Natasha Lytess: Friend or Foe?

Many a biography on Marilyn Monroe mentions Natasha Lytess, a figure who claimed, “I made Marilyn famous,” asserting her influence on Marilyn’s career. Contrarily, accounts also describe how after collaborating on more than 20 films, Marilyn abruptly severed ties with her acting coach of eight years. The reality of this situation, however, may be layered with complexity.


Natasha Lytess, born Natalia Postmann in Berlin, sought refuge in Los Angeles from Nazi persecution. After her acting career in the U.S. didn’t pan out, she turned to coaching, and teaching stars like Mamie Van Doren and Virginia Leith.

In April 1948, at Columbia Pictures, Lytess was introduced to Marilyn, who she initially found grating, saying her “voice got on my nerves.” Nonetheless, Lytess took Marilyn under her wing, commencing an intensive coaching routine.


Lytess began coaching Marilyn for “Ladies of the Chorus” (1948), which sparked a professional relationship that would span numerous projects. Natasha’s coaching was so integral that she left her Columbia position to work exclusively with Marilyn. Directors like John Huston saw the effect of Lytess’s coaching first-hand; by “The Misfits” (1960), Marilyn’s reliance on her acting coaches (then Paula Strasberg) during filming was evident.

Directors’ frustrations peaked when Marilyn sought Lytess’s approval on set, evidenced by Marilyn glancing towards her at crucial moments. Jean Negulesco, after multiple retakes, barred Lytess from the set of “How to Marry a Millionaire” — a decision he reversed when Marilyn insisted on Lytess’s presence.

Billy Wilder navigated this by telling Natasha how he wanted Marilyn to perform, setting a precedent that would challenge directors and strain Marilyn’s professional and personal relationships.


In late 1950, Marilyn and Natasha’s relationship intensified when Marilyn moved in with Natasha, her daughter, and maid, isolating Marilyn and focusing her life on her craft.

Natasha’s claim of a romantic dimension — “I took her in my arms one day, and I told her ‘I want to love you’” — stands in contrast to Marilyn’s own words in “My Story”: “Now having fallen in love, I knew what I was. It wasn’t a lesbian.” quashing the myth that Marilyn and Lytess had a romance.

Financial interdependence was also notable. Natasha earned $500 a week, plus $250 for the private courses she gave to Marilyn, meaning she was making more money than her student. In 1951, Marilyn asked the William Morris agency for a $200 deduction in her monthly salary from 20th Century Fox so that she may cover a dental bill of $1,800 for Natasha. Marilyn once sold a treasured gift from Johnny Hyde to assist Natasha financially, despite already paying her hefty weekly coaching fees.

Natasha’s aversion to Marilyn’s beau, Joe DiMaggio, was blunt — “He is a man with a closed, vapid look” — yet Marilyn’s affection for Joe was unfazed, leading to their marriage in 1954. Their professional parting came after “The Seven Year Itch,” when Marilyn, changing course in life, stopped taking Natasha’s calls.


Natasha’s public discussions of Marilyn, including unauthorised media appearances and interviews, likely contributed to Marilyn’s withdrawal. Despite her student being “insignificant” and that she would be “easily forgotten”, Natasha had no qualms when it came to talking about her to newspapers and gossip columnists. It isn’t a surprise that Marilyn had reached the end of her tether with Natasha by the end of 1954. As a private person, Marilyn wasn’t a fan of discussing her personal life with the media. However, Lytess felt zero shame in doing it for her, using Marilyn’s name as a gateway for her publicity. Lytess’s behaviour had bordered on the obsessive, as she remarked, “I am her private property, she knows that.” Plans for a tell-all book may have been the final straw in their professional rift.

Despite Joe DiMaggio’s purported influence, Marilyn’s independence was clear by 1955 in her decision to leave both Natasha and Joe behind. In March 1955, Natasha spoke with columnist Hedda Hopper stating she hadn’t “heard a peep” from the star. Although listed as an anonymous source, it can only be assumed that it was Natasha who spoke to Steven Cronin for an article titled “The Storm About Monroe”. This source stated “Marilyn Monroe doesn’t know her own mind” and was “unhappy while she was married to Joe DiMaggio”. Marilyn, however, kept her opinions of the dramatic coach to herself.

Despite not talking to Marilyn for half a decade, Natasha couldn’t seem to let Marilyn go. In 1960, researcher Jane Wilkie spoke to Natasha and ended up not publishing Lytess’ manuscript which did nothing but complain about her former pupil.

