On the 19th September 1959, Marilyn Monroe was preparing to meet the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, while camped out in her bungalow in the Beverley Hills Hotel. The recent Golden Globe recipient for her role in the comedy ‘Some Like it Hot’ wasn’t so thrilled to be meeting a man whose name hardly rang a bell. It was only when her studio told her that Russians were excited by only two things, Coca Cola and Marilyn Monroe that curiosity and intrigue got the better of her. How could she now pass on the chance to meet a Soviet Premier? She was instructed to wear her tightest, sexiest dress. She was quoted sometime later as saying that “I guess there’s not much sex in Russia.”
It was the height of the cold war and only months earlier Khrushchev famously uttered four words that would alarm Americans “We will bury you.” To resolve or smooth over hostilities, in particular over the mounting crisis over the fate of Berlin, President Eisenhower, reluctantly invited Krushchev to a summit meeting at Camp David. Krushchev accepted this invitation and immediately added a Beatles like tour of the United States to the itinerary.
After landing at Andrews Air Force base on the 15th September, Khrushchev toured a Maryland farm, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and New York City, which included the Empire State Building. He seemed thoroughly unimpressed commenting “If you’ve seen one skyscraper, you’ve seen them all.”
As the Khrushchev ‘roadshow’ moved on, the bad-tempered Premier found himself in Hollywood four days later on Saturday. Earlier, he had accepted an invitation to watch the filming of ‘Can-Can’ at the Twentieth Century Fox studios and a luncheon with the stars. Would this improve his mood?
Khrushchev was greeted by a who’s who of Hollywood. Everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Frank Sinatra had vied for a spot on the 400 guest only 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 notoriously late for everything and usual kept most people waiting. But Marrilyn surprised everyone by arriving on time, in fact, she was early. The president of 20th Century Fox, Spyros Skouras, anxiously checked on Marilyn that she had as instructed donned a tight, low-cut black dress to bedazzle the Soviet Premier. (It wasn’t uncommon for stars to be told what to do. Studios in the day ‘owned’ stars and sexism was rife.)
Once Khrushchev’s motorcade had pulled up, and all necessary precaution had been taken, he sat at the head of the table at the studio luncheon. Marilyn sat at a table not too far away from the head table with film producer David Brown and Henry Fonda. From her view of the luncheon hall observed Skouras and Krushchev banter in awkward conversation about unemployment, American aid and state monopoly (Communism).
In his own speech that followed, Khrushchev continued to grow bullish. “Now I have a question for you,” he said. “Which country has the best ballet ? Yours? You do not even have a permanent opera and ballet theater. Your theaters thrive on what is given to them by rich people. In our country, it is the state that gives the money. And the best ballet is in the Soviet Union. It is our pride.”
Continuing on in this vain for around three-quarters of an hour, he abruptly remembers something: “Just now, I was told that I could not go to Disneyland,” he announced. “I asked, ‘Why not? What is it? Do you have rocket-launching pads there? “
The audience laughs but he didn’t seem amused. “Just listen,” he said. “Just listen to what I was told: ‘We—which means the American authorities—cannot guarantee your security there. What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there ?” He punches the air and starts to look a little angry, “For me such a situation is inconceivable. I cannot find the words to explain this to my people.”
At last he sits down and the 400 strong audience applauds probably relieved and or grateful that the Soviet Premier’s red faced head didn’t explode.
With the eventful luncheon over, he was escorted to the sound stage where the movie ‘Can-Can’ was being filmed. Stopping along the way he was greeted by various Hollywood stars who were eager to shake his hand. It is here too, that Marilyn had lined up awaiting to play her part in the day’s drama. When Skouras spotted Marilyn in the crowd of movie stars, he scrambled to introduce her to Krushchev. It was here that a wide eyed and nervous, Marilyn delivers a line that was prepared for her by Natalie Wood (a fluent Russian speaker): “We the workers of Twentieth Century Fox rejoice that you have come to visit our studio and country.”
Marilyn’s choice words seemed to be like something straight out of the Communist handbook of etiquette. Khrushchev seemed to appreciate her stab at Russian. ”You’re a very lovely young lady,” he states, squeezing the life out of her hand. And with that Marilyn got to meet Krushchev.
Sometime after, Marilyn Monroe gushed over her brush with the Soviet Premier. “This is about the biggest day in the history of the movie business….I could tell Khrushchev liked me. He smiled more when he was introduced to me than anybody else. He squeezed my hand so long and so hard that I thought he would break it. I guess it was better than having to kiss him.”
Interestingly later in private Marilyn had more to say about Khrushchev: “He was fat and ugly and had a wart on his face and he growled. Who would want to be a communist with a president like that.”
Note: This featured article was originally published in 2013, but has been moved to the front pages to further highlight this site’s original content.