Marilyn’s Blue-Jean Role in ‘Clash By Night’

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As part of a series for Classic Movie Hub, Monroe biographer Gary Vitacco Robles looks at Clash By Night (1952.)

“Hungry to depart from the roles of secretaries and showgirls at her home studio, 20th Century Fox, Monroe campaigned for producer Jerry Wald to cast her in the relatively important supporting role in [Fritz] Lang’s adaption of Clifford Odets’ play with veteran actors … Wald took one look at Monroe at of her seated across from him at the table at Lucy’s on Melrose Boulevard and thought she looked about sixteen. After the meal, he contacted Lew Schreiber at Fox and requested a loan of Monroe for six weeks of work at RKO. Schreiber demanded a mere three thousand dollars.

Monroe’s role, Peggy, is a vigorous girl engaged to the heroine’s brother and who worked in a sardine cannery. She is warm, compassionate, and struggles with accepting the subordinate role of a 1950s wife. Wald wanted a younger actress with sex appeal to attract a teen audience since the film’s principals were established, middle-aged stars.

To prepare for the role, Monroe rode a Greyhound bus all through the night three hundred miles north to Monterey, where she spoke with boat owners and cannery workers before filming at a cannery. Journals auctioned after her death revealed her notes and impressions of the Italian and Greek fishermen … Clash By Night also introduces newcomer Keith Andes as Monroe’s love interest. He remembered her attracting local and media attention while on location in Monterey. Servicemen from a nearby military base flocked around her, along with reporters and photographers.

From the moment Monroe appears on screen in a pair of jeans and a sweater, it is clear she is playing a strong girl, the strongest of her career, who is exploring the limited options for a woman in the 1950s …  Using [her acting teacher] Michael Chekhov’s techniques and seeking realism in her role, Monroe rejected the costume jewelry engagement ring the wardrobe department gave her to wear, and instead borrowed the diamond ring belonging to wardrobe attendant Marjorie Plecher.

At a preview in Pasadena’s Crown Theatre, Monroe received ‘terrific applause,’ and the audience’s preview cards raved about her … Clash By Night showcases Marilyn Monroe’s early talents before her ascension to musical comedy queen at 20th Century Fox.”