Category Archives: Marilyn Monroe

It’s Not Quite True I Had Nothing On: The Radio Was On

Marilyn Monroe? Sheilah Graham? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Beauty icon Marilyn Monroe’s film career was jeopardized in the 1950s when scandal-mongers reported on her past as a risqué calendar model. Interestingly, her popularity and fame actually grew. When she was questioned about the calendar she responded with a clever and hilarious remark about a radio. Is this tale authentic or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the gossip column of Sheilah Graham in June 1952. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A pompous visitor asked Marilyn Monroe at Niagara—”Is it true that when you posed for that famous calendar photograph, Miss Monroe, you had nothing on?” “No,” said our Marilyn, “I had the radio on.”

Monroe was one of the stars of the film “Niagara” which was filmed in 1952 and released in 1953. It is conceivable that this tale was crafted by a humorist on behalf of Monroe and her studio; the zinger was then given to Graham for publication. Nevertheless, Monroe definitely employed the quip when she was interviewed for a 1953 profile published in “Esquire” magazine as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1952 June 23, The Evening Star, Hollywood Diary by Sheilah Graham (North American Newspaper Alliance), Quote Page A13, Column 4, Washington D.C. (GenealogyBank)

Give a Girl the Right Shoes and She Can Conquer the World

Marilyn Monroe? Bette Midler? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Midler03Quote Investigator: There is a picture on several Pinterest pinboards and Tumblrs that shows a young girl walking in oversized shoes with the following quotation superimposed on the image

Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.
—Marilyn Monroe

A recent article on the Buzzfeed website expressed skepticism about this attribution. The staff member Gabby Noone stated: “There doesn’t seem to be any proof” that Monroe said it. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Marilyn Monroe died in 1962, and QI has not found any substantive support that she made this remark.

The earliest evidence located by QI was published in a newspaper supplement called “Family Weekly” in January 1980. A regular feature titled “Ask Them Yourself” printed questions for celebrities together with their answers. The multi-award-winning singer-songwriter and actress Bette Midler was asked about shoes: 1 2

Is it true that you really have a passion for shoes? If so, what kind do you prefer? — O.L., Sacramento, Calif.

The spike-heeled kind. They’re not always easy to find. I firmly believe that with the right footwear one can rule the world. Fortunately for the world, I have not found the correct footwear to achieve that goal. However, shoe stores across the nation can attest to my sincere and persistent efforts in that direction.

The phrasing above differed from the modern quotation, but Midler’s humorous remark still yielded a close match. By 1985 another statement was being credited to Midler, and this version gave an even closer match with “correct footwear” substituted for “right shoes”: 3

“Give a girl the correct footwear and she can conquer the world.”
– Bette Midler

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1980 January 13, Trenton Evening Times, Section: Family Weekly (Newspaper Supplement), Ask Them Yourself: Question for Bette Midler, Page unnumbered: Second Page of Section, (GNB Page 167), Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1980 January 13, Herald Statesman, Section: Family Weekly (Newspaper Supplement), Ask Them Yourself: Question for Bette Midler, Page unnumbered, Second Page of Section, Column 2, Yonkers, New York. (Old Fulton)
  3. 1985 November 27, Houston Chronicle, Section: Lifestyle, Great shoes can make a difference by Michelle Smith, Quote Page 3, Houston, Texas. (NewsBank Access World News)

But Suppose the Child Inherited My Beauty and Your Brains?

George Bernard Shaw and Isadora Duncan? Anatole France and Isadora Duncan? Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe? Albert Einstein and a chorus girl? George Bernard Shaw and a strange lady in Zurich?

duncandna05Dear Quote Investigator: Reportedly there was famous exchange between the prominent playwright George Bernard Shaw and the glamorous dancer Isadora Duncan on the topic of producing a child together. Duncan stated that Shaw had a magnificent brain and she had a glorious beauty; the combination would yield a remarkable child. Shaw replied with regret that he feared the result would embody his beauty and her brains.

Recently, I read this same tale, but the dialog was between two other people: the playwright Arthur Miller and the icon Marilyn Monroe. Is this anecdote genuine? Who were the participants?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence matching the template of this story located by QI was published in the Boston Globe newspaper in 1923. The two supposed participants were the Frenchman Anatole France who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1921 and the acclaimed dancer Isadora Duncan. The spelling “Isadore” was used by the paper: 1

In all probability the conversation between Isadore Duncan and Anatole France, who were discussing eugenics, came to a sudden stop when Isadore said: “Imagine a child with my beauty and your brains!” and Anatole responded: “Yes, but imagine a child with my beauty and your brains!”

A version of the anecdote featuring George Bernard Shaw and Isadora Duncan was in circulation during the same time period. Here is an instance from an Interfraternity Conference held in New York in 1925 where the communication between Shaw and Duncan was via letters instead of spoken. This tale was presented by Oswald C. Hering, a noted architect. The spelling “Isidora” was used in the following passage: 2

It reminds me of the story going around about the letters interchanged by Isidora Duncan and Bernard Shaw. Miss Duncan wrote Mr. Shaw as follows: ‘My dear Mr. Shaw: I beg to remind you that as you have the greatest brain in the world, and I have the most beautiful body, it is our duty to posterity to have a child.’ Whereupon Mr. Shaw replied to Miss Duncan: ‘My dear Miss Duncan: I admit that I have the greatest brain in the world and that you have the most beautiful body, but it might happen that our child would have my body and your brain. Therefore, I respectfully decline.’

