Marilyn was an early adopter of the California health craze, and publicity from her starlet years often focused on her diet and exercise habits – as detailed in a September 1952 article for Pageant magazine – and which, as Vogue notes today, were highly personal and occasionally ‘bizarre’.
“‘Frankly, I’ve never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all,’ she begins self-deprecatingly, adding that she ‘never cared especially for outdoor sports’ … ‘I never used to bother with exercises. Now I spend at least 10 minutes each morning working out with small weights. I have evolved my own exercises, for the muscles I wish to keep firm, and I know they are right for me because I can feel them putting the proper muscles into play as I exercise.’
Her first move after brushing her teeth, washing her face and ‘shak[ing] off the first deep layer of sleep’? ‘I lie down on the floor beside my bed and begin my first exercise. It is a simple bust-firming routine which consists of lifting five-pound weights from a spread-eagle arm position to a point directly above my head … I don’t count rhythmically like the exercise people on the radio; I couldn’t stand exercise if I had to feel regimented about it.’
When it comes to her diet, however, routine is the name of the game. ‘I’ve been told that my eating habits are absolutely bizarre, but I don’t think so. Before I take my morning shower, I start warming a cup of milk on the hot plate I keep in my hotel room. When it’s hot, I break two raw eggs into the milk, whip them up with a fork, and drink them while I’m dressing …’
As for her dinner? ‘Every night I stop at the market near my hotel and pick up a steak, lamb chops or some liver, which I broil in the electric oven in my room. I usually eat four or five raw carrots with my meat … It’s a good thing, I suppose, that I eat simply during the day, for in recent months I have developed the habit of stopping off at Wil Wright’s ice cream parlour for a hot fudge sundae on my way home from my evening drama classes.’
Her one sound wellness tip? Making sleep a real priority. ‘By nature, I suppose I have a languorous disposition. I hate to do things in a hurried, tense atmosphere, and it is virtually impossible for me to spring out of bed in the morning. On Sunday, which is my one day of total leisure, I sometimes take two hours to wake up, luxuriating in every last moment of drowsiness.'”
You can read the original Pageant article in full – with photos by Andre de Dienes – plus view another fitness-inspired photo session with Philippe Halsman for LIFE from April 1952, over at MessyNessyChic.