Although he wouldn’t gain his first screen credit until 1965, Earl R. Gilbert began his career at Twentieth Century Fox in the same year as Marilyn (and at the same age.) In an article for Variety, James C. Udel looks back at Gilbert’s long career.
“Back in the age of directors calling ‘Lights, camera, action!’ lighting was an unsung craft. One crew member who raised the bar, employing natural-looking illumination like an artist uses his brush, is gaffer Earl Gilbert.
Gilbert was born in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1926. His father, Ray, an electrician at Twentieth Century Fox Studios, helped Earl obtain union status via ‘the sons of members’ provision. Joining in late 1946, Earl aced a grueling four-hour test pulling pound-a-foot cable 60 feet above the stage.
Serving as a rigger on pictures Forever Amber and Gentlemen’s Agreement (both in 1947) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Gilbert first demonstrated a talent for lighting on Elia Kazan’s 1952 Viva Zapata!
Continuing with Fox into the 1950s, Gilbert helped light classics such as The Robe, two Marilyn Monroe starrers — Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bus Stop … On Blondes, he recalls Monroe being shy but Jane Russell being gregarious: Russell’s cry of ‘Howdy, Earl!’ each time she greeted him on set, he says, made him feel like a million bucks.
Gilbert developed the art of using available location lighting. He ‘borrowed’ electricity by scaling telephone poles and tapping into overhead power lines — a gambit that risked electrocution.
Now retired and interviewed by Variety in his comfortable home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Gilbert reminisces … ‘I never used a light meter,’ he allows. ‘If it looks good, it is good, and if it’s not, fix it!'”
While she may not have achieved the pinnacle of stardom, Claire Trevor was that Hollywood rarity: a beautiful blonde who broke the mould and became an acclaimed character actress. She began her career at Fox in the 1930s, and like Marilyn after her, was frustrated by Darryl F. Zanuck’s indifference to her talent. She fared better at other studios, and played her first great role in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939.) She went on to star in Farewell My Lovely (1944), and would win an Oscar for her outstanding performance in Key Largo (1948.)
By the 1950s, Claire was still working steadily in film, stage and television, and had found lasting happiness in her third marriage, to producer Milton H. Bren. As author Derek Sculthorpe reveals in his new biography, Claire Trevor: Queen of Film Noir, she was aware of the pressures faced by younger stars.
“At the same time, she talked more frequently about retirement. ‘What’s all this about, anyway?’ she asked. ‘The fame is nonsense – I’ve found that out – and I’ve been to all the parties I want to go to and had the social chi-chi. I can’t take it anymore.’ She expressed concern over some young actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor and the physical and emotional effects the filmmaking business was having on them. She wondered why Monroe became ill whenever she made a film. ‘Is it exhausted nerves or a bronchial condition?'”
In 1963, Claire played Richard Beymer’s mother in The Stripper, adapted from William Inge’s play, A Loss of Roses. As Sculthorpe points out, the script had originally been earmarked for Marilyn in 1961, under the title Celebration. Costume designer Travilla had drawn up sketches for Marilyn’s character before she ultimately declined, committing instead to Something’s Got to Give.
“Joanne Woodward is a marvellous actress who did well wearing a platinum blonde wig looking for all the world like Marilyn Monroe. It was no surprise that the part was intended for Marilyn Monroe, which would have put the film in a different league. Monroe would have been a natural to convey the little girl lost at the heart of the piece, but died a short time before filming began. The male lead was offered to Pat Boone, who turned it down on moral grounds. Warren Beatty was also offered the role and he too declined. The part of the mother was offered first to Jo Van Fleet, who turned it down, after which it was given to Trevor.”
In Charles Casillo’s new biography, Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon – due out this month – he claims that Marilyn’s alleged rivalry with Elizabeth Taylor was a myth, as Closer reports. His source isn’t named here but hopefully the book will tell us more, as it’s a nice story. (And you can read my tribute to Marilyn and Elizabeth here.)
“They were two of the biggest female sex symbols of the 50s and early 60s, but Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor didn’t consider each other competitors. ‘In many ways [they] were pitted against each other by the press,’ Charles Casillo writes. ‘In reality, they barely knew each other, and the two had no animosity toward each other.’
Quite the opposite! Casillo writes of an incident in 1962, when 20th Century Fox was bleeding money on Liz’s over-budgeted extravaganza Cleopatra. The studio simultaneously fired Marilyn for alleged absences from the set of her never-completed final film, the aptly titled Something’s Got to Give.
Marilyn felt she was being sacrificed so Fox could save on her salary and spend it on finishing the bloated Egyptian epic. Two decades later, Liz revealed to a friend that she had reached out to Marilyn to offer her support during this difficult period.
