beginning of a top-class acting training. The studio sends her along with other starlets to the Actors Laboratory on Crescent Heights Boulevard south of Sunset Boulevard to improve her acting skills. The 'Lab' is an offshoot of the former Group Theater in New York, which was founded in 1930 by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, Lee Strasberg and Clifford Odets and dissolved in 1940.

Programmatically, the theater represented socialist and capitalism-critical ideas and performed plays with social-critical content on Broadway. This gave new impulses to the American theater as a whole. The most important teachers at the Lab are Phoebe Brand and her husband Morris Carnovsky. In 1952, as part of McCarthy's Communist chase, both of them, along with six other members of the Group Theater, were betrayed by Elia Kazan as members of the Communist Party, which ended Brand's career. Looking back, Marilyn says of her ten months of study:

„All I could think of was this far, far away place called New York, where actors and directors did very different things than stand around all day arguing about a closeup or a camera angle. I had never seen a play, and I don’t think I knew how to read one very well. But Phoebe Brand and her company somehow made it all very real. It seemed so exciting to me, and I wanted to be part of that life.“

She now learns methods that are unknown to her from films and observation on film sets. First of all, there is the difference in the role design. The classically trained actors use a formalized repertoire of gestures and facial expressions to make the soul life of a character visible. Their own individuality is not revealed. From today's point of view, the result is therefore often artificial, one could also say: kitschy. The method developed by the Russian Konstantin Stanislavsky works differently: here, actors are encouraged to express the inner life of the character in an individual way by improvising and reactivating their memories of their own experiences and emotions. They are not bound to an expressive code. This gives their play a higher degree of realism.

The working methods in the production are also very different. In film —and this is what Marilyn implies in the previous quote— the productive output is disproportionate to the time and organizational effort involved, since technical and organizational complications and the notorious rewriting of scenes on location, among other problems, reduce efficiency. One is already satisfied when a few minutes of usable material are on film in the evening. In theater, on the other hand, actors are intensively engaged in the analysis of text and role and discuss them with the director.

„It was as far from Scudda Hoo as you could get,” comments Marilyn. „It was my first taste of what real acting in real drama could be, and I was hooked.”


(to be continued)
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Phoebe Brand and the other actors of the Lab are more impressed by her diligence and conscientiousness than by her talent. In retrospect, however, Brand admits to having overlooked an essential feature of Marilyn's play:

„I remember her for her beautiful long blond hair (...) I tried to get through to her and find out more about her, but I couldn’t do it. She was extremely retiring. What I failed to see in her acting was her wit, her sense of humor. It was there all the time—this lovely comedic style, but I was blind to it.“

(Phoebe Brand)

In her enthusiasm for theater work, Marilyn decides not long after beginning her studies at the Lab to attend one of the acting classes with Charles Laughton. These take place at Laughton's magnificent estate in Pacific Palisades, west of Los Angeles, which he acquired in 1941. However, Marilyn is intimidated by the level of teaching and the classical training of her fellow students. Therefore, she breaks off her participation after a few lessons.

Later, in July, she takes private lessons in Beverly Hills with Helena Sorell, who, as mentioned above, leads an acting class at Fox Studio, which Marilyn also attends. There are a number of photos from these sessions. Christine Krogull (in Morgan) interviewed Sorell shortly before her death and reports this:

„(Sorell) told me that Marilyn was an extremely talented student. She always followed her advice, rehearsed and practised a lot, and was very friendly. During one training scene she was to eat a slice of bread with meat. Helena played in the scene with Marilyn and when they came to the point of eating, Marilyn stopped – began to search for something – took imaginary salt and pepper shakers and pretended to sprinkle them over the meat because in her opinion that was what was missing from the scene. Helena was surprised because Marilyn had done it so naturally and was more surprised the next day when she came with a present of a real salt and pepper shaker – in the shape of a cat and dog.“

(Sorell and Marilyn)

In the early stages of Marilyn's participation in the Actors Lab there is a curious incident reported by the aforementioned Diana Herbert. She has invited Marilyn to a pool party at her parents' estate in Bel Air. After attending a class at the Actors Lab, Marilyn appears at the party, albeit quite late.