In 1962, Natasha had written yet another memoir which she sold for $10,000. Marilyn’s press agents attempted to purchase it back from France-Dimanche but the publishers said they’ll make more money by keeping it. The first article was entitled “Marilyn Monroe: Her Secret Life, I Made Her – Body and Soul.” As suggested by the title, the article is nothing but the ramblings of a woman who is obsessed with the sex life of Marilyn Monroe. The articles were published on 15, 22 and 29 July 1962, weeks before Marilyn passed away. The fourth instalment was published on the day Marilyn had been found dead in her home. However, Natasha didn’t stop her verbal abuse. She continued writing about Marilyn after the 5 August, discussing Marilyn’s death and why she had killed herself… And it was all because of men and how they viewed her as nothing but a sexual object.

The article never portrayed any sadness for Marilyn’s passing, just more bitterness. In 1964, before passing away from cancer, Natasha said “I wish I had one-tenth of Marilyn’s cleverness. The truth is, my life and my feelings were very much in her hands. I was the older one, the teacher, but she knew the depth of my attachment to her, and she exploited those feelings as only a beautiful younger person can. She said she was the needy one. Alas, it was the reverse. My life with her was a constant denial of myself.” This backhanded compliment demonstrates her relentless resentment and disdain which lasted for over ten years. Natasha continued her belittling remarks about Marilyn long after their communications had ended, and was obsessed with Marilyn’s sexual habits, love life, fame and career. 

This tangled narrative of mentorship, dependence, and eventual estrangement illuminates the fraught but impactful relationship between Marilyn Monroe and Natasha Lytess, leaving a legacy of influence and controversy.

Celebrating the Legacy of Eve Arnold and Marilyn Monroe

This article includes affiliate links, yet it is not a sponsored piece, nor have I been commissioned to write it. I would like to thank Michael Arnold for inviting me to become an affiliate.


Eve Arnold was born on 21 April 1912 in Philadelphia, as the seventh of nine children to Rabbi William Cohen and his wife, Bessie. The couple had emigrated from Russia to the United States, fleeing anti-Semitic persecution. Despite William Cohen’s education, he could only secure employment as a pedlar, resulting in a childhood marked by financial hardship for Eve.

Initially aspiring to a medical career, Eve’s trajectory changed when she was working as a bookkeeper for a New York estate agency during the Second World War. A gift from a boyfriend, a Rolleicord camera, awakened her passion for photography. In 1943, she responded to a newspaper advertisement for an ‘amateur photographer’ and soon found herself managing America’s inaugural automated film-processing plant in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Though her formal education in photography was limited to a six-week course at the New School for Social Research, under the tutelage of Alexey Brodovitch, the art director at ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, Eve continued to refine her craft through experience and feedback from renowned photographers like Richard Avedon.

Her first major assignment came in 1950 when she covered fashion shows held in deconsecrated churches in Harlem. According to Brigitte Lardinois in ‘Eve Arnold’s People’ (2009), Eve pioneered a unique approach to fashion photography by capturing candid moments backstage, a departure from the staged studio photos that were the norm at the time.

During this period, American society was still deeply segregated, and mainstream publications rarely featured black individuals. However, Eve’s groundbreaking work found an international audience, notably in Europe. Displeased with the condescending captions used in Britain’s ‘Picture Post’, she resolved that her images would henceforth stand on their own merit.

In 1951, Eve approached Magnum Photos, a cooperative founded by Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Around the same time, Inge Morath joined Magnum’s Paris office, and together they became the agency’s first female photojournalists. Lardinois notes that Eve described Magnum as a ‘family’, a place where she absorbed storytelling techniques from Bresson, learnt the art of introducing light into her photos from Morath, and gleaned insights into technical discipline from Erich Hartmann, among others.

Elliott Erwitt, who met Eve at the start of his career, remembered her as a homemaker. Married with a young son, Eve was living in Port Jefferson, Long Island, and, according to Erwitt, may have viewed photography as an escape from the monotony of domestic life.

Despite her talents, Eve often found herself relegated to ‘women’s page’ assignments, a reflection of the gender biases at Magnum, as noted by Mary Panzer, a former curator at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery. Eve’s husband, industrial engineer Arnold Arnold, whom she married in 1948, encouraged her to cover the lives of black Southern workers who had migrated north.

Eve once wrote, “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” This ethos is evident in her portraits, like the 1954 image of a vulnerable prostitute in a Havana brothel, admired by photographer Mary McCartney for its non-judgmental empathy.

Yet Eve also faced her share of critics, including her own mother, Bessie. Upon seeing Eve’s photographs of the first few minutes of a newborn’s life published in ‘Life’ magazine in 1954, Bessie inquired, “What’s to admire?”


Eve Arnold first encountered the aura of Hollywood glamour when she photographed Marlene Dietrich during a recording session for ‘Esquire,’ an upmarket men’s magazine. Her introduction to Marilyn Monroe came later, at a Manhattan soirée hosted by John Huston at the renowned 21 Club. According to Eve, Marilyn quipped, “If you could do that well with Marlene, can you imagine what you could do with me?”