‘Liz told Marilyn she was willing to publicly demonstrate her solidarity,’ Casillo says, offering to quit Cleopatra unless Marilyn was rehired. ‘Marilyn was very moved by Liz’s kindness toward her, but she didn’t want to make matters worse for either of them,’ so she declined the generous offer.
Instead, Liz gave Marilyn an invaluable piece of advice. ‘No matter what they write about me, Marilyn, I never deny it,’ Casillo quotes Liz as saying. ‘I never confirm it. I just keep smiling and walking forward. You do the same.’ Tragically, Marilyn didn’t live long enough to put those words into action.”
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.
“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 Laura, Miracle on 34th Street, Twelve O’Clock High and All About Eve.”
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 — Niagara, Gentlemen 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.
Marilyn’s first screen role, in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! is featured in a list of movie stars who got their start as bit players and extras. Filmed in March 1947 – six months into Marilyn’s contract with Twentieth Century Fox – the film would not be released for another year. As ‘Betty’, Marilyn can be seen briefly in one scene. Leaving a church service, she says ‘Hi, Rad!’ to leading lady June Haver. Marilyn’s only other scene, where she and fellow starlet Colleen Townsend row a boat across a lake and chat with some local boys, was cut – although several stills from the production have survived.
Marilyn would play a slightly more substantial role in Dangerous Years before being dropped by Fox in July. Despite her minimal presence, Marilyn also posed for a series of ‘bathing beauty’ shots to promote the movie. More than half of her screen credits were made before she reached star status (not to mention a couple of other films which used her image without active participation), and while it has been rumored that she was also an anonymous ‘extra’ in several other movies, this remains unconfirmed.
Alongside A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950), Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! is the only one of her early films made in Technicolor, and a surprisingly enjoyable slice of rural Americana, with a young Natalie Wood, plus stellar character actors Walter Brennan and Anne Revere among the cast. Lon McCallister, who also appeared in Marilyn’s boating scene, later joined her during the Love Happy promotional tour.
The unusual title, referring to slang used by farm-workers to drive mules left and right, was later renamed Summer Lightning. But in the 1989 film, Driving Miss Daisy, the film’s original title can be seen on a cinema marquee.
Rare photographs showing a young Marilyn, taken from the private collection of Hollywood security guard Aviv Wardimon, will be on offer at the Entertainment Signatures sale at Heritage Auctions, ending on April 15, reports the Daily Mail. (Eagle-eyed fans will notice that the image shown above is very similar to the cover photo of Michelle Morgan’s MM: Private and Undisclosed, given by Marilyn to Bill Pursel.)
“The images show Marilyn posing alongside guard Aviv Wardimon and are believed to have been taken outside the 20th Century Fox studio some time in the late 1940s. Wardimon’s family discovered the images recently and said they had no idea their relative was friends with Monroe, who is shown embracing him in several shots. Wardimon, who later changed his last name to Blackman, emigrated to the US from Israel before working for a time as a security guard. His images are now expected to fetch $1,000 (£700) each at auction.
Margaret Barrett, Director of Entertainment Memorabilia, said: ‘We have a few lots of never before seen snapshots taken when she is between 21-22 years old. We dated it by her haircut, it is still long, down to her shoulders and a light brown that turns light strawberry blondish in certain lights.’
‘These have never been seen before, she’s standing outside on the back of 20th Century Fox, she’s with a man. It was a mystery to the man’s own family, they know he worked as a security guard at one of the studio lots and had come over from Israel with his wife and children.’
‘Marilyn is with him for most of the shots, they obviously had some sort of a friendship. She’s in three different outfits so it could be from three different days, she must have known him beyond being a passing acquaintance.’
‘There are three lots, I have a feeling he had a massive crush on her, saw her on the lot and had these early shots of her. When the family found them, they said, Oh my gosh, it’s Marilyn Monroe.’
Rare black and white signed photographs where Marilyn Monroe thanks her co-workers in similar notes – ‘It’s a pleasure to work with you’ – are estimated at $7,000 (£5,000) and $4,000 (£2,800.) Publicity shots including an unseen postcard where Marilyn and another female were hired as pin-ups for the 1947 National Postmasters Convention in Los Angeles.
A signed menu from Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio’s honeymoon in Hawaii in 1954 is estimated to go for $2,000 (£1,400). In her note, she penned ‘The food was wonderful’ before writing her name ‘Marilyn Monroe DiMaggio’. Although her marriage to the New York Yankee’s star nicknamed Joltin’ Joe would end within a year, the menu preserves a precious moment of the couple’s life.
Margaret said: ‘This is when she flew from LA to Hawaii, she was only there for a night and went to a Trader Vic’s restaurant, which was very 50s. She signed the menu with something cute, then Joe signed the next page and Joe’s friend who went on the honeymoon with them. Marilyn was obviously signing it for the waiter or owner, if it was just a fan she wouldn’t have commented on the food.’
