Hollywood: They’ll Pay You a Thousand Dollars for a Kiss, and Fifty Cents for Your Soul

Marilyn Monroe? Ben Hecht? Milton Greene? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The legendary screen star Marilyn Monroe was ambivalent about her fame. She supposedly said the following:

Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.

Is this an accurate quotation? Do you know where it appeared?

Quote Investigator: This is a controversial quote because it was printed in an autobiography of Monroe titled “My Story” that was first published in 1974. This was a posthumous work released twelve years after the tragic death of Monroe in 1962, and some critics believe that the text does not reflect the actual words of the celebrity. Here is a longer excerpt [MSMO]:

In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.

When “My Story” was released it was evaluated critically by the book editor of the Los Angeles Times. The source of the memoir was a typewritten manuscript from a former photographer of Monroe named Milton Greene. The publisher Stein & Day did not attempt to check or research the text. The executors of the Monroe estate shared profits from sales of the book with Greene and the publisher. The newspaper wrote the following [MSLA]:

This “new” autobiography covers the same ground—most of it word for word—as a series of luridly illustrated articles published 20 years ago in the London Empire News between May 9 and Aug 1, 1954. The collaborator/ghost writer of that series was apparently screenwriter Ben Hecht.

Extended passages of identical text from the memoir and the London Empire News were displayed in sidebars of the article in the Los Angeles Times.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1975 the book reviewer in “The Spectator” of London expressed incredulity regarding the authorship of memoir because of its prose style [TSLA]:

Which brings us to My Story which is supposed to be by Marilyn Monroe. We are asked to believe that she wrote sentences like, “All your hungry days and hysterical nights step up to the headlines and take a bow.” …

Try this on for size: “Automobiles roll down Sunset Boulevard like an endless string of beetles. Their rubber tires make a purring high-class noise.”

Yet, the perception of Monroe’s intellect is often incomplete. The sexpot persona was her artificial construction, and it successfully catapulted her to stardom. She displayed a sharp wit with responses like the following reported in Time magazine [MOTI]:

She admitted she posed for the [calendar] picture back in 1949 to pay her overdue rent. … Asked if she really had nothing on in the photograph, Marilyn, her blue eyes wide, purred: “I had the radio on.”

In conclusion, the quotation was printed in Marilyn Monroe’s memoir, but its provenance is not certain. QI does not think the passage is a complete fabrication, but a ghost writer may have helped to shape the text.

[MSMO] 1974, My Story by Marilyn Monroe, Chapter 10, Page 47, Stein and Day, New York. (Verified on paper)

[MSLA] 1974 April 15, Los Angeles Times, New Monroe Book From Old Memoirs by Digby Diehl, Page C1, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)

[TSLA] 1975 November 29, The Spectator, Number 7692, The corn is Greene by Larry Adler, Page 701, The Spectator, London. (Verified on microfilm)

[MOTI] 1952 August 11, Time, Cinema: Something for the Boys, Time, Inc. New York. (Online Time magazine archive; Accessed June 14, 2012)