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How to Marry a Millionaire

How to Marry a Millionaire(1953)

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How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)


The first feature film ever shot in Twentieth Century-Fox's new widescreen process CinemaScope, How to Marry a Millionaire stars Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable as three gorgeous models who hatch a scheme to snare rich husbands in New York City. Pooling their resources to take a year's lease on a stylish Upper East Side penthouse that is well beyond their means, the gold-digging trio set out their mantraps and soon the prey comes running. However, they can't seem to stop falling for ordinary fellows of modest means, which throws a monkey wrench into their plan. In this charming and funny tale starring three of the era's biggest female stars, it's a battle between the head and the heart. Will love or money win out in the end?


Director: Jean Negulesco

Producer: Nunnally Johnson

Writer: Nunnally Johnson

Based on the stage plays The Greeks Had a Word for It by Zoe Akins and Loco by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert

Cinematography: Joe MacDonald

Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Leland Fuller

Set Decoration: Walter M. Scott, Stuart Reiss

Editing: Louis Loeffler

Costumes: Charles Le Maire, Travilla

Music: Alfred Newman

Cast: Betty Grable (Loco Dempsey), Marilyn Monroe (Pola Debevoise), Lauren Bacall (Schatze Page), David Wayne (Freddie Denmark), Rory Calhoun (Eben Salem), Cameron Mitchell (Tom Brookman), Alex D'Arcy (J. Stewart Merrill), Fred Clark (Waldo Brewster), William Powell (J.D. Hanley)

C - 95 min.


How to Marry a Millionaire was the first film ever shot in the new anamorphic CinemaScope process, though Twentieth Century-Fox made it the studio's second CinemaScope release after the opulent Biblical epic The Robe (1953). Being the studio's second big-budget CinemaScope film released, How to Marry a Millionaire proved that the widescreen technology was just as useful for a charming romantic comedy with a small cast as it was for a grand scale serious drama like The Robe. Its enormous success helped usher in the era of widescreen films, which quickly became the standard of the entire industry. It also helped save Fox and the entire film industry from imminent financial disaster now that the cinema was in competition with television.

The huge success of the film helped catapult the already famous Marilyn Monroe into the stratosphere as her star power achieved a level that helped turn her into a genuine cultural phenomenon.

Even though Lauren Bacall was a well-established star when she made How to Marry a Millionaire, she had never before made a comedy. She also had not made a film in three years, and it was important that this film be a hit. It was her first comic role, and the film's success proved that she had comedy chops and subsequently opened doors to new lighter roles for her in the future.

How to Marry a Millionaire was Betty Grable's final film under contract to Twentieth Century-Fox - the studio where she had reigned during her heyday as one of the top box office draws during the World War II years. By the time the 1950s rolled around, Grable's star was finally fading and she knew it. This film was her chance to go out on top with a plum role in a hit film with her head high.

by Andrea Passafiume

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How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

The film's original source material is a 1930 play by Zoe Akins called The Greeks Had a Word for It, which ran for 253 performances on Broadway. Another play called Loco (1946) by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert was also used for inspiration. Loco ran a total of 37 performances on Broadway.

The 1932 Pre-Code film The Greeks Had a Word for Them is another version of the same story based on Zoe Akins original play. It starred Joan Blondell, Madge Evans and Ina Claire.

The title How to Marry a Millionaire has been referenced numerous times in various film and television projects including episodes of I Dream of Jeannie ("How to Marry an Astronaut"), Frasier ("How to Bury a Millionaire"), The Jeffersons ("How Not to Marry a Millionaire") and Cheers ("How to Marry a Mailman").

How to Marry a Millionaire was turned into a TV series that ran from 1957-1959. It starred Barbara Eden, Lori Nelson, Merry Anders and Lisa Gaye. It was Barbara Eden's (I Dream of Jeannie) first television series on which she was a regular.

A television movie loosely based on How to Marry a Millionaire aired during the Christmas season of 2000 called How to Marry a Billionaire: A Christmas Tale. This time the roles were reversed and the plot featured three broke men looking for rich women to marry. It starred John Stamos, Joshua Malina and Shemar Moore.

