Some 60 years before Nik Wallenda walked a tightrope and focused attention from across the world on Niagara Falls; nearly two decades before the Christopher Reeve’s Superman made his famous flight over the mighty cataract to save a young boy’s life in 1979, Marilyn Monroe brought the bright lights of Hollywood north of the border to Niagara Falls.
The soon-to-be screen goddess was in Niagara Falls for the filming of Niagara, a film noir classic with co-star Joseph Cotten. In total, the star was in the city for about two weeks, from June 5 to 18, 1952.
“She stayed at the General Brock Hotel — now the Crowne Plaza. She stayed in Room 801,” says Sherman Zavitz, historian for the City of Niagara Falls.
And when she wasn’t working on the film, Monroe took pleasure with the same activities as most tourists did during the time period, he says.
“When she had some free time she took a ride on the Maid of the Mist. She shopped. She toured the Oneida silverware plant,” Zavitz says.
That plant is long gone — the property is now occupied by Casino Niagara — but Pauline Tanos remembers Marilyn’s visit well. Her husband, Alex, who has since passed away, was a foreman in the hammer room at the Falls Avenue facility.
“He saw her. He thought she was very beautiful,” Pauline says. “He whistled at her. She just kind of smiled.”
Monroe had become a well-known name by the time filming on Niagara began and thus became as big an attraction as the falls itself while she was here.
“She was certainly noticed by people around the falls,” Zavitz says. “She was a well-known name at that point. She was a great looking girl — very photogenic.”
Monroe had appeared in several films before Niagara including All About Eve and Monkey Business, but her role as Rose Loomis in Niagara is considered to be the one that put her career on the fast track. In the same year (1953) Niagara hit the theatres, Monroe also starred in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as well as How to Marry a Millionaire.
Photographer George Bailey was just eight years old at the time of Monroe’s visit to Niagara but he remembers his father, Manny, talking about his many encounters with her.
“My dad, who was second mate of the Maid of the Mist, had the chance to be near her many times,” Bailey says. “His impression was that she was most definitely a beautiful lady but very shy or perhaps insecure.”
Manny Bailey even made it into the final cut of the movie, Bailey says.
“Don’t blink. He’s in a scene on the plankway of the Maid of the Mist. Now, how many people can say they know someone who appeared in a movie with Marilyn Monroe?”
Ron Dewberry and his sister, Sandra Jeanneret, were just little — Ron was five and Sandra was two — but they remember their father, Hank, telling them stories around the dinner table.
“He served them (Monroe and Cotten) dinner,” Ron says. “He came home and raved about it. We didn’t know what the heck was going on.”
“Dad was a server at the Rapids Tavern on River Road,” Sandra adds.
The movie centres around married couple George (Cotten) and Rose Loomis (Monroe), who are vacationing in Niagara Falls. George, a Second World War veteran is experiencing mental health issues that he thinks are due to his war experiences. Rose, meanwhile has taken on a lover and plots to have George murdered. Polly Cutler, in Niagara Falls with her husband, Ray, on their honeymoon, is in the neighbouring cabin to the Loomises and becomes the unfortunate bystander who gets caught up in the intrigue between the unhappy couple.
The Rainbow Cabins were built specifically for the movie and were taken down at the end of shooting. But buildings used in the movie can still be seen around the city, including City Hall, although the building was remodelled two years later in 1954. The former morgue located at Zimmerman Avenue and Park Street, used for the police station in the movie, still stands. The boat launch were Joseph Cotten’s character steals a boat is located along Bridgewater Street in Chippawa. The building which is now the Riverside Tavern can be seen in the background. But most notably, the carillon tower near the Rainbow Bridge still stands, although the chimes are now pre-recorded. The structure plays a pivotal role in the film including its climax.