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By 1959 Marilyn Monroe, fresh off her success in Some Like It Hot (1959), was an international superstar. French actor-singer Yves Montand was also a major star, but only in Europe. He hoped that appearing with Monroe in Let's Make Love (1960) would ignite an American film career as well. The film didn't lead to American stardom for Montand, but his affair with Monroe during production turned out to be another nail in the coffin for Monroe's already-shaky marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.
Montand plays Jean-Marc Clement, a stuffy French billionaire living in New York. When he becomes the target of a satirical off-Broadway revue, he goes to the theater where the show is rehearsing to check it out. The director mistakes him for a lookalike actor auditioning for the role of Clement, and the billionaire, enchanted with leading lady Amanda (Monroe), decides to play along with the deception. That includes hiring guest stars Milton Berle to teach him comedy, Gene Kelly to teach him to dance, and Bing Crosby to teach him to croon. It's a lightweight backstage musical romance that relies heavily on the charms of the two stars, and Monroe, at least, delivers, offering a sizzling version of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" which ranks with "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) as one of her best musical numbers. Playing a humorless tycoon, Montand struggles with his English, and is forced to conceal his musical talent in a less appealing role.
Let's Make Love was a film nobody really wanted to make, except 20th Century Fox executives. In late 1955, Monroe had signed a new four-picture, seven-year contract with Fox that also allowed her to make films for other studios. But four years later, she had made only one picture for Fox, Bus Stop (1956), under that contract. While Monroe worked on Some Like It Hot in 1958, her husband had finished the screenplay for The Misfits (1961), and the couple was preparing that film for production through their own company. However, Fox insisted that she had to make another film for the studio first. Reluctantly, Monroe agreed to star in the least objectionable script offered by Fox, a comedy by Oscar®-winning screenwriter Norman Krasna, called The Billionaire.
Originally intended as a vehicle for Yul Brynner, it was now slated to star Gregory Peck as the uptight mogul, with George Cukor set to direct. Monroe and Miller reluctantly agreed, but after seeing the script asked that her role be expanded. Unhappy with the new emphasis on the leading lady, Peck bowed out. According to various sources, the part was also offered to Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, and Charlton Heston. Meanwhile, Yves Montand (who had appeared in a French film version of Arthur Miller's The Crucible in 1957 with his wife Simone Signoret) had earned raves for his recent one-man musical show in New York, and with Monroe and Miller's enthusiastic approval, producer Jerry Wald offered him the part of the billionaire. Following a rewrite and new title, Let's Make Love, production got underway in January, 1960.
Monroe hosted a welcome reception for the Montands, and the two couples were soon inseparable. Montand and Signoret, both active in leftist politics in France, greatly admired the political content in Miller's work. The couples had adjoining bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and ate dinner together every night, as Montand practiced his English, and they discussed the script. But cracks in the Miller-Monroe marriage soon became evident. Miller did some uncredited rewrites on Let's Make Love, doing so resentfully both because he felt it took him away from what he considered his more important work, and because he thought Let's Make Love was beneath him. The tension between Monroe and her husband only added to her anxiety. Director George Cukor, known for his talent at soothing temperamental actresses, did what he could to help. "She was very sweet, but I had no real communication with her at all," he recalled. "You couldn't get at her...As a director I really had very little influence on her. All I could do was make a climate that was agreeable for her. Every day was an agony of struggle for her, just to get there."
Montand was suffering his own frustrations because of his difficulties with the language and the inadequate script, and their insecurities drew him and Monroe closer together. In April, after Signoret had returned to Europe and Miller had left to work on pre-production for The Misfits, Monroe and Montand began an affair. It ended with the end of production, when Montand returned to Europe and his wife. Monroe divorced Miller shortly after production wrapped on The Misfits. In her autobiography, the wonderfully-titled Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be, Simone Signoret wrote affectionately and compassionately about Monroe: "She will never know how much I didn't hate her, and how I understood that story, which only concerned the four of us, although it seemed to obsess the whole world."
As for Let's Make Love, the reviews were mixed. Most found the script labored and trite, but had praise for the stars. The film "has taken something not too original (the Cinderella theme) and dressed it up like new," according to Variety. "Monroe is a delight...Yves Montand...gives a sock performance, full of heart and humour." Brendan Gill of The New Yorker wrote, "If playing the romantic lead in a picture as big and many-colored and empty as the Grand Canyon has left M. Montand unscathed, what wonders could he perform in a trifle, modestly written and directed?" Unfortunately, it was not to be. Montand's American film appearances were limited to big, empty films such as My Geisha (1962) with Shirley MacLaine, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) with Barbara Streisand. But he remained one of France's most beloved stars until his death in 1991.
Let's Make Love was nominated for an Oscar® for scoring of a motion picture, but lost to Song Without End (1960).
Producer: Jerry Wald
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Norman Krasna, Hal Kanter (additional material), Arthur Miller (uncredited)
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Editor: David Bretherton
Costume Design: Dorothy Jeakins
Art Direction: Lyle R. Wheeler, Gene Allen
Music: Lionel Newman, songs by Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen
Principal Cast: Marilyn Monroe (Amanda Dell), Yves Montand (Jean-Marc Clement), Tony Randall (Alexander Coffman), Frankie Vaughan (Tony Danton), Wilfrid Hyde White (George Welch), David Burns, (Oliver Burton), Michael David (Dave Kerry), Mara Lynn (Lily Nyles), Dennis King, Jr. (Abe Miller), Joe Besser (Charlie Lamont).
by Margarita Landazuri