A television movie called Rich Men, Single Women aired in 1990, which was loosely based on the How to Marry a Millionaire premise. It starred Suzanne Somers, Heather Locklear and Deborah Adair as the three scheming women.

According to Hollywood trade papers, actress Nicole Kidman purchased the rights to How to Marry a Millionaire in 2007 through her production company with the intention of starring in an updated remake.

by Andrea Passafiume

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How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

During the scene in which the women are asked to model outfits for Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell), the fashion house mistress introduces Marilyn Monroe's character in a diamond-encrusted bathing suit with the words "You know, of course, that diamonds are a girl's best friend, and this is our proof of it." This is a humorous nod to Monroe's hit film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) in which she sang one of her most iconic numbers "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."

Another inside joke in the film occurs when Loco (Betty Grable) is in Maine with Waldo (Fred Clark). While listening to the radio, Loco insists that the music they are listening to is by famed big band leader Harry James. James was Grable's real life husband at the time.

Lauren Bacall delivers one of the film's funniest inside jokes when her character Schatze is trying to convince her older man suitor J.D. (William Powell) that she loves older men. "I've always liked older men," says her character. "Look at Roosevelt. Look at Churchill! Look at that old fellow - what's-his-name in African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him!" The "old fellow" in The African Queen [1951] was, of course, Bacall's much older real-life husband Humphrey Bogart.

How to Marry a Millionaire premiered at the Fox Wilshire Theatre (now known as the Saban Theatre) in Beverly Hills on November 4, 1953.

How to Marry a Millionaire was the first film presentation of the weekly NBC series Saturday Night at the Movies. It premiered (in color) on the small screen on September 23, 1961. Ironically, the TV broadcast was in pan-and-scan, which lost the effect of the CinemaScope completely.

According to producer/writer Nunnally Johnson, Betty Grable affectionately called Lauren Bacall "Miss Bagel" as a nickname throughout shooting.

In her 1979 memoir By Myself Lauren Bacall recounted that she had very few conversations with Marilyn Monroe throughout the production of How to Marry a Millionaire. "She came into my dressing room one day and said that what she really wanted was to be in San Francisco with Joe DiMaggio in some spaghetti joint," wrote Bacall, describing one of their few off-screen interactions. "They were not married then. She wanted to know about my children, my home life - was I happy? She seemed envious of that aspect of my life - wistful - hoping to have it herself one day."

To coincide with the release of How to Marry a Millionaire Lauren Bacall was invited to put her hand and footprints in cement in front of the famed Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. However, Bacall declined the invitation. "The day I was told about it," she said in her memoir, "I said to Bogie [Humphrey Bogart] that it seemed to me anyone with a picture opening could be represented there, standards had been so lowered. Bogie, loving a chance to puncture Hollywood's ego, said, 'Why don't you refuse?' [Hollywood columnist] Joe Hyams, sensing a story, agreed. I, welcoming the idea of a new cause, however minor and short-lived, decided I would refuse. Joe said he'd print my statement in the Tribune, and I wrote, 'Before I came to Hollywood, Grauman's Chinese was something very special to me - it meant not only achievement - it was the Hall of Fame of the motion picture industry and the people in it were unforgettables and irreplaceables. I don't think of myself as either - I feel that my career is undergoing a change and I want to feel I've earned my place with the best my business has produced.' That statement made newspapers across the country and, along with all the other news stories, was forgotten the next day. Time went by, I wasn't asked again, and so twenty-five years later, a tourist or aspiring actor going to Grauman's Chinese to see the legendary stars' footprints will not see mine - or miss them."

