Monroe and Fox

There’s a lot of backlash against Fox in the Monroe community as being the ultimate bad guy. They underpaid her and wouldn’t let her pursue dramatic roles. While I am not saying that I agree with how Fox handled everything with Monroe, I do believe that people need to take a step back and look at Fox as a business who made smart career decisions for their contract players that benefited their bottom line.  This article will dissect the two most common complaints that I see in the community: Monroe not being given dramatic roles and being underpaid.

Dramatic Comedian

Some people may remember my typecasting article. You can read that by clicking here to see figures. The primary argument I see is that Monroe wanted to do dramatic roles but Fox never gave her the chance. For argument’s sake, I am going to focus on films from 1950-1962. This will allow us to focus on Monroe’s movies after she signed her contract. I am including movies she did with other companies because Fox would have seen those profit margins. Comedies are noted with a “*” while dramatic works are noted with a “-“. Some movies are dramatic comedies so I will count them as both.

1.) A Ticket to Tomahawk *

2.) The Asphalt Jungle –

3.) All About Eve –

4.) The Fireball –

5.) Hometown Story –

6.) As Young As You Feel *

7.) Love Nest *-

8.) Let’s Make It Legal *

9.) Clash By Night –

10.) We’re Not Married *

11.) Don’t Bother to Knock –

12.) Monkey Business *

13.) O’ Henry’s Full House –

14.) Niagara –

15.) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes *

16.) How To Marry A Millionaire *

17.) River of No Return –

18.) There’s No Business Like Show Business *

19.) The Seven Year Itch *

20.) Bus Stop *-

21.) The Prince and the Showgirl *-

22.) Some Like It Hot *

23.) Let’s Make Love *

24.) The Misfits –

25.) Something’s Got To Give *

Final Totals: Comedies: 15 Dramas: 13.

15/13 is a pretty even split. Let’s look at someone else to see how they fared at this point. I’ll use Elizabeth Taylor being she was working steadily. Please note that 5 & 6 are uncredited cameos

1.) The Big Hangover *

2.) Father of the Bride *

3.) Father’s Little Dividend *

4.) A Place In The Sun –

5.) Quo Vadis –

6.) Callaway Went Thataway –

7.) Love Is Better Than Ever *

8.) Ivanhoe –

9.) The Girl Who Had Everything –

10.) Rhapsody *- /musical drama so not putting it directly as a drama

11.) Elephant Walk –

12.) Beau Brummel –

13.) The Last Time I Saw Paris –

14.) Giant –

15.) Raintree County –

16.) Cat On A Hot Tin Roof –

17.) Suddenly Last Summer –

18.) BUtterfiled 8 –

19.) Cleopatra –

20.) The VIP’s –

Final Totals: Comedies: 5 Dramas: 16

5/16. That is definitely the definition of typecasting. Finally, let’s do Betty Grable. For Betty, I am going to do 1943-1955.

1.) Four Jills in a Jeep *

2.) Pin Up Girl *

3.) Diamond Horseshoe *

4.) The Dolly Sisters *

5.) Do You Love Me *

6.) The Shocking Miss Pilgrim *

7.) Mother Wore Tights *

8.) The Lady In Ermine *

9.) When My Baby Smiles At Me *

10.) The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend *

11.) Wabash Avenue *

12.) My Blue Heaven -*

13.) Call Me Mister *

14.) Meet Me After The Show *

15.) The Farmer Takes A Wife *

16.) How To Marry A Millionaire *

17.) Three For The Show *

18.) How To Be Very, Very Popular *

Final Totals: Comedies/Musicals: 18 Dramas: 0

Now, I am not saying that Monroe didn’t fight hard on typecasting and she definitely deserves credit for that. I’ll never take that away from her. But to insinuate that she was heavily misaligned by Fox is simply untrue. Fox, especially in the beginning, did give her her fair share of starring roles in dramatic films. The returns just weren’t there when we compare them to her comedies. Fox wasn’t there to bolster a star’s artistic ambitions. They were a well oiled machine with each star having their place. Monroe’s career very well could have gone the way of Grable’s (who was very happy with what she accomplished) but she fought for it not to. Again, that’s wonderful, but to act like Fox took one look at her and threw her in comedies simply isn’t true. They followed the money and the public decided what they wanted. They did not want a serious Monroe.

Here’s the scenario I recommend thinking about: You employ a man named Bill. Bill can make you $10/hour if he is typing memos but if he is interacting with clients he can make you $30/hour. Where are you going to keep Bill? Bill is under contract to you and won’t be able to just quit without heavy spending on his part so you’re not going to really risk anything by placing him where you want. You’re going to keep Bill with customers. Once in awhile you may give him a memo day but you want to maximize your profits as much as the next company. That’s exactly what Fox did with Monroe. All stars went through a probationary period to find what genre the public responded to the most. Again, the public did not want a serious Monroe. If there’s anyone to blame for her typecasting, it’s the public.

Salaries

The two women I see Monroe primarily compared to are Jane Russell and Elizabeth Taylor in regards to salary. The main two points that tend to get overlooked are 1.) Both were proven box office successes and 2.) Both were freelancing. Russell earning $100,000 compared to Monroe’s $250/week seems extremely unfair but you have to understand that Monroe was a contract player with two (dramatic!) starring roles under her belt. Russell had been an A-lister in the business since the 40’s, was free lancing, and was a proven box office smash. Monroe was none of those things. She wouldn’t have been able to match Russell’s salary at any studio and frankly, at that point, she didn’t deserve to. Niagara and Don’t Bother To Knock had both been lackluster earners. Did Monroe have name recognition? Yes. But they weren’t box office smashes and she had yet to prove that she could make a film and command large crowds.

On the other hand we have Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor had been offered the lead in Cleopatra. She countered with $1,000,000 to do the picture as well as $50,000/week to do the picture after the million was paid (if filming went over, which it did) and 10% of the gross profits. Fox agreed (Much to their dismay. Taylor received roughly $7 million after the movie’s release). Again, Taylor was a freelancer with a better earnings track record than Monroe although their popularity with the public was pretty much the same. Taylor ran into serious health problems on set that were no fault of her own, causing filming to be delayed. Monroe may have hated that her home studio was paying an outsider 10x what she was getting but, again, Taylor was a freelancer who held the upper hand. If Monroe had finished out her original contract in 1958, she very well could have been the first woman to earn $1,000,000 a picture. While Monroe 1954-1956 negotiations with Fox are commendable, she ended up digging herself into a larger hole.

Note that contract star salaries were notoriously low, not just Monroe’s. It also kept hundreds of people in work. Movie are not just a director, the cameraman, and the actors. There may be upwards of 100 people on set, maybe thousands for scenes with extras. All of these people are getting paid as well. Movies also weren’t earning hundreds of millions or several billion dollars like they are now. A hit typically brought in $4 – $10 million in the mid-50’s but that wasn’t necessarily pure profit either, budgets tended to be around the $2 million mark.

In conclusion, I am not slamming Monroe and I do understand her point. I just believe we need to stop blaming everyone else for her problems. Taylor couldn’t control what Fox paid Monroe. Russell couldn’t control it either. Fox was a business and they expected their employees to follow their rules, just like businesses do today. It’s time for people to take a second look at just how much the public was involved with Monroe’s unhappiness.

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