Marilyn Through the Cinemascope Lens

In the final instalment of his summer-long series for Classic Movie Hub, Gary Vitacco Robles looks at Marilyn’s Cinemascope debut in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953.)

“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef and How to Marry a Millionaire were concurrently in production in the new widescreen process. The latter would be completed first but would not earn the distinction of the first CinemaScope film. Twentieth Century Fox delayed its release to flaunt the new process with the exotic on-location scenery and cast of thousands in the ‘sand and sandals’ epic, The Robe.

Fox cast Lauren Bacall as Schatze and considered Monroe as Loco. Although the role resonated with Monroe (she liked the role’s snappy lines and lengthy screen time), Fox instead cast Betty Grable. Monroe was finally given the role of Pola, the beautiful, near-sighted model who is insecure about her appearance and avoids wearing her eyeglasses — horn-rimmed, cat-eye shaped spectacles of the 1950s. Pola’s screen time was less than the other roles, but the character offered a splendid challenge in physical comedy and pantomime.

Playing for laughs, Nunnally Johnson’s script mentioned the men in the lives of Grable and Bacall … Johnson made no reference, however, to Monroe’s beau, DiMaggio. Instead, he scripted Pola reading a book titled Murder by Strangulation, alluding to Marilyn’s role in Niagara. In the fashion show sequence, Pola models a red bathing suit and jacket adorned with rhinestones as an announcer says, ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. And this is our proof of it.’

Monroe’s work ethic and stamina in toiling for long hours impressed director Jean Negulesco. She labored nonstop for twelve hours each day and focused only on her work. When greeted in the morning and asked how she was feeling, Monroe would reply with a related line from Johnson’s script. ‘She had a right sense of knowing the character she was playing,’ Negulesco later said. ‘The way to enter a scene, to hold singular attention as the scene developed, the way to end a scene — so that no other actor existed around her.’

Co-star David Wayne found filming in the new process unyieldingly tedious. When shooting the scene inside the plane, the width of the CinemaScope camera lens required the crew to remove the entire side of the plane. This forced all of the extras to remain seated inside of the plane, take after take. Monroe and Wayne went thirty-eight takes, and everyone in the scene was drenched in sweat from the bright lights. It was a tormenting workday, but the resultant flawless scene was delightful.

In its first release, the film earned over nine million dollars, becoming the second highest-grossing film of 1953 behind Oscar-winner From Here to Eternity. Monroe endeared herself to the public with self-depreciating humor. She successfully played comedy while remaining sexy. ‘It was the first time that Marilyn was not self-consciously the sex symbol,’ Nunnally Johnson remarked. ‘The character had a measure of modesty.'”