Marilyn Monroe thought her role as Kay, the saloon singer, in the River of No Return was too much a stereotype for her to play. She didn’t like the script, either. But Monroe wasn’t being a prima donna — director Otto Preminger disliked the story and wanted out, too.
Contractually obliged to take the role, the part required Monroe to sing four songs, and strum the guitar in
one scene. Singing, acting and playing had to be daunting for an
actress who was trapped in the Hollywood star system and already had
her doubts about her abilities. When she sits atop that barroom honky-tonk piano to sing the movie’s title tune, you can sense Monroe doesn’t want to be there. Still, her rendition of the two-minute song is bluesy, steamy
The shoot became increasingly difficult for Monroe, who was required
to do her own stunts in the action-packed western. The script called
for gunfights, horse riding and a
harrowing escape through river rapids on a raft. Having already twisted
her ankle, Monroe again rued taking the role during those raft
scenes. She nearly drowned in the
river when her boots filled with water. And it wasn’t the only time she
skirted danger on the shoot: When their raft overturned filming another
and Robert Mitchum had to be pulled from the rushing white water.
And yet, the movie was a resounding success once it hit theaters in the spring of 1954.
See the full adventure for yourself. For a complete schedule of River of No Return on AMC, click here.