What If… Marilyn Monroe Had Lived?

In November 2023, I was presented with an intriguing opportunity to contribute to an article for All About History’s bookazine titled “What If… Alternative History.” The central focus of this article revolved around exploring various hypothetical scenarios related to Marilyn Monroe’s life and career, had she not tragically passed away in August 1962.

My primary goal was to delve into the following thought-provoking questions:

1. What would her movie career have looked like and for how long? Could she have won an Oscar in the years that followed?
2. Were there any key roles after her death that she may have been cast in, or further screen partnerships with actors like Jane Russell, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, etc.?
3. What about her singing career and its potential evolution?
4. What would her personal life have looked like in terms of relationships, marriage, and children? Would she have been part of a showbiz couple, and if so, with whom?
5. Could the scandal around her alleged relationship with JFK have held her back or impacted his presidency? Could she have even married a Kennedy?
6. How would she have reacted to the events surrounding JFK’s assassination, and later, RFK’s? What impact would these have had on her life?
7. How would she have faced the challenges of growing older in the entertainment industry?
8. Could she have gained more control over her private life and public image?
9. Could she have become involved in activism, potentially advocating for causes such as addiction, abuse, HIV/AIDS, world poverty, or even serving as a UN Ambassador?

In researching and crafting this article, I drew upon Marilyn Monroe’s own words, reliable sources, and information that substantiated these compelling inquiries. You can read the full article in “What If… Alternative History, Volume 2,” available for digital purchase at https://pocketmags.com/about-history-bookazine-magazine/what-if-alternative-history-volume-2. Here’s a little sample below… And look! My face!

Marilyn Monroe’s Eating and Exercise Habits Through the Years

Frankly, I’ve never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all.

Trigger warnings apply: Weight loss, weight gain, diet terminology

Marilyn Monroe has epitomised a figure that many consider the embodiment of sex appeal. A tiny waist, combined with large hips and bust has been deemed attractive attributes for decades and Marilyn was renowned for this voluptuous, hourglass figure. Of course, everyone’s physical preferences differ and Marilyn’s body type certainly does not suit everyone.

It’s important for me to point out that the following details regarding Marilyn’s eating and workout regimen are not endorsements or recommendations for personal health or fitness. This is purely to show what she did. Bodies are unique and diverse. Each person’s physiques responds to dietary and exercise routines in different ways based on their DNA and genetics. It’s also paramount that I point out that our value extends infinitely beyond the confines of weight or dress size. Prioritising your mental and physical well-being is key — the rest will naturally align with your health journey.

MARILYN’S WEIGHT AND MEASUREMENTS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS

2nd August 1945 – Blue Book Modeling Agency

  • 120lbs (54.4kg/8.5 stone)
  • 36-24-34

1951

  • 36½-23-34

8th February 1954 – DOD ID Card

  • 118lbs (53.5kg/8.4 stone)

1955

  • 38-23-36

1959

  • Waist 28.5 inches

May 1962

  • Approximately 35½ – 23½ -33¼

5th August 1962 – LA Coroner Medical Report

  • 117lbs (53.1kg/8.3 stone)

“NORMA JEANE HUMAN BEAN”

Growing up, Norma Jeane stood out from her classmates. Naturally, tall and skinny the children at her school nastily nicknamed her “Norma Jeane Human Bean.” A boy in her class also cruelly commented, “I hope someday your legs fill out.”

However, like many girls, Marilyn began developing a shapely figure on the cusp of teenagerhood, resulting in getting attention from the opposite sex. She stated, “At twelve I looked like a girl of seventeen. My body was developed and shapely.”

As Marilyn had no money for a new blouse (and her others were torn) she wore another girl’s sweater, which was too small. Her teacher who was interviewed years later said that Norma Jeane was, “very much an average student, but she looked as though she wasn’t well cared for. Her clothes separated her a little bit from the rest of the girls.” However, the lack of well-fitting clothes accentuated Norma Jeane’s natural curves which drew in groups of boys on her way home from school, which she told Ben Hecht she thoroughly enjoyed.

“Even the girls paid a little attention to me just because they thought, ‘Hmmm, she’s to be dealt with!’ I had to walk to school, and it was just sheer pleasure. Ever fellow honked his horn, you know, workers driving to work, waving, and I’d wave back. The world became friendly.”

These famous curves would later be a household name alongside her films, quick-witted personality, and ethereal beauty.

1952 DIET AND WORKOUT

During her marriage to James Dougherty, Norma Jeane discovered the art of weightlifting, a practice she would maintain for the duration of her adult life.

