On September 19, 1959, Marilyn Monroe was preparing for a meeting with Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev, spending the night in her bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The recent Golden Globe winner for her role in the comedy Only Girls in Jazz was not so thrilled to meet a man whose name meant almost nothing. It wasn’t until her studio told her that only two things turned Russians on, Coke and Marilyn Monroe, that curiosity and intrigue got the better of her. How could she now miss the chance to meet the Soviet premier? She was ordered to wear the tightest and sexiest dress. Some time later, she was quoted as saying that “Probably not much sex in Russia.”
It was the height of the Cold War, and just a few months earlier, Khrushchev famously uttered four words that alarmed the Americans. We will bury you. In order to regulate or smooth out hostilities, in particular because of the growing crisis over the fate of Berlin, President Eisenhower reluctantly invited Khrushchev to the Camp David summit. Khrushchev accepted this invitation and immediately added a Beatles tour of the United States to the program of his trip.
After landing at Andrews Air Force Base on September 15, Khrushchev visited the farm in Maryland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and New York City, including the Empire State Building. He seemed completely unimpressed, commenting “If you’ve seen one skyscraper, you’ve seen them all.”
As Khrushchev’s road show continued, the hot-tempered prime minister found himself in Hollywood four days later, on a Saturday. He previously accepted an invitation to watch the filming of Can-Can at Twentieth Century Fox and dine with the stars. Will it improve his mood?
Khrushchev was greeted by Hollywood celebrities. Everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Frank Sinatra competed for a spot on the 400 guest list. More importantly, the studio was on edge, desperately hoping and praying that Marilyn would arrive on time and in character. She was known for being always late and usually kept most people waiting. But Marilyn surprised everyone by arriving on time, in fact, she arrived early. The president of 20th Century Fox, Spyros Skouras, anxiously checked on Marilyn that she, as ordered, wore a tight, low-cut black dress to dazzle the Soviet premier. (It was not uncommon for stars to be told what to do. At the time, studios were “owned” by the stars, and sexism was widespread.)
When Khrushchev’s cortege arrived and all necessary precautions were taken, he sat at the head of the table during lunch in the studio. Marilyn sat at a table near the main table with film producers David Brown and Henry Fonda. From the breakfast room, she watched as Skouras and Khrushchev bantered in an awkward conversation about unemployment, American aid, and state monopoly (communism).
In his subsequent speech, Khrushchev continued to gain optimism. “Now I have a question for you,” he said. “Which country has the best ballet? Your? You don’t even have a permanent opera and ballet theatre. Your theaters live off what rich people give them. In our country, the state gives money. And the best ballet is in the Soviet Union. This is our pride.”
Continuing like this in vain for about three-quarters of an hour, he suddenly remembers something: “Just told me I can’t go to Disneyland” he announced. “I asked, ‘Why not? What it is? Do you have rocket launchers there? “
The audience laughs, but he doesn’t seem surprised. “Just listen,” He said. “Just listen to what they said to me: “We, that is, the American authorities, cannot guarantee your safety there. What it is? Is there a cholera epidemic there?” He punches the air and starts to look a little angry: “For me, this situation is unthinkable. I can’t find the words to explain this to my people.”
Finally, he sits down, and 400 strong spectators applaud, probably in relief or gratitude that the red-faced head of the Soviet premier did not explode.
When the rich lunch was over, he was escorted to the pavilion where the film “Can-Can” was filmed. He stopped along the way and was greeted by Hollywood stars who wanted to shake his hand. This is where Marilyn lined up, waiting to play her part in tonight’s drama. When Skouras spotted Marilyn in a crowd of movie stars, he hurried to introduce her to Khrushchev. It is here that Marilyn is wide-eyed and nervously reciting a line prepared for her by Natalie Wood (who speaks fluent Russian): “We at Twentieth Century Fox are delighted to have you come to visit our studio and country.”
Marilyn’s choice of words seemed to be something straight out of a communist etiquette guide. Khrushchev seemed to appreciate her blow to the Russian language. “You are a very nice young lady,” he says, squeezing the life out of her hands. And with this, Marilyn met Khrushchev.
After a while, Marilyn Monroe swept her brush with the Soviet prime minister. “This is perhaps the most important day in the history of the film business … I can say that Khrushchev liked me. When he was introduced to me, he smiled more than anyone else. He squeezed my arm so long and hard that I thought he was going to break it. I think it was better than kissing him.”
Interestingly, later in private, Marilyn told more about Khrushchev: “He was fat and ugly, with a wart on his face and growled. Who wants to be a communist with such a president.”
Note: This featured article was originally published in 2013 but has been moved to the front pages to further highlight the original content of this site.