Evolution of the Fifties Blondes, Part 3, 1959.

We’re finally at the end of our saga. To recap, Jayne and Mamie have hit their career peaks of the decade, Doris has solidified herself as everyone’s family-friendly blonde, Anita is in an odd transition between the 50s and 60s (although one can argue they all were), and Marilyn is about to rule the decade.

1959

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Mansfield must have realized her star was fading when she was sent to work on Too Hot to Handle and  The Challenge. Both films are low-budget, British thrillers relying on Mansfield’s sizable proportions to make up for weak plot points. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mansfield and  Too Hot to Handle is one of my favorite films, but Mansfield was far from the Hollywood studios she had dreamed of since she was a child. The American press was still touting Man-Oh-Man-Oh-Mansfield, but her antics were making headlines over anything she was producing. The Sherriff of Fractured Jaw was released in the US (which I covered in 1958 to coincide with it’s British release year) but Mansfield was out of the public’s mind as an actress and more akin to today’s reality stars.

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Van Doren found herself in a string of B-pictures through major studios such as MGM (The Beat Generation, The Big Operator, Girls Town) and United Artists (Guns, Girls, and Gangsters). Her turn in Teacher’s Pet hadn’t helped her star rise in the same way it may have helped others in her position and Mamie was still typecast as the 50s tough girl (my grandma would probably refer to her as “hard”). Mamie would continue to consistently work throughout the 60s but found stardom always just out of her reach.

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Day only had Pillow Talk as her primary release for the year but the film would kick off her frequent collaborations with Rock Hudson. The duo was considered box-office gold as viewers watched their romantic exploits. Again, Day was virginal but could hold her own against “Hunky Hudson.” The pair formed a close bond off-screen as well, which helped Hudson hide his sexuality.

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Ekberg’s sole contribution to her filmography, Sheba and the Gladiator, drew in few patrons – earning a little over $1,000,000. An Italian sand and sandals epic, Sheba did little to improve Ekberg’s box office appeal. Ekberg’s last great hit had been War and Peace, but Ekberg wasn’t phased. While 1959 seemed to be closing with a sputter, 1960’s La Dolce Vita would lead to international acclaim for Ekberg.

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Monroe also contributed one entry in 1959 – Some Like it Hot (SLIH). The cultural significance of Monroe’s turn as Sugar Kane cannot be understated. Considered the greatest comedic film ever made by AFI, SLIH earned roughly $11 million dollars at the box office. Monroe was applauded for her performance, although near daily set reports followed her behavior. While Tony Curtis said kissing her was like kissing Hitler, the public couldn’t get enough of Monroe. Marilyn had begun the 50s as a forecasted Lana Turner look-a-like and morphed into the comedic, blonde queen of the decade.

Conclusion

I chose to divide this article into three parts for a multitude of reasons (primarily, who wants to read something that’s 2700 words in one sitting?) but wanted to focus on how everything moved in parts. Monroe definitely opened the door for more sexualized blondes to make films in the 50s but saying they were imitators would be incorrect. North was in the same vein as Betty Grable, Mansfield wanted to create a more sexualized blonde, Van Doren was the bad blonde of the decade, Ekberg brought an international sophistication to American films, and Day was the penultimate girl-next-door who had worked in the trenches for just as long as Monroe. As Richard Koper explains in Affectionately, Jayne Mansfield, there was Marilyn then there were those who came after. Day wouldn’t fit in this category but I have chosen to include her in this article sue to her popularity in comedies, not unlike Monroe. Monroe remains the symbol of the decade but her contemporaries’ work deserves to be viewed as well.

The Evolution of the Fifties Blondes, 1957-1958, Part 2.

When we last let off, we had introduced Monroe, Day, Mansfield, Van Doren, Ekberg, and North. Again, this piece shouldn’t be considered a definitive, academic study on the 50s Blondes but instead should be viewed as a quick primer. If you want to know more about the blondes of the decade, I highly recommend Richard Koper’s Fifties Blondes – an easily digestible encyclopedia on the women of the decade.

1957

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Monroe saw the release of The Prince and the Showgirl but instead of working on another film project, spent the year focusing on her marriage with Arthur Miller. This is when the press began to become a little less-supporting of Monroe (in part because of Miller’s trial with the House of Un-American Activities Committee for supposed communist leanings). Those who had been in Monroe’s corner, such as columnist Walter Winchell, turned their backs on Monroe and attempted to sway public opinion. The Prince and the Showgirl was not as successful as Monroe’s previous pictures, appealing more to European audiences. Monroe’s Showgirl character, Elsie, was understated, intelligent, and dressed much more conservatively than what American audiences were used to.

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Day also released a single film in 1957, The Pajama Game, and solidified herself as a family-friendly comedienne. Pajama led Day down a path she could never veer away from without fear of failure – one where characters were virginal and sweet while still being intelligent, a rare feat in the era. Day would not make another dramatic picture until 1960’s Midnight Lace.

