‘My Face for the World to See’ by Alfred Hayes – The Screenwriter and Marilyn Monroe

‘My Face for the World to See’ by Alfred Hayes  (1958) – 131 pages

Marilyn Monroe in 'Clash by Night'

Marilyn Monroe in ‘Clash by Night’

In 1951 Alfred Hayes wrote the screenplay for ‘Clash by Night’ from a Clifford Odets play.  The movie was a noir drama directed by Fritz Lang and starred Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas, and a 26-year-old Marilyn Monroe.  Hayes stayed around the movie set, because there were daily rewrites of the script.  The movie turned out to be quite good (I’ve watched it.) as most of the movies Stanwyck starred in or Lang directed are.  Marilyn Monroe had only a supporting actress role, but this was her first movie where her name was listed before the title.  In the movie she plays a worker in a fish cannery, a type of role which was rare for her.  Critics praised her performance.

During the film shoot of ‘Clash by Night’ the nude calendar photos of Marilyn surfaced, and the set was crowded with reporters and photographers who hounded her constantly.  This upset the other stars, especially Paul Douglas.  Monroe was terrified of Fritz Lang, and she vomited due to nerves before nearly every scene.  She frequently arrived late, and she always required her acting coach  Natasha Lytess to be on set with her which Lang and the cast members didn’t want at all.  The making of the movie was chaotic, but the movie itself was a popular success.

clash1A couple of years passed. Monroe’s new boyfriend Joe DiMaggio wanted to help advance her acting career, so he read a bunch of novels and selected one called ‘Horn for the Devil’ as a good vehicle for her.  Marilyn called up writer Alfred Hayes and offered him a contract to write a screenplay for ‘Horn for the Devil’ and gave him an advance of a few thousand dollars.  Both this contract as well as the screenplay itself are now for sale on the Internet.  The script was never made into a movie.

In 1958, Alfred Hayes published the novel ‘My Face for the World to See’.  It is about an affair between a world-weary screenwriter and a 26 year old beautiful aspiring actress who bears a certain psychological resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.  At the beginning of the story the screenwriter rescues the actress from the sea in what may or may not have been a suicide attempt.  Already by 1951 Marilyn Monroe was known for her several real and fake suicide attempts.  The actress in the novel sees a psychoanalyst regularly and has a mysterious medical ailment just as Marilyn had at the time.  Despite all of the problems the actress has, she and the married screenwriter, with much reluctance on his part, fall into an affair.

productimage-picture-my-face-for-the-world-to-see-367Did Alfred Hayes have an affair with Marilyn Monroe?  I found no mention of an affair between these two on the Internet. During the filming of ‘Clash by Night’ in 1951, Monroe was between boyfriends since Johnny Hyde died on December 18, 1950, and she did not get together with Joe DiMaggio until the summer of 1952.  She is known to have had several affairs including one with Elia Kazan during this time.   However Alfred Hayes was very much the professional writer, and he could very well have made this novel up on the basis of stories floating around Hollywood.  He probably did not want to make it too apparent that this actress was Marilyn Monroe since he did have a business relationship with her, and the portrait of the actress in ‘My Face for the World to See’ is a particularly unflattering one.

Both Marilyn Monroe and the actress in the novel share a ‘grotesque self-destructiveness’.  To make love to Marilyn Monroe was the fantasy of many men at that time, and Marilyn did her best to fulfill these fantasies, because she was dreadfully insecure and she wanted these men to like her.

“My Face for the World to See’ is a fine novel in more ways than one.  Besides the devastating story line, it offers strong insights into Hollywood and the crazy life there.

“At this very moment, the town was full of people, lying in bed thinking with an intense, an inexhaustible, an almost raging passion of becoming famous if they weren’t already famous, and even more famous if they were; or of becoming wealthy if they weren’t already wealthy, or wealthier if they already were; or powerful if they weren’t powerful now, and more powerful if they already were.” 

“But it seemed to me, or at least it had seemed to me in the years I had been coming and going from this town, there was something finally ludicrous, finally unimpressive about even the people who had all the things so coveted by all the people who did not have them.”

 I previously reviewed Hayes’ novel ‘In Love’ which also has this cynical understated world weary and world wise quality.  It is difficult to choose between these two excellent novels ‘My Face for the World to See’ and ‘In Love’.  Now seventy years later, Alfred Hayes’ stock is rising as one of our great novelists of the Fifties.  Perhaps it is time for his other novels to be republished.

For another excellent take on ‘My Face for the World to See’, read here in Pechorin’s Journal.

 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds great!

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  2. Thanks for the link. I really liked this one, a wonderful slice of noiresque disillusion. Beautifully written as your quotes show.

    I wasn’t aware of the history. It’s easy to see from the text that he knew the world he was describing. Have you read A Way of Life, Like Any Other? By Darcy O’Brien? There’s a writeup at mine and it might interest you.

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    • Hi Max,
      Yes, I’ve read ‘A Way of Life, Like Any Other’. That may be the great Hollywood novel along with ‘My Face for the World to See’ with the advantage going to Darcy O’Brien. He had a unique perspective growing up the child of both an actor and actress.
      Somebody really must put together a list of great Hollywood novels.

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