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When Clash By Night came around, Marilyn Monroe was under contract to 20th Century-Fox, but the studio allowed RKO to use the star.
Monroe was still in the beginning of her career, but it was becoming clear to those around her that she was meant for stardom – especially due to the attention created by a calendar.
This film noir was released soon after naked photographs of Monroe were printed in a 1949 calendar. The media buzzed around the up-and-comer to the point that Paul Douglas was frustrated that the other cast members weren’t having their pictures taken. Nevertheless, the free publicity helped the film, and the public didn’t seem to care about the pictures.
But it wasn’t just the media attention that made working with Monroe difficult.
Barbara Stanwyck said, “She wasn’t disciplined, and she was often late, and she drove Bob Ryan, Paul Douglas and myself out of our minds… but she didn’t do it viciously, and there was a sort of magic about her which we all recognized at once.”
Director Fritz Lang said, “Poor Marilyn was a scared girl… when Marilyn missed her lines – which she did constantly – Barbara never said a word.”
The root of the problem seemed to be Monroe’s lack of confidence, which apparently wasn’t helped by Natasha Lytess, her acting coach.
Lytess had hoped for a career in Hollywood herself, but never had a break-out moment. Clash By Night was the first time that Lytess appeared on a film set to assist Marilyn with acting, and eventually, the star would depend on her to the point of refusing to work unless she was there.
Monroe relied on Lytess’ facial expressions and gestures to guide her performance to the point that Fritz Lang had her leave the set. Eventually, Monroe herself seemed to recognize that Lytess wasn’t helping.
“There were days when I couldn’t figure out why she kept me on as a student because she made me feel so shallow and without talent,” Monroe remembered.
Despite the challenges, Lang was pleased with the final result and even with Monroe.
“[She was] such a beautiful young child… I liked her very much, but in the film, Stanwyck was the real star, and she never complained about the number of retakes Monroe required.”