On March 12, when the list of stars meets at the Ovation Hollywood to attend the gala of the oscarnot one, but two of the nominees for Best actress They will have been feted for playing the late marilyn monroe: Ana de Armas in Andrew Dominik’s film, Blondeby Andrew Dominik, but also Michelle Williams, who received an Academy Award for her role in the film My week with Marilyn more than a decade before her recognition for 2022’s The Fabelmans. Yet despite taking home a Golden Globe for Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, she herself Monroe was never an Oscar nominee.
In fact, she only attended the ceremony once, she did it as a presenter and not as a nominee. Still a rising star at the time, she had made a cameo appearance as Miss Caswell, ‘a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts’, on All About Eve, and the Joseph L Mankiewicz film had garnered a whopping 14 award nominations. Oscars from 1951, a record matched only by Titanic and La La Land, many decades later. The 25-year-old pin-up had been chosen to present the award for Best Sound Recording, a category in which All About Eve was up against Walt Disney’s Cinderella, among other films.
More than 1,800 people packed into the Pantages Theater for the 23rd Academy Awards on March 29, including Los Angeles Mayor Mogens Skot-Hansen and California Governor Earl Warren. Bleachers had also been installed along Hollywood Boulevard, with speakers broadcasting audio from inside the theater. (The Oscars weren’t first televised until 1953, so fans were the closest to the action.) Presenter Fred Astaire did not hold back when extolling the growing power of the awards in Hollywood: ‘The Oscars are something people yearn for, people fight for and people cry for, and the competition never ends until that they finally win recognition’, he solemnly proclaimed in his opening speech.
Unlike Audrey Hepburn, whom the press considered the reverse of Monroe, marilyn she never established a relationship with a particular couturier during her career, and her sense of style, outside of the 20th Century Fox lot, leaned toward the clean, the classic, and the quintessentially American. On the red carpet, like most stars of the day, he relied on the wardrobe department of his studio. (If Blonde makes one thing clear, it’s the distinction between Norma and Marilyn, a division that’s reflected in the actress’s sartorial choices.) So, for the Oscars, Monroe chose a dress by designer Charles LeMaire –Fox wardrobe chief– which had originally been worn by Valentina Cortese in the film The House on Telegraph Hill a few months earlier.
Along with Edith Head, LeMaire won Best Costume Design for their work on All about Eve. (She had been attached to the film in the early stages, when star Claudette Colbert was set to play Margo Channing, before her back injury forced her to give the role to Bette Davis.) If the Academy fell in love with Eve’s sumptuous wardrobe *—*$500,000 worth of mink coats were used in the famous cocktail scene alone—Monroe’s sequin-dotted bouffant gown wasn’t quite as successful.
Shortly before her performance, Marilyn noticed that her dress had a large rip on the side and tearfully insisted that she would not be able to go on stage. A seamstress was quickly called in to fix the tear in a matter of minutes, and the star took to the Pantages stage after a typically macho performance by Astaire. ‘If you follow the sports pages, you will have seen a recent photo of marilyn monroe with the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team,’ he quipped, ‘a Louiseville sportswriter summed it up by saying it’s the best picture of the Pirates since before they lost the 1927 World Series.’ With the dress intact, Monroe managed to deliver her speech, announcing All abut Eve as the winner before rushing offstage with the Fox employee sent to collect the Oscar on behalf of the studio.
‘Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a busy night’, there is no doubt about that.
Article originally published in British Vogue, vogue.co.uk. Adapted by Amira Saim.