In a letter written to Twentieth Century-Fox executive (and future Fox Production Chief) Robert Goldstein dated May 20th, 1953, producer/writer Nunnally Johnson shared a tale that happened just after filming was completed on How to Marry a Millionaire between Darryl Zanuck and director Jean Negulesco. "Last Sunday while playing croquet [Negulesco] lost his temper over some error on the court and flung his mallet to the turf. It hit on the handle and leaped up again like Charlie Chaplin's cane and bludgeoned, oh God, Mr. Zanuck right between the eyes, drawing blood, or plasma, whichever he is equipped with. Three stitches had to be taken in Mr. Zanuck's skin, which was wide open with ideas pouring out like a leak in a bag of grain. I scarcely need tell you what this did to Mr. Negulesco's emotions. Nevertheless, there seemed to be no need for him to take strychnine, cut his throat, hang himself, and shoot himself too. For the truth of the matter was that Mr. Zanuck took it very well, contenting himself with putting Mr. Negulesco on layoff."


"Now, there's a fine contribution to a million dollar proposition - one whole quarter."

"Maybe, but she's awful clever with a quarter."

--Schatze (Lauren Bacall) and Pola (Marilyn Monroe), discussing how Loco (Betty Grable) only has a quarter to contribute towards lunch.

"Look, the first rule of this proposition is that gentlemen callers have got to wear a necktie. I don't want to be snobbish, but if we begin with characters like that, we might just as well throw in the towel right now."

--Schatze, to Loco

"If you want to catch a mouse, you set a mousetrap. So, all right, we set a bear trap. Now, all we've got to do is one of us has got to knock off a bear."

"You mean marry him?"

"If you don't marry him, you haven't caught him, he's caught you."

--Schatze and Loco, discussing their plan.

"I've always liked older men. Look at Roosevelt. Look at Churchill! Look at that old fellow - what's-his-name in African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him!"

--Schatze, to J.D. Hanley (William Powell), making an inside joke about Bacall's real life husband, movie star Humphrey Bogart.

"If only you'd told me."

"I told you the first day we went skiing. I told you then that's what I was - a ranger."

"Is that what you meant?"

"What else could I have meant?"

"I'm sorry. I just thought you meant you came from Texas."

--Loco and her young (and poor) suitor Eben (Rory Calhoun)

"He's nothing. Absolutely nothing. A character straight from characterville."

--Schatze, describing Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell), the man she's in love with, to her fianc J.D. Hanley.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

The 1950s were a time of big changes for Hollywood. Movies, which had long reigned supreme for audience entertainment, now had to compete with the magic boxes that had recently begun to invade everyone's home: television.

In an effort to lure audiences away from their televisions and back into theaters, studios were having to dream up ways for movies to offer things that television couldn't. Televisions, at the time, were tiny black and white picture boxes with marginal sound quality. As a result, Hollywood fought back by emphasizing the size of the theaters' big screens and coming up with enticing new features like Technicolor and fun gimmicks like 3-D and Cinerama to enhance the movie going experience.

One of the new ways that Fox hoped to astound audiences and give them a more spectacular experience than ever before was through the brand new anamorphic widescreen process called CinemaScope. Spearheaded by studio president Spyros P. Skouras, Fox was the first movie studio to use CinemaScope in Hollywood.

Fox Production Chief Darryl Zanuck was excited about CinemaScope and all the possibilities it would bring to the studio's films. He decided to immediately put two big budget films into production to help introduce the new technology to American audiences. One would be the grand Biblical epic The Robe (1953) starring Victor Mature, Richard Burton and Jean Simmons. The other would be How to Marry a Millionaire, a light comedy about three beautiful gold-diggers in New York who try to snare rich husbands.

How to Marry a Millionaire featured a screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, who would also serve as the producer on the film. Johnson's screenplay pulled elements from the 1930 play The Greeks Have a Word for It by Zoe Akins and a 1946 play called Loco by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert. Jean Negulesco (Humoresque [1946], Johnny Belinda [1948]) was tapped to direct.

From the beginning, Nunnally Johnson was interested in having Lauren Bacall play the role of sophisticated ringleader Schatze. However, even though Bacall was already a big star, it had been three years since her last film - an eternity in Hollywood. On top of that, Bacall, who had gained fame playing sultry roles in serious dramas like To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946), had never played comedy before.