By 1952, Marilyn Monroe had become a household name, and in that year she shared insights into her diet and exercise routines with Pageant Magazine. That year also saw her photographed by acclaimed photographers Andre de Dienes and Philippe Halsman, with the former’s snapshots being featured in an article by Pageant Magazine, capturing Marilyn engaging with her weightlifting regimen.

These images served to showcase not just her star quality but also her dedication to fitness, presenting a side of Marilyn that juxtaposed her glamorous public persona with her personal commitment to health and strength.

“Frankly, I’ve never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all. My biggest single concern used to be getting enough to eat. Now I have to worry about eating too much. I never used to bother with exercises. Now I spend at least 10 minutes each morning working out with small weights. I have evolved my own exercises, for the muscles I wish to keep firm, and I know they are right for me because I can feel them putting the proper muscles into play as I exercise.

She Doesn’t Like To Feel Regimented

Exercise. Each morning after I brush my teeth, wash my face and shake off the first deep layer of sleep, I lie down on the floor beside my bed and begin my first exercise. It is a simple bust-firming routine which consists of lifting five-pound weights from a spread-eagle arm position to a point directly above my head. I do this 15 times, slowly. I repeat the exercise another 15 times from a position with my arms above my head. Then, with my arms at a 45-degree angle from the floor, I move my weights in circles until I’m tired. I don’t count rhythmically like the exercise people on the radio; I couldn’t stand exercise if I had to feel regimented about it.

How To Feel Blond All Over

Sports. I have never cared especially for outdoor sports, and have no desire to excel at tennis, swimming, or golf. I’ll leave those things to the men. Despite its great vogue in California, I don’t think sun-tanned skin is any more attractive than white skin, or any healthier, for that matter. I’m personally opposed to a deep tan because I like to feel blond all over.

By nature, I suppose I have a languorous disposition. I hate to do things in a hurried, tense atmosphere, and it is virtually impossible for me to spring out of bed in the morning. On Sunday, which is my one day of total leisure, I sometimes take two hours to wake up, luxuriating in every last moment of drowsiness. Depending upon my activities, I sleep between five and ten hours every night. I sleep in an extra-wide single bed, and I use only one heavy down comforter over me, summer or winter. I have never been able to wear pajamas or creepy nightgowns; they disturb my sleep.

A Set of Bizarre Eating Habits

Breakfast. I’ve been told that my eating habits are absolutely bizarre, but I don’t think so. Before I take my morning shower, I start warming a cup of milk on the hot plate I keep in my hotel room. When it’s hot, I break two raw eggs into the milk, whip them up with a fork, and drink them while I’m dressing. I supplement this with a multi-vitamin pill, and I doubt if any doctor could recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry.

Dinner. My dinners at home are startlingly simple. Every night I stop at the market near my hotel and pick up a steak, lamb chops or some liver, which I broil in the electric oven in my room. I usually eat four or five raw carrots with my meat, and that is all. I must be part rabbit; I never get bored with raw carrots.

P.S. It’s a good thing, I suppose, that I eat simply during the day, for in recent months I have developed the habit of stopping off at Wil Wright’s ice cream parlor for a hot fudge sundae on my way home from my evening drama classes. I’m sure that I couldn’t allow myself this indulgence were it not that my normal diet is composed almost totally of protein foods.

WEIGHT GAIN

In the years 1958 and 1960, when Marilyn Monroe arrived to commence filming for “Some Like It Hot” and “The Misfits”, her appearance garnered unwarranted attention from the media, particularly regarding changes in her weight.

During the production of “Some Like It Hot”, Marilyn was navigating through the early stages of pregnancy, a time when it is completely natural for a woman’s body to undergo changes and gain weight. Nevertheless, the focus on her physique by the press was not only unnecessary but also reflective of a broader and persistent issue within media culture—a tendency to scrutinise and often stigmatise weight fluctuations, irrespective of the individual’s circumstances.

Marilyn, despite tabloid rumours, was not pregnant in 1960. It is more likely that Marilyn’s experiences with endometriosis, a condition often accompanied by significant bloating and other painful symptoms, would have likely contributed to her appearance during these times. This highlights a disconcerting reality: the propensity to make superficial judgments without understanding the underlying health challenges a person may be facing.

The narrative surrounding Marilyn’s body, as portrayed by the press, reflects a societal obsession with aesthetic ideals, overshadowing the individual’s well-being and the natural, healthy processes of the human body. It is a narrative that, regrettably, persists today, overshadowing more meaningful discussions about body positivity and health.

Above – Marilyn Monroe on the set of Some Like It Hot

Left – An article from 1960

1000 CALORIE DIET PLAN

In 2016, a diet plan personally owned by Marilyn Monroe and penned by Dr. Leon Krohn was auctioned, fetching a price of $3,437.50.

