Reporters Tracked Marilyn’s ‘Bustle’ to Fame

Marilyn’s Vancouver Sun debut, 1947

Marilyn’s stopover in Vancouver while filming River of No Return in 1953 was well-reported in regional newspapers at the time (see here.) However, as John Mackie reports, Marilyn made her first appearance in the Vancouver Sun six years earlier, with this early pin-up illustrating the piece. At the time, she had only two film credits – a walk-on in Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!, and a bit part in Dangerous Years.

From the New York Daily News

“Newspapers often ran cheesecake photos of attractive young women in the 1940s. Some were local, some were would-be Hollywood starlets who you never heard of again.

A good example was on the front page of the April 3, 1947, Vancouver Sun. Alongside the story ‘Vancouver Banks Restore Control on U.S. Exchange,’ an editor chose to run a one-column shot of a young woman in a bathing suit, with no connection to the bank story whatsoever.

But this wasn’t just any cheesecake shot — it was the first time Marilyn Monroe appeared in a Vancouver newspaper.

‘There’s a rustle in her bustle,’ read the cutline for the Associated Press photo. ‘But actress Marilyn Monroe of Hollywood does not recommend her newest bathing suit for any kind of energetic swimming.’

Monroe would make her film debut that year as Evie, ‘the waitress at the Gopher Hole’ in a teen movie for 20th Century Fox called Dangerous Years. But her career didn’t really take off until 1952, when Life magazine put her on its cover as ‘The Talk of Hollywood.'”

These images give a little more detail on the bathing suit photos. Above, a costume sketch for Marilyn’s ‘bustle’; and below, text inscribed on the back of another photo reveals that the shoot took place at the Beverly Hills home of film producer Artie Stebbins, nephew of Fox mogul Joe Schenck.

Mackie goes on to chart Marilyn’s rise to fame via the Vancouver Sun and other publications.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 1947.

“It is quite amusing to search through and find the initial stories about Monroe. The Fox publicity machine invented a story that she was accidentally discovered by a Fox casting director when she came to his house to babysit his kid.

‘Impressed with Marilyn’s looks, the director forgot where he and the missus had planned to go that evening and spent time getting the girl’s name on a movie contract,’ said the cutline for a pic of Marilyn as a babysitter in the June 1, 1947 Minneapolis Star-Tribune. [Ironically, Marilyn’s first contract with Fox lapsed shortly after this story appeared.]

The New York Daily News ran the same ‘bustle’ pic as the Vancouver Sun, with a headline ‘Use It a Rudder?’

Her career gained traction in 1950, when she had a bit part in the Joseph Mankiewicz classic All About Eve. The Sun’s movie critic Clyde Gilmour praised her ‘fine’ performance as ‘a brainless but seductive showgirl.’

In 1951, Gilmour panned the movie As Young As You Feel, but noted ‘there is, however, a distinct increase in visual appeal every time Marilyn Monroe prowls across the screen as a steno with an hour-glass figure and a cash-register mind.’

Newspaper ad for Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Monroe finally got star billing in 1952, when she appeared in Don’t Bother To Knock with Richard Widmark. She had become a sex symbol: the ad says she was ‘every inch a woman … every inch an actress,’ and titillated filmgoers with the warning ‘adult entertainment only.’

When she had a five-hour layover in Vancouver on July 24, 1953, it was treated like a Royal Visit, running on the front of all three local newspapers. She toured Stanley Park, met the press at the Hotel Vancouver, and posed for some fabulous photos at the airport. Then she got on a train for Jasper, where she was making the movie River of No Return.

The photographer who had discovered her moved to B.C. in 1946, living in tranquil obscurity on Wallace Island near Salt Spring. Twenty years after Monroe’s death, David Conover finally published the photos he had taken in 1945 in the book Finding Marilyn, A Romance.”