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1957 saw Mansfield reach her stardom’s peak. She was considered the most publicized woman of 1957 and Fox intended to cash in on her by releasing  The Wayward Bus, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter and Kiss Them For Me. Unfortunately for Mansfield, her publicity didn’t spell box-office popularity. While The Girl Can’t Help It grossed more than Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, it seemed to have been a fluke. Wayward and Rock Hunter both profited but Kiss was the only Cary Grant movie to lose money – which was blamed on Mansfield. Mansfield’s sexualized comedies, punctuated with near-constant squealing and cooing, were more successful with younger viewers than families, leading to a caricature that followed her until her death.

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Van Doren was featured in Untamed Youth, becoming the first American actress to sing a rock-n-roll song and The Girl in Black Stockings. It was during this time Van Doren realized her contract with Universal wasn’t going to provide her with the stardom she craved. Van Doren was the bad girl of the era but her talents tended to be relegated to B-pictures, frequently being the second picture on a joint program.

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Ekberg’s releases were Interpol and Valerie. Both films were relatively ho-hum releases but Ekberg’s star would rise with her exploits in both America and Europe. Her dresses were known to pop or split open and she threatened to sue an artist for a painting he created of her supposed nude form. She started feuds by bluntly telling the press who she didn’t like. Her overripe figure may have sold magazines but it was yet to be seen whether or not her stardom was a fluke or sprung from a genuine appreciation of her image on screen.

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North’s star was quickly fading but Fox made one last push for their contract player. North starred in No Down Payment and The Way to the Gold but neither film was an overt success. North’s public appeal lay with musicals but they were quickly becoming passé. If North had been allowed to grow as a supporting player in the same fashion as Monroe, she may have been able to have a more fulfilling film career; however, North was forced upon the public, which never seems to take to spoon-feeding who they should like.

1958

This year saw a last-minute push for those who came after 1955 to secure some foothold in the public’s attention spans. Monroe started filming Some Like It Hot – over a year since her last picture’s release. North was placed in two supporting roles but ended up being dropped. Because of these factors, I have opted not to cover either woman in detail. That’s not to say nothing interesting happened, it certainly did, but both Monroe and North weren’t in the public conscious for their work as much as their personal lives – at least in regards to Monroe.

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Day was featured in both Teacher’s Pet and The Tunnel of Love. Both were light comedies with happy endings – the kind of mindless fluff everyone seemed to enjoy (and forbearers to today’s chick flicks). Day’s success still relied on being the nearly 40-year-old virgin but it surprisingly worked in a midst of women who oozed sex with each wiggle and coo.

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Mansfield married and had a child by the end of the year and saw one film released, The Sheriff of Fractured JawSheriff was a western filmed in the hills of Spain with Mansfield playing Kate, a hard-as-nails saloon owner with a soft side. Mansfield relied less on her physical charms and showed an ability to act – if not lip-sync – but found a lukewarm reception in the United States. Her European fans were more receptive and the film was a solid moneymaker for Fox but was quickly overshadowed by Monroe’s 1959 blockbuster, Some Like It Hot. Jayne would never make an A-picture again with the exception of two cameos in the 1960s.

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Van Doren was given one last push for stardom in Teacher’s Pet, Highschool Confidential and Born Reckless. All were loan outs due to Universal having no suitable projects for their resident blonde. Again, one sees Van Doren playing the tough cookie, sometimes with a heart of gold and sometimes too hardened to the world to have one. Teacher’s Pet was her biggest picture but Van Doren was relegated to the role of a thinly-veiled stripper. If Van Doren had proper backing from the start of her career, she may have been able to break free of the bonds thrust upon her by the era. Instead, she was forced to play cheap caricatures of Lana Turner mixed with Elvis Presley.

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Ekberg didn’t fare much better. While she starred with Bob Hope in Paris Holiday and Gypsy Rose Lee in Screaming Mimi, Ekberg’s allure for American audiences was starting to fade. Her stunts didn’t hold the same appeal as Mansfield’s (who had run thin with the public by ’57) and she was accused of being downright bitchy. Ekberg was the only sensual blonde of the 50s to be fully embraced by the 60s.

The Evolution of the Fifties Blonde – Part 1, 1950-1956.

My focus on the 50s Blondes has festered for over a decade now. I’ve written a multitude of articles – and two books – on the blonde women who seemingly ruled the decade but find a heap of misinformation on their evolution from singing-and-dancing marionettes to halo-haired sex comediennes. While this piece cannot claim to be a definitive study, it is a quick primer for those looking for a brief overview.

Please note, the primary focus of this article series is 1950s starring roles. If I were to delve into smaller roles or those from the 40s, this would become academic in length. Instead, I briefly touch on small roles when they are necessary.

1950-1952

1950 used the same tropes seen in the 1940s; blondes were either joyously dancing in-between their tough-as-nails with a heart of gold plotlines ala Betty Grable or sensually slithering around their male victims as the ultimate femme fatales ala Lana Turner. Marilyn Monroe came onto the scene as the latter in 1950’s Asphalt Jungle.  Marilyn received praise for her performances as Angela in Asphalt and Miss Casswell in All About Eve but her first starring role wouldn’t come until 1952’s Don’t Bother to Knock. Knock saw Monroe perform as a deranged babysitter with plenty of sex appeal thrown in for good measure.