At that point, Marilyn was still a burgeoning star, having just landed a minor role in John Huston’s 1950 film, ‘The Asphalt Jungle.’ Their meeting could have occurred shortly thereafter, as they were introduced by photographer Sam Shaw, a friend of Monroe’s since 1951. By 1952, when Eve’s Dietrich story was published, Marilyn Monroe was steadily becoming a household name.

Eve became only one of three females to professional photograph Marilyn, alongside Jean Howard and Inge Morath.

BEMENT, 1955

In the early hours of an August morning in 1955, Marilyn Monroe, a chronic insomniac, called Eve Arnold. Monroe was flying out to Bement, Illinois, a town where her idol, Abraham Lincoln, had stayed during his historic debates with Senator Stephen Douglas in 1858. “I’m going to bring art to the masses,” Monroe declared. She scribbled a speech on the plane to Chicago and rehearsed it en route to Bement, evoking a misplaced sense of recent loss that, according to Arnold, made it sound as if it was President Eisenhower, not Lincoln, who had just passed away.

Arriving in Bement amid media frenzy, an exhausted Monroe briefly retreated before stepping out to engage with her public. She judged a Lincoln lookalike contest, admired local art, and delivered her speech. Arnold’s photographs from this eccentric episode capture a Marilyn who radiated genuine warmth, treating each fan — regardless of age or social standing — with equal grace.

Eve observed that Marilyn was always keenly aware of photographers, performing her best for every shot. “With me, she began to relax, but if she sensed I wanted more from her, she gave it generously,” Eve noted.


The duo met again during in the Summer of 1955 and that Labor Day weekend, they chose an abandoned playground near Mount Sinai, Long Island, to avoid a spectacle. Marilyn brought along multiple swimsuits and a copy of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses,’ which she confessed to reading in fragments, captivated but also challenged by its complexity.

Eve seized the moment to photograph Marilyn reading Joyce, and these iconic images have since adorned countless publications. They continued to a deserted marshland just before 5 pm, often referred to as ‘the magic hour,’ when daylight turns most picturesque. Marilyn wore a leopard-print one-piece, delighting in the comedic juxtaposition of a “leopard in the bulrushes.”

“As the sunlight dimmed, she emerged, mud-caked but exhilarated and laughing,” Arnold remembered. “The session ended, but the captured moments remained, etched in the soft saffron hues of the setting sun.”


In February of 1956, Eve found herself amidst the glitz and glamour of a press conference at New York’s Plaza Hotel, thanks to an invitation from Marilyn publicist, Lois Smith. The event was to announce Marilyn’s latest film venture (the only film she made with Marilyn Monroe Productions), ‘The Sleeping Prince.” The film would be featuring Sir Laurence Olivier and written by Sir Terence Rattigan, both of whom had flown in from London for the occasion.

Upon arriving early at Smith’s request, Eve made her way to an anxious Marilyn in her dressing room. “Marilyn was often paralysed by the prospect of tackling a problem,” Eve noted. “It’s not that she lacked commitment; rather, it was the initial leap into the fray that unsettled her.” This marked the first of many lengthy waits for Olivier and Rattigan.

Marilyn eventually emerged, resplendent in a black velvet gown. “Her alabaster skin and blonde hair created a striking contrast against her dark attire,” Eve mused. When complimented, Marilyn responded with a wink, saying, “Just watch me.”

Though not particularly fond of press conferences, Eve found her unique position as a female photographer advantageous. “My male colleagues always made way for me,” she said. The press conference was slow to start, dominated by a somewhat rigid Olivier. However, when Marilyn’s dress strap fortuitously snapped, the atmosphere shifted dramatically. Eve suspected this ‘accident’ was calculated. “Suddenly, the room came alive with laughter,” Eve recounted. “Marilyn had transformed a mundane press meet into an event.”


Fast forward to 1960, and Eve Arnold one of the many Magnum photographers  in Reno, Nevada to cover the filming of ‘The Misfits.’ Marilyn, then 34 was visibly drained and in need of a break.

Eve was initially booked in for a two-week stint but ended up staying for two months. “Being a woman helped,” Eve explained. “It sidestepped the usual male-female dynamics my male counterparts often rely on to get intimate shots.”

Choosing to work without an assistant to maintain the delicate balance of their relationship, Eve was the only photographer granted access to Marilyn’s inner circle.

Eve observed the complexity of gaining Marilyn’s loyalty and her inner circle. “Marilyn sometimes questioned the authenticity of these relationships, considering they were on her payroll,” she said. “But their devotion was unwavering, never reduced to mere sycophancy.”

Through these intricate interactions and pivotal moments, Eve Arnold immortalised not just the icon, but the woman behind the myth — capturing Marilyn Monroe in her full complexity, framed against the unforgiving lens of fame.

