Starting with Clash By Night (1952) Marilyn Monroe refused to film a scene unless her acting coach Natasha Lytess was present on the set. Marilyn had met Lytess in the spring of 1948 when the latter was still head drama coach at Columbia. The two women first worked together on Ladies of the Chorus (1948) and continued their collaboration through The Seven Year Itch (1955). Extremely insecure about her acting abilities, Marilyn relied heavily upon Lytess, asking for her approval after each take. If Lytess disapproved, Marilyn would request another take and often ended up doing numerous takes. Needless to say, directors were not happy with the interference from Lytess. She was often banned from the set (for example by Otto Preminger and Roy Baker on respectively River of No Return and Don't Bother to Knock) but would always be reinstated as Marilyn wouldn't shoot without her.
|Above and below: Marilyn Monroe studying with her coach Natasha Lytess. Directors and Marilyn's co-stars considered Lytess' presence on the set a major nuisance.|
Darryl Zanuck, studio head of 20th Century-Fox, was very unhappy with the Marilyn-Lytess situation. Before Don't Bother To Knock (1952) went into production, he received a request from Marilyn to have Lytess on the set with her. Zanuck responded by letter, saying it was "completely impractical and impossible" and "how ludicrous it would be if every actor or actress felt that they needed special coaching from the sidelines". But despite Zanuck's letter to Marilyn (as seen below), Lytess was not only present on the set of Don't Bother To Knock but also on the sets of Marilyn's subsequent films. With Marilyn quickly becoming one of 20th Century-Fox's biggest box-office draws, directors and co-workers had no choice but to put up with Lytess' interference. In 1955, after disapproving of Marilyn's relationship with Joe DiMaggio, Lytess was replaced with Paula Strasberg who, much to everybody's annoyance, continued to coach Marilyn on the set.
December 10, 1951
Miss Marilyn Monroe
611 N. Crescent Drive
Your request to have a special dialogue director work with you on the set is a completely impractical and impossible request. The reason we engage a director and entrust him to direct a picture is because we feel that he has demonstrated his ability to function in that capacity. Whether the final performance comes out right or wrong there cannot be more than one responsible individual and that individual is the director. You must rely upon his individual interpretation of the role. You cannot be coached on the sidelines or the result will be a disaster for you.
In Asphalt Jungle you had a comparatively simple part, in which you were very effective, but it did not particularly call for any acting as compared to the role you are going to play at the present time. It is more than ever important that you therefore place yourself completely in the hands of the director -- or ask to be relieved from the role.
Either Mr. Baker is capable of directing you as well as the rest of the picture or he is not capable of directing anything, but since he is the director we must place our responsibility in him.
I am sure you realize how ludicrous it would be if every actor or actress felt that they needed special coaching from the sidelines. The result would be bedlam, and whatever creative ideas the director might possess would be lost or totally diffused.
I think you are capable of playing this role without the help of anyone but the director and yourself. You have built up a Svengali and if you are going to progress with your career and become as important talent-wise as you have publicity-wise then you must destroy this Svengali before it destroys you. When I cast you for the role I cast you as an individual.
Source: Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years At Twentieth Century-Fox (1993); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer.