Marilyn’s ‘Power Lunch’ With Khrushchev

Marilyn seated with directors Joshua Logan, George Cukor and Billy Wilder

Writing for the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Feinberg looks back on ‘the most epic Hollywood lunch of all time’ – when Marilyn joined a bevy of stars in a special luncheon for visiting Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. “Marilyn Monroe was flown in from New York and told to wear her tightest dress,” Feinberg writes – although it’s unlikely she needed any persuasion. (Coached by Natalie Wood, Marilyn spoke a few words of greeting in Russian to Khrushchev – but sadly, the moment was not captured on film.)

“Never in the history of Hollywood has there been a more sought-after lunch invitation than when Nikita Khrushchev visited Los Angeles on Sept. 19, 1959, near the height of the Cold War, four days after meeting with President Eisenhower at Camp David. It’s ironic that a town which had been so jolted by the Red Scare — the blacklist was still in effect — clamored so hard to dine with the Soviet premier, who just three years earlier had said of capitalist countries, ‘We will bury you.’ But once Khrushchev expressed an interest in seeing Tinseltown, the State Department arranged with 20th Century Fox chief Spyros Skouras for him to visit that studio (Skouras had attended the Soviet Film Festival in Moscow the previous month), sparking what The New York Times described as ‘one of the angriest social free-for-alls in the uninhibited and colorful history of Hollywood’ (invitations were ultimately coordinated by the Motion Picture Association (MPAA) to assure equal representation from all major studios).

In the end, the Saturday afternoon gathering in Café de Paris, Fox’s commissary, was described by THR as ‘almost certainly the greatest spectacle ever staged in a motion picture studio,’ noting that ‘some 300 film luminaries were present to surround the 100-odd members of the troupe from Moscow’ … Squab, wild rice, Parisian potatoes and peas with pearl onions were served. And Skouras and Khrushchev each gave speeches (the latter, whose arrival was greeted with a standing ovation, spoke for 45 minutes about a variety of topics, including his disappointment that security had advised him against visiting Disneyland). Then Khrushchev was led to a soundstage to observe the filming of a risque dance number for the musical Can-Can (Fox didn’t usually film on weekends but paid overtime to put on a show for him). Newsreel footage shows him looking on with delight, though he later told the press he found it ‘very tasteless.'”

Khrushchev meets Shirley MacLaine on the Can-Can set