As the crew wrapped up and headed back to Los Angeles, Marilyn proposed a studio session for publicity photographs at Paramount. Eve Arnold had reservations. “I’ve never been a fan of the artificial nature of studio photography, but Marilyn relished it,” she said. Despite her hesitancy, Eve acknowledged the advantages: “The studio environment offers an unmatched level of control. One can manipulate the lighting, the timing, and even the subject’s attire to achieve the desired outcome.”

The photo session was versatile, capturing Monroe in various outfits and poses, including an iconic series of her draped-in sheets. “Being photographed for Marilyn was akin to being cherished,” said Eve. “She was enchanted by the experience, declaring it the best working conditions she’d ever had.”

The atmosphere darkened soon after, with the news of Clark Gable’s death and the public announcement of Marilyn’s separation from her husband, Arthur Miller. When Eve visited Monroe, they were besieged by reporters. Monroe was distraught over Gable’s passing; he had been her childhood idol and a kind co-star during the filming of ‘The Misfits’.

“Marilyn had always fantasised about Gable being her father,” Eve recalled. “Now, she was sitting in front of proof sheets featuring her in a love scene with him, and she sighed, ‘Can you imagine what being kissed by him meant to me?'”

Looking at images Eve took from the film her grandson, Michael Arnold, reflected on one image with a particular fondness, noting it’s distinctiveness from the typical Marilyn portrayals: “There is something about the one where she’s in the car,’ he muses. ‘It’s not the typical glamour shot you often see with Monroe, there’s an ordinariness about it… she is going about her craft, she’s learning her lines. There’s something about the composition which makes it special.”

In the days that followed, Eve and Marilyn painstakingly sorted through the photographs. “Marilyn was quick to understand the nuances of photo editing,” Eve noted. “She would often acquiesce to my explanations, or we would engage in a spirited discussion until one of us gave in.”


By July 1961, Marilyn was recuperating from gallbladder surgery. Despite her frailty, she insisted on doing a small photo session with Eve at her New York apartment for a feature on her hairdresser, Kenneth Battelle. “She was her usual luminous self,” said Eve. “We used just one roll of film. I didn’t want to exhaust her.”

Eve had been invited to witness history a year later but could not oblige. The missed opportunity to photograph Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy weighed heavily on Eve, especially after Marilyn’s untimely death in 1962. Reflecting on her relationship with Marilyn in a 1987 documentary, Eve Arnold expressed deep regret for missing that last chance to capture the enigmatic star.

“In our numerous interactions, what always struck me was the duality of Marilyn—her public persona juxtaposed with her private vulnerabilities,” Eve mused. “In many ways, she was an unretouched woman in a retouched industry. And perhaps that’s why the camera—and indeed the world—loved her so.”


Eve Arnold’s passing in London in 2012, at the age of 99, made headlines. Her portfolio straddled the worlds of glamour and the gritty reality of life, capturing everyone from celebrities to those on the margins of society.

For Michael, Eve was more than a grandmother; she was a “really cool woman that was like a friend and mentor,” replete with an endless trove of tales. Managing her extensive archive, he discovered her desire for photography to be universally accessible, recalling her first London exhibition where she sold prints at nominal prices, only to find dealers later selling them at a steep profit.

Michael’s recent endeavour to produce posters and affordable museum-quality prints aims to immortalise Eve’s legacy and acquaint new audiences with her oeuvre—themes still resonating today such as racism, sexism, and inequality, all imbued with humanity. He attributes her ethos of making photography available to her upbringing in a poor Russian Jewish immigrant family, a past that silently fuelled her artistic philosophy.

Out of an estimated quarter-million photographs taken by Arnold over her career, only a fraction has been digitised, hinting at the expansive, largely unexplored works that her photos represent. To fund this extensive process, Michael is selling archival print editions 10 x 12 museum-quality prints here for just £280.

Let me know what your favourite Eve Arnold photo is in the comments!

Sources: Marilyn Monroe by Eve Arnold, The Telegraph,

The Exploitation of Marilyn Monroe

“The one thing I hate more than anything else is being used.”

– Marilyn Monroe, My Story

Exploitation is the act of selfishly taking advantage of someone or a group of people to profit from them or otherwise benefit oneself.

There is nothing more superficial than capitalising on someone else’s fame, especially their passing, to gain recognition for oneself. These actions do not honour Marilyn’s legacy, promote her work, or celebrate her life; they constitute exploitation.

It involves pop singers posing as a lifeless Marilyn, who tragically succumbed to an overdose. It includes reality TV stars donning highly delicate, historic, and personalised clothing that once belonged to her. It comprises social media influencers claiming they have stumbled upon her belongings and now feel haunted by her, all for their personal gain.

This isn’t about emulating photographs from her life or replicating her iconic dresses to showcase their significance. It’s not even about providing insights into Marilyn’s former residences or other significant locations in her life. These aspects genuinely intrigue people. Exploitation, on the other hand, boils down to a mere pursuit of clout, as if her name were a commodity.


In simple terms: money and attention.


