Classic Movie Travels: Virginia Bruce

Classic Movie Travels: Virginia Bruce – Fargo and Los Angeles

Virginia Bruce
Virginia Bruce

Virginia Bruce was a popular star of the 1930s and enjoyed success as an actress and singer. She was born to Earl and Margaret Briggs. Though born Helen Virginia Briggs on September 29, 1909, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, her family soon relocated to Fargo, North Dakota. Two years later, her younger brother, Stanley, was born. The two children grew up and received their education in North Dakota. Virginia harbored happy memories of life in the red brick house and ice skating on a nearby frozen pond during the winters. She also busied herself with swimming and horseback riding. 

Virginia also enjoyed playing the piano. When she found herself expelled for verbally retaliating at her history teacher just before graduation, the Fargo High School Choral Society struggled to find an accompanist as talented as she. As a result, Virginia was asked back and the choir won their contest. Virginia presented them with their award and also wound up receiving her diploma. 

Virginia Bruce young
a young Virginia

Soon after her 1928 graduation from Fargo Central High School, her family once again moved to Los Angeles with the intent of Virginia enrolling at the University of California—Los Angeles. There, her father worked as a salesman.  Initially, she wished to study music and cultivate her soprano voice but her parents encouraged her to seek work in films. She was discovered by director William Beaudine when Virginia accompanied her clothing designer aunt to a styling appointment with Beaudine’s wife. The meeting turned into an audition of sorts for Virginia, who entertained the Beaudines by playing piano and singing.

Virginia made her screen debut in 1929 in a bit part in Fugitives (1929), following the appearance with many more uncredited roles. She also worked on stage in the Broadway shows Smiles and America’s Sweetheart, returning to Hollywood in 1932. Virginia would find herself as one of the 20 original Goldwyn Girls, including Betty Grable, Paulette Goddard, and Ann Sothern.

Virginia Bruce and John Gilbert
Virginia Bruce and John Gilbert

During the production of Kongo (1932), she met and married actor John Gilbert. Their wedding was held in haste in Gilbert’s dressing room, with Irving Thalberg, Donald Ogden Stewart, Cedric Gibbons, and Dolores del Rio in attendance. Their marriage produced one daughter named Susan Ann. The couple divorced in 1934.

Virginia Bruce and her daughter, Susan Ann
Virginia and her daughter, Susan Ann

While working in films, Virginia was given the opportunity to showcase her vocal talents. She introduced the Cole Porter song, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in Born to Dance (1936), and also appeared in the hit musical film The Great Ziegfeld (1936). Though her roles gradually improved since her entrance into films, her career plateaued in 1936 with the death of friend and producer Irving Thalberg. Virginia soon found herself featured in B movies. In response, she occasionally appeared on the radio to partake in dramatic shows on the air.

Virginia Bruce

In 1937, she married J. Walter Ruben and had a son, Christopher Ruben, with him in 1941. They remained together until his passing in 1942.

Virginia Bruce and her son, Christopher Ruben
Virginia and her son, Christopher Ruben

After a string of disappointing projects, Virginia retired from films in the 1960s. She emerged or a final appearance in Madame Wang’s (1981). In her later years, Virginia dedicated herself to a variety of political causes before passing away from cancer on February 24, 1982, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital. She was 72 years old.

Her family home in 1928 still stands at 421 14th St. S in Fargo. This is the home today:

421 14th St., Fargo, ND Virginia Bruce
421 14th St., Fargo, ND

Unfortunately, her 1930s home at 4456 Lockwood Ave. in Los Angeles has been razed. This is the property today:

4456 Lockwood Ave., Los Angeles, California Virginia Bruce
4456 Lockwood Ave., Los Angeles, California

At this point, Virginia’s filmography and radio performances can continue to be enjoyed.

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

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Marilyn: Behind the Icon – Ladies of the Chorus

Marilyn Monroe Steps Out of the Chorus Line in her First Starring Role: Ladies of the Chorus (1948)

Marilyn Monroe and Rand Brooks in Ladies of the Chorus (1948)
Marilyn Monroe and Rand Brooks in Ladies of the Chorus (1948)

“It was really dreadful.” This was Marilyn Monroe’s confession to French journalist Georges Belmont in 1960 of her first starring film, Ladies of the Chorus, released twelve years earlier. “I was supposed to be the daughter of a burlesque dancer some guy from Boston falls in love with. It was a terrible story and terribly, badly photographed; everything was awful about it. So, [Columbia] dropped me. But you learn from everything.”

Marilyn Monroe ladies of the chorus 1

Monroe’s debut as a musical comedy performer in Ladies of the Chorus was arguably far from dreadful. In the succinct, B-movie with a ten-day production schedule, she portrayed Peggy Martin, a burlesque chorus dancer with an overprotective mother, May (Adele Jergens), another dancer in the troupe. When headliner Bubbles LaRue quits, the stage manager asks May to take her place, but she concedes to her daughter. Peggy’s performance is classy, and the audience is smitten by her. Randy Carroll (Rand Brooks), a wealthy young man in the audience, is especially smitten and anonymously sends Peggy orchids by the dozens. When a florist, unaware of Peggy’s identity, disapproves of Randy sending orchids to a burlesque star, Peggy plays along with a sneer. Peggy and Randy begin dating, and Randy quickly proposes.

marilyn monroe ladies of the chorus montage 1

Protective May approves of Randy but fears his wealthy mother will disapprove of Peggy based on career as a burlesque star. In the past, when May was a young chorus girl, she married a wealthy young man from her audience who had fallen in love with her. After Peggy’s birth, the marriage was annulled because May’s mother-in-law rejected her. Hoping to spare her daughter from the pain she experienced in the past, May urges Randy to inform his mother of Peggy’s profession before introducing them. Randy cannot bring himself to do this, and his mother, Mrs. Carroll (Nana Bryant), hosts an engagement party and invites Peggy and May.

marilyn monroe ladies of the chorus 2

Entertainers invited to the event recognize the mother and daughter, and May is forced to disclose their profession to the guests, who all pass judgment. Spoiler alert: Mrs. Carroll wholeheartedly accepts Peggy and performs a song. She also delivers a bombshell by informing her guests that she, too, had been a chorus girl, but this is a tale told to soften her guests. In the end, Peggy and Randy proceed with marriage plans, and May settles down with her longtime boyfriend, the stage manager of her show.

marilyn monroe adele jergen ladies of the chorus
Monroe and Adele Jergens

Named “Miss World’s Fairest” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Adele Jergens (1917-2002) had been a Rockette at Radio City Musical Hall and understudied for burlesque’s Queen of Striptease, Gypsy Rose Lee. Jergens instinctively felt protective toward Monroe but thought she was bright and capable of taking care of herself.

marilyn monroe rand brooks ladies of the chorus 2

Having played Charles Hamilton, Scarlett O’Hara’s first husband in Gone With the Wind, Rand Brooks (1918-2003), in the role of Randy, had the distinction of giving Monroe her first screen kiss, undoubtably thrilling for the former Norma Jeane Baker who had seen the celebrated film at age thirteen. Brooks had a recurring role the Hopalong Cassidy series of film westerns and later made appearances on television in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, The Lone Ranger, and Maverick.