On the flipside, continuing in the Grable archetype, Doris Day made waves in films like 1951’s Lullaby of Broadway and 1952’s April in Paris. Day also ventured into dramatics, notably 1951’s Storm Warning, but was billed as a more family-friendly entertainer with parred-down sex appeal. Other women were starting their careers during this time as well, such as Mamie Van Doren and Cleo Moore, but Monroe and Day were the two breakout performers of the time period.

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Betty Grable in Wabash Avenue, 1950.
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Lana Turner for A Life of Her Own, 1950.
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Marilyn Monroe for The Asphalt Jungle, 1950.
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Doris Day, 1951.

1953-1956

This period was a hey-day for some and the beginning for others. Monroe was firmly planted in the public’s mind and was looking to make her artistic ambitions a reality while Day, Mansfield, and Van Doren’s peaks were still ahead. This shouldn’t be misconstrued as an insult to Monroe – one can argue Some Like It Hot was the peak of her comedic talent – but instead should be viewed as Monroe carving her own niche well before the other women we will discuss.

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Marilyn Monroe at the premiere of How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953.

1953 saw the release of Monroe’s Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire. Monroe was a household name who was combining the singing and dancing exploits of Grable with her own dumb, comedic, sexually-suggestive character; the latter would seemingly rule the decade, or 20th Century Fox. Monroe would continue this characterization in River of No Return, There’s No Business like Show Business and The Seven Year Itch. In 1955, Monroe formed Marilyn Monroe Productions and finished her negotiations with Fox, agreeing to star in Bus Stop as part of her new Fox contract. Bus Stop was a swift departure from Monroe’s usual comedic fare but still relied on Monroe’s sex appeal to carry the watered down storyline of the hit Broadway play.

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Doris Day in Love Me or Leave Me, 1953.

Day continued to experience box office success, starring in  Calamity Jane, Young at Heart, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. Unlike Monroe, Day’s career peak had yet to come (although one could argue her film quality was never higher). While Monroe was touted as the sexual ideal of every American man, Day was the girl you brought home to your mother.

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Mamie Van Doren in Untamed Youth, 1957.

Mamie Van Doren signed with Universal in 1952 and made a splash in 1953’s All American followed by starring roles in Running Wild and Star in the Dust. Van Doren had signed to Universal in 1952 (although her acting career started in 1949) but would soon find there was no real work for her with Universal besides window-dressing parts or loan outs. Her persona tended to lean towards tough-girl parts with plenty of low-cut dresses and tight skirts. While Van Doren tends to be labeled a Monroe imitator, her roles were tailored more towards appealing to a younger audience and dealt with the seedier sides of life.

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Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It, 1956.

Jayne Mansfield signed a contract with Warner Brothers in January of 1955 but failed to garner much interest with her home studio and failed to have her option picked up in July. She would go on to star in Will Success Spoil A Rock Hunter, a Broadway assassination on the film industry, before being signed by Fox in March of 1956. Fox agreed to buy out Mansfield’s contract and she returned to Hollywood on September 16, 1956 and quick rushed into filming  The Girl Can’t Help It. Much has been written on Mansfield being little more than a Monroe impersonator but looking at the context of the time, Mansfield was simply a new incarnation of the blonde sex bomb Monroe was desperate to leave in the past. Mansfield’s character was dumber, blonder, and bigger. Mansfield blatantly shoved sex into her films, with the help of director Frank Tashlin, but lacked the innocent appeal of Monroe.

Actress Sheree North in 1955.
Sheree North in a publicity photo for Life magazine, 1955.

Sheree North signed with Fox in 1954 with the hopes of keeping Monroe in line (for those who don’t know, Monroe spent part of 1954 suspended and almost all of 1955). North was closer to the Grable archetype: toned down sex appeal with an emphasis on North being a “good girl,” as seen in How to be Very, Very Popular and The Lieutenant Wore Tights. By 1956, North was relegated to fourth billing in The Best Things in Life are Free.

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Anita Ekberg, 1956.

Anita Ekberg was signed to John Wayne’s Batjac Productions in 1955 but solidified her stardom in 1956’s War and Peace. Contrary to what has been written, I’ve never found anything to support Ekberg signing with Paramount. Instead, newspapers claim Batjac loaned Ekberg out to Paramount, Warwick, and RKO. This is supported by Ekberg’s filmography, where one can see Ekberg only made a handful of pictures with select studios – akin to freelancing. Ekberg brought an international eroticism to American pictures. While the press focused on her bust size, Ekberg derided American men for childlike attitudes towards sex and women. 

The Change in Alexis

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June 1946 Silver Screen

Yes, she had changed. Alexis Smith nodded her pretty blonde head in agreement. There had been a deep change in her real self. She thought there must inevitably be an equally deep change in her acting. And she knew just why.

“Of course, it’s my marriage that’s done that,” she said happily. “I know how different it has made me feel. I don’t see how it can help being reflected in my acting. And for the better, too.”