This popular story was disseminated internationally, and George Bernard Shaw was asked directly about the anecdote by the editor of the German periodical Sächsisches Volksblatt because of a controversy involving a writer named Max Hayek. A short story by Hayek shared similarities with the anecdote, and he was accused plagiarizing an instance of the tale featuring Shaw and Duncan that was published in the Italian periodical Milan Corriere della Sera.

On March 3, 1926 Shaw sent a letter in which he strongly denied the Italian story about his interaction with Duncan and remarked on the unreliability of newspaper accounts in general: 3

… No beautiful American dancer has ever proposed marriage to me, on eugenic or any other grounds. The Italian journalist invented the dancer and her proposal; stole the witty reply from Herr Max; and chose me for the hero of his tale because newspapers always buy stories about me. 99% of these stories are flat falsehoods. 1/2% are half true. The remaining 1/2% are true, but spoilt in the telling.

Strikingly, Shaw made additional intriguing comments on this topic in 1931. He claimed that he once received a comparable “strange offer” from a “foreign actress”, and his reply was analogous to the one in the famous anecdote. The details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations and commentary.

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  1. 1923 December 7, Boston Globe, Editorial Points, Quote Page 18, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  2. 1925, Minutes of the Seventeenth Session of the Interfraternity Conference, (Held at New York on November 27th and 28th, 1925), Report of Committee on Chapter House Architecture, Quote Page 111, Publisher: National Interfraternity Conference, New York. (Verified with scans; Great thanks to Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system)
  3. 1988, Bernard Shaw Collected Letters: 1926-1950, Edited by Dan H. Laurence, Volume 4 of 4, (Letter from George Bernard Shaw to The Sächsisches Volksblatt, Zwickau, dated March 3, 1926), Quote Page 16 and 17, Viking, New York. (Verified on paper)

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

Marilyn Monroe? Eleanor Roosevelt? Anne Boleyn? Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Observing a stream of tweets is a confusing way to learn about a quotation:

Well behaved women rarely make history – Marilyn Monroe
Well-behaved women rarely make history – Eleanor Roosevelt
Well behaved women rarely make history – Anne Boleyn
Well behaved women rarely make history – Unknown
Well behaved women never make history – Marilyn Monroe
Well-behaved women never make history – My senior Quote

Some of these quotes use the word “rarely” and others use the word “never”. Anne Boleyn was beheaded, and I doubt she wanted to enter the history books via an execution. Could you examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a version of this phrase known to QI appeared in an academic paper in the journal “American Quarterly” in 1976 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. The statement used the word “seldom” instead of “rarely” or “never”: 1

Well-behaved women seldom make history; …

In 1976 Ulrich was a student at the University of New Hampshire, and she earned her Ph.D. in History there in 1980. She is now an eminent Pulitzer-Prize-winning Professor of early American history at Harvard University. The article containing the phrase was titled “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735”. The goal of the paper and much of Ulrich’s work was the recovery of the history of women who were not featured in history books of the past. She was interested in limning the lives of ordinary women who were considered “well-behaved” or “vertuous” (an alternate spelling of virtuous).

The 1990 book “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812” by Ulrich reprinted and extensively commented on the diary entries of an ordinary midwife in Maine who also acted as a healer. The book illuminated the medical practices and sexual attitudes of the era and was awarded a Pulitzer-Prize and Bancroft Prize.

Here are additional selected citations.

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  1. 1976 Spring, American Quarterly, Volume 28, Number 1, “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Start Page 20, Quote Page 20, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, (JSTOR) link

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.

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Kissing Marilyn Monroe is Like Kissing Hitler

Tony Curtis? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: Tony Curtis was a wonderful actor, and I was saddened when he passed away in 2010. For years I have wondered about a quotation that he supposedly said. The story goes that he was asked what it was like to kiss Marilyn Monroe and he said:

Kissing Marilyn was like kissing Hitler.

This is bizarre. I don’t believe it. Why would he say it? Could you help with this question?

Quote Investigator: There is considerable evidence that Curtis did utter these words and in his later life he did acknowledge that the words were his. The rationale behind the quotation is more complicated and Curtis gave more than one explanation.

In 1959 Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe worked together in the very popular classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” directed by Billy Wilder. Monroe was a glamorous icon in 1959, and the film contained a kissing scene between Curtis and Monroe. Curtis says he was asked repeatedly what it was like to kiss the leading screen siren of the age, and finally in exasperation he replied sarcastically that it was like kissing Hitler. He simply wanted to end the questioning with a joke. He really thought she was a great kisser, and people misunderstood the quote. That is one explanation he has given.

Another explanation is given in press accounts from the 1960s that state Curtis was very angry with Monroe because of her actions during filming which reportedly were irresponsible and self-centered. She refused to follow schedules and required a large number of retakes because she would not say her lines properly. These difficulties precipitated his comment about kissing Monroe. Curtis was simply expressing his extreme irritation.

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