Natasha Lytess coached Monroe
Natasha Lytess coached Monroe for six years until the star transitioned to Lee and Paula Strasberg of New York’s Actor’s Studio

Columbia’s acting coach Natasha Lytess, soon to became Monroe’s on-set acting coach on subsequent films until production wrapped on The Seven Year Itch (1955), had recommended Monroe to casting director Harry Romm. Monroe auditioned by singing one of three songs designated to the second female lead. Romm found her irresistible and sent her to Columbia’s director of music and vocal instructor, Fred Karger, for refining.

marilyn monroe ladies of the chorus montage 5

Monroe performed three songs by Allan Roberts and Lester Lee with choreography by Jack Boyle. As part of a chorus, she sings “Ladies of the Chorus” in the film’s opening and breaks out in the solo, “Anyone Can See I Love You,” on the burlesque stage and in a reprise montage with Brooks. Finally, in “Every Baby Needs a Da-Da-Daddy,” Monroe foreshadows her Beatnik-inspired “My Heart Belong to Daddy” number in Let’s Make Love (1960). In the last number, she steps out of a giant picture album in a flowing gown of virginal white chiffon with a tight, spangled bodice. Poised and graceful, Monroe glows with promise as a future musical comedy queen.

marilyn monroe ladies of the chorus montage 4

“Every Baby Needs a Da-Da-Daddy” is Monroe’s first significant performance in a musical and strangely predictive. In a stylized set depicting a jewelry store with a neon sign in the shape of a diamond ring. Monroe’s long, sparkling gown with a slit up its side foreshadows her costume in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). The song’s reference to Tiffany’s prophesized her iconic number, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” in the same film. With graceful moves and silky hair styled in the coiffure of Columbia’s reigning queen, Rita Hayworth, Monroe is reminiscent of the latter’s “Put the Blame on Mame” number from the studio’s Gilda (1946). However, Monroe’s performance is far more virtuous. The studio clearly marketed her as a somewhat wholesome version of Hayworth — and a far cry from the siren image 20th Century Fox would later invent.

marilyn monroe ladies of the chorus 3

In Ladies of the Chorus, Monroe demonstrates the promise of star quality. She plays comedic and dramatic scenes with equal believability and speaks in her natural voice (albeit influenced by coaching in the industry’s preferred Transcontinental accent) not yet been replaced by a more breathy, artificial one. The backstory of Monroe’s affair with vocal coach Karger is coincidently reflected by the class difference in the plot’s lovers.

marilyn monroe ladies of the chorus 4

When production ended, Monroe’s short-term contract neared its expiration. Unfortunately, Columbia chose not to renew it. Reportedly, mogul Harry Cohn summoned Monroe to his office shortly before the ending of the contract to “negotiate” an extension, but she refused his advances. In My Story, Monroe recounted the incident without specifically naming Cohn. He allegedly showed her a framed picture of his yacht and said, “Will you come along on my yacht? I’m not inviting anyone else but you.”

“I’d love to join you and your wife on the yacht, Mr. Cohn,” Monroe replied.

“Leave my wife out of this,” he snapped. Insulted, Monroe fled and never worked at Columbia again.  

The incident motivated Monroe to deliver a sarcastic message to him when she achieved superstardom by mailing an autographed portrait sarcastically inscribed, “To my great benefactor, Harry Cohn.” Perhaps attempting to claim discovery of Monroe, Columbia recycled Monroe’s “Every Baby Needs a Da-Da-Daddy” number in Okinawa (1952).

marilyn monroe ladies of the chorus 5

Columbia released Ladies of the Chorus on October 22, 1948, and Monroe received her first reviews. All were positive. “One of the bright spots is Miss Monroe’s singing,” proclaimed Motion Picture Herald. “She is pretty and, with her pleasing voice and style, shows promise.” Variety announced: “Enough musical numbers are inserted, topped with nifty warbling of Marilyn Monroe. Miss Monroe presents a nice personality in her portrayal of the burly singer.”

marilyn monroe ladies of the chrous 6

Accompanied by the Karger family, Marilyn discreetly attended a public viewing of the film at the Carmel Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. She wore an oversized coat and dark glasses to maintain her anonymity.

After the critics’ and audience’s reactions to Marilyn Monroe, Cohn may have regretted dismissing her in his knee-jerk reaction to his bruised ego. Perhaps Monroe felt vindicated by her successes, but her mind was on recognition by those in her more distant past. “I kept driving past the theatre with my name of the marquee,” she wrote. “Was I excited! I wished they were using ‘Norma Jeane’ so that all the kids at the home and schools who never noticed me could see it.”

marilyn monroe vocal coach Fred Karger

Monroe’s relationship with vocal coach Fred Karger was outlived by her long connection to his mother and sister, Anne and Mary. Both women attended her funeral in 1962.

Anne and Mary Karger with Marilyn Monroe in early 1962
Anne and Mary Karger with Marilyn in early 1962.


–Gary Vitacco-Robles for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Gary’s Marilyn: Behind the Icon articles for CMH here.

Gary Vitacco-Robles is the author of ICON: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes 1 2, and writer/producer of the podcast series, Marilyn: Behind the Icon.

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Western RoundUp: Frontier Gambler (1956)

Western RoundUp: Frontier Gambler (1956)

Last December I wrote about Noir-Tinged Westerns, frontier films such as Blood on the Moon (1948) and Pursued (1948) which have a distinctly dark film noir vibe.

This month I’m taking a look at Frontier Gambler (1956), a film that actually remakes a classic film noir, Laura (1944). Frontier Gambler was directed by Sam Newfield and filmed in black and white by Eddie Linden.

Frontier Gambler (1956)
Frontier Gambler (1956)

Laura, as many film fans are well aware, is the story of a beautiful woman, the titular Laura (Gene Tierney), who as that film opens is believed shot to death. The detective (Dana Andrews) investigating her death interviews several people in Laura’s orbit, including her mentor (Clifton Webb), her fiance (Vincent Price), and her relative (Judith Anderson), who also loves the fiance.

The more the detective learns about Laura — and stares at her portrait — the more he begins to fall in love with a woman who’s completely unattainable because she’s dead. Or so we think.

While Frontier Gambler gives no acknowledgment to either the 1944 film or the Vera Caspary novel which inspired it, screenwriter Orville Hampton’s heavy borrowing from the earlier film and/or novel is unmistakable.

Coleen Gray in Frontier Gambler (1956)
Coleen Gray in Frontier Gambler (1956)

As the Western begins, a gambling palace owner named Sylvia (Coleen Gray), nicknamed “the Princess” for her elegant appearance and demeanor, has just been shot and killed, after which her home was set on fire. Deputy Marshal Curt Darrow (John Bromfield) arrives in the frontier town to investigate her murder.

In short order we meet Roger Chadwick (Kent Taylor), who raised Sylvia after her parents were killed in an Indian attack, then fell in love with her; ranch owner Francie Merritt (Veda Ann Borg); and Francie’s inconstant lover Tony (Jim Davis). Roger, Francie, and Tony are clearly inspired by the Webb, Anderson, and Price characters in the original Laura story, with Deputy Darrow the Western version of Andrews’ detective.

Coleen Gray, John Bromfield, and Jim Davis in Frontier Gambler (1956)
Coleen Gray, John Bromfield, and Jim Davis in Frontier Gambler (1956)

Roger, like Waldo Lydecker in Laura, has groomed Sylvia to be his image of the perfect woman, then is frustrated when she wants her independence and shows interest in another man (Davis).

Roger echoes Waldo’s controlling personality, but there’s a certain creepy undertone unique to this version: Roger has basically raised Sylvia from childhood but then wants to trade in his paternal role for that of a lover.

I’ve always enjoyed Taylor, dating to seeing him in the classic “B” film Five Came Back (1939) as a young classic film fan, but there’s something distinctly unpleasant about his character and the unfatherly feelings he develops, though one might admit that Taylor nails the part as written.

Coleen Gray and Kent Taylor in Frontier Gambler (1956)
Coleen Gray and Kent Taylor in Frontier Gambler (1956)

Gray takes Sylvia from a frightened young girl to the self-assured, glamorous saloon owner nicknamed the “Princess,” complete with jewels in her hair. She gives a rather brittle performance as a woman who’s not particularly nice; truth be told, she’s outright manipulative, as she plays on Roger’s sympathy to obtain money to start a saloon which will be his competitor. That said, it’s easy enough to see how her personality developed, having withstood her parents’ murder and then grown up learning gambling on the one hand and following Roger’s exacting demands on the other.

At the end of the film, it’s suggested by Darrow that perhaps in the future Sylvia will be “herself,” meaning her own person, and one wonders if a more appealing, less tightly wound personality will go along with that.

Borg is appealing as the woman who loves Tony but is understanding of his foibles while acting as a friend to all. The cast also includes Margia Dean, Stanley Andrews, Frank Sully, Tracey Roberts, Pierce Lyden, and Rick Vallin.

Kent Taylor, Coleen Gray and John Bromfield in Frontier Gambler (1956)
Kent Taylor, Coleen Gray and John Bromfield in Frontier Gambler (1956)

Unlike Laura, there are multiple story threads that don’t really go anywhere; for instance, there’s initially some throwaway back story about Darrow’s father having a history in the town, but it never amounts to much. In addition to Darrow’s background, there’s also a story shoehorned in about a beleaguered newspaper owner (Roy Engel); the newspaperman and Tony have a shootout which makes Tony look quite the villain — but then Tony shifts to hero mode helping Darrow in the final scenes.

