Today is the birthday of the legendary Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe: My Classic Hollywood Catalyst
In many ways, I consider Marilyn Monroe to be my Classic Hollywood catalyst: it was Marilyn’s cultural presence that introduced me to the glamour of Classic Hollywood at a very young age.
The first time I noticed Marilyn was in a Toys R Us magazine. I was in third grade, looking for potential Christmas list items, when I laid eyes on the most beautiful Barbie doll I had ever seen.
I asked my mom who this breathtaking Barbie doll was. She told me it was Marilyn Monroe. Right then and there, I became Marilyn’s greatest nine-year-old fan.
Marilyn memorabilia is literally everywhere, and the ease with which I was able to collect Marilyn Monroe pictures and information soon led to an interest in more niche stars of the Golden Age. For this and so many other reasons, Marilyn will always be one of my favorite stars.
Celebrating Marilyn Monroe
To celebrate Marilyn today, I want to share a quick anecdote from the 1953 comedy, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), that speaks to the sweetness behind Marilyn’s great beauty and magnetism [aff. link].
The film stars Marilyn, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall as three New York City models trying to snag millionaire husbands.
Lauren Bacall had been a superstar since starring opposite Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944), Betty Grable was the reigning box office queen at 20th Century Fox, and Marilyn had just proved her own star quality with her flawless look and performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).
Friends or Foes?
With so much female talent and beauty on the film, the press tried to spark rumors that behind the scenes of How to Marry a Millionaire, it was just one big cat fight.
But the truth was that all three actresses not only got along, they became good friends, particularly Betty Grable and Marilyn. The Betty/Marilyn friendship was doubly improbable because the heads of Fox were in no way hiding the fact that Marilyn was being groomed to replace the older Grable as the studio’s most important female star.
The Friendship of Marilyn Monroe & Betty Grable
Betty Grable was aware of this, but she was ready to step down gracefully. Rather than treat Marilyn like competition, Betty was overheard telling Marilyn:
“Honey, I’ve had it. Go get yours, it’s your turn now.”
Pretty big of Betty Grable.
But it was easy for Betty to be so gracious because Marilyn had been such a good friend to her.
One day during filming of Millionaire, Betty got a call from her younger daughter’s school. Her daughter had had a fall. Betty immediately left the film set to be with her daughter, and didn’t come back to the studio that day.
It ended up not being anything to worry about, and Betty’s daughter was uninjured. But no one on the film set knew this. All they’d seen was Betty make a worried and hasty exit earlier that day.
Marilyn Monroe: A Thoughtful Friend
Betty didn’t expect to hear from anyone at the studio who witnessed her rapid departure. But she did hear from one person; one person on the set, out of the whole cast and crew, had worried about Betty and her daughter all day. And this person called Betty that night.
It was Marilyn.
Marilyn called to check in and make sure that Betty and her daughter were okay.
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"There'll Never Be Anyone Like Her"
Marilyn’s caring phone call meant the world to Betty Grable.
After Marilyn’s passing, Betty recounted her friend’s sweet gesture, and how it made her love Marilyn even more. In Betty’s own words,
“It may sound peculiar to say so, because she is no longer with us, but we were very close. Once when we were doing that picture [Millionaire] together, I got a call on the set: my younger daughter had had a fall. I ran home and the one person to call was Marilyn…there’ll never be anyone like her for looks, for attitude, for all of it.”
Happy Birthday, Marilyn!
Happy Birthday Marilyn! For all your beauty and talent, it’s your sweetness and kind heart that set you apart.