This persists because she has very few living family members and friends, making it too easy to exploit her without opposition. Her estate is owned by the Authentic Brands Group, and her possessions have been scattered across the globe, making it nearly impossible to halt these exploitative actions.


People constantly seek fresh information about individuals who can no longer dispute or clarify the facts. While Marilyn was an open book to those who asked the right questions, she remained a relatively private person. She even remarked, “People don’t really know me.” What many fail to grasp is that not every story about Marilyn can be true. Yet people pick and choose what intrigues them. Utilizing Marilyn’s enduring iconic status serves to elevate forgotten or lesser-known individuals into the realm of relevance.



Slatzer met Marilyn in 1952 on the set of Niagara when Marilyn was already in a relationship with Joe DiMaggio. Slatzer wrote a book in which he claimed to have married Marilyn, despite no evidence to support this. His claims have been debunked by photographs and a cheque proving Marilyn’s presence in Los Angeles when they were supposedly in Mexico. Slatzer also falsely asserted that Marilyn had been in contact with him before her death, even though there were no records of their correspondence. In addition, he sold items claiming they belonged to the deceased star.


Carmen has appeared in numerous documentaries, asserting that she was best friends with Marilyn. However, there are no photographs of them together, no evidence of communication, and no proof that they ever met.


Referred to by Marilyn as “the Italian woman” among friends, Pepitone worked as a maid for Marilyn. She made claims in a book that portrayed herself as Marilyn’s confidante, but these claims have been widely disputed.


Surprisingly, the big star in an early film with Marilyn later exaggerated his relationship with her, even hinting at a romantic connection on a talk show.


Claimed to have lost his virginity to Marilyn in yet another book with outrageous claims.


Regained relevance by associating himself with Marilyn claiming she became pregnant with his child during the filming of Some Like It Hot despite Marilyn making a note that Tony Curtis stating: “There is only way he could comment on my sexuality and I’m afraid he has never had the opportunity!”


Ripley’s claimed that having Marilyn’s dress on display was a way to attract new fans, but it seemed more about garnering attention for themselves. Kim Kardashian wearing the replica dress meant it required additional alterations to fit Kim’s body and resulted in significant damage to the back, the straps and the intricate beading. This has raised questions about their motivations. It appears they were not doing it in order to promote Marilyn but more likely for financial gain. After images came out of the torn fabric, missing beads and various loose threads there was worldwide outrage from fans. The dress is now displayed but with the back placed against a wall so people are unable to view the damage.


In 2021, Madonna, who had long since drawn creative sustenance from the wellspring of Marilyn Monroe’s legacy, took a step too far. Her decision to re-enact the harrowing scene of Marilyn’s death for a shoot was met with widespread dismay. The portrayal, far from being a respectful homage, was seen as an act of exploitation, casting a shadow over the previously celebrated connection between the two stars. By commercialising Marilyn’s darkest hour, Madonna not only diminished her own artistic narrative but also engaged in an act that many viewed as not just exploitative, but also deeply distasteful. It serves as a stark reminder that the line between inspiration and exploitation is perilously thin, and transgressing it can irreversibly tarnish an artist’s homage.


Jasmine Chiswell and her family currently reside in a house that Marilyn briefly rented for a few months in 1952. However, some of her followers mistakenly believe that it is the same home where Marilyn tragically passed away in 1962. What’s more, Jasmine has not only made baseless claims of discovering Marilyn’s belongings (all of which can be debunked with concrete dates and evidence), but she has also asserted that Marilyn’s ghost haunts the residence, seemingly for the sole purpose of garnering attention and views.


Blonde. Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe

BIOPICS: Films like My Week with Marilyn and Blonde are known for taking significant creative liberties with Marilyn’s life story, often veering away from historical accuracy in favour of heightened drama. These cinematic interpretations not only distort the truth but also contribute to the myth-making surrounding Marilyn, as they sensationalise her experiences and relationships for the sake of entertainment.

QUOTES AND MERCHANDISE: Policing the use of Marilyn’s quotes and likeness on merchandise is a formidable challenge, made more complicated by the involvement of various entities, including her own estate, which is owned by the Authentic Brands Group. While the estate has a responsibility to protect and manage her image and quotes, there have been instances where Marilyn’s image has been commercialised excessively, diluting the genuine essence of her words and persona.

DOCUMENTARIES: Many documentaries have faced criticism for presenting Marilyn’s story inaccurately, either through selective editing or biased storytelling. Some documentaries have even been accused of using Marilyn’s life as a sensationalised narrative to captivate audiences, often at the expense of historical fidelity. This not only distorts Marilyn’s legacy but also perpetuates misconceptions about her life and struggles.