We also never really get any hints about Darrow harboring an attraction for the “dead” Sylvia, although a future relationship is hinted in the final moments. Instead, the film concentrates mostly on Sylvia’s relationships with Roger and, to a lesser extent, Tony. With just 71 minutes to tell the story, it’s a bit surprising the filmmakers didn’t drop the extraneous bits of plot and focus on developing the central relationships more completely. I suspect that these fairly random storylines were added to help differentiate the film from Laura.

Kent Taylor and Coleen Gray in Frontier Gambler (1956)
Kent Taylor and Coleen Gray in Frontier Gambler (1956)

Frontier Gambler is quite a low-budget film, with modest sets and location filming in nearby Newhall, but despite the lack of production values and the somewhat unfocused script, the cast and the repurposing of the classic Caspary story still give it considerable interest. As Laura is one of my favorite movies, I enjoyed seeing how various aspects of the story were used in a Western setting, as well as the ways the filmmakers deviated from the original.

Kent Taylor and Coleen Gray in Frontier Gambler (1956)
Kent Taylor and Coleen Gray in Frontier Gambler (1956)

I particularly enjoyed the chance to see a favorite actress, Coleen Gray, in a new-to-me film. When I had the good fortune to interview Gray in 2012 and told her of my admiration for another of her Westerns, Copper Sky (1957), she expressed some amazement that a relatively forgotten film like that — which she’d been proud of — was still being watched so many years later.

Frontier Gambler (1956) Lobby Card
Frontier Gambler (1956) Lobby Card

I’d like to think it would make her happy knowing that Frontier Gambler has now entertained a new viewer. I certainly wish that this film and Copper Sky would have authorized DVD releases so more classic film fans can easily watch and enjoy them.

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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The Directors’ Chair: Rear Window

The Directors’ Chair: Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)


Jimmy stewart rear window broken leg in wheelchair
James Stewart, Rear Window

Holed up in his apartment with a broken leg, a photo journalist played by James Stewart, whiles away his recuperative time watching his neighbors in the building across the courtyard. He uses the vignette of their lives as his own private cinema. And let me tell you something, if Raymond Burr is a tenant, you know SOMETHING is rotten in Denmark…and Greenwich Village. Hitchcock makes a slow methodical case (in a slow methodical pace) for circumstantial evidence pointing to a man suspected of murdering and dismembering his wife.

rear window jimmy stewart with camera, jimmy stewart and thelma ritter

First Hitchcock draws in Stewart, along with us. Then he draws in wise- cracking nurse Thelma Ritter. The next into the fold is the glamorous Grace Kelly, more animated here than I’ve ever seen her. (Thank goodness. I’m just about at the end of my rope with her “ice~princess~still~waters~ run~deep” mode.)

grace kelly jimmy stewart rear window Best intro ever
Best intro ever. 

As Stewart’s steady girlfriend, Kelly’s focus is not outside the apartment, but inside, on Stewart and getting him lassoed by his…antlers to the altar. He’s resistant to everything she throws at him from her feminine arsenal. And such a nice feminine arsenal too.

rear window jimmy stewart grace kelly

ARounding out the cast is Doubting Thomas Wendell Corey with ice blue eyes and cold skepticism. He’s the detective friend who thinks Stewart is crying wolf.

thelma ritter, grace kelly, jimmy stewart in rear window Is curiosity contagious?
Is curiosity contagious?

Curiosity is no substitute for flat-footed police work. Ritter and Kelly take Stewart’s curiosity up another level as they up the ante with Nancy Drew- style investigative antics into Burr’s affairs. The reward for those efforts is to bring the Menace from across the courtyard, right to Stewart’s doorstep.

I don’t usually run with open arms to Rear Window as I do Hitchcock’s Psycho or Notorious or The Birds. For some reason, I need to be coaxed into watching this one. Then when I get into the swing of things, I’m totally in. I don’t know why. I can’t explain me to me, sometimes. I don’t know WHY I have reservations. Hitchcock has done something brilliant here. He creates smaller movies within the larger film with the stories of the tenants across the yard. And we are vested in their stories as well. Hitchcock makes that apartment building the visual, cinematic representation of what writers do when they create characters and weave their subplots throughout the main story. (He creates some suspense in the poignant Miss Loneyheart’s story. Will she or won’t she kill herself.)

rear window raymond burr
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

But it’s really Burr as Boogey Man. There’s only one thing scarier than him showing up on Stewart’s doorstep. And that’s the shot of his darkened apartment with just the glowing light of his cigarette.

Hitchcock, how could I have doubted you.


— Theresa Brown for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Theresa’s Directors’ Chair articles here.

Theresa Brown is a native New Yorker, a Capricorn and a biker chick (rider as well as passenger). When she’s not on her motorcycle, you can find her on her couch blogging about classic films for CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Classic films are her passion. You can find her on Twitter at @CineMava.

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Marilyn: Behind the Icon – River of No Return

Monroe’s Dynamism Vies with the Majestic Canadian Rockies in River of No Return, An Odyssey of Redemption

marilyn monroe river of no return 1
Marilyn Monroe, River of No Return

“I’m really eager to do something else,” Monroe announced in 1953. “Squeezing yourself to ooze out the last ounce of sex allure is terribly hard. I’d like to do roles like Julie in Bury the Dead, Gretchen in Faust, and Teresa in Cradle Song. I don’t want to be a comedienne forever.” Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century-Fox didn’t fulfill Monroe’s aspirations by casting her in film version of plays by Irwin Shaw, Goethe, or Gregory Martinez Sierra, but he did offer her the western drama, River of No Return (1954). Displeased with the assignment, Monroe said, “I think I deserve better than a grade-Z cowboy movie in which the acting finished second to the scenery and the CinemaScope process.” Co-star Robert Mitchum disdainfully called it “the picture of no return.”

marilyn monroe river of no return on location
Monroe on location in the Canadian Rockies

Screenwriter Frank Fenton set River of No Return during the Northwest Gold Rush of 1875. After serving a prison sentence for killing a man in self-defense, widower Matt Calder arrives in a tent city populated by prospectors and miners to collect his nine-year-old son, Mark, and return to his farm. The man paid to bring Mark to the meeting place abandoned the boy, and he was looked after by a beautiful saloon singer, Kay, and her scheming, cardsharp boyfriend, Harry Weston. Calder thanks the singer for her kindness before leaving with Mark.

robert mitchum marilyn monroe river of no return
Robert Mitchum and Monroe

Kay and Weston travel down the river on a raft and are attacked by Native Americans while passing the Calder farm. Calder rescues them, but Weston steals his horse and gun, leaving the father and son unable to protect themselves from Indian attacks. Aghast by her lover’s ingratitude, kind-hearted Kay stays behind. When Indians set fire to the farmhouse, the three escape on the raft down the river toward Council City. Kay defends her lover and confronts Calder on having shot a man in the back. Overhearing this, Mark condemns his father’s action. Calder, Mark, and Kay survive the perilous rapids, attacks by Indians and a mountain lion, and two drifters who attempt to kill Calder and rape Kay.

marilyn monroe Tommy Rettig river of no return 1
Tommy Rettig and Monroe

Along the way, Kay finds joy in caring for the boy, and Calder’s opinion of her transforms. Once reaching Council City, Kay is horrified when Weston reveals his true character. Mark is forced intervene, creating a plot twist. Now alone, Kay retreats to a saloon to support herself as an entertainer. In the finale, Calder storms into the saloon to reestablish his family. Kay’s red shoes become the last vestige to her shaded past.

The earthy role of Kay offers Monroe a departure from glamour and elegance. Kay holds her own with rugged prospectors yet has a kind heart and an attachment to the child. She maintains loyalty to a man who disappoints her, while resisting her attraction to a decent man.

marilyn monroe with guitar Tommy Rettig river of no return 1

Producer Stanley Rubin was challenged in convincing Monroe that the role would be a steppingstone to her goal of becoming a dramatic actress rather than a musical comedy queen. However, his secret weapon was a recording of three songs with lyrics by Ken Darby and music by Lionel Newman, slated for Monroe to perform. It worked to motivate her in accepting the role.

