Marilyn’s 20th Century Fox Sold to Disney

Marilyn with the cast of ‘Something’s Got to Give’ on her 36th birthday – and her final day’s work at Fox

Last December, it was reported (here) that Disney had bought Twentieth Century Fox’s assets from its most recent owner, Rupert Murdoch. And on July 27, as Variety reports, the Fox-Disney merger went ahead with a $71.3 billion buyout. Marilyn’s films for her home studio will be included in the purchase. As many commentators wonder what this will mean for the venerable Fox brand, the Hollywood Reporter looks back on its colourful past with a series of articles including the fraught relationship between longtime studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and the biggest star of all – Marilyn – during 1951-62, a period described as the ‘Monroe Years’ (preceded by ‘Eve’s Gold Rush’ in 1950, a reference to the Oscar-laden All About Eve in which Marilyn had a small part.) Firstly, film historian Leonard Maltin offers a eulogy for Fox, and the personalities who made it great.

Marilyn with Darryl F. Zanuck in 1954

“Zanuck always had someone waiting in reserve in case one of his stars became uncooperative. Betty Grable was hired as a threat to musical star Alice Faye and soon surpassed her as Fox’s premier attraction (and No. 1 pinup) of the 1940s. Faye grew tired of Zanuck’s belittling behavior and walked off the lot one day without saying goodbye. (Zanuck wouldn’t have survived in the #MeToo or Time’s Up era. He was notorious for taking advantage of starlets.)

Zanuck reigned until 1956, when he resigned from Fox and moved to France to become an independent producer. In the fractious years that followed, the studio wooed him back for projects more than once, even allowing him to cast his mistresses (Bella Darvi, Juliette Greco, et. al) in leading roles. But while movie attendance soared during the years following World War II, it sank nearly as quickly with the introduction of television. Fox’s response was to unveil a widescreen process called CinemaScope and its aural equivalent, stereophonic sound. Films like the biblical epic The Robe drew people back to theaters. So did Fox’s newest star, blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe.

It was believed the wildly expensive epic Cleopatra — which paid Elizabeth Taylor an eye-popping $1 million salary — nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, but president Spyros Skouras already was selling off the company’s valuable backlot (now known as Century City) before the movie’s budget ballooned to $44 million. Facts aside, Cleopatra became a scapegoat for all of the studio’s ills.

In a final coup, Darryl F. Zanuck returned to Fox in the early 1960s and named his son, Richard Zanuck, president … Then, in 1970, Zanuck Sr. fired his son and sparked an Oedipal family feud that sucked in Zanuck’s ex-wife — Richard’s mother, a major shareholder — and ended with the elder Zanuck being pushed out of the studio he co-founded. Repeated changes of regime and ownership in the ensuing years took their toll on the company that had once put its distinctive imprint on such classics as LauraMiracle on 34th StreetTwelve O’Clock High and All About Eve.”

Marilyn with her ‘Bus Stop’ co-star, Don Murray

In another article, ‘Life in the Foxhole‘, Mitzi Gaynor describes the working atmosphere at Fox as ‘like a family’, while Don Murray recalls his movie debut at the studio, and his mercurial leading lady…

“Zanuck loathes Marilyn Monroe (‘He thought I was a freak,’ Monroe once said) and nearly tears up her first contract after her nude Playboy cover comes out. But by 1953, Monroe has three of the studio’s biggest hits — NiagaraGentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire — and rene­gotiates a new contract paying $100,000 a picture and giving her creative approval. Her first film under the new deal is 1956’s Bus Stop, co-starring Don Murray. ‘I’d never done a feature before,’ says the actor, now 88, ‘so I didn’t know what to expect. From what others on the set told me, Marilyn was on her best behavior. She’d just been to the Actors Studio, and she really wanted to concentrate on her acting. But even so, she was late every day. She’d get to the studio on time, but then she’d spend hours dawdl­ing in her trailer, getting the nerve up to act. She was trying hard — she would sometimes do 30 takes in a scene — but she was very anxious about her acting. She would actually break out in a rash before the cameras would start filming. The cameras gave her a rash.'”

Finally, you can read Marilyn’s take on Fox, and Zanuck – as told to biographer Maurice Zolotow – here.

Remembering Barbara Bates

Barbara Bates, ‘All About Eve’

Among the cast of All About Eve (1950), three would die in tragic circumstances: Marilyn, George Sanders, and Barbara Bates, who appears as wannabe actress Phoebe in the final scene. Although her screen time was brief, it amounts to one of the greatest endings in Hollywood history. Interestingly, her part was reportedly considered for Marilyn before she was cast as Miss Caswell. Barbara also appeared in another early Monroe film, Let’s Make It Legal (1951).

Barbara as Phoebe in ‘All About Eve’
Barbara with Marilyn in a publicity shot for ‘Let’s Make It Legal’

Barbara was born in Denver on August 6, 1925, and came to Hollywood in her teens after winning a beauty contest. There she met Cecil Coan, a publicist for United Artists. They were married, and despite Barbara’s extreme shyness, she submitted to his designs to make her a star, appearing in such films as Johnny Belinda, June Bride and Cheaper By the Dozen. Like Marilyn, Barbara alternated between bit parts and posing for cheesecake, but her career didn’t take off as Marilyn’s did.