COSTUME PRESERVATION: Institutions such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which have undertaken the task of preserving Marilyn’s iconic costumes, have sparked inquiries into their motives for neglecting the preservation of her Jean Louis gown and letting a celebrity damage it for 5 minutes on the red carpet. Additionally, the V&A in London has drawn criticism for failing to exhibit an authentic Marilyn costume for their DIVAS exhibition in 2023, instead, they are showcasing for a subpar replica. While many museums aspire to highlight the historical importance of Marilyn’s wardrobe, sceptics contend that these actions may be driven by commercial interests, exploiting Marilyn’s fame as a means to entice visitors.

PHOTOSHOPPING AND USING AI ON IMAGES: In the digital age, the manipulation of Marilyn’s images raises ethical concerns. Her likeness is frequently altered using software like Photoshop and AI technologies for various purposes, including advertising and artistic reinterpretation. These alterations can range from subtle retouching to more extreme transformations, which can distort Marilyn’s true appearance and create unrealistic expectations of beauty. This practice not only infringes on her image rights but also contributes to the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards in popular culture.

The exploitation of Marilyn Monroe remains a complex and troubling issue, encompassing a range of actions and individuals seeking to profit from her legacy. It’s essential to continue scrutinising and questioning these practices to protect the true essence of Marilyn’s life and work from further distortion and commercialisation.


“I want to be an artist, not an erotic freak. I don’t want to be sold to the public as a celluloid aphrodisiacal.” – My Story

“People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.” – My Story

“In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” – My Story

“Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one…” – LIFE interview with Richard Meryman in 1962

“You know, most people really don’t know me.” – LIFE interview with Richard Meryman in 1962

“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.” – LIFE interview with Richard Meryman in 1962

“I never quite understood it, this sex symbol. I always thought symbols were those things you clash together! That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing.” – LIFE interview with Richard Meryman in 1962

“I sometimes feel as if I’m too exposed. I’ve given myself away, the whole of me, every part, and there’s nothing left that’s private, just me alone. If you feel low, you might worry there’s nothing new to give. But that’s not true – not ever. You discover things inside yourself you never knew were there. You always go on developing.” – Conversations with Marilyn by WJ Weatherby, 1961

“My problem is I trust people too much. I believe in them too much, and I go on believing in them when the signs are already there. You get a lot of disappointments.” – Conversations with Marilyn by WJ Weatherby, 1961

“Fame causes such envy. People sometimes just because you’re famous. They’re phony to face. See you around—like never. I like to be accepted for my own sake, but a lot of people don’t care who you are. All they’re interested in is your

fame—while you’ve got it.” – Conversations with Marilyn by WJ Weatherby, 1961

“I refuse to let articles appear in movie magazines signed ‘by Marilyn Monroe.’ I might never see that article, and it might be okayed by somebody in the studio. This is wrong because when I was a little girl, I read signed stories in fan magazines, and I believed every word the stars said in them. Then I’d try to model my life after the lives of the stars I read about. If I’m going to have that kind of influence, I want to be sure it’s because of something I’ve actually read or written.” – Marilyn to Pete Martin in 1956

“I am not a victim of emotional conflicts. I am human. We all have our areas. We all feel inferior, but who ever admits it? I do think I’m human. I do have my down moments, but I’m also robust more than down.” – Marilyn to George Barris in 1962

“My body is my body, every part of it.” – Fragments

“I can’t really stand Human/ Beings sometimes-I know/ they all have their problems/ as I have mine-but I’m really/ too tired for it. Trying to understand,/ making allowances, seeing certain things/ that just weary me.” – Fragments

“I have a little temper, and I really lose it when people write untruths about me.” – Motion Picture magazine, 1954

Marilyn and The Method

The complex relationship between Lee and Paula Strasberg and Marilyn Monroe has been dissected by insiders, historians, and ardent fans alike.

Views on its impact range from beneficial to detrimental with some supporting Marilyn’s love and admiration for them and others condemning them for not realising Marilyn’s personal struggles.

Lee Strasberg, a figure as influential as he was controversial, shaped the acting careers of numerous stars including Al Pacino, James Dean and Jane Fonda who once remarked, “I’m not sure I even would have become an actress were it not for him.”

However, the role the Strasbergs played in Marilyn’s life and career remains far less clear-cut which was recognised by many including Marlon Brando, who worked with the Strasbergs himself.

He stated: “Lee was criticized–and correctly, I think–by his role, and that of his wife, Paula, in the grooming, I suppose we can call it, of Marilyn Monroe. I called it remedial tutoring, and any actor who requires round-the-clock ministrations in the reading of a line or a call sheet is not a serious actor. Marilyn was a lovely and sad woman, but she needed help that extended far beyond the exercises given to her by Lee and Paula. Lee and Paula wanted the reflected fame that came by being in Marilyn’s orbit. They were seduced and betrayed and battered.”

Did Lee, Paula, and The Method serve as catalysts for both Marilyn’s personal life and professional career, or did they impede the former while advancing the latter?