Monroe practices with a guitar in her Doheny Drive apartment

.Jack Cole, who worked with Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, choreographed her four musical numbers. Her most vibrant song, “I’m Gonna File My Claim,” sold 75,000 copies in three weeks. Monroe bursts into cascades of coloratura in “One Silver Dollar.”  “Down in the Meadow,” the film’s recurring lullaby sung by Kay to Mark, reflects her maternal feelings toward the boy.  Tennessee Ernie Ford performs the haunting ballad “River of No Return” during the main titles, and Monroe reprises it at the film’s ending.

Monroe river of no return delivers the films’ dramatic climax with her emotional rendition of the title song
Monroe delivers the films’ dramatic climax with her emotional rendition of the title song
marilyn monroe costumes river of no return

Monroe’s costumes ranged from elaborate frontier saloon gowns to rugged western wear. In the final scene, she is stunning in a gown of gold charmeuse with bugle beading, red fringe accents, and a gold velvet train with red netting. William Travilla recycled the costume donned by Betty Grable in Coney Island (1953), adding gold silk covered in tiny gold bugle beads. Actress Debbie Reynolds sold the gown at auction for $510,000 in 2011.

marilyn monroe gold and red saloon dress river of no return

From the onset, Zanuck had a clear vision of the cast. His memo dated April 1953 advised, “This picture as it is basically a character and personality story. It will come alive only if hot personalities like Mitchum andd Monroe meet head on—then you will have fireworks but otherwise it will lay an egg in spite of the suspense, excitement and scenery.”

marilyn monroe robert mitchum river of no return on location 2

Rugged Robert Mitchum cast a Mark Calder shared Marilyn’s heavy-lidded, sleepy eyes. In the 1940s, he worked as a machine operator at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Coincidently, he took lunch breaks with co-worker and friend, James Dougherty, who shared photographs of his young wife, Norma Jeane. Mitchum complimented her beauty, not knowing the Mrs. James Dougherty would become Marilyn Monroe and his co-star in less than a decade. Unlike Monroe, Mitchum took a no-nonsense approach to acting and professed no method. “Look, I have two kinds of acting,” he said later in life. “One on a horse and one off a horse.” In Beyond the Legend, an elderly Mitchum spoke of Monroe as “a very special girl with an enormous feeling for people.”

ory calhoun, robert mitchum, marilyn monroe river of no return
Calhoun, Mitchum, and Monroe mixed with the locals while on location in Jasper, Alberta; Calhoun and Monroe had appeared in How To Marry A Millionaire (1953)

Zanuck chose Rory Calhoun as Harry Weston, the handsome but villainous gambler who steals Calder’s horse and rifle. Twelve-year-old Mark, Tommy Rettig portrayed Calder’s son. Rettig starred as Jeff Miller from 1954 to 1957 in the CBS television series Lassie about a boy and his loyal Collie.

Marilyn Monroe and Tommy Rettig attend the premiere of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953)
Monroe and Rettig attend the premiere of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953)
tommy Rettig and marilyn monroe river of no return

With casting in place, filming began in late July 1953 on location in Jasper, Banff National Park, Lake Louise in British Columbia. Monroe stayed at Becker’s Bungalows, now Becker’s Chalet’s, on the Athabasca River and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Banff National Park, overlooking the Rocky Mountains where Joe DiMaggio visited her on location.

Marilyn Monroe on location river of no return, joe demaggion visits monroe on location

Monroe soon realized she had entered one of the toughest productions of her career thus far. She faced a fierce director (Otto Preminger), her own stunts on the river rapids, and a near drowning. “Preminger was terrorizing Marilyn into total immobility…” Shelley Winters wrote. “She was terrified of not knowing her lines the next day, and she was convinced that Preminger was secretly planning to do away with her while she was going over some rapids in a raft, then claiming it was an accident. These difficult stunts were usually done at the end of the picture by stunt people, but for some strange reason Preminger was doing them at the beginning and not with the stunt people.”

Preminger informed  the cast that the camera would be close to the raft while it crashed down the rapids of the Athabasca River, requiring the principal actors— rather than the stunt doubles—to shoot the dangerous scenes in the violent waters.

river of no return, shooting raft scene, on location marilyn monroe robert mitchum tommy rettig

As Monroe, Mitchum, and Rettig sailed on the raft down the river, one of the ropes broke, and the raft nearly got away from its off-camera handlers. The two boats standing by with lifeguards set off to rescue the actors, but one broke down. Monroe and Rettig clung to each other and a post on the raft, but Mitchum was thrown into the water and rescued several hundred yards downstream. Later, the actors learned that their doubles had refused to do the stunt because of its dangerousness; Preminger had fabricated needing the stars because of intended close-ups.

marilyn monroe on crutches during river of no return; crew member carries monroe on location
Monroe spent considerable time on location on crutches or being carried piggy-back by crew members

On August 19, Monroe fell off the raft onto the rocks and sprained her ankle. Make-up artist Allan Snyder carried her out of the river. “She went out to get the raft, stood on a rock and slipped,” he recalled. “The doctor put a cast on it. I carried her on the shoulders for the next week or two.” Photographs show Marilyn ambulating on crutches and getting piggyback rides from crewmembers. “We put [Marilyn] through a lot on that film,” recalled special effects expert Eric Wurtzel, “and there was never one complaint.”

John Vachon photographed Monroe in the Banff Springs Hotel’s indoor swimming pool and borrowed her crutches
John Vachon photographed Monroe in the Banff Springs Hotel’s indoor swimming pool and borrowed her crutches

LOOK magazine dispatched John Vachon to Alberta to photograph Marilyn for a feature in the magazine’s October issue. The pictures captured a svelte Marilyn in a black bikini and only one pump— since her left ankle was bandaged—as she teetered on crutches and conversed with children. Monroe even posed beside a taxidermized grizzly bear at the Old Indian Trading Post in Banff.

marilyn monroe tommy rettig river of no return having fun

Rettig got along great with Monroe. When they filmed on the Bow River, she invited only him into her private train car. They took turns visiting each other’s cabins at night and rehearsing lines.

Monroe on lunch break with Natasha Lytess and working with Otto Preminger
Monroe on lunch break with Natasha Lytess and working with Otto Preminger

“Monroe’s ambition was to become a great dramatic actress,” Otto Preminger said. “She underrated her natural magic in front of the camera. As a result, she always employed a coach.” Preminger directed Monroe to use her natural speaking and not her exaggerated elocution charming in comedies but inappropriate for a western. Monroe’s on-set acting coach, Natasha Lytess, disagreed. “Natasha wanted her to enunciate every syllable distinctly,” the director recalled. “Marilyn didn’t question Natasha’s judgment. She rehearsed her lines with such grave ar-tic-yew-lay-shun that her violent lip movements and facial contortions made it impossible to photographer her.”

tommy rettig, marilyn monroe, robert mitchum, on set river of no return

Zanuck scripted two additional scenes to ignite sexual chemistry between Monroe and Mitchum, which they filmed at Fox where special effects that could not be achieved on location would be created in a soundstage. Before computer generated imagery, special effects were created by talented artists instead of by computers. Monroe, Mitchum, and Rettig climbed onto a raft in a water tank with a cyclorama providing the sky as wave makers produced rough waters and spinners turned the water white. The special effects crew dropped thousands of gallons of water onto them to simulate the whitewater rapids. Mitchum stood on an oak raft in front of a process shot of the raging river while special effects experts used projectors to shoot steel-headed arrows around him and between his feet. Preminger repeated the action half a dozen times until he was satisfied with the shot.

marilyn monroe, tommy rettig, robert mitchum being doused with water on set of river of no return

Soaked with water and targeted with real arrowheads, Mitchum quickly lost patience with Preminger and the special effects crew, but he recalled Monroe never lost her empathy for crewmembers. She directed Mitchum’s attention to a crewmember in the water tank, who was blasting them with a fire hose. “Look at that poor man,” Monroe whimpered. “He’s freezing and turning blue.” She fretted about him during the entire scene, which resulted in the man’s lingering longer in the cold water and Monroe demanding that Preminger relieve him.