It wasn’t just contentment, that inner glow of happiness, which had changed Alexis Smith. That may have heightened her fair young beauty. There was more to this change than contentment.

“For the first time I haven’t got all my eggs in one basket,” Alexis explained. “That’s so important, this knowing there is something besides a career.

“I look at other actresses in Hollywood, ones who aren’t happily married, and I know what was the matter with me — and what was wrong with my acting.

“I was trying too hard. I kept working and working, and trying and trying. I overdid it. I was tense all the time. It was so important to me. A career seemed to be all there was in the world. And when you try too hard you aren’t very good.”

She had learned now to relax. A career has become fun, something to balance a cheerful marriage. Acting, success, fame are no longer matters of life and death. And just because they aren’t, they are coming much more easily to Alexis Smith.

“Eddie Goulding warned me about that when I did my first picture, ‘The Constant Nymph,’” Alexis remembered. “He kept saying I was ‘too perfect.’ Of course, I didn’t know what that meant. I said one couldn’t be too perfect. I kept on trying to be somewhere near good anyway.

“Then Mr. Goulding said perfection was fine. Naturally. But I was trying so hard, so terribly hard that I was tense all the time. There was a strain in my whole performance. It was ‘too perfect.’

“How I wish I could go back and do ‘Constant Nymph’ all over again. I hope I could be better, much better. After all, I should have learned something in three years.”

She has, at any rate, learned to let things slide a little. Craig did that for her. Craig Stevens is an actor, too. He was just getting started when war came along to interrupt his budding career. Craig went into the Army. He’s a good-looking young fellow who’d played with Alexis in two pictures, a little B production called “Steel Against The Sky” and a wild farce which neither of them likes to remember now, “The Doughgirls.”

Alexis is a tall girl, standing five feet eight in her stocking feet. Her hair is blonde and her eyes gray-blue; and she hopes she doesn’t look as tall as she really is.

“You see, I have small bones — and my face is small, too,” she said anxiously, but not too anxiously. “People don’t realize how tall I am, usually.”
She is growing up to that height now. It was a former Warner producer, David Lewis, who made five Bette Davis pictures and is now working on “Arch of Triumph” independently, who had called attention to the change in Alexis Smith. She used to be, he said, just a “tall little girl.” Now, seeing her at a Broadway opening on her first visit to New York he was struck by the new depth in her face. He would not hesitate to give her the Davis role in “Dark Victory” if he were re-making that now She wouldn’t play it like Bette, the producer said, but he knew, he was absolutely sure, that she could play such a vital and complicated part.

Alexis chuckled over the “tall little girl” description. She guessed that’s just what she had been, just a tall little girl trying hard to look grown-up.

The roles were all too old for her, much too old. But Alexis was tall. She had a natural dignity and a natural beauty. She had studied dancing so she walked with poise. That is more than most studios ask of twenty-year-olds. Alexis just didn’t have a chance at ingenue parts.

Not that she minded that. She’d tried two of these sweet young girl roles in two little films, “The Smiling Ghost” and that most important picture of her life, “Steel Against The Sky,” the picture which introduced her to Craig. Then Edmund Goulding saw her and thought of the wife in “The Constant Nymph.” He made one screen test, liked it, and suggested Alexis learn to talk with an English accent.

“Well, I did,” Alexis remembered, chuckling. “I got a tutor and I talked British all the time. For three months I studied and studied. And I got to talking with such an English accent that all my friends hated me. They just couldn’t stand it.

“Then they took another test and said I sounded natural. That was what they wanted, not just the kind of English accent you pick up easily. They wanted me to talk like that all the time, even in my sleep, so that no one could think I wasn’t English. In the part, you know.”

Well, those were the pictures that changed her life, “Steel Against The Sky” and “The Constant Nymph.” The first, which wasn’t much of a picture, led her to marriage. The second jumped her from smiling ingenues to mature character roles.

“It was like having your life advanced five years,” Alexis said. “You know how people usually have to struggle through a whole series of ingenue parts that don’t mean anything, until they have a chance at acting parts.

“Well, just suddenly I had the kind of part every young actress is dying to get. Once they’d seen me as a mature actress they never put me back in the ingenue class again. Of course, I’m glad about that. But it did make me strain harder than ever. I was always tense every time I walked on a set. It seemed such a big chance. I wanted so much to make good in it.”

She was making good, in spite of that anxiety, when on June 18, 1944, she married Craig Stevens. He had a medical discharge from the Army.

“June is quite a month for us,” Alexis declared. “First there’s my birthday, then our anniversary, and then Craig’s birthday. It just keeps us celebrating all month long.”

They had been courting, as Alexis describes it, during Craig’s Army days. That was when her future father-in-law came out from Kansas City to look her over. Alexis didn’t put it like that. She just said Craig’s father had visited him in Hollywood about that time; and she laughed as she remembered his report to the folks back home.

