Phil Karlson – Ladies of the Chorus (1949)

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Andrea Passafiume wrote:
Ladies of the Chorus
Marilyn Monroe makes an early big screen appearance in director Phil Karlson’s 1949 entertaining B musical Ladies of the Chorus. In her first starring role, Monroe plays Peggy Martin, a young chorus girl in a burlesque show who works alongside her mother, Mae (Adele Jergens). When Peggy is pursued by wealthy society man Randy Carroll (Rand Brooks), Mae worries that class differences will doom the relationship and tries to protect her daughter from heartbreak.

When she made Ladies of the Chorus, Marilyn Monroe was a fresh new face in Hollywood still a few years away from megastardom. Monroe gives a solid self-assured performance without the breathy sexpot affectations that eventually became her signature style. The only film she ever made with Columbia Pictures, Ladies of the Chorus marked the first time Monroe sang and danced in a film, performing the enjoyable numbers “Anyone Can Tell I Love You” and “Every Baby Needs a Da Da Daddy.”

Ladies of the Chorus was a low budget feature that was shot in less than two weeks. Monroe was thrilled with the opportunity of her first leading role and worked diligently on her part with Columbia acting coach Natasha Lytess. According to Monroe biographer Donald Spoto, Monroe and co-star Adele Jergens bonded quickly. Jergens, only 31 years old at the time, was hardly old enough to play Monroe’s mother. She recalled, “(Monroe) told me very tearfully she had lost her mother, and that, just like the chorus girls of the story, she knew what social ostracism was like. Marilyn was the sort of girl you instinctively wanted to protect, even though she obviously had brains and probably didn’t need much protection.”

Monroe’s hard work paid off as her charming performance earned the attention of critics for the first time. “Miss Monroe presents a nice personality,” said Variety, being one of the first publications to ever single her out. The Motion Picture Herald said, “One of the bright spots is Miss Monroe’s singing. She is pretty and with her pleasing voice and style, she shows promise.”

Apparently Columbia didn’t see the same promise in Monroe. Soon after the release of Ladies of the Chorus her contract was dropped and she never made another film at that studio. Still, Marilyn Monroe had made her mark and it wouldn’t be long before the whole world embraced her as a star.

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