tommy rettig, robert mitchum, marilyn monroe river of no return

Violent whitewater rapids and attacks by Native Americans—culturally insensitive and historically misrepresented, but nonetheless a staple of the era’s Western films—were not enough for Zanuck. He believed the film lacked an edgy sexual tension and scripted an entire scene to bring his stars together in intimate physical contact while complying with the Production Code. After surviving the rapids, Monroe shivers in a cave. Mitchum lights a fire, helps her out of her boots, and massages her over a blanket. “But at least we, the audience, know that she is naked under the blanket,” Zanuck dictated in a memo, “and that they are close together…”

marilyn monroe river of no return 3

“CinemaScope flames to furious new heights of drama and emotion when Monroe meets Mitchum,” the trailer for River of No Return announced. “Only the screen’s most exciting stars…could bring this flaming love story to life!”

robert mitchum, tommy rettig, marilyn monroe river of no return

Fox ignited the flame by holding the world premiere of River of No Return in Denver, Colorado on April 29, 1954. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle’s breathtaking footage of the Canadian Rockies garnered most of the critical acclaim.

river of no return movie poster

The role of Kay offered Monroe a rare opportunity to portray an independent and assertive woman, and Monroe delivered a dynamic characterization. We believe Kay follows her own morality and will risk everything for a better life. The New York Times offered Monroe’s accolade: “It is a toss-up whether the scenery or the adornment of Marilyn Monroe is the feature of greater attraction in River of No Return….The mountainous scenery is spectacular, but so, in her own way, is Miss Monroe.”

river of no return poster 2


–Gary Vitacco-Robles for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Gary’s Marilyn: Behind the Icon articles for CMH here.

Gary Vitacco-Robles is the author of ICON: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes 1 2, and writer/producer of the podcast series, Marilyn: Behind the Icon.

Posted in Films, Marilyn: Behind the Icon, Posts by Gary Vitacco-Robles | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Silents are Golden: Silent Superstars – Francis X. Bushman, Early Screen Idol

Silents are Golden: Silent Superstars – Francis X. Bushman, Early Screen Idol

If you were to name a silent film actor famed for being a sex symbol, who would you pick? “Rudolph Valentino” jumps to mind immediately, of course–as is right and just–and maybe some of you would mention John Gilbert or Wallace Reid. “Ah,” I would say, “but what if you went farther back than the 1920s, or even the late 1910s? Who was the matinee idol of the early 1910s?”

Maybe I would get some blank stares, but maybe one of you would know the answer–why, the beefy, blue-eyed, noble-profiled Francis X. Bushman, of course!

Francis X. Bushman
Francis X. Bushman

His strong-jawed visage, frequently having pale pancake makeup and heavily-lined eyes, definitely screams “Edwardian era” to us today. But during the early years of cinema Bushman was the romantic idol to be reckoned with, no mean feat in the days when studios were popping up like weeds. His name–the ”X” stood for “Xavier”–might sound stodgy nowadays. But consider how it sounds when you say “Francis X. Bushman” a couple of times really fast. Rest assured, that fitting detail wasn’t lost on fans back then.

One of a dozen energetic children, Bushman was born in 1883 and raised in Baltimore by his Roman Catholic parents. From a young age, he had a strong love of animals, keeping dozens of pets at a time – everything from chickens to snakes to raccoons. He also recalled being fascinated by a toy stage with a wind-up curtain, which he had received for Christmas one year. Little did his parents know that their confident little son would one day make a living on the real-life stage, and beyond.

As a teen, Bushman tried a succession of different jobs (he claimed around 37) before deciding his true desire was to be in the theater. At first, he was limited to tiny, walk-on roles, which was hardly satisfying for a young man as self-assured as Bushman. Influenced by ads touting physical fitness, he decided that having a more muscular frame would guarantee meatier roles. Accordingly, he began intense workouts, slowly building up his body until he was beefy enough to enter strongman competitions.

Francis X. Bushman sculptor model
Fan Fact: Bushman modeled for the statue of Nathan Hale at Harvard and the statue of Lord Baltimore in Baltimore.

The plan worked; not only did Bushman start getting better roles, but he even got numerous jobs posing for sculptors. Stints in touring stock companies started coming his way, and he also landed a few Broadway shows. Now in his early twenties, he married Josephine Duval, who would be the mother of his five children – and first of his four wives. But while Bushman brought in money pretty regularly, his habit of spending it like water caused him to look for better-paying work – and he found it in motion pictures.

At first apprehensive about appearing in something as lowly as the “flickers,” Bushman did recall being impressed by The Great Train Robbery (1903). In 1911 he was signed by the Essanay studio in Chicago. It took him a while to get used to the noise and bustle of film studios, but he was soon one of Essanay’s leading men, starring in dozens of short films–often melodramas, although he appeared in light comedies too.

A.J. Berquist, William S. Davis, Francis X. Bushman, Beverly Bayne
A.J. Berquist, William S. Davis, Francis X. Bushman, and Beverly Bayne

As his popularity with audiences grew, Bushman had enough clout to insist that his name be used in Essanay’s advertisements (actors were often anonymous in the early film days). With his strong jawline, royal profile and muscular physique, he was swiftly becoming a romantic idol to countless women–an image he would remain proud of throughout his life.

He would be doubly fortunate to be paired with actress Beverly Bayne, a charming young lady who worked well with Bushman. The two had excellent chemistry and would star in numerous films together, including hits like Dear Old Girl (1913) and Metro’s Romeo and Juliet (1916). They’re often considered cinema’s first “love team.”

Poster for Graustark (1915)
Poster for Graustark (1915)

The fame of the “King of the Photoplay” began reaching a peak, with thousands of fan letters pouring into the studio every week. Bushman’s salary skyrocketed – as did his extravagance. Soon he was living like a star, moving to an estate with 115 acres of land complete with rolling orchards and gardens. He kept a bewildering number of pets, his favorites being Great Danes, which he would breed and show in competitions. He also drove the finest automobiles–he would joke that he’d trade them in once the ashtrays were full – and had specially-made monogrammed cigarettes.

As it turned out, Bushman and Bayne didn’t just have chemistry onscreen. In 1918, the public was shocked to hear that the two were having an affair–and that Bushman was married with five children. Wanting to keep their idol’s appeal high, the studio had kept Bushman’s family a secret and allowed moviegoers to assume he was single. As the scandal died down he would divorce Josephine and marry Bayne. They stayed together until 1925 and would tour together in the play The Master Thief.

Red, White, and Blue Blood (1917)
From Red, White, and Blue Blood (1917).

By the 1920s Bushman’s star was on the wane, as he was starting to look old-fashioned next to dashing new actors like Valentino and Ramon Novarro. But in 1925 he was persuaded to star as the villain Messala in the super production Ben-Hur. Bushman got into the role with gusto (even being able to drive a chariot) and his magisterial performance was a hit. Today, his costume of armor and a winged helmet is considered iconic.

Bushman as Messala in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Bushman as Messala in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)

Despite this impressive role, Bushman never gained his former level of stardom, especially after the great crash of 1929 wiped out what money he hadn’t already spent. Not even a publicity stunt where he offered to auction himself off to the highest woman bidder could kickstart his career. He was excited by the dawn of the talkie era since he had an excellent voice and was eager to start using it. Starting in the 1930s, he would play roles in numerous radio dramas. He would also marry again to a young woman named Norma, and live more quietly with her until her death in 1956.

Francis X. Bushman older
an older Bushman

As the years went by, he would take small movie roles and start assorted businesses (including an antique shop and a hamburger stand). A frequent guest star on television, he worked steadily up until his death from a heart attack in 1966. He left behind his fourth wife, Iva, and many memories of a dashing, romantic, muscular hero in the minds of women who fondly remembered him from their girlhoods.

My main source for this article is the beautifully-written and fascinating King of the Movies: Francis X. Bushman by Lon and Debra Davis. It is highly recommended!

–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Lea’s Silents are Golden articles here.

Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterlyand has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

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Best Classics Ever: We’re giving away EIGHT Annual Subscriptions so fans can enjoy classic streaming all-year long!

It’s a Classic Movie Hub Streaming Celebration!
We’re giving away 8 Annual Subscriptions to Best Classics Ever!

BCE – Where the best of TV/Film past is present!