Bacall and her movie star husband Humphrey Bogart were close friends with Nunnally Johnson and his wife Dorris, but Johnson still felt Bacall needed to do a screen test to prove that she could handle comedy. The request was something of an insult to the well-established actress, but his tactfulness helped him convince her to do it. "He said, 'I know you can do it, honey, but they don't, they just have to see it on the screen, it will make Zanuck feel better,'" recalled Bacall according to Johnson's daughter Nora's 1979 book Flashback: Nora Johnson on Nunnally Johnson. "'I said to myself, Jesus, I made it eight years ago, I have to test? I always resented testing, it's very much the Hollywood syndrome...Nunnally knew it was a sensitive point, he didn't want to hurt my feelings and yet he wanted to make his point."

In her own 1979 memoir By Myself Lauren Bacall recalled that she found the script for How to Marry a Millionaire "funny, witty, even touching" and very much wanted to play the role of Schatze. The comic turn would represent a new direction for the stylish actress, and she passed the screen test with flying colors.

As plans for How to Marry a Millionaire began to take shape, Nunnally Johnson considered what CinemaScope would mean for the future of motion pictures. In a letter to film critic Thornton Delehanty dated February 7, 1953 he wrote, "This business is a mess. Every day it's something new - 3-dimension, 2-dimension, 1-dimension, round screens with no dimension. The producers here at Fox haven't any time to make pictures. They're buying Fox stock and sitting around in brokers' offices. My next picture, in which Mrs. Bogart will be one third of the stars, in 7-dimensions, is to be made in our version of Cinerama, which means that everything, even close-ups, will look like it's taking place on the old Hippodrome stage." When asked once how he tailored his screenwriting to the challenges of CinemaScope, Johnson famously quipped that he simply "put the paper in the typewriter sideways."

For the role of nearsighted lovable Pola, Johnson and Zanuck wanted their white-hot starlet Marilyn Monroe. The blonde bombshell had been building her career in Hollywood over the last several years, first as a bit player, and then steadily working her way up to featured roles. She worked hard on creating her iconic look, building her confidence and improving her acting skills by working with her own private coach. She had just made the smash hit film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) directed by Howard Hawks, which put her firmly in position to become Fox's biggest sex symbol and movie star. Both Nunnally Johnson and Darryl Zanuck were smart enough to know that CinemaScope plus Marilyn Monroe would probably equal big returns at the box office.

For the role of the third gorgeous roommate Loco, Johnson and Zanuck cast one of the studio's long-time favorites, Betty Grable. Grable had been Fox's greatest female star and box office draw throughout the 1940s in mostly musicals and light fare. She had also been the most popular pin-up girl of World War II in a photo that showcased her famous Lloyds of London-insured million dollar legs.

By the time How to Marry a Millionaire came along, however, Grable's star was fading, and she knew it. She was in her late 30s and nearing the end of her long-term contract with Fox. She knew that it would probably be her last film under contract, and she wanted to go out on a high note with a plum part in a hit film with Fox.

Betty Grable could also see the writing on the wall and knew that Marilyn Monroe was in line to take over the role she had once played at Fox as its number one blonde ingnue. Grable herself had once been the new girl in town at Fox, edging out early favorite Alice Faye as Queen of the Lot during the 1940s.

Because of this undercurrent of "out with the old and in with the new," there were worries that there could be tension between Grable and Marilyn Monroe on the set. It was a feeling not helped by the fact that Fox had originally intended the part of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for Grable, and instead it was the role that made Monroe a big star.

Meanwhile, Lauren Bacall worked to prepare for her role. She didn't know her two glamorous co-stars very well, and she hoped they would all get along and have a wonderful experience working together. Coming off a three year absence from the silver screen to concentrate on starting a family with Humphrey Bogart, it was important to her career that this film be a hit.

When all three actresses finally came together, any misgivings about tension on the set were quickly put to rest. Grable, always a class act, was extraordinarily gracious to new blonde in town Marilyn Monroe upon their first meeting. "Honey, I've had it," she reportedly said to Monroe with great generosity. "Go get yours. It's your turn now."