By the mid-1950s, Barbara’s emotional instability made her increasingly unreliable, and her last screen credit was in a 1962 episode of the British TV series, The Saint. After her husband was diagnosed with cancer, Barbara gave up acting to care for him, but the strain made her depression worse. A year after his death in 1967, Barbara was remarried to a childhood friend in Denver. But sadly this still wasn’t enough to turn her life around, and in early 1969, she was found dead by gas poisoning in a car inside  her mother’s garage.

‘Let’s Make It Legal’ cast photo – Barbara at left, Marilyn at right
Barbara and Marilyn with Macdonald Carey in a scene from the movie

Marilyn, Billy and the Fabulous Fifties

As part of an ongoing series for The Guardian, Wendy Ide names the 1950s as her favourite decade in film.

“Marilyn Monroe was the blond bombshell of choice – although for a while it looked as though Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday) might be a contender – and became a global icon. Hers was a career that played out almost entirely during the 50s. A supporting role in All About Eve led to a studio contract and a star-making double whammy of Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Highlights of her decade, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot, saw her teamed with director Billy Wilder …”

And over at Film School Rejects, Will DiGravio argues that the comedy classic, alongside other greats like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Hawks’ Rio Bravo, makes 1959 the best year in movies.

“Today, it seems as though many know Monroe only for her beauty, not as the greatest comedic actress of all time. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are hilarious in the film as two musicians pretending to be women in order to play with a female band in Florida and escape the Chicago mob after they witness a murder. Yet, their performances pale in comparison to Monroe’s, whose comedic timing and delivery is so effortless it is easy to under-appreciate her brilliance.”

‘All About Eve’ in Cape Cod

All About Eve will be screened at the Cape Cod Museum of Art on April 28. It will be shown after an informal reception at 3 pm, and a panel discussion will follow later. The museum is on the grounds of the Cape Playhouse in Dennis Village, where a 13 year-old Gary Merrill ushered back in 1928. Two decades later, Merrill would star as theatre director Bill Simpson in All About Eve, opposite a young Marilyn and his future wife, Bette Davis.

Marilyn’s Triple Score at Rotten Tomatoes

Marilyn attends the 1951 Oscars, where she presented one of several awards for ‘All About Eve’. (Photo by John Florea)

Marilyn has three entries on the 100 Best Classic Movies of All Time at Rotten Tomatoes, the movie website that aggregates user ratings. Some Like It Hot is surprisingly low-ranked (at 92), while the growing reputation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes places it at 79. But All About Eve heads the pack, coming in fourth.

TCM Brings Marilyn (and More) to Bonham’s

Marilyn at the St Jude’s Hospital benefit, November 1953

A treasure trove of Hollywood memorabilia will go under the hammer tomorrow at Bonham’s, as part of their latest auction, ‘TCM Presents …. Out Of This World!

Several Marilyn-related items are on offer, including a 1950 memo from Twentieth Century Fox to filmmaker Joseph L. Mankiewicz, confirming her casting as Claudia Caswell in All About Eve; and her contract for Horns of the Devil, a property she purchased in 1954.

Marilyn and Arthur by Janice Sargent, 1958

There is also a group of rare photographs, including some taken by amateur photographer Janice Sargent at a children’s hospital benefit in 1953, and one photo from the 1962 Golden Globes. Two photos of a visibly pregnant Marilyn with husband Arthur Miller, taken by Sargent during filming of Some Like It Hot in 1958, are also featured.

Marilyn with Jose Bolanos (right) at the 1962 Golden Globes

Another lot contains several photos taken during filming of Bus Stop, and an interesting photo of Marilyn and Arthur visiting Montgomery Clift on the set of his 1958 film, Lonelyhearts. Marilyn was working on Some Like It Hot at the time, also on the Samuel Goldwyn Studio lot.

 

Marilyn Goes From ‘Eve’ to ‘Niagara’ in Arizona

Marilyn’s steamy 1953 thriller, Niagara, will be screened on October 3 at the NAU College of Arts and Letters in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona, as part of a two-season retrospective, 20th Century Fox: The Stars. Prior to this, you can enjoy Marilyn’s supporting role in All About Eve on September 26. (Let’s hope Bus Stop gets an airing in the next season, as it was partly filmed in the state capital of Phoenix, Arizona.)

Remembering Marilyn’s Movie Triumphs

Marilyn in ‘Some Like It Hot ‘ (1959)

Over at The Wrap, Rosemary Rossi picks ten movie clips showcasing  Marilyn in her prime, with praise from leading critics.

“It has been observed that no matter how a scene was lighted, Monroe had the quality of drawing all the light to herself. In her brief scenes here, surrounded by actors much more experienced, she is all we can look at.” – Roger Ebert on ‘All About Eve’

“The reality was that she was a great, natural comedienne. She took superficial, cut-out roles and elevated them to whole new levels.” – Peter Bogdanovich on ‘Monkey Business’

“Monroe’s inflections and expressions have a deliciously clever and sharply experienced irony” – Richard Brody on ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’

“So arresting is Monroe’s presence that when she’s not on-screen, we wait impatiently, wondering, Where have you gone, Mrs. DiMaggio?” – Melissa Anderson on ‘The Seven Year Itch’

“Monroe steals it, as she walked away with every movie she was in. It is an act of the will to watch anyone else while she is on the screen.” – Roger Ebert on ‘Some Like It Hot’