Admired for her naturalism, Marilyn had a long-standing fascination with Italian stage actor Elenora Duse. Photographs from 1951 and 1952 often show her framed picture of Duse placed conspicuously on her bookshelf or bedside table. Marilyn considered Duse’s commitment to art and refusal to compromise as inspirational, and these sentiments were echoed in her own career.

Even prior to her Strasberg tutelage, Marilyn had already established herself as a remarkable talent. In films like How to Marry a Millionaire and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she had demonstrated her exceptional timing, musicality, and movement. Directors like Billy Wilder praised her aptitude for comedy, stating, “The greatest thing about Marilyn is not her chest…It is her ear. She can read comedy better than anyone else in the world.”

Marilyn’s earlier dramatic performances, such as in The Asphalt Jungle and Clash by Night, were also critically acclaimed, showcasing her emotional depth. Initially coached by Natasha Lytess, who was a student of Max Reinhardt, Marilyn had praised Lytess for her early guidance on Edward R. Murrow’s show Person to Person. However, due to Natasha’s interference of her private life and rumoured book about Marilyn, she was replaced.

Another key influence during Marilyn’s years with Lytess was Michael Chekhov, a student of Stanislavski and nephew of the famous playwright Anton Chekhov. Marilyn revered Chekhov, dedicating a chapter to him in her posthumously published memoir, My Story. According to Marilyn, working with Chekhov elevated acting from a profession to “a sort of religion.”

In Henry Hathaway’s Niagara, even though she wasn’t the lead, Marilyn dominated the screen, captivating audiences as both a femme fatale and a victim. Hathaway, known for being exacting with actors, lauded her, describing her as “marvellous to work with, very easy to direct and terrifically ambitious to do better.”

Marilyn was undeniably a skilled actress but yearned for roles that would offer her greater artistic satisfaction. During her final interview with Life magazine in 1962, she spoke candidly: “We not only want to be good; we have to be.” She also shared a personal anecdote about nervousness, revealing Strasberg’s insight that “nervousness indicates sensitivity.”


Despite having iconic roles in films like Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire, Marilyn felt both underpaid and pigeonholed. Her discontent led her to decline a role in The Girl in Pink Tights, resulting in a suspension from Fox Studios in 1954. Ultimately, she returned to the fold with There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) and The Seven Year Itch (1955), a blockbuster that solidified her celebrity status, yet her dissatisfaction lingered. By late 1954, she had moved to New York City to establish Marilyn Monroe Productions with her friend and photographer Milton Greene announcing this formation to the press in January 1955.

It was during Marilyn’s time in New York, that Marilyn and the Strasbergs relationship began. Isaac Butler, in his seminal book The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act, indicates that Marilyn’s path to the Strasbergs was facilitated by theatrical producer and co-founder of the Actors Studio, Cheryl Crawford. According to Butler, “Crawford took a liking to Marilyn and brought her to the Actors Studio. Soon Marilyn began studying with Strasberg at Malin Studios.” Marilyn’s commitment was such that she eventually took private lessons from Strasberg, forming a familial bond with the couple and their family.

Butler also cites Lee Strasberg as claiming: “I made Marilyn an actress… even though she was already a star. I worked out her problems for her too.” Butler counters these statements as “dubious,” pointing out that Marilyn had already received considerable training before her association with the Strasbergs. Butler asserts that regardless of the debate, Marilyn herself believed she needed them, and their alliance unquestionably propelled both the Method acting approach and Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio to new heights of recognition.

Although not officially produced by Marilyn Monroe Productions, Marilyn enjoyed her newfound power and brokered a more favourable contract relishing increased creative control with her first collaborative project, Bus Stop. Distributed by Fox, Bus Stop was a pivotal film that allowed her to work with Paula Strasberg on set for the first time. Adding to the allure, the film’s director, Joshua Logan, was a Stanislavski protégé, a fact Marilyn relished.

Public and industry opinion initially scoffed at Marilyn’s bold career shifts, but perceptions evolved as her artistic ambitions became evident. A glowing 1956 cover story in Time magazine reported her enriching experience studying under Strasberg in New York. Notables like Elia Kazan praised her acting prowess, and Marilyn herself said, “For the first time, I felt accepted, not as a freak, but as myself.” Time’s profile concluded with tantalising glimpses into her future projects, like a TV adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and her desire to play Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov. The project had long been a dream for Marilyn, ever since she read the book in 1949. “That book was the most touching thing I’d ever read or heard of,” Marilyn recalled. “I asked Natasha whether it would make a good movie. She said yes, but not for me – yet.” Although an opportunity arose for her to take on the coveted role, Marilyn was compelled to decline. Discord between her business manager, Milton Greene, and her husband, Arthur Miller, coupled with Miller’s impending court case, created an untenable situation. Consequently, the film was ultimately released in 1958 with Maria Schell assuming the leading lady role that Marilyn had so deeply desired.