Rounding out the cast to play the ladies' unsuspecting male suitors were David Wayne, Rory Calhoun, Cameron Mitchell, Alexander D'Arcy, Fred Clark and William Powell in one of his final film roles as Bacall's primary target, oil man J.D. Hanley.

With cameras set to finally roll on How to Marry a Millionaire, no one was more excited than producer/writer Nunnally Johnson. As he wrote to director Jean Negulesco just prior to filming in a letter dated March 9, 1953: "At last the great day has come. You alone know how they have fought to keep us from making this picture. You alone know the jealously, the bitterness, the lack of faith in this project that you and I have dreamed of doing for years now. They said we were fools! They said we were dreamers! They said we were too artistic! But you and I, we have always had faith in this story! So now that the great day has come at last, and we have overcome all opposition, let us go forward and make this the finest picture that was ever turned out in the entire history of CinemaScope. Let's make them eat their words. Give my warmest, deepest, most emotional felicitations to every single member of the cast! And to yourself, God speed on this great crusade!"

by Andrea Passafiume

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How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

How to Marry a Millionaire started shooting in March 1953. Even though Jean Negulesco was a solid director, producer/writer Nunnally Johnson decided to work very closely with the cast throughout the film. According to Johnson's daughter Nora's 1979 book Flashback: Nora Johnson on Nunnally Johnson, there had been complaints from actor Alec Guinness back on the 1950 film The Mudlark that Negulesco did not rehearse the actors enough and it had adversely affected the film.

As a result, Johnson decided to make a pre-emptive strike on How to Marry a Millionaire. "I made a deal with [Negulesco]," he explained according to the 1981 book The Letters of Nunnally Johnson co-edited by Johnson's wife Dorris. "I never heard of anybody making a deal like this, and I don't know if anybody else would have permitted it. I said, 'Hey, Jean, would you let me rehearse the actors and their lines before each scene?' He said, 'I'd be delighted.' So that's the way we did the picture...Although I am not an actor, at least I knew where the emphasis went, and I could give them something of the tempo."

Twentieth Century-Fox Production Chief Darryl Zanuck, meanwhile, was excited about using How to Marry a Millionaire and The Robe to introduce CinemaScope to the public in just a few short months. He wanted to utilize the new technology to its full effect in order to "wow" moviegoers. He watched the progress of both big budget productions closely and had definite ideas on how CinemaScope should be handled. "I see an enormous improvement in the rushes of How to Marry a Millionaire," he wrote in a memo to the production team dated March 25, 1953. "I am not speaking of the acting but of the handling of CinemaScope. In practically every instance of the six reels I ran last night you have perfectly sharp and clear photography with amazing lighting effects and in some instances with genuine 3-dimensional effect. Almost in all instances the composition has been vastly improved over previous material. The full figure shot of Bacall on the bed and the big closeup filling the screen of Monroe were unique examples of the new medium. I am still opposed to too much camera movement. I fully believe that while we have to occasionally move the camera we should put the emphasis on moving the actors. CinemaScope gives you a certain freedom of movement. Practically everything is lost if two people are huddled together in the center of the screen with nothing but wide open spaces on each end of the screen. If the people are spread out filling the screen then we are putting on film an effect that we cannot get on the old 35 mm...We must not forget the illusion of depth comes at least 25 percent from the stereophonic sound. Stereophonic sound is not effective when two people are face to face, unless of course they are in big closeups or a big 2-shot. The full value of stereophonic sound comes from the distance between the two people who are talking. If one person is planted at one end of the set and the other person is on the other side of the set then the sound has an opportunity to add the illusion of depth..."

In her 1979 memoir By Myself Lauren Bacall recalled what it was like to work with the new CinemaScope technology. "As CinemaScope was a new experiment for everyone," she said, "it was difficult. One had to keep the actors moving and not too close together, as the screen was long and narrow. You shot longer scenes in CinemaScope, five or six pages without a stop, and I liked that - it felt closer to the stage and better for me."

