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How to Marry a Millionaire
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,How to Marry a Millionaire

How to Marry a Millionaire

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