Marilyn’s Anthology Roles: From Streetwalker to Beauty Queen

On the Screen Rant website today, Shaurya Thapa suggests 10 anthology films to watch ahead of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, due for release later this year. Ranked at #1 – perhaps because it’s the oldest movie listed – is O. Henry’s Full House (1952.)

“When it comes to American short stories, O. Henry was a titan. In the 1950s, some of the biggest stars of Hollywood joined forces to bring his short fiction to life in an anthology released as Full House. Charles Laughton, Anne Baxter, and Marilyn Monroe lead the star cast while the film also features the acclaimed author John Steinbeck as narrator, marking the only on-screen appearance in his life. From ‘The Gift of Magi’ to ‘The Last Leaf,’ the film is largely faithful to its source material, incorporating O. Henry’s balance over wit and emotion.”

Marilyn appeared in the first episode, ‘The Cop and the Anthem,’ starring Charles Laughton as Soapy, a tramp desperate to get arrested so he can spend the winter in a warm jail cell – ignoring a suggestion from his friend Horace (David Wayne) that he approach the Salvation Army instead.

After various unsuccessful ruses, Soapy accosts a young woman (MM) under the watchful eyes of a policeman, only to discover she is a streetwalker, glad to accept his clumsy advances. He finally seeks refuge in a church, resolving to mend his ways – only to be arrested for loitering as he leaves.

Although Marilyn’s role is brief, she looks lovely in her period costume, and has a memorable line as Soapy walks away (“He called me a lady!”) She thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with the great Laughton, and director Henry Koster.

At the time of Full House, Marilyn had recently appeared in another anthology film, We’re Not Married! She was directed by Edmund Goulding, who had helmed one of the greatest anthology films, Grand Hotel, back in 1932. The script was by Nunnally Johnson, who would go on to write one of Marilyn’s most popular films, How to Marry a Millionaire – which also reunited her with David Wayne, in the last of their four films together.

Her role as beauty queen Annabel Norris – married to put-upon, stay-at-home dad David Wayne (in an amusing reversal of 1950s gender roles) – gave her more screen-time than Full House, and an opportunity to show off her comedic skills. (Apart from the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, it was the only time Marilyn played a mother.)

When the couple learn that their marriage is not legal – a framing device that links the other four episodes – Annabel is unfazed, and goes on to win the ‘Miss Mississippi’ pageant with her second-time fiance smiling on, before remarrying him in the movie’s finale.