Struggle to Stardom
Marilyn Monroe was determined to be a star. Even as a child she would often fantasize about it. In an interview, she stated, "I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night-there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But, I'm not going to worry about them. I'm dreaming the hardest."
Marilyn threw herself into her acting, dancing and singing classes that were provided by the studio every day of the week. She knew that if she were to succeed, she'd have to be more than just good, she had to be the best. One of Marilyn's teachers, Phoebe Brand, told Donald Wolfe that Marilyn was "a self-conscious girl who never spoke up in class... She was extremely retiring. What I failed to see in her acting was wit, her sense of humor. It was there all the time — this lovely comedic style, but I was blind to it. Frankly, I never would have predicted she would be a success."
Marilyn tried desperately to be a great actress, but it was not a skill that came easily for her. She worried that she lacked a natural talent for the art.
Almost one year to the day she signed her contract, 20th Century Fox dropped Marilyn Monroe with no explanation. Marilyn was just as quickly out of cash as she was out of a job. The situation was devastating, but she didn't let it deter her. Marilyn got involved in an important group called the Actors Laboratory, which was an oasis of Broadway talent in the midst of Los Angeles.
In Marilyn Monroe: The Biography, Donald Spoto states that this exposure to controversial and intellectual components of New York theater and accomplished actors had an important maturing effect on her.
During the late 1940s Marilyn's career took an unlikely turn. In desperate need of money, she returned to modeling and also tried her hand at other less acceptable trades. Sometime between 1947 and the beginning of 1948, Marilyn allegedly worked as a part-time call-girl and actress in stag films. Later in her career Marilyn worried that her unconventional method of making money would be discovered and destroy her reputation.
According to a United States government memorandum issued by the FBI three years following her death, what would later be her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio attempted to buy a stag film that she had starred in during this time period. According to the memorandum, Marilyn was seen committing a "perverted act upon an unknown male." Joe DiMaggio offered $25,000 for the stag film clip, but his offer was eventually rejected by the buyer. More than 15 years later, segments of the clip showing a younger Marilyn in sexual poses were revealed to the public in the 1980 issue of Penthouse magazine.
The years following her release from her contract were not her most glamorous and were filled with self-sacrifice and pain. During this upheaval, a man purportedly climbed through her bedroom window and sexually attacked her as she lay in her bed. According to witnesses, they heard Marilyn scream and they called the police. When the police arrived, Marilyn pointed out one of the detectives as the intruder that had entered her bedroom. No one believed her story. The charges against the officer were abandoned and the assault was dismissed.
In 1948, Marilyn moved into the house of John and Lucille Carroll. John Carroll was a well-established actor and his wife Lucille was a casting director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). They helped support her emotionally and financially during her difficult transition period. Marilyn continued to model and interview at studios.
In March 1948, Marilyn was given a six-month contract with Columbia Pictures paying $75 a week, allegedly at the urging of one of Marilyn's lovers, Joe Schenck. Seventy-year old Schenck, one of the founders of 20th Century Fox Motion Picture Studios, had enormous power and influence in Hollywood throughout most of his life. The relationship proved to be beneficial to Marilyn during her most desperate times.
Under the guidance of Columbia's head drama coach Natasha Lytess, Marilyn began to develop her techniques. Eventually, she won a role in the movie Ladies of the Chorus, where she got a chance to exhibit her singing, acting and dancing skills. It was at this time that Marilyn met and fell in love with Columbia's handsome, 32-year-old director of music, Fred Karger. It was believed that he was Marilyn's first true love.
Marilyn was introduced to Fred when he was asked to advise her on musical coaching. According to Summers, Marilyn fell in love with Fred after he paid a visit to her when she fell ill. At the time, Marilyn moved from the Carrolls' home to a small, one-room apartment near the studio. Fred was surprised to see the conditions Marilyn was living in and he immediately took her to his mother's house.
Fred's mother, Anne 'Nana' Karger, took an intense liking to Marilyn and she brought her into her family. Anne Karger became a mother figure to Marilyn, and the two remained close for 14 years, until Marilyn's untimely death. During Marilyn's temporary stay in the house, Fred and Marilyn began their love affair.
Marilyn's love for Fred grew over the year and she dreamed of marrying him.
Fred, who was unhappily married to actress Patti Sacks when he met Marilyn, divorced his wife but had no intention of marrying Marilyn. Fred was overly critical of her and believed Marilyn would not be a suitable parent for his daughter. That same year, the relationship ended when they realized that the love between them was not mutual.
In an interview with Marilyn years later, she admitted that the relationship produced several pregnancies, all of which ended in abortion. Marilyn's heart was crushed after the break-up and it was difficult for her to move on, although ultimately she was forced to seek love elsewhere.
In September 1948 Marilyn's contract with Columbia was dropped six months following its activation. Once again Marilyn found herself without a job and out of money. She was so poor that she moved in with a friend and part-time lover Robert (Bob) Slatzer in an effort to consolidate living expenses. The two barely had enough money to survive. In 1949 Marilyn posed nude for photographer Tom Kelley who used the pictures in a calendar layout. The spread caused a worldwide sensation a couple years later when it developed into a scandal called "The Calendar Caper."
That same year, Marilyn auditioned for a part in an upcoming movie in the Marx Brother's film Love Happy. The part that she was auditioning for required a sexy girl, and Marilyn was asked to walk for the scene. Groucho Marx was shocked by the sex appeal that emanated from Marilyn. Kirk Wilson's book quotes Groucho describing Marilyn as being, "Mae West, Theda Bara and Bo Peep all rolled into one." She was quickly given the part. Marilyn was used for the publicity of the film and she began to gain the recognition she so desired in Hollywood.
During that same year, Marilyn began an affair with one of Hollywood's most influential and powerful agents, Johnny Hyde. Hyde was in his mid 50s and was enthralled by the young and vulnerable actress. He helped Marilyn transform her physical and public image. He knew she was destined to make it big.
Hyde convinced Marilyn to have plastic surgery on her chin to remove scars, regularly bleach her hair and, rumor had it, to have her tubes tied so that she was unable to have children. Hyde further assisted Marilyn in obtaining a contract with the company that had two years earlier turned her away, 20th Century Fox. She received $500 a week for her role in the movie titled Asphalt Jungle. The part would lead her to more profitable extensions to her contracts and bigger roles in films.
Over the next couple of years she starred in films like All About Eve. Marilyn began to receive great reviews for her performances and her image as a sex symbol began to blossom. In Kirk Wilson's book, cinematographer Leon Shamroy stated what many men felt when they saw Marilyn on film. Shamroy said that he got the chills when he saw Marilyn on screen and that, "She had a kind of fantastic beauty... she got sex on a piece of film."