We are so VERY EXCITED to announce this giveaway! As part of our longterm partnership with Best Classics Ever, we’ll be giving away EIGHT Annual Subscriptions to this fun classic movie and TV streaming service!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the service, Best Classics Ever is a new mega streaming channel built especially for classic movie and TV lovers. The idea of the channel was to make lots of classic titles accessible and affordable for all. That said, there are hundreds of titles available for free streaming on the BCE homepage and the Classic Movie Hub Channel plus, thousands of titles on the individual channels (Best Stars Ever, Best Westerns Ever, Best Mysteries Ever, Best TV Ever) via subscription ($1.99/mo. per channel or $4.99/mo. for everything).

Our winners will receive a subscription that includes all of the BCE classic film/TV Channels – Best Stars Ever, Best Westerns Ever, Best Mysteries Ever, Best TV Everfor 12 months. Please note that the subscriptions must be redeemed no later than Nov 30, 2020.

Best Classics Ever is currently available online, and on mobile (iOS & Android) – and is coming soon on Roku and Amazon Fire.

Cary Grant Ralph Bellamy Rosalind Russel His Girl Friday
Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy and Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday


Okay, so let’s get started…

In order to qualify to win one of these subscriptions via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, October 10 at 6 PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick a winner on EIGHT different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • Aug 22: One Winner
  • Aug 29: One Winner
  • Sept 5: One Winner
  • Sept 12: One Winner
  • Sept 19: One Winner
  • Sept 26: One Winner
  • Oct 3: One Winner
  • Oct 10: One Winner

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub (or this blog, depending how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 10PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winner on Sunday Aug 23 10 around 10PM EST.


Vincent Price, House on Haunted Hill

Here’s how you can enter:

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, Oct 10 at 6PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) Then TWEET (not DM) the following message*:
Just entered to win the Best Classics Ever Annual Subscription #Streaming #Giveaway courtesy of @BestClassicsEvr and @ClassicMovieHub – #CMHContest– you can #EnterToWin too here:

What is it that you love most about Classic Movies and TV Shows?

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

Please allow us at least 48 hours to approve (and publish) your comment, as we have an unprecedented amount of spam to sift through…


Carole Lombard and William Powell in My Man Godfrey
Carole Lombard and William Powell, My Man Godfrey

Click here for the full contest rules. 

Please note that only United States (excluding the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

Entrants are only eligible if they do not currently have an active Best Classics Ever paid subscription.

Good Luck!


–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Marilyn: Behind the Icon – Something’s Got To Give

Marilyn: Behind the Icon —
Something’s Got To Give: Monroe’s Final Film Performance

marilyn monroe somethings got to give 1

Marilyn Monroe’s final, uncompleted film, Something’s Got to Give, inspired two documentaries, Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days (2001) and Marilyn: Something’s Got to Give (1990). During the tumultuous production, the star suffered from an upper respiratory infection, fever, symptoms of a serious mental illness, and self-medicated with prescribed medication; however, in fragments of scenes Monroe remains incandescent.

marilyn monroe something's got to give 2

Only brief dazzling excerpts from Monroe’s 30th film appearance would appear in documentaries on her remarkable life, most recycled from Fox’s retrospective, Marilyn (1963) and said to be gleaned from the entirety of only about eight usable minutes of footage. Then in 1990, an investigative Fox News reporter, Henry Schipper, set out on a mission to locate surviving scenes at Fox Entertainment’s archives. He discovered six crates of film reels that vindicated Monroe’s reputation as an actress. Editors eventually compiled about thirty-seven minutes of the footage into a reconstructed, coherent short film.

marilyn monroe something has got to give 3

“It has been accepted ever since that her work on SGTG was a sad finale to an otherwise spectacular career,” Schipper reported. “This film proves the studio wrong. In fact, Monroe never looked better. Her work there is on par with the rest of her career — funny, touching and, at times, superb. She was lighting up the screen as only she could.”

By 1962, Monroe owed Fox two films to fulfill her renegotiated 1955 contract. After satisfying this obligation, she would have the freedom to pursue her own productions, select dramatic roles, and demand script approval. Monroe was one of Fox’s remaining 12 contract players; the studio had boasted 55 the previous year. However, her title as the queen of the studio offered no solace; Monroe wanted out.

my favorite wife poster

Fully aware of Monroe’s box office draw, Fox strategically assigned her Something’s Got to Give, a remake of RKO Studio’s My Favorite Wife (1940), a screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. The property offered Monroe a chance to portray a mother and wife, Ellen Arden, who returns to her family after being declared lost at sea for five years.

marilyn monroe montage 1 something has got to give

Turning 36 during production, Monroe faced a pivotal point in her career that might afford opportunity for a wider range of roles. Fox faced an equally crucial crossroads as its star. The studio had lost nearly $22M due to the production turmoil of Cleopatra, in production with Elizabeth Taylor since 1960. Originally budgeted at $2M, Cleopatra would ultimately cost $44M, the equivalent of about $320M today. 

marilyn monroe montage 2 fashion

Jean-Louis designed Monroe’s elegant and sophisticated costumes, several made of imported Chinese silk, befitting Hepburn, Kelly, Day, or Turner. Having dressed a fuller Monroe for The Misfits, Louis immediately noticed her drastic reduction to one hundred-fifteen pounds. “The change in her was breathtaking,” Louis said of Monroe. “She had never been so slim and glowing. And, because she was to wear a bikini in several scenes, she had been working out.”

marilyn monroe montage 3 somthing has got to give

Sydney Guilaroff designed seven hairstyles including a teased bouffant with elements of a “flip,” a style Monroe had preferred during her last year.

marilyn monroe something has got to give 4
George Cukor with Marilyn Monroe on the set of Something’s Got To Give

Monroe’s contract contained George Cukor’s name on her short list of approved directors. He took the helm of SGTG, having worked with her on Let’s Make Love (1960).

marilyn monroe dean martin something has got to give 1
Dean Martin and Monroe

Monroe campaigned for Dean Martin in the role of her husband, Nick Arden. Most recently, he costarred in an ensemble piece with his Rat Pack cronies, Ocean’s 11 (1960). Martin smooth voice and laid-back image made him a popular crooner, and his recording career on the Capitol Records (“That’s Amore” and “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?”).

marilyn monroe cyd charisse something has got to give 1
Cyd Charisse and Monroe

For a second female lead who would not upstage their sexy star, Fox cast Cyd Charisse as Bianca Russell, Ellen’s elegant but neurotic rival. Charisse had recovered from childhood polio to study ballet and dance across the screen with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Band Wagon (1953), and Silk Stockings (1957).

tom tyron something has got to give 1
Tom Tryon

Before Fox cast Tom Tryon in the role of Steven Burkett, Ellen’s male companion on the island, he played the title role in the Disney television series Texas John Slaughter. Later, Tryon was involved in a relationship with Calvin Culver, also known as Casey Donovan, a star of gay pornography.

marilyn monroe wally cox somthing has got to give 1
Wally Cox and Monroe

Monroe passionately campaigned for comedic actor Wally Cox over Don Knotts in the role of the meek shoe salesman who Ellen attempts to pass as her companion on the island. Cox voice the animated cartoon series Underdog and shared with Monroe a mutual friend, Marlon Brando.

something's got to give house set

Much of the script’s action takes place on production designer Gene Allen’s set, a reproduction of George Cukor’s six-acre estate and opulent pool on Cordell Drive in Beverly Hills, costing $100,000 (Marilyn’s salary for the film). In 1935, Cukor had remodeled the home as an Italian villa with assistance from silent film star turned interior designer William “Billy” Haines.

The film opens in a courtroom where Ellen’s husband, Nick, petitions for a judge to declare her legally dead. During a regatta in Hawaiian Islands, Ellen had fallen overboard in a storm. Immediately following the declaration of death, the judge begrudgingly officiates Nick’s civil wedding to Bianca, a neurotic woman dependent upon her psychoanalyst.