Marilyn’s shift to New York and her dalliance with Method acting significantly altered her image. No longer merely a Hollywood starlet, she became an emblem for actresses striving for artistic respect. Her actions emboldened others in the industry to challenge their typecasting.


Lee Strasberg co-founded New York City’s Group Theatre in 1931 and took over as director of the Actors Studio in 1951. His techniques encompassed a range of practices including improvisation, sense memory, and affective memory. Strasberg even encouraged psychotherapy to delve into one’s personal history to evoke a more authentic emotional response on stage or screen. Marilyn, already in psychoanalysis, found some of these methods to be both revelatory and at times painful. Beyond the hyperbolic claim of making Marilyn an actress, Lee Strasberg noted in interviews that Marilyn “can call up emotionally what is required for a scene. Her range is infinite.”

Patricia Bosworth, who knew Marilyn through the Actors Studio and was a friend of Lee’s daughter Susan Strasberg, wrote about the intensity of these exercises in a Vanity Fair article. Marilyn would often follow her sessions with psychoanalyst Dr. Kris by visiting Strasberg for sense-memory exercises designed to tap into her “real tragic power.” Yet, delving into the memories of her early years as Norma Jeane Baker was often a painful experience. Marilyn once admitted to Susan that she would sometimes fabricate answers when Strasberg’s inquiries became too probing.

The question is: was the deep self-examination a catalyst for creative expression or a source of further emotional complications? Marilyn’s on-screen performances indicate a newfound depth, suggesting a positive impact. In a 1960 interview with Marie Claire France’s editor-in-chief, Georges Belmont, Marilyn revealed Strasberg’s transformative influence on her life: “Lee Strasberg, I think he probably changed my life more than any other human being that I’ve met.”


The complexity of Marilyn’s relationship with the Strasbergs and her journey through the world of method acting reflects not just her quest for artistic excellence, but also the nuances of her personal struggles and triumphs. Whether it was her evolving relationships with acting coaches or her courageous forays into challenging roles, Marilyn remained a compelling figure, constantly striving for more, both as an artist and a human being.

Marilyn Monroe & The Casting Couch

Marilyn Monroe’s rise to stardom has often been clouded by speculation surrounding her involvement in the notorious casting couch system prevalent in Hollywood. However, by examining her own words and the circumstances of her career, we can gain a clearer understanding of her determination and hard work that propelled her to success. 

Challenging Misconceptions

Contrary to popular belief, Marilyn Monroe vehemently rejected the notion of using her body to advance her career. In her ghost-written biography, My Story, she candidly expressed her refusal to succumb to the pressures of the industry. She boldly stated, “The only acting I’ll do is for the camera.”

Pursuit of Craft

Marilyn Monroe’s journey to becoming a talented actress was marked by relentless effort and a thirst for improvement. She recognised her limitations and actively sought opportunities to enhance her skills. Taking several classes in dance, singing, and acting, she dedicated herself to honing her craft. She stated, “I could actually feel my lack of talent as if it were cheap clothes I wear 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.” 

Expanding Horizons

During her tenure at Fox in the late 1940s, Marilyn seized the opportunity to immerse herself in the world of acting. She attended The Actors Laboratory, where she encountered stage writers and directors from Broadway, exposing herself to diverse perspectives and methodologies. Her interest in Method Acting further exemplified her dedication to her profession. She actively engaged in study and theatre groups, continuously refining her skills.

The Power of Networking

While Marilyn Monroe wasn’t particularly fond of social events and parties, she recognised the significance of networking in Hollywood. Attending various public events and studio parties, she took advantage of these opportunities to connect with influential figures in the industry. She stated, “In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”

Demystifying Rumours

Rumours and speculation surrounding Marilyn’s relationships with influential figures in Hollywood persist to this day. However, both Marilyn Monroe and Joe Schenck vehemently denied any romantic involvement. Marilyn stated, “The only favor I ever asked him, Mr. Schenck, was later when I was back at Twentieth. I wanted a decent dressing room, and I asked him about it, and he put in a good word for me.” Schenck himself said, “No, I never had any romantic thoughts about Marilyn, and she never had any thoughts about me.”

Johnny Hyde: A Different Dynamic

Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with Hollywood agent Johnny Hyde was unique but should not be misconstrued as part of the casting couch system. Hyde provided her with guidance, connections, and security, but it was Marilyn’s talent and hard work that ultimately propelled her career forward. Her true ascent to stardom occurred after Hyde’s passing, further highlighting her individual determination and the merit of her abilities.

The story of Marilyn Monroe challenges the pervasive notion that her success was solely a result of the casting couch system. Through her own words and the evidence of her tireless efforts, we see a woman who refused to compromise her principles and relied on her talent and hard work to forge her path. Marilyn Monroe’s legacy as an iconic figure in Hollywood is a testament to her perseverance, shrewdness, and unwavering commitment to her craft.