“You know, they’d heard Craig’s fiancee had something to do with movies, and they wanted to know what she was like.”
This was Alexis’ modest description of herself, ‘something to do with movies,’ after she’d appeared in “The Constant Nymph,” “Gentleman Jim,” and “The Adventures of Mark Twain.” She is, by the way, truly and astonishingly modest about her achievements. She doesn’t think she had begun to know her job yet. But she went on about the Kansas City report:

“Craig’s father had to answer so many questions he finally got a blanket answer to all of them. I love what he said. He just said Craig was marrying a regular he-man sort of girl.”

Alexis, a dainty, feminine young blonde, found this an entrancing description. She has always been tall. She has always been ambitious for a career. Her mother wanted her to be a concert pianist. Alexis practiced and practiced. Alexis herself wanted to be a ballet dancer. Alexis practiced and practiced at the ballet bar.

And if you want to make her really mad, you will ask if she isn’t too tall for ballet. She’ll answer you quickly, and vehemently:

“That’s the worst thing you could say. The very worst.

“Of course, it’s what every one says. Maybe it’s true. That’s the very worst part. I never believed it until I visited backstage at the ballet in Los Angeles. When I saw all those male dancers, so little — well, I realized I’d better give up ballet.

“But I’m still hoping Warners will give me a chance to dance in some picture. I did dance once, in ‘Hollywood Canteen.’ They got two husky adagio dancers to dance with me. I’d love to dance solo some time.”

Although she still keeps up her dancing, Alexis Smith is far from athletic. That surprises every one. People take one look at her slim height, her graceful walk, her clear skin. They think at once of the great outdoors.

“And I’ve never had time for the outdoors,” Alexis said, a little sadly. “I’ve always been studying something. Piano, ballet, acting. There just wasn’t time.

“I must look athletic. No one can believe I’m no good at anything outdoors, not even at swimming or riding. I’ve never been on a horse in my life.

“Craig’s always after me to learn tennis or golf so I can play with him. I suppose I should. Maybe I will try to learn. But I’m really very far from being athletic.”

That presents a problem now that her studio has gone ahead with plans for co-starring her with Ronald Reagan in “Stallion Road” instead of giving the coveted roles to Humphrey and Lauren Bacall Bogart. Alexis has been torn between delight at playing a girl somewhere near her own age and wonder at just how she is going to seem sufficiently adept at swimming and riding.

“When I read the script I couldn’t imagine what they’d do about me,” Alexis said in wonderment. “It will be really wonderful to wear dungarees and play a young girl — I’m twenty-four now — instead of trying to be a woman of thirty-eight in dignified evening clothes.
“But it seemed to me that every other scene has me leaping into the surf and swimming out to sea — or jumping on a wild horse and galloping off somewhere. I hope the studio knows of a tall blonde girl who can do all those things for me. I can’t do one of them.”

It will be an interesting contrast to the dignified roles she’s had these past three years.

“There have been so many pictures in which I just have to look dignified and a lot older than I am. I’ve played so many parts in which all I have to do is lift my eyebrows, stand up straight, and walk around in a stately manner that I do all that automatically whenever the director starts a scene.”

She is usually inspiring some one on to bigger and better things. Alexis can hardly believe she has made only three autobiographies. “Night And Day,” musical tale of Cole Porter, is the latest.

“I’m so afraid,” she laughed, “that some time I’ll go home and try it on Craig. Can’t you imagine my saying to him, ‘Oh, my dear, the whole world lies before you ——’”

Alexis smiled, then sighed a little. She could hardly wait to get home to Craig. This was their first separation. Warner Brothers wanted Alexis to visit New York and talk about all those pictures, four of them, which are finished and awaiting release. They are “One More Tomorrow,” “Of Human Bondage,” “The Two Mrs. Carrolls,” and “Night And Day.” Alexis was delighted with the idea of a trip to New York. She had never been here. Now that she’s seen New York, she’s not so sure she’d like to live here. She had a good time visiting. But her idea of living is a house and a garden — and Craig. She hasn’t the house and garden yet. But they’ll come, they’ll come along all in good time. Alexis isn’t worrying about them.

“And I won’t pay fifty thousand dollars for an eighteen thousand dollar house,” she said firmly. “That’s what they want out in Hollywood now. In 1940 father and I built a house for nine thousand dollars. We sold it four years later for fourteen thousand. We thought that a wonderful profit. Now we hear it’s offered again at twenty-seven thousand. Well, Craig and I just won’t pay prices like that.

“Anyway, our apartment is unusually attractive, with gardens and a swimming pool. So we don’t mind waiting.”

But Craig was minding the waiting for her return from the East. He was working, his best parts since getting out of the Army. Warners had given him dramatic roles in two big pictures, “Humoresque” and “A Very Rich Man,” re-make of the George Arliss film, “The Millionaire.” He was busy: but that hadn’t kept him from being lonely, too. On the telephone he told Alexis she’d better come home soon. When she asked why he answered:

“When I can look at a toothbrush and feel sentimental, then it’s time for you to come home.”

Alexis was homesick. She hadn’t had a chance to be lonely. It was much worse for Craig, she knew, in that empty apartment. She hoped the studio would keep him busy, too.

It would have been fun for Alexis if one of those four completed productions had opened while she was in New York. She is a heavy in some of them. “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” makes her the woman for whom a husband tries to poison his wife. “One More Tomorrow,” which was once “The Animal Kingdom,” presents her as the hero’s mistress.

