spoilers for blonde ahead.
In his review for Netflix’s blonde, starring Ana de Armas and based on Joyce Carol Oates‘s bestselling 2000 novel, vanity fair‘s Richard Lawson points out that filmmaker Andrew Dominik “offers precious little of [Marilyn Monroe] at work.” Her 15-year career in Hollywood—in which Monroe was first an underestimated studio contract player, then the world’s biggest movie star, and later a liability—is largely sidelined in favor of plots featuring a talking fetus and her high-profile marriages .
Viewers are offered snippets of Monroe’s career—her first major performance as a deranged babysitter in 1952’s Don’t Bother to Knock, her fight for pay parity ahead of 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and turbulent days on 1959’s Some Like It Hot. But how many of the show-biz stories in Dominik’s blonde are true to how they really went down? Below, a breakdown of the filmmaking fact vs. fiction.
Marilyn’s Big Break
At the start of her career in show-biz, blonde‘s Monroe is raped by a man referred to as “Mr. Z” (David Warshofsky). Later in the film, when Monroe is asked by Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) how she got her start in movies, she appears disturbed and flashbacks of the assault play in her head. While the Mr. Z character is an invention of Oates’s novel, the closest real-life proxy is likely 20th Century Fox Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck.
In real life, there is not evidence to support that Monroe was assaulted by Zanuck, according to biographer Anthony Summers. He was, however, initially unconvinced that Monroe was a star. “The problem was that Darryl Zanuck really didn’t like Marilyn,” Amy Greene, one of Monroe’s friends, told vanity fair earlier this year. “He had a bug up her ass about not absolutely giving her the right parts of her. She was not respected within the industry. And that’s what she wanted: respect.” Zanuck would later become an engineer of her career, signing her in 1951 as a contract player to the studio.
During her tenure in Hollywood, Monroe was subjected to predatory behavior at the hands of other powerful men, she revealed in a 1953 article titled “Wolves I Have Known,” as told by journalist Florabel Muir. In it, she wrote, “The first real wolf I encountered should have been ashamed of himself, because he was trying to take advantage of a mere kid…. He gave me a script to read and told me how to pose while reading it. All the poses had to be reclining, although the words I was reading didn’t seem to call for that position.”
According to one of Monroe’s friends, by biographer Charles Cassillo, she had an arrangement with film executive Joe Schenck, in which she would “service” him for career advancement, including a six-month deal with Columbia Pictures. That contract was reportedly not extended after Monroe allegedly refused sex with studio president Harry Cohn in his office. As noted in CNN’s docuseries Reframed: Marilyn Monroe, the star reportedly rejected Cohn’s invitation to his yacht, by quipping, “Will your wife join us?” For a time, she also lived with her decades-older agent and her lover, Johnny Hyde, who helped secure her seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Pay Dispute
one of blonde‘s only moments of levity comes when Monroe is offered $500 a week to star in 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, while her costar Jane Russell is paid $100,000 because she’s on loan from another studio. In the film, Monroe refuses Fox’s terms of her, declaring: “I’m the blonde in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes!”
A decade later, in her final interview, Monroe would recount a similar story: “I remember when I got the part in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Jane Russell, she was the brunette in it and I was the blonde. She got $200,000 for it, and I got my $500 a week, but that to me was, you know, considerable. She, by the way, was quite wonderful to me.”