The document in question, typed and discovered within a notebook from 1958, could feasibly date from the period following Marilyn’s gallbladder operation in 1961. The procedure necessitated a diet low in fat and rich foods, yet the plan’s exact date remains unverified.

The regimen, described as a “Calorie Restricted Diet” allowing for 1000 (!!!) calories and 100 grams of protein daily, was lauded by Julien’s Auctions for its enduring validity. Even by today’s nutritional standards, the guide offers guidance, advocating for a reduction in sugar and fat intake. Carbohydrates were to be carefully selected, favouring whole wheat and prescribing “one small white potato boiled, baked, or riced” as a bread substitute.

As for the diet’s structure, it provided two alternatives for each meal, revolving principally around a selection of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources such as meat and fish.

AUGUST 1961

From “Mimosa” by Ralph Roberts:

Marilyn was delighted with the fact she had lost an awful lot of weight, effortlessly, on the diet prescribed after the gallbladder operation.

“And all the massages are keeping the body firm,” she said. “As a matter of fact, I think I have a better body than I’ve had since the early days at Fox. If you want to give the diet to any of your friends out here, I would certainly recommend it.”

Then, as if I didn’t know it by heart, she repeated it. “Before each meal, half a grapefruit. The grapefruit is better than half a glass of the juice because the bulk helps grind up fat. For breakfast, the whites of four eggs, I poach mine. The whites of eggs are among the highest concentrated protein anywhere – the yellow highest concentrated of fat. A piece of toast. Lunch, a tuna salad with greens and diet dressing. Or, the white meat of chicken or turkey. Dinner, a salad, a small baked potato, and a filet mignon, preferably charcoaled. If I get ravenously hungry mid-afternoon, a few bites of white meat of chicken, a few shrimp. Vary the steak with fish of some kind.

“I never feel the need of stuffing the face with bread, or sweets, and oddly enough, fruit…”

… I thought it’s interesting that in the diet I could pass on to other friends, she neglected to mention the split of champagne before dinner. I think that’s the main ingredient of any diet – relax.

“Along with her diet, Marilyn felt that a huge part of her losing weight was down to receiving regular massages with Ralph. She said to Ralph in September 1961, “Thanks to the diet and to you, I’m sure I could make the best impression for an awfully long spell” before going to a party with Frank Sinatra.

MARCH 1962

Ralph Roberts later comments in the book on how slim she looked in March 1962, ready for “Something’s Got To Give”.

She removed a loose jacket she was wearing and displayed her trim, firm body, very slender.

“Having those massages while losing all that blubber sure paid off. I went to the wardrobe at Fox the other day and tried on a dress I wore in “Gentlemen,” and it was a perfect fit everywhere but the waist and a teensy bit loose there. I’m better than I’ve ever been.”

Like anyone, Marilyn Monroe’s weight and physique naturally fluctuated throughout her life, shaped by the ever-changing circumstances and phases she encountered. Her approach to diet and exercise was not static; it adapted to meet the demands and experiences of her personal and professional life.

To reiterate the central point of this article, the information presented is intended solely for informative purposes. It is crucial to acknowledge that what was effective for Marilyn is not a prescriptive or advisable path for others. Health and nutritional science have evolved considerably since Marilyn’s era, and individual needs and circumstances vary widely.

Before embarking on any dietary or fitness regime, it is imperative to seek personalised advice. Consulting with healthcare professionals—be it a doctor, a registered dietitian, or a qualified personal trainer—is the safest and most effective way to explore and plan for weight management. They can provide tailored guidance that considers your unique health profile, ensuring your physical well-being and nutritional needs are met responsibly and sustainably.

Marilyn Monroe’s New York Hotel Escapades

Welcome to New York! Here you will embark on a journey through the glamour and beauty of some of the city’s most iconic hotels, as we trace the footsteps of Marilyn Monroe. While her career often led her to the sound stages of Hollywood, it was in the heart of New York City that she found solace, privacy, and a touch of home.

We are going to delve into the sanctuaries that Marilyn frequented, focussing solely on the hotels where she stayed during her life and illustrious career. And just to keep things concise, we’re sidestepping the hotels she merely visited for press conferences or public appearances.

As you’ll discover, each hotel carries its own narrative, offering more than just luxury accommodations. They were her retreats, her hideaways, and in some cases, the settings that bore witness to crucial chapters of her life. And for some of them, you could stay there too!

Sherry-Netherland Hotel (August 1952)

In August 1952, Marilyn Monroe appeared (and stayed) at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, as part of the press tour for her newest movie, Monkey Business.

While Marilyn may not have held top billing in the film, her star power was undeniably on the rise. This was particularly evident as it had recently come to light that Marilyn had posed for a nude calendar three years prior, a revelation that had only heightened her public profile.

