How to Marry a Mi$$ionaire
4 November 1953
Marilyn’s Dumb Blonde Trilogy, Movie No. 2
Should they marry for love or should they the marry for money, that is the question, a question that plagues beautiful women so much, it seems, that the Greeks had a word for it and Hollywood had a method for exploiting it: make lots and lots of movies about it and make lots and lots of money. How to Marry a Millionaire began production even before Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had been released to theaters: Fox knew what they had with Marilyn, relative to box office receipts, that is, even if they did not know, or even care, what they had relative to her acting talents. Besides, teaming Marilyn with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall ensured a profitable enterprise and certainly there is nothing wrong with a profitable enterprise. In fact, How to Marry a Millionaire is about engaging in such an enterprise.
The plot in our movie, about what the Greeks had a word for, is as thin as a blonde hair: three beautiful and sexy women, Schatze Page, Pola Debevoise and Loco Dempsey, team up to land a well-healed husband. Poor men are equated with mice whereas rich men are equated with bears. According to Schatze: If you want to catch a mouse, you set a mouse trap. Well, awright then, we’ll set a bear trap … Most women use more brains picking a horse in the third at Belmont than they do picking a husband. Schatze is the leader of our female triumvirate and to her logical mind, an eligible woman is more likely to locate Mister Right in an expensive apartment rather than a cheap, run down walk-up in some impoverished district in the vast metropolitan area of greater New York City. So she convinces her co-conspirators to sublease a swank penthouse from poor Freddie Denmark. Freddie is in serious trouble with the IRS, and he is on the run. From their penthouse base of operations, the beautiful blondes begin their forays into the the territory of rich men. Presenting the prey with a unified front, it’s that gold digger thing all over again; and it’s all phony, of course, a front for the eye-candy because beautiful and sensuous women must deceive wealthy men into a matrimonial commitment. Thus is the reason why Pola refuses to wear her eye-glasses in the presence of the prey.
Loco seems to be the Pied Piper of the trio. First she brings home Tom Brookman whom she met him in the cold cut section of the local food market and conned him into paying for her groceries. But since he’s not wearing a neck tie, Schatze sends him packing and then advises her partners that unsuitably dressed men are not worthy candidates and she gives Loco a warning: men shopping in the cold cut section are probably poor. In fact, she concludes from Tom’s appearance that he is probably a gas pump jockey, a type of man Schatze knows everything there is to know about: she was once married to one and he left her high and dry and penniless. That gas pump jockey left her slightly bitter, too.
Our Pied Piper then attracts J.D. Hanley, an elderly but well dressed, hand-some gentlemen from Dallas, Texas, who invites the three partners to a party. Mr. Hanley is more than suitable prey since he dibbles in oil and dabbles in livestock. The suddenly interested gold diggers are told that oil men, along with a few bankers, will be present at the party. They agree to attend. Oddly enough, Schatze accompanies Mr. Hanley; Loco accompanies Waldo Brewster; and Pola accompanies J. Stewart Merrill. Our movie does not reveal just how the huntresses decided on these pairings.
Mr. Hanley is wealthy, for sure, but he is also a fifty-six year old widower. Mr. Brewster is also wealthy but he is already unhappily married, a cantankerous fellow and appears to be at least ten years older than Loco. According to Pola, Mr. Merrill talks constantly about his sizable wealth. From that, Schatze predicts he’s a fraud. As it turns out, she’s right: he’s actually a crooked Wall Street trader who wears a very large, black eye-patch, obviously a symbol of his dishonest, unsavory profession and his dark character. Since Pola is blind as a bat without her glasses, she doesn’t realize her date is wearing an eye patch: I didn’t know it was a patch. I thought somebody might’ve belted him. I would like to report that something interesting actually happens in this movie; but I would be forced to fabricate that something.
Loco agrees to accompany Mr. Brewster to his Maine lodge for the weekend, convinced she is going to an Elk’s Lodge and a big party only to finally realize she will be alone with Mr. Brewster; and she is there to be the party. She also discovers she has the measles. While there, recovering, she meets Eben. When Eben shows her his trees, she interprets that to mean ownership and concludes he is a rich timberland owner. But, he is just a lowly forest ranger. She falls in love with him anyway and they marry.
Pola agrees to fly to Atlantic City and meet Mr. Merrill’s mother but misreads the flight board and gets on a plane headed to Kansas City. As fate would have it, poor tax evader Freddie is also on the flight, en route to pummel his deceitful accountant. He is seated next to Pola. Did I tell you that Freddie wears glasses? Well he does. He notices Pola is holding a book upside down. He sympathizes and empathizes with the self-conscious, glassless blonde beauty, understands her fear of wearing glasses in public. He, too, wanted to avoid the epithet of four-eyes but learned the hard way that wearing his glasses prevented unnecessary problems. He convinces her to wear her glasses for him and confesses: I already think you’re something of a strudel. She reluctantly dons her glasses and Freddie responds with: You’re crazy! You look better with them on. Pola is immediately smitten and even though Freddie is the one who gets pummeled in Kansas City, ending up in a neck brace, he and Pola fall hopelessly in love and they marry.
