Jasper's Love Affair with Marilyn Monroe

Story and gossip about the making of "River of No Return"

von Stephen A. Nelson

© 20th Century Fox
Unser kanadischer Reise-Korrespondent Stephen A. Nelson hat sich auf den Weg nach Jasper/Alberta gemacht, um die Spur eines der größten Stars des Films im 20. Jahrhundert aufzunehmen. Vor 60 Jahren nämlich drehte die unsterbliche Marilyn Monroe dort mit Robert Mitchum vor der Naturkulisse der Rocky Mountains den Otto Preminger Film "River of No Return". Lesen Sie, wie zwischen Jasper, seinen Bürgern und Marilyn eine filmreife Leidenschaft entstand.

Jasper's Love Affair
with Marilyn Monroe
By Stephen A. Nelson
Jasper National Park, Canada. Of all the celebrities who visited this heaven on earth, Marilyn was the brightest star in the firmament. More beautiful than Bing Crosby. More celebrated than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And – as the eternal Queen of Hollywood – perhaps even more majestic than either King George VI or Queen Elizabeth II. 
Sixty years ago this summer, Marilyn Monroe – along with co-star Robert Mitchum – was here in Jasper to film River of No Return. The movie itself was a standard B western, complete with a climactic gunfight and “Indians on the warpath.” Marilyn – out of frustration with the director Otto Preminger – dismissed it “a grade Z cowboy movie in which the acting finished second to the scenery and the CinemaScope process.”
But the film was made extraordinary by two things: the breathless magic of Marilyn Monroe and the spectacular scenery of Canada's Rocky Mountains.

© 2010 Sean Allen
Marilyn falls in love with Jasper
Most of the the movie’s action was filmed against the picturesque backdrop of Jasper National Park. Well, most of the on-screen action anyway. There was also a lot off-screen drama, as Marilyn was being courted at the time by baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, the biggest star in sports then.
This part of the story has been captured in the photographs of LOOK magazine photographer John Vachon, whose images were recently published in a book, Marilyn, August 1953: The Lost LOOK Photos.
But while “the Yankee Clipper” was falling in love with Marilyn, Marilyn was falling in love with Jasper and its townspeople. And the love triangle was completed when Jasper fell head-over-heels for Marilyn.
Infatuated Canadians would hop on the special CN passenger train to ride out to the shooting location – known locally as the Devona Flats – where they could see Marilyn in action. Smitten teenage boys would beg or borrow bicycles to ride out to the resort where the enigmatic blonde was staying. It turns out that the most desired woman in North America had a soft spot for the love struck teenage boys. The lucky ones returned home with a Kodak moment and an unforgettable kiss on the cheek.

v.l.: Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Tommy Rettig, Rory Calhoun - © 2010 Sean Allen
A date with Marilyn Monroe
To celebrate the Diamond Anniversary year of that Brief Encounter, the Jasper Yellowhead Museum recently invited townsfolk on a Date with Marilyn Monroe. It was a classic dinner and a movie, with a twist.
The movie, of course, was River of No Return (beautifully restored to its CinemaScope and Stereophonic glory) at the town's Chaba Theatre. It was a fantastic opportunity for Jasperites to admire God's handiwork... and to see some of their favourite places – such Roche Miette, Snake Indian River, and Mount Kerkeslin – in living Technicolor.
“Dinner” was hors d'oeuvres at Syrah's Bistro, which had a selection of wines most suitable for the occasion. What kind of wines? Why, Marilyn Merlot, of course! And for those who preferred a younger wine, there was Norma Jeanne.
Jasper remembers Marilyn
Like most first dates, the evening was leading up to a second date and – perhaps – a committed relationship with the Jasper Yellowhead Museum. From now until the end of September, the museum is celebrating an exhibition called Jasper Remembers Marilyn.
Many Albertans still have fond memories of the Hollywood Love Goddess. And this exhibition features people's recollections of that summer of love, complemented by personal snapshots and the iconic (largely unpublished) images of local photographer, Ray O’Neill. “She was the perfect person to photograph... she would do anything for you,” O'Neill recalled in a 1997 interview.
The story of how these images came to be is a classic example of how a tale changes in the telling, and how “history” becomes “legend.”
Local legend has it that when Marilyn came to Jasper, young Ray O'Neill borrowed US$100 (about $1,000 Canadian in today's money) so that he could pay the $50-an-hour modelling fee to hire Marilyn for a photo shoot. It turns out that the truth is a little less dramatic: he was on assignment from the premier hotel, Jasper Park Lodge, which wanted some publicity photos of the Blonde Bombshell.

