“When you said, ‘All right, camera,’ something happened and she became attractive to millions of people. Not to anyone who worked with her, not to anybody around her. But the camera liked her.” - Howard Hawks
Hawks And Marilyn Monroe
“She was the most frightened little girl who had no confidence in her ability. There wasn't a real thing about her. Everything was completely unreal."Howard Hawks comment on Marilyn Monroe.
Howard Hawks first worked with Marilyn Monroe in the spring of 1952 when he directed “Monkey Business.”
This was a crucial period in Marilyn’s career. In March of 1952 she faced a potential career disaster when nude photos from a 1949 session with photographer Tom Kelley appeared on a calendar. It seemed as if her hope of becoming a serious actress was about to be destroyed before she’d even earned her first starring role.
Since she had first appeared in a Yank magazine article as Mrs. Norma Jean Dougherty in 1945, she had always been viewed as a sexy woman but during the 1950s there was a big difference between being curvaceous and actually showing those curves in all their naked glory.
A Candle Blowing In The Wind
When studio executives gathered to discuss the situation, Marilyn came up with the simplest and best solution; she publicly admitted that she had posed for the offending photos and stated that she’d only done so to earn enough money to pay her rent. This generated a wave of sympathy for her role as a struggling actress and helped lead to an April 1952 Life magazine cover story in which she was labeled “The Talk of Hollywood.”
Meanwhile, at 20th Century Fox Studios, Howard Hawks was experiencing difficulties with Life’s cover girl.
Forced to wear a dress that she hated, the 26-year old actress was out of sorts and balky. Hawks’ stern demeanor terrified her. Neither Cary Grant nor Howard Hawks could understand what others found so attractive about Monroe. As Grant later confessed, “I had no idea she would become a big star. If she had something different from any other actress, it wasn’t apparent at the time.”
Although she only had a supporting role in the picture, the crew often had to work around her erratic schedule. After Hawks finished shooting “Monkey Business,” it was revealed that Marilyn Monroe had been dealing with appendix problems while making the movie. She had her appendix removed on April 28, shortly after the film was completed.
The two months she worked on “Monkey Business” were also marked with two other significant events in the short life of Marilyn Monroe. Shortly after she began modeling in 1945, she began experimenting with lighter hair colors. By 1952, she had tried nine different shades of blonde. Howard Hawks’ “Monkey Business” was the first picture in which she would be seen as a platinum blonde, the shade she would retain for the rest of her life.
On March 15, 1952, while playing the role of Miss Lois Laurel in “Monkey Business,” Marilyn took the first step towards becoming Mrs. Joe DiMaggio when she went on a blind date with the recently retired baseball superstar. It was a relationship that would capture the hearts and minds of the American public and would reverberate for two decades after Marilyn Monroe’s death as DiMaggio would continue to have fresh red roses placed in a vase attached to her crypt.
When Howard Hawks began shooting the musical comedy “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in November of 1952, Marilyn Monroe’s star was on the rise. Her sizzling performance opposite Joseph Cotton in “Niagara” had established her as a legitimate talent and producer Sol Siegel was eager to have her co-star in Hawks’ adaptation of the popular Anita Loos tale.
Hawks and Monroe during the filming of Monkey Business (1952).
With a blossoming love affair, positive reviews, and a starring role in a new Howard Hawks movie, one would think Marilyn would now have the tools to overcome her life-long insecurities. Unfortunately, her first tastes of success only served to make her more insecure. She was certain that she was only a slip or two away from having the whole dream dissolve right before her eyes.
She developed severe stage fright and, even on days when she arrived on the set early, was reluctant to come out of her trailer to perform before the cameras. She also developed an almost crippling reliance on her drama coach, Natasha Lytess.
Marilyn and Cary Grant in Monkey Business (1952)
Hawks now discovered that communicating with Monroe was almost impossible. Jane Russell, however, developed a close relationship with her co-star and that relationship served as a buffer between the demanding director and the insecure platinum blonde.
“It wasn’t easy, that film, but it wasn’t difficult because I had Jane there,” Hawks would later recall, “I’d hear them talking, Marilyn would whisper “What did he tell me?’ Jane wouldn’t say, ‘He’s told you six times already,” she’d just tell her again.”
Howard Hawks was the first of many directors to be frustrated by Marilyn Monroe’s insistence on having a drama coach on set.
When all was said and done Hawks and musical director Jack Cole managed to get a winning performance from Marilyn Monroe. If “Niagara” proved that she had talent, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” clearly showed that she had the ability to be a star. This was her fondest ambition and, in many ways, became her continuing nightmare.
Forced to live up to the legend of Marilyn Monroe, she became increasingly insecure which made it even more difficult for future directors to complete films that starred Monroe. While Howard Hawks had several difficult moments working with the young actress, her reinforcing relationship with Jane Russell tamed some of the demons that would later torment distinguished directors such as Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Laurence Olivier, and John Huston.
The frightened little girl that Hawks sensed in Monroe never really grew up and the sense of unreality that surrounded her never went away. The myth and magic of Marilyn often makes it difficult for us to sense the very real human being beneath the glowing surface. It is perhaps only fitting that woman herself gave one of the best descriptions of what it was to be Marilyn Monroe.
“I didn't pay much attention to the whistles and whoops, in fact, I didn't quite hear them. I was full of a strange feeling, as if I were two people. One of them was Norma Jeane from the orphanage who belonged to nobody; the other was someone whose name I didn't know. But I knew where she belonged; she belonged to the ocean and the sky and the whole world."
Gentleman Prefer Blonds (1955) Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.