Unfortunately, nothing about the courtships of Pola or Loco gets revealed on film except for one scene when Eben and Loco share a kiss in the snow while skiing in Maine.
Schatze’s relationship with Mr. Hanley gets a moderate amount of screen time but it’s mostly boring, bogged down by the aging widower’s sentimental speeches. Concurrently, a reluctant Schatze is being wooed by Mr. Brookman who refuses to wear a neck tie and happens to be the wealthiest of all the men in the movie; but since Schatze smells gasoline, not money, on Tom, she dismisses him in favor of Mr. Hanley.
The three friends reunite just as Schatze and the Texan are about to commit matrimony; but the bride, who has a conscience after all, reconsiders while standing at the altar. She admits to her now ex-fiancé that she loves another man, that gas pump jockey. Of course, Schatze weds Tom.
As the movie proceeds to a merciful end, the three wives and husbands appear center frame in a diner. As they eat hamburgers and hot dogs, each man, at the request of Schatze, reveals his net worth, beginning with Eben. He has, at last count, about $14. And poor Freddie is flat busted. When the gas pump jockey reveals that his net worth is around $200M and he could put his hands on about $2M cash in an emergency, his fellow diners all laugh. Then he produces an enormous roll of $1000 bills and pays the $12 tab with one of them, instructing the diner’s cook to keep the change. All three wives faint dead away and their husbands rise for a toast in their honor: to our wives, intones Mr. Brookman. To our wives, indeed.
Please suffer my criticism and complaints. I’ve watched How to Marry a Millionaire many times. While I like and appreciate certain aspects of the movie, like the CinemaScope, the saturated color photography and the acting, of the three movies included in Marilyn’s Dumb Blonde Trilogy, when compared with the one preceding and the one following, How to Marry a Millionaire is simply the weakest. It’s just a sluggish movie, one devoid of any real action or any real comedy. It is virtually plotless or at best has a hackneyed plot, and the ending is as predictable as a dime store romance novel. The bright musical punch of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or the sexiness of The Seven Year Itch are not present in How to Marry a Millionaire. The movie is a prime example of weak material that does not rise to the level of the cast’s abilities or talent. In fact, the performances delivered by the actors rescue the movie.
William Powell does a commendable job as the slightly forlorn widower, J. D. Hanley, who is briefly reanimated by Schatze; David Wayne, Rory Calhoun, Alex D’Arcy and Cameron Mitchell each portray their various incarnations of matrimonial targets with lively commitment. A special commendation goes to Fred Clark for his skillful portrayal of the utter prick, Waldo Brewster. But the three blondes, and one of them in particular, are why Fox produced the movie in the first place.
Nunnally Johnson, who wrote the screenplay for How to Marry a Millionaire, claimed that he tailored the roles of the three gold diggers specifically for his three blonde stars. I don’t know if they knew that or if they did, how they felt about it. Perhaps that’s why Lauren Bacall did such a good job with Schatze Page. Regarding Marilyn’s relationship with Nunnally Johnson, Carl Rollyson offered this opinion:
Johnson seems to have identified a crucial aspect of Monroe’s personality. She was certainly self-involved, especially during the making of this film … Like Pola without her glasses, Monroe could not perceive people as they were; they had to be within her myopic range. She had to feel that others were with her; if one were not a sympathetic soul, she sensed an enemy (Rollyson 65).
I’m not sure precisely what Rollyson was trying to say but let me take a shot at it: Marilyn wasn’t perceptive enough to discern that everybody was a sympathetic soul. Frankly, Marilyn had enough perception, foresight, intelligence and experience to know that very few of those in the world of Hollywood were sympathetic souls. Particularly with her, they were just the opposite. According to Rollyson, Johnson believed that Marilyn was stupid. Apparently he believed that Betty Grable was stupid, too; and Lauren Bacall was an arrogant and bitter woman.
While I am not be a big fan of Lauren Bacall, I still appreciate her acting skill. She portrays the slightly aloof and bitter but also vulnerable Schatze Page very well.
Loco is the perfect name for Betty Grable’s character. She is loco and almost approaches the level of an annoyance but Betty’s performance is terrific. She delivers most of the funnier lines in the movie. It does not have many; but Betty delivers them with the sincere aplomb of the leggy dumb blonde that she portrays. She also deserves some credit for wearing that incredibly ugly gown in the party scene. That shows bravery. Her self-reference to Harry James, her husband at the time, like Lauren’s self-reference to her husband at the time, that old fellow in the African Queen, are cutesy but not particularly funny; and the reference to “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” as Marilyn enters the fashion show seems forced and totally unnecessary.
