Marilyn On Location … in Phoenix, Arizona

Marilyn perches on Don Murray’s shoulder in downtown Phoenix (Photo by Dennis Stock)

On March 15, 1956, Marilyn arrived in Phoenix, Arizona to film scenes for Bus Stop. In a recent article, the Lonely Planet travel guide noted that the Westward Ho Tower, seen in the photo above, is still standing today.

“Westward Ho Tower appeared in 1956’s Bus Stop starring Marilyn Monroe and 1972’s Pocket Money starring Paul Newman. A beloved Phoenix landmark, this beautiful 15-story hotel has weathered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune since its construction in 1928. Once frequented by celebrities and politicians (JFK gave a public address here in 1961), it fell into disuse in the late 1970s and was reborn as low-cost housing for the elderly.”

Of course, the main purpose of the Arizona shoot was to capture the annual rodeo festival, as noted on the Movie Locations website.

Marilyn with Eileen Heckart in the rodeo scene

“In Downtown Phoenix, Bo (Don Murray) and Cherie (Marilyn Monroe) watch the pre-rodeo parade on North Central Avenue as it passes the Hotel Westward Ho, 618 North Central Avenue at West Fillmore Street, with its still-recognisable Spanish-Baroque frontage. The Westward Ho is now a residential block, although it does briefly pose as a hotel again for Marion and Sam’s lunchtime canoodling in Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot 1998 revisiting of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Cherie and her friend Vera (Eileen Heckart) watch the rodeo action from the sun-blasted bleachers rather than the shade of the 5,000 seat Grandstand of the Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 West McDowell Road, northwest of Downtown Phoenix. The 1937 Grandstand Arena can still be seen to the north of the grounds, on North 19th Avenue.

Don’t go looking for the lovely old gingerbread houses where Bo finds Cherie’s lodgings. They were demolished in 1966, though were never in Phoenix to begin with. Surprisingly, they’re the old wooden buildings of Bunker Hill, downtown Los Angeles.”

While in Phoenix, Marilyn stayed at the Sahara Motor Inn. Later renamed as the Phoenix Ramada, the building was demolished in 2010 to make way for a new law school (see here.)

“The Sahara Motor Inn, later called the Ramada Inn, is an urban oasis that rose from the sand like a mirage in Downtown Phoenix, complete with a sparkling pool, restaurant, cafe, bar, 175 guest rooms, gift shop, two large terrace suites for hosting parties and meetings, and two apartment penthouses … These mini-resorts defined Phoenix in the 1950s by bringing resort-style amenities to the middle class. These mini resorts even attracted celebrities. Marilyn Monroe herself lodged in one of the penthouse suites in the Sahara while filming Bus Stop.”

And finally, here’s a brief clip from Marilyn’s photographer and business partner Milton Greene, documenting her arrival in the city.

Co-stars Arthur O’Connell (left) and Don Murray (top centre) welcome Marilyn to Phoenix