„She came quietly with her beach bag. I got out of the pool to direct her to the dressing room. A lot of time passed… and no Marilyn. So I became concerned and went and knocked on the door. ‘Marilyn?’ I called out. ‘Are you okay?’ And she said, ‘Yeah,’ in a voice that was barely audible. ‘I’ll be right out, I just have to change.’ So I went back in the pool. An hour went by, and no Marilyn. So, again, I went back to the dressing room and knocked on the door. ‘I’ll be right out,’ she said. By this time, everyone was getting out of the pool, drying off, and going home. More time passed. I again went to the dressing room and knocked on the door. But… she was gone. She never even came out of the dressing room—except to leave.”

This is a sign of her later compulsive tendency to be late or not show up at all during shooting. There is one difference, however. Her behavior during the shooting, even if in a way that is difficult to understand, will be based on her fear of stepping before a film camera under a director's critical gaze. At the pool, however, she only had to expose herself to the looks of the other guests, which really couldn't be a problem for such a successful model like Marilyn. Moreover, considering the long time she spent in the dressing room, it's easy to assume that Marilyn starts to develop an anxiety disorder, which on certain occasions may lead to temporary delusional distortions of reality.

'Dangerous Years', which is made in the second half of July 1947, is Marilyn's first film. The half-second in 'Scudda Hoo' as a two-word character scurrying past can't count for anything.

The script for 'Dangerous Years' is written by Arnold Belgard. The Wikipedia article on this movie mentions Phoebe and Henry Ephron as the authors, as does Vitacco-Robles in ´Icon´, but this contradicts the more credible entry in the 1948 'Catalog of Copyright Entries', which lists Belgard as the author. Spoto and Taraborrelli mention Belgard as author, too. The Ephrons have instead written Marilyn's 'There Is No Business Like Showbusiness' (1954). In December 1947 'Dangerous Years' is released, four months before 'Scudda Hoo'. In the credits, Marilyn's name appears in fourteenth place on a list of fifteen. The film makes little impression on the audience and critics, so today it is only remembered for Marilyn's contribution. However, worth seeing are also Ann E. Todd and Dickie Moore, two former very successful child stars, who despite their youth and undeniable talent are almost at the end of their film career.

(Marilyn as waitress in ´Dangerous Years)

The story is about teenagers who meet in the 'Gopher Hole', a newly opened music pub, and arrange a burglary. Waitress Evie (Marilyn) ignores the advances of one of the bad guys, Gene (Dickie Moore), and patronizes him. Instead she signals her favor for the good guy, Jeff Carter (Donald Curtis), in an unusual way: she wolf-whistles at him (at 22:10 min) as he passes her in the Gopher Hole, though without him hearing it in the bar noise. This role reversal is remarkable. Marilyn has had enough of her own experience as an object of whistling from times when she posed in swimsuits and bikinis on beaches, which she certainly took as confirmation, but also in her time as a worker, when she fled from intrusive 'wolves' back to the dope room, or in everyday situations on the street, when she wore her provocatively tight sweater. In the film she seems to have a symbolic function: as a blonde pub angel she represents a moral authority by characterizing by her behavior the good guy as good and one of the bad guys (representing all of them) as bad — morality is sexualized like in a car ad spiced up with beautiful women to sell it to the audience more effectively.

