Conversations with Classic Film Stars: about Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe – Exclusive Post by Authors James Bawden and Ron Miller

What Legendary Movie Stars Said about Each Other
Part Three of a Four-Part Series

Melvyn Douglas, who first co-starred with Greta Garbo in As You Desire Me [1932], remembered her as “icy and distant.” He also said she had no flair for comedy and believes it was her “humorlessness” that made her so funny in their 1939 film Ninotchka, which was sold with the advertising line, “Garbo laughs!”

Greta GarboGreta Garbo

“They had to dub in her laugh later,” said Douglas. “How about that for special effects?”

As for her coldness, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. recalled with glee the ad lib Melvyn Douglas made while he, Fairbanks, Fred Astaire, and John Houseman were freezing on the sub-zero set of Ghost Story [1981]: “Haven’t shivered so much since I kissed Garbo,” said Douglas.

And supporting actor Keye Luke, who made his screen debut in Garbo’s The Painted Veil [1934], even had some reservations about her legendary beauty.

“She was a true beauty from the neck up,” Luke observed. “But her body was stocky, her feet long.”

Still, Luke found that Garbo was “very kind to me” at a time in Hollywood history when many stars treated Asian actors very poorly, having little to do with them.

Marilyn Monroe How to Marry a MillionaireMarilyn Monroe, How to Marry a Millionaire

Many rumors abound about the difficulty many actors had working with Marilyn Monroe, but Rory Calhoun, who co-starred with her in How to Marry A Millionaire [1953] and River of No Return [1954] remembered her this way: “She was a phenomenon that I doubt like hell this town will ever see the likes of again. There have been a lot of people trying to copy her one way or another—and to me they’re third stringers.”

That opinion was shared by Bob Hope, who said Monroe was “very kittenish and cute and pretty. She was very nice off-stage.”

Yet Joseph Cotten, who played her husband in Niagara [1953], characterized her differently.

“I never met a girl as introverted as Marilyn,” he said. “The whole fame explosion had just set in and whenever we filmed on location at Niagara Falls, great crowds gathered to see her. She couldn’t cope, retreated into her shell.”

Cotten said their director, Henry Hathaway, became so irritated with Marilyn for having her acting coach with her at all times that he finally banned the woman from the set. He said Hathaway eventually started filming their rehearsals as backup and discovered Monroe was “less mannered there and actually used some of the footage.”

Marilyn Monroe, NiagaraMarilyn Monroe, Niagara

Cotten still was fond of Monroe, despite the delays she often caused in filming, saying, “I’m glad I knew her before the troubles enveloped her and destroyed her. I want to remember that superb girlish laughter when I told her an off-color joke.”

Cary Grant also relished the fact that he had worked with Monroe in Monkey Business [1952] before the pressures of superstardom began to damage her emotionally.

He remembered her as “winning and adorable”.

Said Grant, “When I drink that youth serum and I’m acting like a teenager, Marilyn really got into it. I’m diving off the high board and she’s giggling and waving me on.”

Anne Baxter worked with Monroe even earlier, in 1950s A Ticket to Tomahawk, in which Marilyn played a chorus girl. She remembered the young Marilyn as having “dirty fingernails and always seemed so unkempt,” and was surprised when the fledgling star suddenly exploded into fame after small, but showy roles that same year in The Asphalt Jungle and their next picture together, All About Eve. In fact, Baxter said, Monroe’s sudden boom in popularity got her the role in How To Marry A Millionaire [1953] that Baxter was supposed to play.


This is Part Three of a four-part series…

–James Bawden and Ron Miller for Classic Movie Hub

Retired journalists James Bawden and Ron Miller are the authors of Conversations with Classic Film Starsan astonishing collection of rare interviews with the greatest celebrities of Hollywood’s golden age. Conducted over the course of more than fifty years, they recount intimate conversations with some of the most famous leading men and women of the era, including Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joseph Cotten, Cary Grant, Gloria Swanson, Joan Fontaine, Loretta Young, Kirk Douglas, and many more.

You can purchase the book on amazon by clicking here:

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3 Responses to Conversations with Classic Film Stars: about Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe – Exclusive Post by Authors James Bawden and Ron Miller

  1. Sue says:

    I just put this book in my bucket list! I love Marilyn Monroe. One of my fav Marilyn performances is with Cary Grant in “Monkey Business”… but she I ALWAYS think of her in “The Seven Year Itch” when I get a hot flash… and it seems there is no getting away from the heat. In TSYI she mentions putting her underwear in the icebox!

    • Annmarie Gatti says:

      In my humble opinion she was under-rated. I adored her in Some Like It Hot and her other comedies and musicals, but she was also good in dramas. She really impressed me in Niagara!

  2. Pingback: You Ain‘t Heard Nothin‘ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era – Exclusive Post by Authors James Bawden and Ron Miller | Classic Movie Hub Blog

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