Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford Feuded in the Press Over a Provocative Dress
The older actor accused the up-and-coming star of "flaunting" her sexuality.
Marilyn Monroe wore a number of iconic dresses during her lifetime, including the white halter dress from The Seven-Year Itch and the hot pink gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She even wore a dress that kicked off a public squabble with another star. In 1953, Monroe feuded with Joan Crawford after she wore a provocative gold gown to an award show. Crawford slammed the Some Like It Hot star and her attire in the press, which Monroe said surprised her. Read on to find out why Crawford found the dress so offensive and what else happened between the two Old Hollywood legends.
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In the early '50s, Crawford was established and Monroe was up-and-coming.
Monroe and Crawford's feud kicked off when Monroe wore a gold gown to the Photoplay magazine awards in 1953. At the time, she was around 27 years old, and she won the Fasting Rising Star award that night. The young actor had been in several movies, including All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle, but hadn't yet appeared in her biggest starring roles. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released later the same year.
As for Crawford, she had already achieved great success as an actor and gone through some ups and downs in her career. She'd been in many films, including Possessed, The Women, and Mildred Pierce, for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1946.
Monroe chose a scandalous look to the award show.
To pick up her Rising Star award from Photoplay, Monroe wore a gown that was made for Gentleman Prefer Blondes by costume designer William Travilla. (It ended up in the film only briefly.) As reported by Vanity Fair, the dress was so tight that Monroe had to be sewn into it. It was made of pleated gold lamé fabric, had a plunging neckline, and was tight around the hips and backside. Vanity Fair reports that Travilla said that "the nature of the material would make her appear to be naked, her body covered with paint."
The dress got everyone's attention. As reported by The Hairpin, gossip columnist Sheila Graham wrote that Monroe "wriggled in, wearing the tightest of tight gold dresses. While everyone watched, the blonde swayed sinuously down the long room to her place on the dais. She had stopped the show cold."
The dress was also written about by another gossip columnist, Florabel Muir, who pitted Monroe against Crawford. "With one little twist of her derriere, Marilyn Monroe stole the show," Muir wrote. "The assembled guests broke into wild applause, [while] two other screen stars, Joan Crawford and Lana Turner, got only casual attention. After Marilyn every other girl appeared dull by contrast."
Crawford slammed Monroe for "flaunting" her sexuality.
After being dissed in the press, Crawford made her feelings about Monroe's dress known. She told gossip columnist, Bob Thomas, of the younger actor's appearance, "It was like a burlesque show. The audience yelled and shouted, and Jerry Lewis got up on the table and whistled. But those of us in the industry just shuddered."
The Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? star continued, "Sex plays a tremendously important part in every person's life. People are interested in it, intrigued with it. But they don't like to see it flaunted in their faces." She added that Monroe's "publicity has gone too far" and suggested that she needed help to come across as a proper lady.
"She is making the mistake of believing her publicity," Crawford told Thomas. "Someone should make her see the light. She should be told that the public likes provocative feminine personalities; but it also likes to know that underneath it all, the actresses are ladies."
Monroe responded generously.
Monroe heard what Crawford had to say and made a public reply. She pointed out that she was an up-and-comer while Crawford was already famous and said that she was surprised the actor had criticized her.
"Although I don't know Miss Crawford very well, she was a symbol to me of kindness and understanding to those who need help," Monroe told yet another gossip columnist, Louella Parsons (via Vanity Fair). "At first, all I could think of was why should she select me to blast? She is a great star. I'm just starting. And then, when the first hurt began to die down, I told myself she must have spoken to Mr. Thomas impulsively, without thinking."
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Monroe talked about her relationship with Crawford in her book.
In 1974, Ben Hecht published My Story, which is considered an autobiography written by Hecht and Monroe, because it consists of interviews with Monroe that were edited together. In the book, Monroe recalled meeting Crawford early in her career. She said that the older actor offered to help her with her wardrobe. "It's so easy not to look vulgar," Monroe said Crawford told her.
"She was an impressive woman. I admired her during dinner," Monroe said of their first meeting. "I hoped that when I was her age I would keep my looks as well as she had."
They stayed in touch for a while but drifted apart, and Monroe said that the next time she heard from Crawford was in the papers a year later. At this point, she recounted a story about presenting at the 1951 Academy Awards that is seemingly mixed up with the Photoplay awards story. (At the Oscars, Monroe did not wear a provocative dress, but rather a black ballgown.)
"I haven't saved the clippings, but I have sort of remembered what she said," Monroe said in the book. "She said that Marilyn Monroe's vulgar performance at the Academy affair was a disgrace to all of Hollywood. The vulgarity, she said consisted of my wearing a dress too tight for me and wriggling my rear when I walked up holding one of the holy Oscars in my hand. I was so surprised I could hardly believe what I was reading."