“Well, not really the mistress — but his wife, a wife who is really a mistress while the mistress is really a wife,” Alexis said and smiled at her efforts to explain “You remember the twist at the end? Where the hero says he’s going back to his wife, when he’s really going back to his mistress? Well, I’m the wife, a horrid person. Ann Sheridan is the sympathetic one.”

These catty females and the stately inspiring wives are Alexis’ usual lot in life. Errol Flynn pictures give her a relief from these. Although no one ever remembers she was in it, Alexis did have the romantic lead in “Dive Bomber” in-between the B melodramas and “The Constant Nymph.” Another Flynn picture, she thinks, did her career more good than any other. That was “Gentleman Jim” which was seen by tremendous numbers of people. “San Antonio” let her be a cafe singer in the Old West.

“It’s always fun to work in an Errol Flynn picture, because he’s so considerate,” Alexis continued. “Every one always seemed surprised at that. But it’s true. Errol is the most considerate star I’ve ever known. He’s always good-natured and amiable about everything.

“Maybe it’s because he doesn’t take his acting too seriously. Of course, that’s good for his acting, too. That’s what I’m learning now.”

There was a time when she wouldn’t have believed any one could take a career too seriously. That was when she was going through a two-year course at Los Angeles City College and studying ballet and piano seriously on the side. She could have gone into pictures then, if her father, Alexander Smith, had not warned the studio not to sign her before graduation. A talent scout had liked her performance in “The Night Of January 21,” put on by students.

“I hesitate to tell any one I studied drama at college,” Alexis confided. “It sounds so amateurish, and so silly somehow. Every one always says something like that. Usually it doesn’t mean a thing.

“But we did have such a fine professor of drama that I feel college taught me a great deal about acting. I specialized in drama; and it wasn’t just a snap course. I’m very grateful for what I learned.”

Although born in British Columbia, Alexis is still pretty much a Hollywood product. She went to school in Los Angeles, at thirteen danced in the Hollywood Bowl, at sixteen won a state declamation contest. At ten years old her piano playing was being seriously regarded by professionals. It is little wonder that the tall little girl grew up tense and eager about a career. For one thing, she had to choose between all these talents. For another, she had to live up to the promise of her childhood.

“Now I feel differently about it all,” Alexis explained. “I like a career, of course. I enjoy acting.

“But it’s not everything in life. If it were gone, there would still be something left. The most important things would still be left. Craig and I would have our marriage. And there would be other things we could do for a career.

“That is what Craig is always telling me. And it’s true. It’s terribly true. When a career is all that one has, then it becomes so difficult. When anything goes wrong then everything seems lost and ended. I know. That’s the way I used to feel.

“Now I can look at other people and feel so sorry when I know how tense they are about a career. All that worry keeps one from relaxing. An actress should be able to play without tenseness. You can’t do that when you feel your whole life depends on that scene.”

Alexis is sure this new sureness will be reflected some time in her acting, that somehow she will achieve an ease and naturalness she has never known.

“Craig says it wouldn’t matter if we both left pictures. After all, he could always get a job in Bullock’s basement. I could run the house, or get a job at Bullock’s too.

“And we wouldn’t have to get up at five-thirty in the morning. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

There was a time, only two years ago, when Alexis could not have imagined giving up a career so cheerfully. She could never have joked about it. She has changed, a happy, healthy change reflected in her work as well as her personality.

What it’s like to be married to Marilyn Monroe

 

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April 1958 Inside Story

“What would marriage to Marilyn Monroe be like?

Does she dawdle over her dressing and makeup? Does she hand her washed stockings over the shaving mirror? Would she rather watch the ‘Late Late Show’ or come to bed?

Does she encourage other men to make passes? Can she cook a decent meal – or isn’t that really important?

I interviewed dozens of people who have known the blonde charmer more or less intimately through her three marriages. I talked with men who knew Marilyn very well before she wed Joe DiMaggio and others who filled her time between the ballplayer and her current playwright husband, Arthur Miller.

And this story is the answer – so far as I know, the first definitive answer to appear in print. It is the frank, intimate INSIDE STORY of what private life is like with one of the world’s most desirable women, Marilyn Monroe.

California cop Jim Dougherty, who married Marilyn in 1942 when she was 16, is a shy, taciturn man, still bewildered by the fact that the shy blonde girl he abandoned in 1943 is today’s queen of the movies.

‘When I married Norma Jean (Marilyn’s real name),’ he said, ‘ she was sweet and innocent. She had a typical adolescent crush on me, things like liking me in white shirts and being fascinated by my mustache.’

A girlfriend who knew Marilyn in those days, however, tells a different story. ;The kid was scared to death of Jim – of any man,’ she told me.

She and Marilyn, the friend recalls, once got hold of a book on sex and marriage and read it in secret. Marilyn was horrified.

‘I don’t think I could ever do anything like that,’ she confided.

On her wedding night, Marilyn sat demurely in a chair with her hands in her lap, while Jim Dougherty prepared for bed.