Interestingly, Marilyn’s co-star, Cary Grant, had been interviewed at the very same hotel by the renowned columnist Earl Wilson. During this interview, Grant emphatically asserted that Marilyn had committed no wrongdoing in posing for Tom Kelley’s iconic photographs. Grant’s support for Marilyn further underscored the changing perceptions and attitudes towards her, solidifying her status as a Hollywood luminary on the ascent.

The hotel’s luxurious setting provided the perfect backdrop for her press appearance, and Marilyn charmed both photographers and journalists with her radiant presence.

Hotel address: The Sherry-Netherland Hotel, 781 Fifth Avenue

St. Regis Hotel (September 1954)

Trigger warning: Domestic violence

In September 1954, during the filming of The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn occupied a suite at The St. Regis Hotel where she is photographed several times in her room as well as during press conferences and interviews.

Marilyn’s husband, Joe DiMaggio, would later accompany her to the hotel. It is during this time, that rumours and speculations have emerged about potential domestic disputes that allegedly occurred after the filming of the iconic subway grate scene. It’s important to note, however, that no concrete or credible evidence has ever substantiated these rumours. Given the tumultuous nature of their relationship during that period, it’s conceivable that disagreements might have arisen. Nevertheless, any claims of domestic violence should be approached with caution in the absence of verified documentation or reliable testimonies.

Marilyn and Joe checked out of the hotel later that day when the subway grate scene was filmed and flew back to Los Angeles. They separated a few weeks later due to “mental cruelty.” The couple continued to see each other until the summer of 1955 and were officially divorced in October 1955 (a year after going to court).

Marilyn’s matchbook from the hotel sold at Julien’s Auctions for $1,600 in 2022.

Hotel Address: St Regis Hotel, Two East 55th Street, Fifth Avenue

The Gladstone Hotel (January – March 1955 and January 1958)

The beginning of 1955 marked a new chapter in Marilyn’s life, as she made the bold decision to leave Hollywood in her rearview mirror and set her sights on the East Coast. In New York, she unveiled the formation of Marilyn Monroe Productions alongside her photographer, partner and friend, Milton Greene. Simultaneously, Marilyn dedicated herself to honing her craft as a committed student at The Actor’s Studio.

Despite their recent divorce, which was to be finalised the following October, Joe DiMaggio played a supportive role in Marilyn’s transition. He assisted her in moving into her apartment at The Gladstone Hotel, which she officially occupied on the 26th of January 1955. During this time, the pair was frequently spotted together in both New York City and Boston. However, both Marilyn and Joe consistently denied any plans for a reconciliation, despite their continued closeness.

Marilyn was photographed and filmed by fans on several occasions at the hotel capturing a “new” and glittering Marilyn.

Later in January 1958, she returned to the hotel for several days with her husband Arthur Miller despite having an apartment in the city. Invoices suggested they dined at the hotel as well as held meetings there.

Previous Address: 114 East 52nd Street, near Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue

Previous address: Park Avenue and 51st Street

The Ambassador Hotel (March-April 1955)

From March to April 1955, Marilyn stayed at the Ambassador Hotel. During her stay, she was photographed by Ed Feingersh as she got ready to attend the premiere of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as well as other events and during her day to day. It is those photos that are famous for showing both the glamour and intimate solitude of Marilyn’s life.

She also had a photo session here with Cecil Beaton in February 1956. 

Waldorf-Astoria (April – Fall of 1955)

In 1955, Marilyn Monroe rented suite 2728 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. However, due to the cost of her lavish suite, Marilyn left the hotel. Some of Marilyn’s private thoughts were noted on Waldorf Astoria stationery including a list of her preferred directors (below). After living at the hotel, she moved into 444 Sutton Place which would be her primary residence until 1961. 

Not only did she temporarily live in the hotel (which cost Marilyn Monroe Productions $1000 per week) but several events in her life and career took place here such as interviews, radio shows, The April in Paris Ball in 1957, the March of Dimes parade in 1958 and the after-party for The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957

The Lexington Hotel (1960-1962)

The Lexington Hotel’s website and branding claim that Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio resided there following their 1954 marriage while Monroe was filming The Seven Year Itch. This has even led to the dedication of a room named ‘The Norma Jean Suite.’ However, closer scrutiny reveals that this narrative conflicts with established timelines and available evidence concerning Marilyn and Joe’s whereabouts.

To begin with, Marilyn and Joe tied the knot in January 1954, while the filming of The Seven Year Itch took place in September of the same year. Therefore, the claim that they stayed at the Lexington Hotel during this period seems unlikely. Moreover, existing photographic evidence and records confirm that the couple stayed at the St. Regis Hotel, casting further doubt on The Lexington’s claims. As it stands, there is no substantiated evidence to suggest that they stayed at the Lexington Hotel during the 1950s.