That this happens in the form of a wolf-whistling is a mystery, though. There are two cinematic parallels: in ´The More The Merrier´ from 1943, factory girls whistle at men, and in ´The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer´ from 1947, the same year as ´Dangerous Years´, it's teenage girls whistling at Cary Grant. The background in the then well-known 'The More The Merrier', which in this point is probably the model for the other films, is the blatant surplus of women in the war years, which combined with the masculinizing Rosie the Riveter campaign, made many women more adventurous towards men. It is remarkable that Evie, unlike the whistlers in the other films, is not part of a group, because whistlers usually act out of the protection of a group. However, Evie does not need this protection because the object of the whistling does not hear her at all. One could speculate whether Marilyn, despite her minimal standing as a small actress, brought this gag into the scene herself. She had been a factory worker and perhaps observed such behavior on several occasions. But it's more likely that the gag was in the script. Belgard had previously written 'Calabosse' (1943), whose gags seemed silly to the film critic of the New York Times, but which he blamed on director Hal Roach Jr.

Before things take an unpleasant turn in August, Marilyn has another success story in June: the Los Angeles Press Club appoints her as the first 'Miss Press Club' during the opening ceremony on the occasion of its refounding. She is elected by journalists from the four Los Angeles-based daily newspapers. A photo shows her at the title ceremony with her fingers crossed, an old Christian symbol for the desire for happiness or God's protection. Marilyn owes the title to her talent for self-publicity and networking and certainly also to her radiant smile, which sets her apart from the mass of pretty girls and, along with her curves, was the basis for her success as a model. In 1953, the year she becomes the world's No. 1 sex icon, the Press Club will once again elect her as its 'Miss'.

(Marilyn as Miss Press Club 1947 and 1953)

Marilyn, like all Fox starlets, is offered the opportunity to draw attention to herself in abundance by the publicity department. Opportunities of this kind —although it is unknown which Marilyn has used in detail— include supermarket openings, building inaugurations and business meetings, where attractive girls are in demand as a decorative accessory and have the chance to be photographed in the company of business people for daily newspapers. Marilyn has similar experiences from her time at the Blue Book Agency. Of course, a caddy job at golf tournaments is particularly tempting, because film stars from the highest league, such as Henry Fonda, James Stewart, John Wayne and Johnny Weissmüller, also participate in these tournaments.
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Marilyn's phase as a prostitute and the importance of sex for her career start

Marilyn for the first time acts as caddie on July 20, 1947 at the annual Fox Golf Tournament at Brentwood Country Club. This does not have any significant consequences for her. On July 26, Lipton, in his capacity as Marilyn's agent, receives a letter from 20th Century Fox, stating that the option to extend Marilyn's contract beyond August 25 will not be exercised. Her participation in ´Dangerous Years´ didn't help her. When Lipton informs Marilyn of this, she is naturally very disappointed.


"Her immediate reaction was the world had crashed around her ears – unhappiness and tears," Lipton remembers. "And then typical of Marilyn she shook her head, set her jaw and said, ´It really doesn’t matter. After all, it’s a case of supply and demand.´"

The non-renewal of the contract has two reasons. The studio had to lay off some starlets for tax reasons. Marilyn is affected because mogul Zanuck doesn't think much of her anyway and because her insecurity about her verbal performances also doesn't give other responsible people any hope that she could ever reach a professional level. Nobody can guess at this point that she will later become a world-class comedienne. She had only passed the screen test in August 1946 because no textual presentation was necessary.

At the beginning of August she as a caddie meets Henry Fonda at a golf tournament at the Cheviot Hills Country Club. Photos show both of them in a publicity pose. Marilyn wears platform shoes to make her legs look longer. This tournament also has no professional consequences for her.

(Marilyn and Henry Fonda in August 1947)

The next golf tournament on August 17th is quite different, when she is assigned to actor John Carroll and his wife Lucille Ryman, which will change her life significantly. She is lucky. The two golfers have a high standing in Hollywood.

John Carroll had appeared in several westerns in the 1930s, including ´Zorro´, and starred in the Marx Brothers' Western comedy 'Go West'. In the successful war movie 'Flying Tigers' from 1942 he played at John Wayne's side.

(John Wayne and John Carroll)

Lucille Ryman's standing in the film business is no less. Since 1941, she's been head of the talent scout department at MGM. The most famous stars which signed with her are Lana Turner, Janet Leigh and June Allyson.

