As far back as January 1953, an issue of Motion Picture and Television Magazine included an interesting article entitled “Wolves I Have Known.” Not only was the title eye-catching, but it was written by someone who was just getting established in Hollywood — Marilyn Monroe. “There are many types of wolves,” she wrote. “Some are sinister, others are just good-time Charlies trying to get something for nothing and others make a game of it.”
You may not have realized that Marilyn Monroe struggled for years before becoming a star, so she saw firsthand how the movie business worked. In an interview two years before her death, she explained how sex was part of the culture. “When I started modeling, it was like part of the job … and if you didn’t go along, there were 25 girls who would.”
And becoming a star didn’t make things any easier. In 1946, at the tender age of 20, Monroe signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox, a major breakthrough for her career. The following year she signed a new contract with Columbia Pictures. After she had her screen test, Monroe reported the studio’s head, Harry Cohn, invited her on a yacht trip. She replied she would only go if Cohn’s wife went too; she was dropped from her contract at Columbia.
But you can avoid the culture only so long. “You know that when a producer calls an actress into his office to discuss a script, that isn’t all he has in mind,” she explained in her unfinished autobiography My Story. “I’ve slept with producers. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t.”
That didn’t mean she accepted the status quo; she still tried to help other women. “Marilyn was really one of the first big stars to speak out about what we would now call sexual harassment,” says says Sarah Churchwell, author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. “She was talking about a culture in which women were unsafe [and] her whole point was to say this happens over and over and over.”
Of course, due to her public image and untimely death, other aspects of her life are much more newsworthy than being a cultural pioneer. Or as her good friend, singer Ella Fitzgerald, said “She was an unusual woman — a little ahead of her times, and she didn’t know it.”