However, it’s worth noting that Joe did indeed reside at the Lexington Hotel during the 1960s. Before a rebranding effort, the suite he stayed in was initially called the ‘Midfielder Suite’ in his honour, only to be later renamed. While there is no concrete proof that Marilyn ever stayed at the hotel, there is some indirect evidence linking her to the location. Ralph Roberts, her friend and masseuse, stated that he had accompanied her to the hotel on multiple occasions. Additionally, she left messages for Joe there several times.

In summary, while the Lexington Hotel does have some historical connections to DiMaggio and, indirectly, to Marilyn, its promotional narrative appears to be more fiction than fact.

Note: In 2022, I received an invitation to stay at the hotel at a preferential rate. I was open to accepting this offer, as long as the hotel could provide evidence to corroborate their claims that Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio had indeed stayed there during the promoted period. Despite their assurances, they failed to provide the requisite proof. Consequently, I had no choice but to decline the opportunity. The room is undoubtedly exquisite, and it seems plausible that Marilyn Monroe might have stayed there in 1961. However, I could not in good conscience accept the offer without factual confirmation of the claims being made.

Hotel Address: The Lexington Hotel, 511 Lexington Avenue

Debunking the Misconceptions About Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe remains an iconic figure in the history of Hollywood, captivating audiences worldwide decades after her untimely death. While her legacy is undeniable, she has her fair share of critics such as Leo McKinstry, who argues that Marilyn Monroe was talentless, lazy, and a mere product of myth-making.

THE PHONY VICTIM

One common criticism levied against Marilyn is that she consistently played the role of a victim, often resorting to threats of suicide and emotional blackmail. However, when we delve into her troubled upbringing we are able to begin to understand her emotional struggles. Raised in a series of foster homes and having experienced abuse as a child, Marilyn’s early life was marked by instability and trauma. Her emotional challenges stemmed from these formative years, making it unfair to dismiss her struggles as mere acts of manipulation.

Critics often argue that Marilyn’s victimhood was phoney, pointing to her fame and success as evidence. However, her fame did not shield her from personal struggles and insecurities. Marilyn’s status as a sex symbol and Hollywood icon did not negate her vulnerability and self-doubt. To reduce her complex experiences to mere myth-making is a disservice to her legacy. In 1962 she told Richard Merman, “I think that when you are famous every weakness is exaggerated. … Goethe said, ‘Talent is developed in privacy,’ you know? And it’s really true. … Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you’re a human being, you feel, you suffer. You’re gay, you’re sick, you’re nervous or whatever.”

LIMITED ACTING RANGE

“I saw that what she looked like was not what she really was, and what was going on inside her was not what was going on outside, and that always means there may be something to work with. In Marilyn’s case, the reactions were phenomenal. She can call up emotionally what is required for a scene. Her range is infinite.” – Lee Strasberg, creator and director of the Actor’s Studio, Marilyn’s acting coach and friend

 

“She is a brilliant comedienne, which to me means she also is an extremely skilled actress.” – Sir Laurence Olivier, co-star in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)

 

“As near genius as any actress I ever knew.” – Joshua Logan, director of Bus Stop (1956)

 

“She was an absolute genius as a comedic actress, with an extraordinary sense for comedic dialogue. It was a God-given gift. Believe me, in the last fifteen years there were ten projects that came to me, and I’d start working on them and I’d think, ‘It’s not going to work, it needs Marilyn Monroe.’ Nobody else is in that orbit; everyone else is earthbound by comparison.” – Billy Wilder, director of The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959)

 

“Marilyn Monroe is the greatest farceuse in the business, a female Chaplin.”Jerry Wald, producer

McKinstry contends that Marilyn lacked depth in her acting career, frequently portraying the same shallow character. While it is true that she excelled in roles that embodied the “dumb blonde” archetype, it is important to acknowledge that the Hollywood studio system was known for pigeonholing actors and actresses into specific roles. Marilyn’s versatility was constrained by the industry’s expectations and limitations, which, in itself, is a testament to her ability to thrive within those confines not to mention the amount of well-renowned names who commented on her acting ability.

In addition, Marilyn did have a few roles which went deeper than her Lorelei Lee persona:

Niagara

Don’t Bother to Knock

The Misfits

– River of No Return

– Clash by Night

– Bus Stop

UNPROFESSIONAL

McKinstry criticises Marilyn for always being late on set and struggling with her lines, painting her as unprofessional. However, one should recognise the immense pressure and scrutiny she endured throughout her career which may have triggered these anxieties. Instead of labelling her as “lazy,” we should empathise with the insecurity she felt. Her on-set difficulties were a manifestation of her battles rather than a sign of indolence. Not to mention how hard Marilyn worked to improve her craft, spending much of her salary on acting lessons and personal guidance from coaches. She said, “My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothing I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn! To change, to improve! I didn’t want anything else. Not men, not money, not love, but the ability to act.” Marilyn had no issues during her modelling career but it seems that this in part had to do with her being in control, as opposed to being directed on film.

