65 Years Ago: Marilyn at the Bus Stop

Bus Stop, Marilyn’s first film following her victorious battle with Twentieth Century Fox, was released in the US on August 31, 1956 – 65 years ago today. Her layered, moving performance won critical acclaim, and it is one of her few films with a less glamorous, more realistic setting, although its sexual politics and occasional staginess (it was originally a Broadway play), may now seem dated. Nonetheless, Marilyn’s iconic Bus Stop costume fetched a staggering $399,000 at Heritage Auctions last month.

In an excellent article for the Games Radar website, Molly Edwards looks back at this pivotal moment in Marilyn’s remarkable career.

“Today, Bus Stop is more a horror film than a rom-com (at one point, Beau literally lassoes Chérie as she tries to flee), but Monroe makes it worth remembering on the 65th anniversary of its premiere. Where Chérie is pushed and pulled around with no agency, Monroe was, at the time, on the opposite trajectory …

If Bus Stop had starred anyone else, it’s doubtful the film would stand the test of time. Monroe disappears into her role, with her signature blonde hair dyed a darker shade, her famous low, breathy voice exchanged for a high-pitched Ozark accent, her skin tone made chalky with makeup (Chérie works nights and hardly sees the sun), her singing warbly, and her dancing awkward – just contrast her faltering performance of the film’s ‘That Old Black Magic’ with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes‘ knockout ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ …

By modern standards, Chérie’s storyline is entirely misogynistic. It’s disturbing to watch her give in to Beau’s advances because he’s asked for the first time if he can kiss her, and because he’s the first person to accept her history with other men … That doesn’t mean that Chérie is a character undeserving of Monroe’s talents, though. There’s something tragic in her speech on the bus about wanting whoever she marries to have ‘some real regard for me,’ as well as her dreams of making it to Hollywood when her talents aren’t quite up to scratch. It’s ironic that Chérie is mapping her way to stardom right after Monroe deliberately spent so long away from the spotlight.

We’ll never know if this career turning point would have continued to lead Monroe to greater heights … There is evidence, though, that the upward arc was holding strong: in ’57 Monroe starred with the legendary Laurence Olivier in Marilyn Monroe Productions’ only other film, The Prince and the Showgirl, then reunited with Wilder to dazzle opposite Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in the beloved Some Like It Hot …she again proved her prowess as Roslyn in her final film, The Misfits – potentially her only performance to rival Bus Stop.

‘It’s no challenge to do the same thing over and over. I want to keep growing as a person and as an actress,’ Monroe once said. With Bus Stop, she finally managed just that – so while that enduring image of a red-lipped Monroe smiling in a pure white dress won’t (and shouldn’t) fade, the shabbier Chérie should be part of that picture, too.”