HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, which premiered in L.A. on Nov. 4, 1953, was 20th Century-Fox’s first CinemaScope feature, but the studio didn’t release it until after it had opened THE ROBE.
ROBE, a biblical drama, started production before the romantic musical comedy MILLIONAIRE began shooting. Although MILLIONAIRE was ready first, Fox chose ROBE as its initial CinemaScope release on Sept. 16, 1953, because it seemed likely to attract a bigger audience to experience the new widescreen process.
CinemaScope led the way as Hollywood fought new competition in the early ’50s from the fast-growing home entertainment medium television. Ticket sales plunged because of the small screen’s sudden popularity and studios decided that making theatre screens look bigger was the best way to fight TV. Fox’s CinemaScope was an anamorphic lens process that followed the more complicated Cinerama, which required three large curved screens and specially constructed theatres. CinemaScope’s screen was an extended wide rectangle that only needed a lens adapter fitted to existing theatre projectors.
MILLIONAIRE teamed up two top Fox stars, Betty Grable & Lauren Bacall, with the studio’s new blonde bombshell — Marilyn Monroe. Grable got top billing in the credits because of her contract, but Fox knew it was Marilyn who really had moviegoers’ attention and put her first in the film’s trailers & posters.
Looking back at the CinemaScope technology, Bacall explained in her 1979 autobiography “By Myself” that it was challenging for actors because they couldn’t be too close to one another due to the long narrow screen. On the other hand, the technical demands of setting up CinemaScope shots now had directors filming longer scenes. Bacall, with her theatrical background, liked that because it was more like working on stage.
Bacall also noted Marilyn’s insecurity and complete dependency on her personal acting coach rather than on MILLIONAIRE director Jean Negulesco, who went on to make such hits as THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (1954), WOMAN’S WORLD (1954) & DADDY LONG LEGS (1955). Marilyn, according to Bacall, would look at her acting coach for a nod of approval after every take — which explains why some shots wound up needing 15 or more takes.
Despite the pain that caused Bacall & Grable, they chose not to go to war with Marilyn. Instead, they tried hard to make the process easier for their inexperienced & insecure co-star so that, as Bacall put it, she’d “feel she could trust us. I think she finally did.”
It all paid off at the boxoffice. MILLIONAIRE, with a budget of $1.9M, had domestic rentals of $7.3M, big money then. It was 1953’s fourth biggest film, per Wikipedia. The biggest — Fox was right — was THE ROBE. It cost $5M to produce and was #1 with rentals of $17.5M.