AMBITION AND RELATIONSHIPS

Marilyn Monroe’s ambition and determination to pursue her career should be celebrated rather than condemned. Her choices, such as divorcing her first husband, Jim Dougherty, to further her career, were acts of independence and self-realisation in an era when women’s opportunities were significantly limited. Criticising her relationships fails to acknowledge that she, like anyone else, was a complex individual who grappled with the challenges of fame and romance.

MODERN CELEBRITIES

Drawing parallels between Marilyn and contemporary celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan is an oversimplification. Marilyn lived in a different time with distinct societal norms and expectations. Comparing her to individuals from today’s vastly different entertainment landscape overlooks the unique challenges and pressures she faced as a woman in the entertainment industry during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Marilyn Monroe was more than just a sex symbol; she was a multi-dimensional individual who faced personal challenges and navigated professional constraints. While she may not have adhered to the traditional Hollywood star mould, her impact on popular culture and the entertainment industry cannot be denied. It is crucial to view her life and career through a nuanced lens, appreciating her contributions while recognising the difficulties she encountered. Debunking misconceptions about her character allows us to appreciate her true legacy as a trailblazing figure in the world of entertainment and an enduring symbol of vulnerability and strength.

The Harlow Connection: Was Jean Really Marilyn’s Idol?

Among the many aspects of Marilyn Monroe’s life that have intrigued historians and fans alike is her supposed admiration for Jean Harlow, another iconic figure from Hollywood’s golden era. While it is widely believed that Marilyn idolised Jean Harlow, a closer look reveals a more nuanced reality.

WHO WAS JEAN HARLOW?

Jean Harlow, born Harlean Harlow Carpenter on March 3, 1911, and tragically passing away at the tender age of 26 on June 7, 1937, was an American actress whose legacy remains a symbol of the glamorous early days of Hollywood. Known for her roles as “bad girl” characters, she was the leading sex symbol of the early 1930s and a defining figure of the pre-Code era of American cinema.

Often affectionately nicknamed the “Blonde Bombshell” and the “Platinum Blonde,” Harlow was celebrated for her “Laughing Vamp” screen persona. Although her career in the film industry spanned just nine years, her impact was profound, solidifying her status as one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, whose image continues to endure in the public eye.

In recognition of her lasting influence, the American Film Institute ranked Harlow as the 22nd greatest female screen legend of classical Hollywood cinema in 1999.

Jean Harlow’s journey in Hollywood began when she was signed by business magnate Howard Hughes, who directed her first major role in Hell’s Angels (1930). Despite facing a series of critically unsuccessful films and Hughes eventually losing interest in her career, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) acquired Harlow’s contract in 1932. MGM recognized her comedic talent and cast her in leading roles in a string of hit films, including Red-Headed Woman (1932), Red Dust (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), Reckless (1935), and Suzy (1936).

Jean’s popularity quickly rivalled and then surpassed that of MGM’s top leading ladies at the time, including Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Norma Shearer. Tragically, her life was cut short while filming Saratoga, co-starring Clark Gable, due to kidney failure. However, MGM completed the film using body doubles and released it less than two months after her passing, making it the most successful film of 1937 and the highest-grossing of Harlow’s career.

Beyond her cinematic contributions, Jean Harlow was also known for her involvement in charity work. In January 1937, she and Robert Taylor travelled to Washington, D.C., to participate in fundraising activities for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday, which later became associated with the March of Dimes charity. Harlow, a Democrat, had actively campaigned for Roosevelt in the 1936 United States presidential election and had previously supported Upton Sinclair in the 1934 California gubernatorial election.

Unfortunately, Jean Harlow’s life was marked by recurring health issues. In her final days, she fell seriously ill while filming. Initially, her condition was attributed to cholecystitis and influenza. However, it became increasingly clear that she was suffering from kidney failure, with symptoms including fatigue, nausea, fluid retention, and abdominal pain.

Despite efforts to treat her, Harlow’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and she was hospitalized on June 6, 1937. Sadly, she slipped into a coma and passed away the next day, June 7, at the young age of 26. The official cause of death was cerebral oedema, a complication of kidney failure.

Rumours and controversies surrounded Harlow’s death, with some speculating about her mother’s religious beliefs, refusal of medical treatment, or complications from past illnesses. In truth, she had received medical attention while at home, but her illness had taken a severe toll on her health.