(Lucille Ryman Carroll)

At the golf tournament Marilyn is one of about 30 starlets who act as caddie. However, the club bag is almost as heavy as she is and John Carroll is strong and much bigger than her, so he carries the bag. Marilyn just has to look pretty, and she does with her usual tight sweater and white shorts. A few times she poses like a model when she is in the sights of press photographers present. Lucille Ryman immediately notices her strong urge to attract attention through sex appeal. This arouses spontaneous compassion: “She was such a cute little number. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this poor little child, this stray kitten.’”

Afterwards, in the club bar, Marilyn intimates that she hasn't eaten anything today and also needs someone to drive her home. Ryman has still work to do, so Carroll takes Marilyn to dinner alone and then drives her to her apartment. As he later tells his wife, Marilyn invited him to her apartment, but he declined on the grounds that he was too tired after the long day. Marilyn then asks, clearly alluding to a sexual favor:

“But how can I thank you if you don’t come in?”

Carroll doesn't go for it, at least not at this moment, especially since, according to Ryman, he is no friend of such overt offers. In later years he admits to Fred Otash that he once slept with Marilyn, but without repeating it. Whether Ryman was aware of this is not known. In any case, she keeps calm about Marilyn's behavior toward her husband. Ryman seems very confident and clarified in her statements, which is why she is of great value as source of information for the Marilyn of those days. At that time she is not convinced of Marilyn's suitability for bigger roles in MGM movies:

“She was cute and sexy, but she didn’t have the leading lady quality that Mr. Mayer was signing up in 1947.”

Since the couple has the habit of helping talented starlets in times of need, they invite Marilyn to their home for dinner in early September. Marilyn tells her hosts about her ambition to make it to the big screen and her eager studies at the Actors Lab. Then she comes up with a topic that is controversial in Marilyn literature and among fans. She says that she would put all her money into her studies, her rent and the maintenance of her car, and that there would be nothing left for food. To get food, she would offer herself to men for quick sex, which would then take place in cars on side streets near Hollywood or Santa Monica Boulevard.

“She really did this for her meals,” Lucille remembers. “It wasn’t for cash. She told us without pride or shame that she made a deal — she did what she did, and her customer then bought her breakfast or lunch.”

Not only Ryman, who, as already mentioned, can be regarded as a serious source, reports this, but also Marilyn's acting teacher Lee Strasberg, the head of the famous New York Actors Studio, who says in an interview with his biographer Cindy Adams:

"(Marilyn) told me she was the one summoned up if anyone needed a beautiful girl for a convention."

During the tape interview, Strasberg emphasized three times that Marilyn felt that "her call girl background worked against her". According to Adams, "he meant exactly that — she was a call girl (in her early days/Tammuz). It was exactly what he knew to be a fact from his pupil´s own lips".

(Marilyn and Lee Strasberg)

In view of such testimonies, Lena Pepitone's report about Marilyn´s call girl past also would seem credible if Pepitone's book itself were believable. Unfortunately, there is a well-founded suspicion that Pepitone's memories are largely made up because she, as alleged Marilyn's maid, hoped to make financial profit by selling books. The book was indeed bought, but the content seems highly implausible. In truth, Pepitone as an occasional helper in the household knew Marilyn only briefly.


(to be continued)
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Michelle Morgan (in 'Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed') tries to dismiss Marilyn's call girl past as a fable with three arguments. Firstly through Marilyn's article 'Wolves I have known', which appeared in January 1953 in 'Motion Picture and Television Magazine' and is considered a milestone in the revelation of unfair sex practices in Hollywood. However, this does not refute that Marilyn was occasionally a call girl in 1946, which has nothing to do with cinematic Hollywood anyway.

Secondly, Morgan quotes a report by Marilyn from 'Wolves' about an obscene phone call in a time when she went bankrupt in 1949:

“For a dizzy moment, I had visions of being able to pay my rent, but as he went on giving the details of what I would be expected to do, my visions vanished. He was brutally frank, and all I could think of to say was that he shouldn’t talk that way over a public telephone. I didn’t realize how silly that sounded until I hung up, and then I started to laugh.”