By all accounts How to Marry a Millionaire was a happy set, which may have been a disappointment to the naysayers who were certain there would be competitive infighting among its three glamorous stars. "The three girls are a good story," wrote Nunnally Johnson to film critic and friend Thornton Delehanty in a letter dated April 9, 1953. "Everybody went around with their fingers in their ears blabbering about what temperament there would be on the set, and needless to say, the gossip columnists, those lice, have done everything possible to foment trouble for us. They've printed all kinds of mischievous rumors, quoting one against the other, and printing out fictitious privileges given to one above the other two, in the most desperate effort you ever saw to create feuds. But it hasn't worked in the least."

As Johnson relayed in the same letter, Lauren Bacall (who was known as "Betty" to her friends) and Betty Grable became instant pals. "I don't think Betty Bacall and Betty Grable had ever met before," he said. "...But Betty Bacall fell in love with Grable and now thinks she's the funniest clown she ever had the pleasure of knowing. Which is not far from true. Miss Grable is a real hooligan, and is a fine salty, bawdy girl, without an ounce of pretense about her. In addition, she's giving a better performance than anything she ever did before."

If there was one person in the cast who was a challenge to deal with, it was by all accounts Marilyn Monroe. It wasn't because she was unpleasant, but rather her insecurity and total dependence on her personal acting coach Natasha Lytess for approval. "Betty Grable was a funny, outgoing woman, totally professional and easy," explained Lauren Bacall in her memoir. "Marilyn was frightened, insecure - trusted only her coach and was always late. During our scenes she'd look at my forehead instead of my eyes; at the end of a take, look to her coach, standing behind Jean Negulesco, for approval. If the headshake was no, she'd insist on another take. A scene often went to fifteen or more takes, which meant I'd have to be good in all of them as no one knew which one would be used. Not easy - often irritating. And yet I couldn't dislike Marilyn. She had no meanness in her - no bitchery. She just had to concentrate on herself and the people who were there only for her."

Even Monroe's co-star Alex D'Arcy, who played her dashing eye patch-wearing suitor J. Stewart Merrill in the film, noticed the destructive nature of her relationship with Lytess. "Natasha was really advising her badly," he said according to the 1993 book Marilyn Monroe by Donald Spoto, "justifying her own presence on the set by requiring take after take and simply feeding on Marilyn's insecurity."

In a gracious display of camaraderie, Bacall and Grable decided not to fight with her. "Grable and I decided we'd try to make it easier for her," said Bacall, "make her feel she could trust us. I think she finally did."

Johnson took notice of the actresses' generosity towards Monroe. "The two Bettys have gone out of their way to help, and make friends with Marilyn," said Johnson in a letter to Thornton Delehanty, "but Miss Monroe is generally something of a zombie. Talking to her is like talking to somebody underwater. She's very honest and ambitious and is either studying her lines or her face during all of her working hours, and there is nothing whatever to be said against her, but she's not material for warm friendship."

As the film was close to wrapping, everyone was confident that the filming had gone well and that they had made a delightful film. "We'll be through with the picture early next week and what I've seen of it looks pretty good in this new CinemaScope," wrote Johnson in a letter to Thornton Delehanty. "It's a larkish story, the girls look very beautiful, and its purpose is to see if something indoors and with just two or three people can look good on the new wide screen."

In the end, Johnson was convinced that his insistence on rehearsing the actors throughout the shoot helped the film tremendously. "The picture turned out about five times as good as anything Jean had done before," he said, "simply because somebody had taken the trouble."

Even though How to Marry a Millionaire was Fox's first completed CinemaScope film, the studio decided to release The Robe, which wrapped soon after, first. It was a calculated move. The Robe was a grand epic biblical tale with a huge cast and many exterior shots that would be an appropriately opulent introduction of the new widescreen technology. How to Marry a Millionaire would prove to audiences as well as theater owners that CinemaScope was just as effective with a small cast and a lighter comic story.