Jean Harlow’s passing left a void in the Hollywood community, with colleagues and friends expressing their grief and admiration for the talented actress. Her final resting place is in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, where her inscription reads “Our Baby.” Spaces were reserved for her mother and William Powell, her co-star and love interest at the time, although Powell later married actress Diana Lewis.

Despite her untimely departure, Jean Harlow’s enduring legacy continues to captivate audiences, and her films remain a testament to the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.

THE NEXT JEAN HARLOW?

Image Via: VintageEveryday

Marilyn left an indelible mark on the world of cinema and popular culture. Interestingly, throughout her career, she was often compared to Jean Harlow, and even dubbed her successor.

Jean Harlow, the original “Blonde Bombshell” was known for her stunning beauty, seductive screen presence, and a string of successful films that made her a household name. She epitomised the glamour and allure of the early days of Hollywood, much like Marilyn would do in her time.

The comparisons between Marilyn and Jean were undeniable. Both actresses were celebrated for their platinum blonde hair, hourglass figures, and the ability to exude sensuality on screen effortlessly. Their striking physical resemblances were impossible to ignore, and it fueled the idea that Marilyn was Jean Harlow’s modern-day counterpart.

Marilyn’s career trajectory also bore a striking resemblance to Harlow’s. Just as Jean Harlow was propelled to stardom through her association with Howard Hughes and later MGM, Marilyn’s early career was shaped by influential figures such as Johnny Hyde and her eventual contract with Twentieth Century Fox. Both actresses faced initial challenges and setbacks in their careers, with Marilyn, like Harlow, initially cast in smaller, supporting roles. Their characters exuded a magnetic sensuality that drew audiences in, creating an enduring appeal that transcended the eras.

The comparisons didn’t stop at their physical appearances or the types of roles they played. Marilyn Monroe was dubbed “The New Jean Harlow” by the media, signalling not only their visual similarities but also their shared status as sex symbols and iconic Hollywood figures. Marilyn’s rising fame in the 1950s had strong echoes of Jean Harlow’s heyday in the 1930s.

According to Milton Greene, in 1957, Marilyn herself acknowledged the parallels between her career and Jean Harlow’s

While Marilyn eventually carved out her unique legacy in Hollywood, becoming one of the most celebrated actresses in cinematic history, the comparisons to Jean Harlow remain an intriguing aspect of her career. The idea of Marilyn as Jean’s successor is a testament to the enduring fascination with both actresses and their enduring influence on the world of entertainment.

BIOPIC RUMOURS

In September 1952, Marilyn Monroe, in an interview with the renowned journalist Louella Parsons, made a statement that has since fuelled the misconception about her idolising Jean Harlow. When questioned about the possibility of playing Jean Harlow in a biopic, she replied, “Oh, is it true? It’s the first time I’ve heard it. So many people say I look like Jean Harlow, and I’d love to do her life story. I never saw any of her pictures, but from what people say, I’d love to look like Jean Harlow, and I’d love to do her life story.”

This conflicts with the idea that Marilyn was a devoted fan of Jean Harlow’s films. It is evident that Marilyn was primarily referring to her physical resemblance to Harlow and her interest in portraying her on-screen, rather than a deep admiration for Harlow’s acting talents.

Biographer Donald Spoto, in his book of Marilyn, frequently drew comparisons between the two actresses. The media of the time also played a role in perpetuating the idea of Marilyn as Jean’s successor. However, there is scant evidence to support the claim that Marilyn Monroe was a fervent admirer of Harlow’s cinematic work.

One of the few statements that hint at Marilyn’s interest in Jean Harlow comes from an interview with Georges Belmont in 1960 for Marie Claire. In this interview, Marilyn mentioned that she was “fascinated by Jean Harlow” when she was seven years old because they both had “white hair.” This comment, while acknowledging her affinity for Harlow’s image, does not necessarily translate into a profound admiration for her work as an actress.

Contrary to popular belief, there (seem to be) no direct quotes from Marilyn Monroe herself that explicitly declare Jean Harlow as her idol. While it’s true that Marilyn collected some cards featuring Jean Harlow’s photos, this alone does not imply idolisation. It’s essential to separate the idea of physical resemblance and a desire to portray someone on-screen from the notion of being a devoted fan.

However, it’s worth noting that Marilyn did recreate some of Jean Harlow’s iconic photoshoots, further supporting her fascination with Harlow’s image. These recreations not only highlighted their physical resemblance but also paid homage to Jean Harlow’s enduring legacy in Hollywood.