‘Jim, honey,’ she said, ‘I want to ask you something. Do you mind if we stay just friends?’

Patiently, Dougherty outlined in some detail the extent of what he expected from his bride. To his surprise, Marilyn then told him how, as a very young girl, she had been physically assaulted by a man who boarded with her foster parents.

That wedding night set the mood for their marriage, which lasted hardly a year. Instead of regarding Dougherty as a husband, Marilyn called him ‘Daddy,’ and would spend hours talking about her tragic childhood.

Not even her gradual thawing-out in their marital relationship could compensate Marilyn’s husband for her other childish traits.

She was an incessant talker, although she had little of interest to discuss. In the midst of world war, her conversation was limited to movies, the cost of food and what to make for supper. And the charm of her endless monologue wasn’t heightened by the fact she had a pronounced stutter.

It was hard for Him even to get a word in edgewise. He couldn’t talk about his job and Marilyn froze whenever he told an off-color joke. He soon found himself spending more and more nights out with ‘the boys,’ even though he’d been married to Marilyn only a few months.

To her credit, the young bride was a good housekeeper. Years of semi-slavery in the kitchens of a dozen foster homes had drilled into her the necessity, if not the value, of cleanliness.

‘All his friends – even those who tried to flirt with his wife – felt sorry for Jim. Marilyn was pretty scatterbrained,’ said one of La Monroe’s old-time friends.

Dougherty escaped to the merchant marine, leaving a bewildered bride behind him. For Marilyn, it was a stroke of disguised luck. Low in funds, and with her husband at sea, she turned to modeling jobs, posed for the now-famous nude calendar and finally landed in the movies. She was on her way to stardom.

As a rising queen of the screen, she also become more conscious of her appearance. It was at this time that the famous Monroe habit of being late became evident.

‘She couldn’t be on time for anything even if she tried,’ says Flack Jones, who was her press agent at 20th Century-Fox. ‘When she was making a movie, shooting had to be scheduled a half-hour earlier than usual just to get Marilyn there on time.’

Even recently, when she was invited to the Warner Brothers’ premiere of A Face in the Crowd, the invitation sent to Marilyn was a special one. It read: ‘Performance starts at 8.’ All the other invitations sent out were for 8:30!

‘I knew she was always holding up work at the studio, missing trains and planes, things like that,’ recalled one of Marilyn’s favorite boyfriends after she divorced Dougherty. ‘But I did expect her to be ready for a date when I called.’

The Long Wait

Instead, he said, he would often arrive to find Marilyn running from bedroom to bathroom in nothing but a sheer negligee calling out, ‘I’ll be right with you, honey.’

‘I once got to read five whole chapters of The Brothers Karamazov, just waiting for Marilyn to get her lipstick on,’ says an ex-beau.

Two hours is still about par for Marilyn to make up her face. And during this period between her first and second marriages, she developed a disorderliness that drove her friends and admirers to distraction.

‘Visiting Marilyn,’ recalls one friend, ‘ was like walking into the china shop after the bull got through. Books and records all over the joint, dishes in the sink or on the table, discarded dresses here and there. When you entered the john – if you could get to it – there would be scraps of lipstick-covered tissues, powder all over the mirror. Marilyn’s stockings were usually hanging over the towel rack.’

It Was An ‘Ideal’ Marriage

This boyfriend, who had endeavored in vain to discover the secret at first hand, counted no less than three garter belts, with discarded stockings still attached, on the tile floor.

When Marilyn married Joe DiMaggio, friends said it was an ideal match. The actress, for all her sexiness, was actually a shy, retiring girl. And Joltin’ Joe also was not known for his sociability.

For a brief time they moved in Hollywood party circles, going out as often as possible. But around this time, through the film capital’s intellectuals, Marilyn discovered culture.

From drama coach Benno Schneidershe learned about the Stanislavsky acting method. With her husband’s friend, Frank Sinatra, she talked music. Writers introduced her to the world of books, artists to painting and sculpture. Marilyn was growing in awareness of a strange and wonderful new world.

No Talking In Bed

She wanted to discuss all the things she was learning. But DiMag was happy only when they retired to their Beverly Hills mansion. His idea of a pleasant evening was to spend hours in front of the TV set – and she discouraged conversation even during the commercials.

‘For months,’ recalls a friend, ‘they were holed up in that house. Nobody knew if they were happy or fighting. Marilyn only came out to fo to work, and then she wouldn’t talk about her home life.’

In the beginning, Marilyn apparently enjoyed the seclusion. For the first time, she discovered the real joys of married life.

‘I don’t approve of separate bedrooms,’ she told Joe. ‘Like sometimes when I’m in bed I think of something I want to say and I don’t want to go chasing down the hall to another room.’

Marilyn had indeed changed. Only a few months earlier, she had told an interviewer who asked if she thought she had a bedroom voice: ‘I don’t talk in the bedroom. That’s no place for talking.’

Now that was a sentiment DiMaggio agreed with. But he had something else in mind. He installed a giant television set in the bedroom. And though he readily agreed with Marilyn’s suggestions that they go to bed early, he would promptly switch on the set, ignoring his ravishing wife who lay between the sheets, ‘feeling blonde all over.’