This, too, is not evidence against call-girl activities in 1946; after all, it is not the request itself, but the way it is put forward that generates Marilyn's dislike after a "moment" of interest.

Thirdly, according to Morgan, Harry Lipton reported in an article in 'Motion Picture' in 1956 that when Marilyn drove her home from a party they had attended together, she complained in the car about a studio manager who had offered her gifts at the party in return for a desired sexual favor, which she refused. She cried the whole time in the car and asked him, Lipton, "What can I say to men like that, Harry?", and he replied, "You’ll learn." Morgan concludes that any account of Marilyn's call girl past must be false.

However, the story, which would probably be set in Marilyn's early starlet days, is unbelievable. That she would shed tears for minutes over an offer like that seems quite overblown. Nor can it be argued that behind Marilyn's alleged desperation was the fear that her career chances would have been worsened by the refusal, because then Lipton, who as her agent was interested in Marilyn's success, would certainly have given her concrete advice instead of trusting that she would "learn" on her own how to deal with such offers.

Jaik Rosenstein had a conversation with Marilyn in 1960, the contents of which he was to keep confidential at the time. Only much later after her death did he report some of the content to Summers. Rosenstein began in the 1940s as a legman for the LA Times star columnist Hedda Topper. In the 1950s he wrote columns for the 'Hollywood Close-Up'. As far as sex with photographers is concerned, Marilyn is quoted from that conversation:

"When I started modelling, it was like part of the job. All the girls did. They weren't shooting all those sexy pictures just to sell peanut butter in an ad, or get a layout in some picture magazine. They wanted to sample the merchandise, and if you didn't go along, there were twenty-five girls who would. It wasn't any big dramatic tragedy. Nobody ever got cancer from sex."

When it comes to Hollywood, Marilyn said according to Rosenstein:

"You know that when a producer calls an actress into his office to discuss a script that isn't all he has in mind. And a part in a picture, or any kind of a little stock contract is the most important thing in the world to the girl, more than eating. She can go hungry, and she might have to sleep in her car, but she doesn't mind that a bit — if she can only get the part. I know, because I've done both, lots of times. And I've slept with producers. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't."

The wife of the noble restaurant ´Romanoff´s´ owner, Gloria Romanoff, who knew Marilyn well from 1948, is quoted by Summers as saying, "This was a girl who, early on, probably did whatever was necessary to get rolling in the business." According to Marilyn´s friend Amy Greene, she "did give me the impression she slept her way to her start" and told her that she had "spent a great deal of time on (her) knees", what is certainly true of her relationship with Fox mogul Joe Schenck. In conversations with William J. Weatherby on the set of 'The Misfits' in 1961, Marilyn answers the question of whether the stories about the casting couch are real: "They can be. You can't sleep your way into being a star, though. It takes much, much more. But it helps. A lot of actresses get their first chance that way. Most of the men are such horrors, they deserve all they can get out of them!"

(Gloria Romanoff)

(Marilyn and Amy Greene in 1955)

The circumstances under which Marilyn got her first movie role, waitress Evie in 'Dangerous Years' (see above in the thread), are unclear. According to Sheila Graham, the third Hollywood gossip columnist with the power to create or destroy film careers alongside Hedda Topper and Luella Parsons, Marilyn has been sleeping with casting department head Lyon in exchange for his promise to promote her career. But after 'Scudda Hoo' Zanuck leaves her high and dry again, so Lyon asks his friend Sol Wurtzel, who produces 'Dangerous Years', to give Marilyn a small role. This leads to her casting as waitress Evie in 'Dangerous Years', though she was initially intended as a secretary. According to Graham, Marilyn owes her casting to her sex with Lyon.