On the day she is declared dead, Ellen is rescued by a submarine crew and returns to Honolulu after spending the last five years stranded on a deserted island in the South Pacific. Before returning home, she checks into the Honolulu resort and spots Nick entering an elevator with his new bride. Nick recognizes his “dead” wife but dismisses the vision as guilt for his remarriage.

cyd charisse dean marting 1 something has got to give

Nick and Ellen reunite at the resort. Ellen tells him of rescue, and they recommit their love for each other. Nick asserts his fidelity to Ellen but avoids telling his reactive new wife the truth. Incensed, Ellen returns home to reclaim her role in the family and reunite with her children.

marilyn monroe somethings got to give 7

In the reunification scene, Ellen watches her children playing in the pool. Marilyn conveyed emotion through her tears and facial expression without the assistance of speaking lines.

marilyn monroe montage 4 somethings got to give

The surviving film allows us to observe the actress who impressed the Actor’s Studio in scenes from Anna Christie and A Streetcar Named Desire. Monroe’s work on this film suggested the professional heights she might achieve.

marilyn monroe somethings got to give 8

Ellen immediately establishes rapport with Timmy and Lita but discovers they have no memory of her. She is crushed to learn she is only recognized by the family Cocker Spaniel, Tippy. Monroe filmed the scene with a Cocker Spaniel and his handler. Over twenty takes survive of Monroe repeatedly delivering her lines letter-perfect as the dog missed his mark. Tippy had also been the name of Monroe’s childhood pet that had been tragically killed; perhaps she requested the dog in the film be given the same name in order for her to summon real emotions in the true Method approach to acting.

marilyn monroe and kids somethings got to give 1

Ellen adjusts to civilization while bonding with the children and teaching them about survival in the South Pacific as well as the culture of island natives. On a version of the script, Monroe inscribed comments alongside this scene: “Too flat/it’s painting black on black so to speak/We don’t have to worry about Heart/I have one/Believe it or not/Either they have to trust me to play the scenes with heart or we are lost.”

marilyn monroe somethings got to give

Ellen’s son, portrayed by child actor Robert Christopher Morely, dives into the swimming pool and accidently hurts himself. Monroe runs toward him as he climbs up the pool ladder. Morely cries on cue, playing a boy concealing his tears. “When boys in the South Sea Islands get hurt and don’t want to show their feelings,” Monroe says. “They bravely ask someone to cry for them. Can I cry for you? I’m good at it.” The child smiles as Monroe embraces him.

marinlyn mornoe and kids somethings got to give 2

Monroe’s personal pain motivates her acting to a deeper level and creates convincing scenes. Having miscarried twice during her marriage to Arthur Miller, her children would have been ages 4 and 5. Monroe embraces both children simultaneously and expresses her love for them, calling them her “two best sweethearts in the whole world.”

marilyn monroe and kids somethings got to give 3

On the verge of tears, she shifts to pure joy as the three actors roll on the floor giggling. The delightful shot was completed in one take.

marilyn monroe somethings got to give 10

Ellen skinny-dips in the family swimming pool under the moon, her routine on the island. That evening, an insurance agent visits Nick at home to resolve the issue of his company having paid Ellen’s life insurance claim and discusses an investigation into allegations that Ellen survived as a castaway: she had not spent the last five alone, but her companion on the island was an athletic playboy, Stephen Burkett. According to Burkett’s statement, the couple addressed each other as “Adam and Eve,” implying sexual involvement in the tropical Eden. “My, listen to that splashing…” the agent (Phil Silvers) says, hearing Ellen in the pool, “they must be doing the breaststroke. I hope the pool is heated.” Nick drolly replies, “It’s being heated right now.”

marilyn mornoe somethings got to give5

This leads to a confrontation between Nick and Ellen, each insistent upon their respective fidelity during the separation. Monroe and Cukor conspired to make the nudity appear improvised, but carefully choreographed each step. Jean-Louis had designed a flesh-colored, strapless bikini top and bottom of the silk soufflé to simulate nudity, but Monroe would remove the top for realism.

marilyn monroe somethings gotta give 10

To allay her husband’s doubts about her fidelity, Ellen recruits a mousy shoe salesman to pose as Burkett. In the sequence, Wally Cox assists Monroe in trying on a pair of shoes, but they are obviously too tight. While trying to squeeze her foot into the shoe, she nearly slides off the chair and realizes her foot has grown from going barefoot on the island. Suddenly, Ellen schemes to solicit the clerk to pose as Steven, her island companion. When she invites him to lunch, the clerk nervously says he brings his lunch to the store to “eat in.” Ellen leans forward and whispers “I’d be ever so grateful if you’d take it out.”

marilyn monroe dean marting wally cox somethings got to give

Meanwhile, Nick has already sought out and confronted the playboy at the local yacht club. Ellen presents the show salesman to Nick as “Adam.” Nick plays along as Ellen and the imposter stumble along in describing the island and their struggle for survival.

marilyn monroe wally cox somethings gotta give 3

This comic scene was Monroe’s final performance of her illustrious career on June 1, 1962, her 36th and final birthday. Martin’s character has already discovered the playboy but humors his wife by quizzing the coached imposter. “We lived in huts,” Ellen explains. The shoe salesman clarifies, “Separate huts.” Nick asks where they lived during the rainy season. Ellen replies that they moved into the trees. The salesman interjects, “Separate trees.”

marilyn monroe somethings gotta give

Monroe’s stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, coordinated a surprise birthday celebration on the set with a sheet cake from the Farmer’s Market. It was decorated with sparklers and a plastic doll wearing a bikini and swimming in a pool, depicting the infamous nude swimming scene. Evelyn hid the cake in a prop room as Cukor demanded that she present it only after production wrapped to “get a good day’s work” from Monroe.

move over darling poster

20th Century-Fox subsequently terminated Monroe from the film in early June citing excessive absences. Indeed, the star had struggled with physical and mental health challenges impairing her ability to work. Monroe and the studio were involved in negotiations to resume production in the fall when she died two month later, on August 5, 1962. Retitled Move Over, Darling, the film was remade with Doris Day and James Garner and released the following year.


–Gary Vitacco-Robles for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Gary’s Marilyn: Behind the Icon articles for CMH here.

Gary Vitacco-Robles is the author of ICON: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes 1 2, and writer/producer of the podcast series, Marilyn: Behind the Icon.

Posted in Films, Marilyn: Behind the Icon, Posts by Gary Vitacco-Robles | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Noir Nook: Noir Femmes in the Fan Mags

Noir Nook: Noir Femmes in the Fan Mags

At last year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, one of the special presentations was entitled “Celebrity Culture and Hollywood Love Stories.” Hosted by David Pierce, Assistant Chief of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at the Library of Congress, and featuring actress Diane Baker, the event focused on the movie magazines that were so popular and influential during Hollywood’s Golden Age. According to Pierce, there were more than 20 national fan magazines during the 1930s alone.

I was especially interested in this presentation because I’ve always loved fan magazines and I’ve collected them for years. I also have a book entitled Hollywood and the Great Fan Magazines, which reprints numerous articles that appeared in the fan magazines of the 1930s. Even though the classic film noir period had not yet started, this book serves up a number of stories about the noir veterans who were about to step into the shadows in the coming decade. The information in the fan magazines had to be taken with a huge grain of salt (sometimes a few cupfuls!), but the articles were nonetheless both entertaining and fascinating – especially in retrospect! This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at some of my favorite fan magazine stories on the future stars of noir.

Loretta Young

Loretta Young in Cause for Alarm! (1951)
Loretta Young in Cause for Alarm! (1951)

Noir Pedigree: Although she’s probably best known for her Oscar-winning turn in The Farmer’s Daughter (1947), Young starred in three film noir features during the 1940s and 1950s: The Stranger (1946), where she plays a small-town wife who discovers that her husband (Orson Welles) is a Nazi war criminal; The Accused (1949), as a schoolteacher who accidentally kills a student who tries to molest her; and Cause For Alarm! (1951), where she’s once again a housewife, this time one who frantically tries to track down a letter written by her delusional spouse in which he accuses her of trying to kill him.

Fan Magazine Feature: Young is featured in a Motion Picture magazine article, “Career Comes First with Loretta,” which actually doesn’t talk about her choosing her career over her private life. Instead, it muses about her certain marriage to director Eddie Sutherland (they never married) and her unique personality traits – including the fact that she’s a “homey gal” who doesn’t even have a personal maid and makes her own bed! Author Dan Camp also shares that Young’s dominant trait is her penchant for kindness (“She cannot bear to hear of anyone’s hurt”) – and that she’s also highly disciplined, mentally acquisitive, and a huge movie fan – her favorites included Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn.

Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck in Crime of Passion (1956)
Barbara Stanwyck in Crime of Passion (1956)

Noir Pedigree: Stanwyck, of course, starred in my favorite film noir, Double Indemnity (1944), as the ruthlessly murderous Phyllis Dietrichson, who teams with her lover to murder her spouse and collect a sizable insurance payout. She was also in at least eight other noirs; my favorites are The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), where she plays the title role; and Crime of Passion (1956), in which she stars as a newspaper reporter-turned-bored housewife, whose effort to further her husband’s career leads to murder.

Fan Magazine Feature: In Motion Picture magazine’s “The Truth Behind the Stanwyck Court Case,” author Joan Bonner gives some pretty juicy tidbits about Stanwyck’s fight for custody of her son, Dion, whom she adopted in 1932 with then-husband Frank Fay. According to the article, she stopped allowing Dion to see Fay because each time she did, the little boy would come home “so ill that a doctor had to be called.” (With hanky-wringing pathos, the article quotes Stanwyck: “I can’t let him be a little emotional football tossed about this way and that. I can’t!”) Stanwyck wound up gaining custody of Dion but, ironically, the two were estranged when her son grew up and Dion never had anything good to say about his famous mother.

Joan Bennett

Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett in Hollow Triumph (1948)
Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett in Hollow Triumph (1948)

Noir Pedigree: Born into a famous acting family (her older sister was MGM star Constance Bennett), Joan Bennett started her film career as a coquettish blonde, but when she became a brunette, she was transformed into the perfect noir femme. She starred in one of the first-rate Scarlet Street (1945), as a duplicitous dame who encourages the affections of an unhappily married man, leading to a none-too-happy end for them both. She’s also memorable in Woman in the Window (1944), where she’s seen with her Scarlet Street co-stars Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea; Hollow Triumph (1948), where her disillusioned doctor’s secretary delivers this memorable line: “It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises, and you don’t go around letting people hurt you.” And before taking on the role of Elizabeth Taylor’s mother in Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend, she starred in The Reckless Moment (1949), as a woman who will do anything to protect her daughter.

Fan Magazine Feature: In “Joan Denounces Hollywood Gossip,” Screen Book writer Muriel Babcock spends an entire article reporting that Bennett is happily married to husband Gene Markey, in an attempt to, in Bennett’s words, “stop malicious and spiteful rumors that are disseminated by people who apparently enjoy scurrilous gossip and untruths.” The article was accompanied by an effusive retraction by the magazine which, in an earlier issue, had suggested that both Joan and her sister could be facing divorce. The retraction noted the magazine’s “exceeding regrets” and “spirit of repentance,” and goes on to gush: “We have never meant to inure of harm the great Bennetts. We have always and now have great affection and admiration for them, and wish them well in all their undertakings.” Ironically, Bennett and Markey did wind up divorcing – Markey went on to marry actress Hedy Lamarr, and Bennett married producer Walter Wanger (who was jailed after he shot Bennett’s agent, with whom she was reportedly having an affair . . . but that’s another story for another day).

If you haven’t picked up a movie magazine lately, do yourself a favor and track one down. They’re a scream!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.

If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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Silver Screen Standards: The Invisible Man (1933)

Silver Screen Standards: The Invisible Man (1933)

With a new film inspired by the H.G. Wells story having arrived earlier this year, it seems like a great time to revisit the original movie adaptation of The Invisible Man, which made its first appearance back in 1933 and helped to build the horror canon of Universal Pictures and director James Whale. Although he’s not quite as iconic as other horror heavies like Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula, the Invisible Man has enjoyed plenty of cinematic representation over the decades, and the original movie still holds a special appeal for its darkly comedic tone, its startling effects work, and its breakout performance by an unseen Claude Rains.

Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933)
Although we only see his face once at the very end of the movie, Claude Rains delivers a brilliant performance as the madly ambitious title character.

The tone of The Invisible Man is one of its most striking elements, with Whale indulging a deeply perverse sense of humor even as he unfolds a tragic cautionary tale about delusional, self-destructive madness. The two moods exist simultaneously in almost every scene; we laugh at Jack Griffin’s antics and wild exultation even as we recognize that he’s quite literally a naked madman running through the streets. Whale offers us a delicious but terrible feast of irony, with Rains’ vocal performance as its most essential ingredient. Griffin rants about wealth and power, but he spends most of the movie alone and naked in the snow. He imagines himself a god but quickly sinks to the desperate existence of a rabid animal. Hunted for his crimes, he ends up sleeping in a barn instead of a palace, and the audience knows early on that the “way back” he is obsessed with finding can never exist.

Ambition and greed drove him to invent the serum, and those qualities are amplified as Griffin becomes more and more unhinged, until all that’s left is a raging malignant narcissism that destroys everything around him. The kindest interpretation of events, that is offered by his mentor Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), is that Griffin’s madness is a side effect of the drug that made him invisible, but we see very clearly that the seeds of that madness were already growing in the man who created such a drug in the first place. It’s a particularly provocative version of the familiar plot about the overreaching scientist, the man who dares to do something that should never be done and foolishly believes he is smart enough to escape the consequences.

Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933) unwrapped
Now you see him… now you don’t! The special effects that make Claude Rains invisible are still exciting today, especially the scenes in which Griffin removes his bandages and clothes.

Another highlight of the movie is its use of special effects, many of which look better today than those seen in films made much more recently. Griffin’s unwrapping to reveal his invisible body is such fun that we get to see it several times, and it never fails to impress. Simple tricks make footprints appear in snow, bicycles take off without riders, and furniture flies across the room, but they are presented so perfectly that they seem miraculous even if you know how they’re done. John P. Fulton and his special effects team really deliver in scene after scene, and it’s no wonder that Fulton would go on to win Oscar nominations for his effects work in three Invisible Man sequels, The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Invisible Woman (1940), and Invisible Agent (1942). Fulton couldn’t be nominated for his work on the original movie because the award didn’t exist in 1933, but the later nominations prove how remarkable and groundbreaking Fulton’s work was on the whole series of films. He’d go on to win Special Effects Oscars for Wonder Man (1945) and The Ten Commandments (1956), but he worked on hundreds of pictures over the course of his career.

Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart in The Invisible Man (1933)
Griffin’s love interest, Flora (Gloria Stuart), provides some pathos and sympathy for the increasingly insane protagonist, even if she can’t do much to save him.

The supporting cast in The Invisible Man also deserves a lot of credit for helping the effects work their magic on the audience. They look as thunderstruck or terrified as the situation requires, especially when Griffin cuts loose on the hapless villagers. Gloria Stuart and Henry Travers have the biggest supporting roles but the least interaction with the invisible Griffin, while William Harrigan has to sell his fear of Griffin in multiple scenes. Whale indulges Irish character actress Una O’Connor with plenty of memorable moments in which she shrieks in horror at the invisible invader running amok in her establishment; he apparently thought O’Connor was so funny that he cracked up when shooting her scenes, and I admit that I also laugh out loud every time she starts screaming. Classic horror fans know both O’Connor and E.E. Clive, who plays Constable Jaffers, from their roles in Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935), while sharp-eyed viewers will also recognize genre regular Dwight Frye in an uncredited role as a reporter.

The Invisible Man (1933) Claude Rains and Una O'Connor
Griffin (Claude Rains) tries to hide his invisible face from his landlady (Una O’Connor) when she interrupts his dinner. Griffin later remarks that newly eaten food is visible inside his body, which we thankfully don’t see demonstrated in the film.

I haven’t seen the 2020 version of The Invisible Man to know how it compares with the original, but I’m much more a fan of classic horror than the modern entries into the genre. I can say that the later invisible protagonist movies lack Whale’s biting ironic humor and instead go for more straightforward comedy, although they still feature some fun effects and performers. The original movie earns its place in the pantheon of horror classics; it’s a must-see picture for fans of Universal monsters, James Whale, or Claude Rains. If watching The Invisible Man leaves you hungry for more than just a glimpse of Rains’ distinctive features, follow up with his turn as Sir John Talbot in The Wolf Man (1941) or as the tragic title character in Phantom of the Opera (1943).


— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

Jennifer Garlen pens our monthly Silver Screen Standards column. You can read all of Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards articles here.

Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English Literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic movies at her blog, Virtual Virago, and presents classic film programs for lifetime learning groups and retirement communities. She’s the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching and its sequel, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watching, and she is also the co-editor of two books about the works of Jim Henson.

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