One prevalent misconception surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s connection to Jean Harlow revolves around an alleged meeting with Jean Harlow’s mother, Mother Jean Bello, in the 1960s. Some sources, including Donald Spoto, claimed that Mother Jean had approved Marilyn to play her daughter in a biopic. However, this rumour is based on inaccurate information. Mother Jean passed away in 1958, long before any supposed meeting between her and Marilyn could have occurred, debunking the claim.

In conclusion, Marilyn Monroe’s connection to Jean Harlow is more complex than often portrayed. While she acknowledged their physical resemblance, and commonalities with some aspects of their lives and career as well as expressing interest in portraying Harlow on-screen, there is no substantial evidence to suggest that Marilyn was a devoted fan of Jean Harlow’s movies nor that she idolised her as is so often claimed by biographers and fans alike.

Marilyn Monroe’s “Chilling Call” to Jackie Kennedy

In 2023, biographer J. Randy Taraborelli claimed in his book Jackie: Public, Private, Secret that Marilyn Monroe had made a phone call to Jackie Kennedy in April of 1962. This revelation has sparked interest and speculation about the alleged interaction between the two iconic figures. However, upon closer examination and fact-checking, several discrepancies and uncertainties emerge regarding the details of this phone call and its context.

THE ALLEGED PHONE CALL

According to Taraborelli’s book, Marilyn Monroe called the Hyannis Port residence of John F. Kennedy, but Jackie Kennedy answered instead. Taraborelli suggests that Marilyn simply wanted to say “hello” to Jack, leaving Jackie “stunned.” Taraborelli claims that Jackie described Marilyn’s voice as “haunting” and noted its sad and ethereal quality. The book describes how Jackie’s sister, Lee Radziwill, was friends with Marilyn and had heard rumours about an affair with Robert Kennedy too.

INCONSISTENCIES

While Taraborelli presents this phone call as a pivotal moment, it is essential to consider the lack of concrete evidence supporting its occurrence. Without direct testimony or corroborating records, we must approach these claims with caution. Moreover, Taraborelli’s reliance on family members’ recollections adds an additional layer of uncertainty, as memories and perceptions can be influenced by time and personal biases.

Additionally, it is worth noting that J. Randy Taraborelli has faced criticism in the past for potential inaccuracies and errors in his biographies, particularly those related to Marilyn Monroe. This raises the question of the reliability and credibility of the information presented in his books. It is not uncommon for authors to embellish or create stories to generate interest and sell books, adding to the already existing rumours and speculations surrounding famous figures. For instance, the case of Allan Whitey Snyder, Marilyn’s makeup artist and friend, provided a foreword for Robert Slatzer’s book and shared tales with Anthony Summers about Marilyn and Slatzer’s alleged relationship despite a lack of substantial evidence. These instances serve as reminders to approach such claims with caution and to critically evaluate the sources and their motives.

DATES AND LOCATIONS

Taraborelli states that the alleged affair between Marilyn and John F. Kennedy occurred on March 24, 1962, during a weekend at Bing Crosby’s Palm Springs home. Which is the most accurate item in his statements. Jackie was in India and Pakistan at the time with her sister.

As for the phone call taking place in April 1962, historical records and newspaper reports from that time do not provide conclusive evidence of Jackie’s presence at Hyannis Port. Instead, official archives indicate that Jackie was engaged in official duties and travels in Washington, Palm Beach, and Arlington during that period. Marilyn’s telephone records, which have been publicly available, do not include the Hyannis Port phone number, further casting doubt on the claim.

LEE RADZIWILL

There is no evidence to suggest a personal relationship or direct interactions between Marilyn Monroe and Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy’s sister. Marilyn and Lee belonged to different social circles, making it unlikely that they had a close connection. While it is possible that Lee may have heard rumours about an alleged affair with either Kennedy, the association between the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe did not gain prominence until the 1970s.

JACKIE’S ABSENCE FROM BIRTHDAY GALA

Contrary to the claim made by Taraborelli, Jackie Kennedy’s absence from the famous event at Madison Square Garden, where Marilyn performed “Happy Birthday, Mr President,” was not directly related to any alleged phone call. Jackie had other engagements in Washington, D.C., and Virginia at that time. The event itself was a fundraiser, not solely a celebration of the President’s upcoming birthday. Jackie often left her husband to attend events solo whilst she took on her duty as First Lady.

While the alleged phone call between Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy continues to captivate the public imagination, it is crucial to approach the claims with scepticism due to the lack of concrete evidence and inconsistencies.

Historical records, official archives, and the absence of corroborating sources raise doubts about the veracity of the phone call and its significance. As with many historical accounts, separating fact from speculation can be challenging, and further research may be necessary to uncover the complete truth behind these intriguing claims.

You can read more about Marilyn and JFK here and Bobby here.