Before the film was released, Darryl Zanuck had a charming musical prologue added to the film that was entirely separate from the story's narrative. Before the opening credits, a scene was shot of composer Alfred Newman conducting the Twentieth Century-Fox Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Newman's "Street Scene", which had originally been written for the 1931 film Street Scene. It was a sequence meant to help draw attention to the widescreen wonders of CinemaScope in How to Marry a Millionaire and highlight the richness of the added stereophonic sound.

How to Marry a Millionaire opened in November 1953, right on the heels of The Robe, which had premiered in September. As expected, it was an immediate smash hit with audiences and garnered mostly positive critical reviews. The film also went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design (Color) for its exquisite designs showcased on gorgeous Bacall, Monroe and Grable.

The success of the film made its impact in many ways. It helped make an auspicious introduction for Fox's CinemaScope process to audiences and usher in a new era of widescreen entertainment. Lauren Bacall was able to prove that she could indeed play comedy with panache, and it opened a whole new avenue in her illustrious career that made her just as in demand for comedies on stage and screen as she was for drama. Betty Grable, Fox's long-reigning Queen of the Lot, was able to leave the studio on a high note at the end of her long run, taking with her some of the best reviews of her life. She would return to make just one more film for Fox - this time as a free agent - in 1955's How to Be Very, Very Popular.

As Grable had earlier predicted, it was now Marilyn Monroe's time to shine. Although Monroe was already a star, How to Marry a Millionaire gave her the final push into the stratosphere of superstardom. The insecurities that she displayed to the cast and crew were invisible on the silver screen, and audiences adored her charming performance. She became a genuine sensation with a star that never faded, even after her untimely death in 1962.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

With minor variations, the "three girls in the big city looking for love" plot has been a romantic comedy template from the silent era to television's Sex and the City. And rarely has it been done better than in 20th Century Fox's How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). In this version, three gold-digging models rent a fancy New York penthouse, the better to snag millionaire husbands. But true love foils their schemes. The film was based on Zoe Akins' play, The Greeks Had a Word for It, and the first film version of the play, The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932). Playing a bit part as a showgirl in that film was Betty Grable, one of the stars of How to Marry a Millionaire.

In the 1950s, movie studios were trying to win back audiences lost to television by offering them what they couldn't see on the small screen at home. They made epic films, tried gimmicks like 3-D, and came up with some real innovations, like wide screen and stereophonic sound. The first 20th Century Fox film released in its wide screen format, called Cinemascope, was the biblical epic, The Robe (1953). But it was a less grandiose film - How to Marry a Millionaire (shot before The Robe but released after) - that marked the first time Cinemascope was used for a romantic comedy. The studio showed off the wide screen by adding a musical prologue and epilogue to How to Marry a Millionaire featuring Alfred Newman conducting the Fox orchestra playing his composition, "Street Scene." The film had other top-notch production values, including a stylish wardrobe by Charles Le Maire and Travilla, which earned an Oscar® nomination.

Best of all, How to Marry a Millionaire featured three of the era's most luscious stars: Fox's blonde-of-the-moment Marilyn Monroe, fresh from her success in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953); Fox's former blonde-of-the-moment, Betty Grable, whose career was slipping after a decade on top; and non-blonde (but glamorous) Lauren Bacall, who had never been in a comedy. Grable had been the studio's biggest moneymaker during World War II, and the queen of its glossy Technicolor musicals, but her recent films hadn't done well. Ironically, Grable herself had been brought in to replace the studio's 1930s blonde star Alice Faye when Faye was no longer a box office draw. And now Grable found herself getting the same cold shoulder from studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck that Faye had gotten a decade earlier. Grable felt that Zanuck cast her in How to Marry a Millionaire in an effort to humiliate her by contrasting her to the younger Monroe. Hollywood gossips were predicting a battle of the blondes on the set of How to Marry a Millionaire. But even though she realized that this would probably be her last Fox film, Grable determined to go out in style, and to give a great performance. She was also an easygoing, generous woman, and she sensed Monroe's insecurity. On the first day of filming, Grable took Monroe aside and said, "Go get yours. It's your turn now, I've had mine." Grable and Bacall hit it off immediately, and both women sympathized with Monroe and did all they could to help her, even when she drove them crazy with her neuroses.