(Sheila Graham and Marilyn 1953 in the nightclub Ciro´s on Sunset Blvd)
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Nov 2016
The problem of Marilyn's credibility

Since Marilyn has a reputation among some biographers for sometimes fabricating stories to arouse sympathy, the theoretical question arises as to whether she invented the story of car sex in the side streets for this purpose. But the very fact that a decade later, when she has long since become a superstar, she also hints at an earlier call girl background in talks to Lee Strasberg speaks for its authenticity. One should therefore accept that Marilyn was a prostitute in her early starlet days, and why not — a woman who lacks this dimension of experience can hardly claim the title of sex goddess. As is well known, in the temples of the most famous ancient sex goddess, Ishtar, prostitution was part of the service for visitors.

But back to Marilyn's visit to the Carrolls, who hardly have time to digest the news about side street sex, since Marilyn tells them about the policeman who broke into her apartment at night to rape her. At least that's what Spoto writes, based on his Ryman interview. In other versions, Marilyn has notified the Carrolls by phone after the assault has taken place, or Carroll meets Marilyn by chance in a restaurant as she, frightened by the assault, is on her way to San Francisco in her packed car. The latter version is the least likely. Anyway, what all versions have in common is that Marilyn can't cash a cheque she just received because she doesn't have a bank account at the moment. So she asks a policeman on the street to cash the cheque for her. He notes down her name, address and phone number, cashes the check at his bank and gives her the money. That night, a man whom Marilyn recognizes as the policeman breaks into her apartment and tries to rape her. In Spoto, Marilyn screams so loudly that a neighbor comes to the front door. The intruder then flees through the back door. In another version, which is her own, Marilyn herself flees through the front door and has a neighbor call the police, who arrest the perpetrator, who is still near the house, and identify him as a policeman. According to Marilyn, the other policemen then urge her not to complaint, so that the matter remains without consequence. There is nothing known about any legal consequences in the other versions either.

If one adds to this the fact that there are two different versions of the origin of the cheque —once it's the last pay cheque from 20th Century Fox on 31st August, another time it's a cheque for a model shooting—, then the story about the policeman breaking in is one of the most confusing in Marilyn literature. But there's more trouble. There is a statement by gossip columnist Lloyd Shearer in the 'Parade' magazine he published (October 1973), according to which in 1947 the Fox PR department asked him to interview Marilyn at the Fox lot for publicity purposes. According to Shearer, "she confided to us over lunch that she had been assaulted by one of her guardians, raped by a policeman and attacked by a sailor. She seemed to me then to live in a fantasy world, to be entangled in the process of invention, and to be completely absorbed by her own sexuality."

For this reason, he would have decided not to write anything about Marilyn. If Shearer's memory is correct, Marilyn has thus spoken to him of an accomplished rape, which would make all versions in which Marilyn informs the Carrolls about a just happened attempted rape appear questionable. But on the other hand, the word of a gossip columnist should not be get so hung up.

The interpretative situation is not improved by the fact that Ryman herself refers to Marilyn's penchant for fiction in order to generate sympathy:

“She said she was raped at nine and had sex every day at the age of eleven, all of which she later admitted was untrue. It was a way of getting us to take her in, to keep her off the streets of Hollywood, and it worked.”

So from Ryman's view the prostitution story is true, but the story about being raped "at nine" is just a pretext to get the very wealthy Carrolls to let her, Marilyn, live with them — which is what happens. In later versions of the childhood story, which she often told in the 1950s, Marilyn depicts the incident in a toned-down version as an attempted rape, and in the latest version to Jaik Rosenstein she even denies having fled the man ("Mr. Kimmel"), but to have played along out of curiosity. However, Jim Dougherty, who married 16-year-old Marilyn, has emphasized that Marilyn was a virgin at the time.

Spoto, Banner and Schwarz, unlike the sceptical Summers, do not doubt the incident with the policeman, even though Marilyn's statements about sexual assaults in literature are often viewed with suspicion, which Sarah Churchwell attributes to the male arrogance of the respective authors.
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