© 2010 Sean Allen

Marilyn Monroe slept here
Another legend involving Jasper Park Lodge follows a classic “Marilyn Monroe Slept Here” narrative: It says that after the star was kicked out of “the Lodge” (for wearing a dress that was too short), she was accommodated at the next-best hotel in town: The Athabasca. But after starting a drunken ruckus there, Marilyn was evicted and the RCMP were called in to remove her from the premises. The buxom blonde was taken by the arms and forcefully escorted from the hotel by two Mounties, wearing their full dress uniforms with scarlet tunics. And how were the Mounties standing when they escorted the buxom blonde bombshell? Why, “two abreast”... of course.
It turns out that tale isn't quite true either. But it makes for a great story. And if Remembering Marilyn proves one thing, it's that history isn't facts and artifacts. It's memories and stories... “the stuff dreams are made of.”

© The Estate of John Vachon

Where to find it:
The Exhibition: Jasper Remembers Marilyn
Jasper-Yellowhead Museum
400 Bonhomme St., Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Telephone: 1 780 852-3013
Marilyn Monroe Memorabilia, including Ray O'Neill photos
Buffalo Betty's
105 Miette Ave, Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Telephone: 1 780 852 4231
Marilyn Merlot wines
Jasper Liquor Store and Wine Cellar
606 Patricia Street, Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Phone 1 780 852 5682
Marilyn, August 1953:
The Lost LOOK Photos
by John Vachon and Brian Wallis
Can be obtained from Dover Books
How to get to Jasper
By Train
Via Rail runs trains to Jasper three times a week from Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Kamloops, and Vancouver and places in between. Many consider it the best way to travel across Canada and you can choose economy or first-class travel. For more information, call 1-888-842-7245 or visit www.viarail.ca
In summer, the Rocky Mountaineer runs luxury train journeys to Jasper from Vancouver. It's rated as one of the best train journeys in the world. For more information, call 1-877-460-3200 or visit www.rockymountaineer.com
By Coach
In summer, Brewster Inc. runs daily tour coaches to Jasper from Calgary, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. You can choose an eight-hour sight-seeing tour or a four-hour express journey along the Icefields Parkway, rated ats “One of the 10 greatest drives in the world” by National Geographic.  For more information, call 1-866-606-6700 or visit www.brewster.ca
By Shuttle Bus
Sun Dog Tours runs convenient daily shuttle service to Jasper from Edmonton and Edmonton airport. In winter, it also runs a connector service from Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise. Call 1-888-786-3641 or or visit www.sundogtours.com

Where to Stay

For a personal and unique experience and true Canadian hospitality...  check out the home accommodations and bed & breakfasts at: www.bbcanada.com/alberta/alberta_rockies/jasper

Recommended is Straight Shooter's Mountain Inn
Telephone 780-852-4641
Getting Around Town
If you need to get around Jasper - or get out of town to see the sights - Mr. Taxi and Tours is an excellent way to go. You can even book a tour to see some of the places in Jasper that were visited by celebrities and stars, such as Bing Crosby, Sir Arthur Conan Doyleand - of course - Marilyn Monroe!
Telephone 780-931-6479 (for tours)  or 780 931-2931 (for getting around town).

Die Veröffentlichung der Illustrationen erfolgt mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von :
Jasper-Yellowhead Museum
Marilyn Monroe Memorabilia, including Ray O'Neill photos
Jasper Liquor Store and Wine Cellar
20th Century Fox