Onscreen and off, everyone came out a winner in How to Marry a Millionaire. Fox had an enormous hit, which grossed about eight million dollars worldwide. Bacall proved she had the comedy chops that took her career in a whole new direction. Monroe cemented her position as the movies' reigning sex symbol. And Grable got some of the best reviews of the trio. One critic, Louis Berg, wrote, "Betty, conceding not a line not a wrinkle to the years, plays one of the models, matching the younger girls in glamour and cheesecake. For our money, Betty overshadows all." With her success in the film, Grable was able to leave the studio on a high note. She refused a loanout, walked into Zanuck's office with head held high, tore up her contract, and left the studio that had been her home for 17 years. She would return once, for How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955), as a freelancer.

Director: Jean Negulesco
Producer: Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, based on the plays The Greeks Had a Word for It by Zoe Akins and Loco by Dale Eunson & Katherine Albert
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Editor: Louis Loeffler
Costume Design: Charles Le Maire, Travilla
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Leland Fuller
Music: Alfred Newman, Cyril Mockridge
Principal Cast: Betty Grable (Loco Dempsey), Marilyn Monroe (Pola Debevoise), Lauren Bacall (Schatze Page), David Wayne (Freddie Denmark), Rory Calhoun (Eben), Cameron Mitchell (Tom Brookman), Alex D'Arcy (J. Stewart Merrill), Fred Clark (Waldo Brewster), William Powell (J.D. Hanley).

by Margarita Landazuri

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How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

"Certain for audience favor is Monroe's blonde with astigmatism who goes through life bumping into things, including men, because she thinks glasses would detract. Also captivating is Grable's Loco a friendly, cuddly blonde who turns situations to advantage until the great outdoors overwhelms her. As the brains of the trio, Bacall's Schatze is a wise-cracking, hard-shelled gal who gives up millions for love and gets both. A real standout among the other players is William Powell as the elderly Texas rancher who woos, wins and then gives up Bacall." -- Variety

"In the lingo of merchandising there is a neat word - 'packaging' - for the business of putting up a product in a container of deceptive size and show. And that, in manner of speaking, is the word for what Twentieth Century-Fox has done in fetching an average portion of very light comedy in its How to Marry a Millionaire...It is true that producer Nunnally Johnson, who also wrote the script, and Jean Negulesco, who directed, have attempted to fill the mammoth screen with extravagant scenic adornments and some fine panoramic displays...But the total effect of these glimpses is one of proud but nonessential showing off." -- The New York Times

"...the gold rush is rowdy, irreverent, and sprinkled with belly laughs. As the mainspring of the mantrap, Lauren Bacall is the least convincing of the three. She does her work with a reptile eye and a cold, slit grin. Marilyn Monroe, on the other hand, is pert and comfortable as a not-so-dumb blonde who doesn't like to wear glasses for fear men won't make passes. Betty Grable, a performer who has always appeared to have just about as much above the eyebrows as below, carries off the show with such scenes as the one in which she arrives with her millionaire friend at his 'lodge' in Maine and stammers in baby-blue-eyed amazement, 'But where are all the Elks?' The important thing about the picture, however, is the proof it offers that CinemaScope can do the comic about as well as it can the epic...In providing a second superproduction to follow up its first, Fox has made a strong lead to take the next trick in the big game now being played for the entertainment dollar. If How to Marry a Millionaire is a grandscale success, the other Hollywood studios will probably have to trump, or follow Fox's suit." -- Time magazine

"Terrific ensemble work in dandy comedy of three man-hunting females pooling resources to trap eligible bachelors." -- Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide


Charles Le Maire and Travilla received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design, Color for their work on How to Marry a Millionaire.

How to Marry a Millionaire was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Film.

Screenwriter/producer Nunnally Johnson was nominated for a WGA (Writers Guild of America) Award for Best Written American Comedy for his How to Marry a Millionaire screenplay.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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