Never before seen photographs from Marilyn Monroe’s visit to Korea, shortly after her honeymoon with soldiers and close-ups of her in a spaghetti-strapped dress on stage, are estimated at $2,000 (£1,400).”
Bandleader Ray Anthony, who had a hit in 1952 with ‘My Marilyn’, has shared his memories with the Hollywood Reporter – and unlike so many others who knew her (such as Mickey Rooney, pictured above), he has never embellished their brief acquaintance. A short film retelling the story, Marilyn and I, was released in 2015.
“When he wasn’t performing at A-list parties in his 1950s heyday, Anthony was recording music for 20th Century Fox Pictures (his rendition of ‘The Bunny Hop’ has been featured on soundtracks from 1955’s How to Be Very, Very Popular to TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond).
On the Fox lot, he met a beautiful starlet named Marilyn Monroe. ‘We threw this big party for Marilyn at my house in the Valley,’ recalls Anthony. ‘She was pretty happy about that. It probably helped a little bit with her fame.’
While the two were photographed together looking mutually enamored, Anthony says they were ‘just friends’ who were ‘pretty busy at the time’ focusing on their careers.
But he did woo another blond star — Mamie Van Doren, his wife from 1955 to 1961. Says Anthony of the Teacher’s Pet bombshell, ‘We had fun together.'”
Martin Turnbull is the author of the ‘Garden of Allah’ series of novels set during Hollywood’s golden age. Previous books have covered the making of such classic films as Gone With the Wind and Citizen Kane; historic events from World War II to the Red Scare; and threats to the movie capital from television and gossip rags. Now Marilyn’s conflict with Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck is featured in the just-published eighth instalment, City of Myths. Although his books are fictional, Turnbull has an encylopedic knowledge of Old Hollywood, and City of Myths begins, Marilyn is re-shooting scenes for River of No Return with Jean Negulesco (seen in the above photo), after clashing with director Otto Preminger. City of Myths is available in paperback or via Kindle – and it’s also on offer as part of an Amazon ebook bundle with Turnbull’s other novels.
“When you live in a city built on shifting sands of myth, it can be hard to know which way is up. Kathryn Massey spends her days spreading rumors and keeping secrets. Losing herself one headline at a time has left Kathryn’s personal identity scattered—and dumps her at the narrow end of the bargaining table with the man she trusts the least. Gwendolyn Brick has simpler aspirations. As a costume designer, her sights are set on glamour, not heights of fame. But her friendship with Marilyn Monroe puts her directly into the crosshairs of studio head, Darryl Zanuck—and he’s someone you don’t say no to. Marcus Adler is stuck in a much more precarious situation. Exiled in Rome but under the spell of an unexpected romance, he’ll have to learn to say goodbye to everything he’s accomplished in order to give love a chance. In City of Myths the road through Hollywood bears sharply to the right as those who dare to play its game can easily become lost in its intoxicating glow.”
(The story mentioned in the article about Marilyn shaving an inch off the heel of her shoe to achieve her signature wiggle – as told to Troyan by photographer Lawrence Schiller – may be apocryphal, as none of her shoes sold at auction appear to have been altered. As Marilyn once said, ‘I learned to walk at six months old and haven’t had a lesson since.’)
“How Troyan managed to compile a definitive history of an ever-evolving entertainment giant is an amazing accomplishment in its own right. First, he had to talk Fox into it.
‘I started this project in 2010 – five years out (from Fox’s 100th anniversary in 2015),’ he said. ‘It took them five years to decide yes.’Then, I spent two more years actually getting it done. You can’t do a book like this without the studio’s art and photos. I needed access to their archives.’
‘Unlike Disney, Fox had never done a book about its history,’ Troyan said. ‘They did one book on costumes (Styling the Stars, co-written by Angela Cartwright), but that was it.’
Once Fox gave his project its blessing, Troyan discovered a treasure trove of forgotten photos and movie mementos, stashed away in hundreds of file boxes for decades in studio storage. Fox archivist Jeffrey Paul Thompson became a collaborator, as did filmmaker and Hollywood historian Stephen X. Sylvester.
‘I wanted to see everything and hear everything,’ Troyan said. ‘You can read all the articles and books on a subject, but it’s not until you started interviewing people did you really get it – the full picture.’
‘This is a celebration of Fox and movie making,’ he said of his book. ‘We covered the scandals and controversies – and there were plenty – but most of all, I wanted (the book) to be accurate.'”
After months of speculation, the BBC has confirmed that 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets (including Marilyn’s many films for Twentieth) have been bought by Disney for $52.4bn (£39 billion.) Previous owner Rupert Murdoch purchased Fox in 1985.