Marilyn, Joan Crawford and the Dress That Sparked a ‘Golden’ Feud

On February 9, 1953, Marilyn arrived at the Beverly Hills Hotel for the Photoplay Awards, where she was named the Fastest Rising Star of 1952. But the evening’s biggest story wasn’t the award she won, but the skintight, diaphanous gold lamé dress she wore, against the advice of designer Travilla and her escort, Sidney Skolsky. Another reporter, Bob Thomas, got the scoop when he asked veteran star Joan Crawford for her thoughts on Marilyn’s dress.

“It was like a burlesque show,” she said. “The audience yelled and shouted, and Jerry Lewis got up on the table and whistled. But those of us in the industry just shuddered … Sex plays a tremendously important part in every person’s life. People are interested in it, intrigued with it. But they don’t like to see it flaunted in their faces … The publicity has gone too far. She is making the mistake of believing her publicity. Someone should make her see the light. She should be told that the public likes provocative feminine personalities; but it also likes to know that underneath it all, the actresses are ladies.”

“I was so surprised I could hardly believe what I was reading,” Marilyn would recall in her 1954 memoir, My Story. “I called up some friends who had seen me at ceremony and asked them if it were true. They laughed. It wasn’t true, they said. They advised me to forgive a lady who had once been young and seductive herself.” While Joan was not the first to criticise Marilyn in the press, her outburst soon backfired.

The incident has become part of movie lore, and in a new essay, ‘The Old and the New: Monroe, Crawford and the Golden Dress,’ blogger Miss Holly Wood argues that it mirrors the tensions of the era.

“But there’s irony in Crawford’s detestation of Monroe’s rise because Joan did the same thing as Marilyn. As the studio system rose to prominence in Hollywood, Crawford kept her relevance by being a young actress who could make a seamless transition into the talking pictures. She stomped out the juggernauts of her era to pave the way for herself. Isn’t that exactly what Marilyn did too? If Monroe had lived in Hollywood long enough, she too would have seen her iconic brand be stomped out by the new shiny thing in a shimmering gold dress. However, both of these women’s names live on. Despite (or perhaps because of) the feuds, the years, and the pits, despite the arguments over popularity or skill or icon-status, these women have etched themselves into our minds forevermore. The Hollywood mill is tough and unforgiving, but if you can (like Monroe and Crawford did) chisel your name in that long tattered wall of Hollywood history, boy, is that a tough name to scratch out.”