What is not forced or unnecessary is Marilyn’s performance as Pola, the nearly blind beauty who stubbornly refuses to wear her glasses in public because, you know, Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses. As usual, Marilyn’s dazzling beauty and allure pulls focus. Even Betty Grable, an incredibly beautiful and sexy woman herself, cannot compete with Marilyn; and Lauren Bacall appears skinny and bland by comparison. But even more important than her tremendous screen presence, Marilyn shows her adroit comic timing and her natural line delivery while also proving, with her slightly slapstick performance, bumping into walls and tripping on the risers during the fashion show, just what a talented and remarkable comedienne she actually was and, certainly, she could handle physical comedy. Don Murray, Marilyn’s costar in Bus Stop, commented in 1987, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Marilyn’s death, on her enduring popularity:
She was a terrific comedienne. Let’s face it. The world cannot resist an adorable, beautiful clown and that’s what Marilyn was. They are very, very rare. I think Carol Lombard was one and Goldie Hawn is another; and there are very, very few of them. I think that’s one of the main reasons for her popularity.
Jean Negulesco, her director, saw something much deeper, a love affair nobody around her was aware of. It was a language of looks, a forbidden intimacy with her audience through the camera lense (Spoto 239).
Rory Calhoun Briefly
Rory Calhoun appeared in three movies with Marilyn: A Ticket to Tomahawk, How to Marry a Millionaire and River Of No Return. Mr. Calhoun was never interviewed about his association with her, as far as I know and have been able to determine. Rory’s daughter, Rory Patricia Calhoun, was interviewed by Hollywood Cult Movies, 30 July 2004. When asked if her father ever spoke about working with Marilyn, Miss Calhoun responded:
They were both contract players at Fox. Their first movie together was Ticket To Tomahawk. Somebody on the picture was giving her a hard time, coming on to her, and she came to my dad for help. He was very fond of Marilyn, and said she was sweet, generous, and down-to-earth. On the set of River of No Return he caught pneumonia and she was the only person who would come near him. She’d sit in his cabin and tend him through the fever. He maintained that they were good friends but never lovers. For a long time she dated a close friend of his, Johnny Sands.
In spite of my efforts, I have not found any evidence of a relationship, casual or otherwise, between Miss Marilyn and Mr. Sands.
Rory had a varied career in film and television as an actor, producer and screenwriter. Married twice, he fathered five daughters, three with Rita Baron, one with Sue Rhodes and one illegitimately with actress Vitina Marcus while he was married to Rita Baron. In her divorce petition, Rita named Betty Grable, his love interest in the movie How To Marry A Millionaire, as one of the seventy-nine women with whom Rory had been sexually involved. Of that number, Calhoun said: Heck, she didn’t even include half of them. Ironman Calhoun died in 1999 at the age of 76 due to complications from emphysema and diabetes. I suspect, also, he was just plain tuckered out.
Jean Negulesco Briefly
Although he claimed to have been born on the 29th, Jean Negulesco was born in Craiova, Romania, on the 26th of February in 1900. At the age of 15, Jean left home and moved to Vienna to pursue a career in art. From Vienna he relocated to Bucharest before settling in Paris in 1919. While in Paris, he gained notoriety as a portrait painter and stage designer. In 1927, he traveled to the US to display his work. Not long thereafter, he relocated to Hollywood where he found employment as a set designer and sketch artist. He soon became a US citizen. In 1934, he became an assistant producer and a second unit director. He signed a contract with Warner Brothers. While working for Jack Warner, Jean gained some notoriety directing short movies featuring unusual camera angles along with the dramatic use of shadows and silhouettes. He directed his first feature film in 1940, Singapore Women and received on Academy Award nomination in 1948 for Johnny Belinda. BAFTA awarded him their Best Film Award for How to Marry a Millionaire. He is remembered primarily for his film noirs.
According to several of Marilyn’s biographers, Jean had a good relationship with Marilyn, personally and professionally. He took an interest in her, painted her portrait and tried to understand the root cause of her chronic tardiness. He realized that she desperately needed to be perfect and at the same time suffered from a fundamental stage fright caused by feelings of inferiority. While filming the telephone scene in How to Marry a Millionaire, he noticed that she was attempting to sell the sex. He advised her just to be natural. Don’t sell the sex, Marilyn, he directed her. You are the institution of sex. Additionally, he appreciated her need for a key to understanding her character’s motivations. With Pola Debevoise, Jean suggested that the key to Pola was she was blind as a bat without her glasses. Apparently Jean’s star understood what he meant. When Fox terminated Marilyn during the production of Something’s Got to Give and then rehired her to complete the movie, they agreed to replace the director, George Cukor. Marilyn asked for Jean Negulesco. Unfortunately, due to Marilyn’s untimely death, they never returned to the Fox sets to complete Something’s Got to Give.