Marilyn Monroe entered the history books as a blonde bombshell that many called a pretty face. But Monroe was a pioneer.

When she was fired as a replaceable actress, Monroe knew her worth and stood up for herself boldly.

“She was finding her power,” said photographer Nancy Lee Andrews. “Becoming Marilyn is not a tragedy. It’s a triumph.”

When you examine this iconic movie star off-camera, the depth of his life comes into full view. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how Monroe strategically navigated her career.

Not just another stupid blonde

One of Monroe’s first hits was the musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” She played a mute blonde gold digger named Lorelei, a showgirl sailing to France to marry a wealthy man.

“I can be smart when it matters. But most men don’t like that,” she says in the film, a line Monroe insisted on using.

Monroe had no control over the casting while under contract with 20th Century Fox. The studios had control over the industry. It was also a time when very few women were producing, writing or directing. In the mid-1950s, only 5% of American screenwriters were women, according to a study by Luis Amaral of Northwestern University.

Despite the lack of female representation, Monroe found power in adding complexity to these simple characters.

“It was pivotal in the evolution of Marilyn’s career and personality because Lori is the dumb blonde who isn’t as dumb as you think,” said Sarah Churchwell, professor of American Literature at the University of London.

Monroe played in assumptions to catapult herself into stardom.

“If you’re able to not just participate in the joke but control it, that to me is the mark of a genius,” actress Amber Tamblyn said.

Find your power and fight for your value

Monroe starred in several big hits in 1953, including “How to Marry a Millionaire”, where again she played a dumb blonde. The film earned Fox $15 million, which is $150 million today.

After being asked to play another pretty one-note lead role in the musical “The Girl in Pink Tights,” Monroe was fed up. She literally labeled it “trash” and returned it to studio head Darryl Zanuck, according to biographer Cindy De La Hoz-Sipala.

She also learned that her co-star in the movie, Frank Sinatra, would make $5,000 a week, when she only made $1,500, according to The Marilyn Monroe Collection.

“She was the main attraction,” actress Mira Sorvino said. “I mean, she was the reason people flocked to the theater. So, it was crazy that she didn’t have a much more powerful position in terms of salary.”

Monroe turned down the role until her pay and conditions were improved.

“For anyone who thinks Monroe was a perpetual victim, she walked off the set of ‘Pink Tights’. Enough said,” said Molly Haskell, author and film critic.

The film never got made, and the studio changed Monroe’s contract, giving her a raise for future roles.

Monroe’s David versus Goliath wager

In 1954, Monroe filmed the most famous moment of her career: when her dress exploded on a subway grate. The scene is featured in “The Seven Year Itch”, which was a huge box office success.

She was at the height of her success but was still typecast. So she left Hollywood.

Breaking her contract with Fox, she travels to New York and launches her own film company, Marilyn Monroe Productions. She also took classes at the Actors Studio. All in order, as she said, to be seen as a “serious actress”.

Within a year, Fox conceded and offered Monroe a new contract, giving her a higher salary, the director’s endorsement, and the freedom to make films through her own production company.

“She got everything she wanted, everything that was unheard of in 1955,” said Amy Greene, Monroe’s friend, who was with her when she heard the news.

“She was smart, witty, ambitious, strategic and above all, incredibly brave,” said Sam Starbuck, executive producer of “Reframed: Marilyn Monroe.” “She knew her worth and she refused to be dominated by the male bosses of Hollywood studios. She challenged the status quo, turning the tables time and time again and winning.”

Monroe’s first film under her new contract was “Bus Stop”. It was an opportunity for her to show off her acting skills.

She played a failed musician named Chérie, who aspired to be a big star. Monroe insisted on ghostly makeup because she believed this character never went out in the sun. She also honed an Ozark accent for the role.

“We can see that Marilyn Monroe’s physique is treated differently than previous films,” said Jeanine Basinger, professor of film studies at Wesleyan University. “It’s different. It’s more realistic. It’s less voyeuristic.”

Critics praised Monroe’s performance.

“A lot of people said she really deserved an Oscar nomination for this role,” said film critic Christina Newland.

Monroe creates a film with her own production company

Monroe’s next step was to produce the film “The Prince and the Showgirl” with her production company.

‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ was finally going to demonstrate everything she had been fighting for a decade, that she was going to get all the credibility she wanted,” Churchwell said.

Marilyn played Elsie, an American showgirl, who falls in love with a European prince, played by Laurence Olivier. There were challenges during filming, like Monroe being late, but on camera she shone.

“People who worked with her talked about those smart ratings she would give after watching the [footage], where she said very specific things she wasn’t happy with and why,” said Alicia Malone, host on Turner Classic Movies. “They were emblematic of a woman who knew her stuff and knew exactly what she was doing. wanted and exactly what she needed. “

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