Gal Pals: Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable

howtomarry4Happy Galentine’s Day! If you’re unaware of what that is, it’s the fictional holiday from the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. Amy Poehler’s character Leslie Knope created the holiday on the day before Valentine’s Day to celebrate her lady friends. In the episode, Galentine’s Day, she explains it by saying quote:

“Oh it’s only the best day of the year. Every February 13th, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.”

It’s a great episode and because of this day-and-age of the internet, it’s become a thing. Female friendships are difficult to come by and it’s important to recognize your fellow women and let us all collectively roar. For this Galentine’s Day, I’m raising a glass to the friendship between Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable that formed on the set of How to Marry a Millionaire. It is one of my favorite Classic Hollywood stories.

How to Marry a Millionaire is a 1953 romantic comedy released by 20th Century Fox. It’s notable for being the first film to be photographed in Cinemascope, Fox’s big budget wide-screen process that was designed to lure audiences away from their television sets and into movie theaters. It’s also notable for featuring two of the cinema’s ultimate blondes sharing the screen.

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Many biographers claim that when Marilyn Monroe was growing up, she idolized Betty Grable. In the 1940’s Betty Grable was the biggest thing in America. Fox insured her legs with Lloyds of London for a quarter million dollars.From 1946-1947, she was the highest paid woman in the country and she held the spot as the number one box-office draw for ten years. But in 1953, Grable’s career was on the decline. Rock ‘n’ roll was changing America and its tastes. Here’s something you need to understand about Betty Grable, for a big star like her she was incredibly self-aware. When Fox tried to get her to perform dramatic roles, she had absolutely no interest. She knew her strength as a pin-up queen was strictly limited to being a song-and-dance woman. Because she was under contract to Fox, she did as she was told and starred in her only two non-singing parts in I Wake Up Screaming and A Yank in the R.A.F. And she’s actually not that bad. Friend Debbie Reynolds once called Grable, the most easy-going woman in Hollywood. When asked about her career, Grable responded by saying, “There are two reasons why I am successful in show business and I am standing on both of them.”

howtomarry6At the time of this film’s production she could tell the writing was on the wall for her tenure as the ‘Queen of Fox’ but was happy to accept. This film, like some of her other later works, is actually a remake of one of her earlier hits, Moon Over Miami. When production began, Monroe’s star was rising at Fox. She had a few hits under her belt with parts in All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle. Her breakthrough role came in the drama Niagara which established her as a sex symbol.  To drum up publicity for the film, Fox and the gossip columnists had hoped to create a rivalry between the up-and-coming blonde bombshell and the reigning queen but what they got was anything but. Grable would have none of it. According to close friends, Grable pulled Monroe aside and said, “I’ve had mine honey, now it’s your turn. Go get yours.” With that, the torch had been passed and the two developed a close friendship.

At the heart of How to Marry a Millionaire is the relationship between the three female leads, Monroe, Grable, and Lauren Bacall. All three are strong in each of their performances and build a great onscreen camaraderie. In a Private Screenings episode for Turner Classic Movies, Bacall told Robert Osborne the bond the audience felt was real. She described the shoot as a pleasant production and said in between takes if Monroe wasn’t with her acting coach, she was with Grable and the two would be joking or painting each other’s nails. The friendship between the two women extended beyond the shoot. Grable would also help Monroe on a personal level. When she was having trouble with her marriage to baseball legend, Joe Dimaggio, Grable was usually one of the first people she’d call. There’s no telling if their friendship was still active in Monroe’s final years but when asked about Monroe after her death, Grable said the following:

“It may sound peculiar to say so, because she is no longer with us, but we were very close. Once when we were doing that picture (How to Marry a Millionaire) together, I got a call on the set: my younger daughter had had a fall. I ran home and the one person to call was Marilyn. She did an awful lot to boost things up for movies when everything was at a low state; there’ll never be anyone like her for looks, for attitude, for all of it.”

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Programming note: How to Marry a Millionaire will air Sunday, February 14th at 9 am EST and again at 8 pm EST on the Retroplex Channel.

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