Marilyn didn’t appreciate TV in the bedroom.

‘I think people need to feel warmth next to them when they are asleep, not somebody watching Steve Allen.’

Joe, on the other hand, objected to the way other men ogled his wife and the way she shrugged it off.

‘This would be a very uninteresting world if there weren’t any wolves,’ Marilyn told him. ‘Some are sinister. Others are just trying to get something for nothing. Others make a game of it. The last type is the most interesting.’

DiMaggio didn’t think any type of wolf was interesting, not with Marilyn playing Little Red Riding Hood. He also didn’t like the way her more intimate charms were displayed on the screen.

Their first big blow-up came after Joe watched Marilyn play the famous subway-grill scene in The Seven Year Itch, where a draught from below sent her skirt billowing up to her shoulders.

Shortly after their return to the Coast, Marilyn showed that she could be difficult to live with when crossed. After one argument, she banished her husband to the second floor of the house, while she remained below.

All the talk about double beds and ‘feeling warmth’ was forgotten in the icy chill that settled between them. They were divorced soon afterwards.

A year and a half ago, Marilyn married playwright Arthur Miller, a Brooklyn-born intellectual with horn-rimmed glasses. He was a far cry from Joe DiMaggio, and further still from Jim Dougherty.

Miller is 11 years older than his wife and wise in the ways of the world. Why did he marry Marilyn? How could a studious, orderly intellectual take as a bride a ‘dizzy blonde’ whose ex-husbands found her over-talkative, whose friends called her sloppy, whose co-workers called her silly and scatterbrained?

The secret is simple. Marilyn Monroe, whatever she may have been like to live with before, is not the same girl today. She has changed tremendously.

Even her stuttering has disappeared. She speaks well in public and is no longer afraid of people. Much of this she owed to Lee Strasberg, directer of the Actors Studio, who says:

‘Marilyn came to me a frightened, bewildered, shy girl. Now she is poised, at ease even among the most scholarly intellects who are Arthur Miller’s friends.’

The ‘New’ Marilyn

Although she has learned to talk well, she no longer monopolizes the conversation. She can sit for hours, listening to Arthur and his friends.

‘This doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand what’s being said,’ Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan stated.

Marilyn’s dressing room today contains a picture of Abraham Lincoln, books by Spinoza, Edgar Allan Poe, Dostoevsky, and Einstein, and modern statuary and paintings.

She has worked hard and knows what she’s reading and hearing. When she does make a comment on a conversation, it is an intelligent one, to the point.

The Millers still use a double bed. Marilyn says that if she were suddenly to become poor, a bed is what she would miss most of all.

‘I’d hate ever to be so poor again that I didn’t have a bed of my own.’

The Millers, however, are not poor. They live in a swank 13th-floor apartment on East 57th Street in New York, overlooking the East River.

Although Marilyn entertains a great deal, she and her husband seldom go out, except to walk their enormous basset hound, Lady [note: their basset hound was actually named Hugo].

Marilyn is proud of her famous husband. He is a writer of serious plays and novels, whereas DiMaggio’s main reading was said to be comic books.

Her present philosophy is that a wife ‘should soothe a man, calm him, try to be everything to him – partly mother, partly sister, partly mistress.’

She has improved her cooking, learning her husband’s favorite Jewish recipes from his mother.

Although her clothes bill is not high – her favorite dress cost $5.98 – she insists on helping Miller pick out his clothes, except where they disagree. Then he wins.

While out driving, Marilyn tends to be a side-seat driver, and Miller tolerantly calls her ‘Direction-Finder.’ She also makes him jeep a rigid schedule at the typewriter, whether he likes it or not.

Miller thrives on it. He has gained 25 pounds since they were married. Marilyn, on the other hand, carefully keeps her famous figure in check by dieting and exercising with bar bells.

When she suffered a miscarriage last year, she was heartbroken. But instead of breaking up and going into tantrums – as she might have done when she was younger – she calmly began planning for a new baby as soon as possible.

In only one major respect is she still the old Marilyn. Getting places on time is still a problem.

Miller is patient about it. He will usually first sit down and read a book until Marilyn has finished making up her fabulous face, paying particular attention to disguising a small bump on the end of her nose. When he remonstrates with her, it is only in the gentlest terms.

‘Penny Dreadful,’ he will say, using one of his pet names for her, ‘even if you didn’t wear makeup, you still look good to me.’

Marilyn has taken the hint and now often goes without makeup. And, of course, she still does look good.

Meanwhile, she is trying to discipline herself about keeping her appointments on time. She is usually only an hour late these days. And there has been a marked improvement in her personal neatness. Garter belts no longer hang over the Miller towel racks.

And there are, of course, other compensations in being married to Marilyn, besides the obvious ones.

‘As a wife,’ Arthur Muller says, ‘she has an enormous sense of play and inventiveness. She is never dull.’

And 100 million American males will probably wonder how anyone could have thought for a moment that life with Marilyn could be dull.