May 15, 2024 | Dancy Mason

Seductive Facts About Marilyn Maxwell, Hollywood’s Most Elite Mistress

Marilyn Maxwell enjoyed a stellar run as a classic Hollywood actress, but her life behind the scenes was much more shocking, dramatic, and downright provocative than any film or tv show she ever starred in. 

1. She Started Young

Though born in the unglamorous countryside of Iowa, Maxwell showed signs of star quality early. In fact, her parents found her so promising that they put her in dance class around the age of three. Perhaps she caught the entertainment bug while learning to keep perfect form, considering how she spent her time as she grew up.

American actress Marilyn Maxwell wearing a green dress, circa 1950Screen Archives, Getty Images

2. She Found An In

Still in her early teens at the time, Maxwell found a job at a theater. She couldn’t get on the stage just yet, but she definitely found herself “stage-adjacent” in her role as an usher. It was a reasonable start for a teenager interested in working in entertainment, but as it turns out, Maxwell would never settle on being reasonable.

Marilyn Maxwell wearing jewelsIsabel Santos Pilot, Flickr

3. She Struck Out Early 

While working at the theater, Maxwell attended high school. Or, at least, she showed up—until she found a more glamorous option. Before she completed her sophomore year, she got connected to a band and decided to drop out to be one of their singers. 

She made a risky move, but in this case, it turned out to be just the right one. 

Marilyn Maxwell in black dressIsabel Santos Pilot, Flickr

4. She Got Her Shot

Maxwell made her nationwide debut while still in her teens. She got a gig singing on the radio, and quickly turned it into a successful career. This might be a solid job for any other teenager. But if her next move is any evidence of her feelings, being a songbird didn’t satisfy her.

A publicity photograph of Marilyn Maxwell, an American actress who was a contract player for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1946.Smith Collection/Gado, Getty Images


5. She Caught Someone’s Eye

Perhaps by a stroke of good luck, an MGM executive discovered and decided to sign Maxwell to an acting contract in 1942. Considering the less-than-moral practices of 1940s Hollywood, there’s no telling what kind of behavior possibly helped seal the deal. 

One thing was for sure though: Maxwell ended up changing herself drastically to make the cut.

Hollywood SignTom, Flickr

6. She’d Do Anything To Make It

The team at MGM quickly informed Maxwell that her name had to go. Her parents originally dubbed her “Marvel” Marilyn Maxwell, and to that point she used her original first name. The execs didn’t like it, though. It didn’t fit the image they wanted to create for their new, hot starlet. 

So she dropped the name and just became "Marilyn Maxwell". But she wasn't finished yet.

Marilyn Maxwell In 'Off Limits' wearing colorful dressArchive Photos, Getty Images

7. She Changed Her Look

Also on advice from her new employers, Maxwell made one final, big change. She decided to go blonde. This completed her look and eventually cemented her as a beauty icon of the time. But before she could leave a legacy of desirability, she needed to actually make a splash on screen. 

She put her attention to doing just that...but not without offscreen shenanigans.

Marilyn Maxwell wearing white and jewelsJohn Irving, Flickr

8. She Officially Went Hollywood 

Maxwell debuted in her first film that very same year with a role in the movie Stand by for ActionThe movie itself didn’t do too well. In fact, critics complained the film was more “about Hollywood’s War” than the very real WWII that continued to rage at that time. Maxwell, however, escaped the failure unscathed. 

That didn't mean tragedy wasn't coming for her.

Marilyn Maxwell in  Stand by for Action (1942)MGM, Stand by for Action (1942)

9. She Chose Herself

During the early 1950s, Maxwell received the opportunity to devote some time entertaining the troops abroad. It led to heartbreak. While she was on tour, she missed the passing of both her parents. This double tragedy likely cut her to her core, but she didn’t show it. Instead, she focused on grabbing every opportunity that came her way.

Marilyn Maxwell with Charles M. Gibbs, Jr., May 1945USMC Archives, Flickr


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10. She Found Her Groove

Film opportunities started rolling in. While her roles weren’t the largest or most star-studded, Maxwell appeared often, making her name playing gorgeous women in films like Dr Gillespie’s Criminal Case and Three Men in White. Just a few years into her acting career, however, one film gave her far more than she bargained for.

American actor Marilyn Maxwell in whiteMGM Studios, Getty Images


11. She Found A Man

While playing a seductive cafe singer in Lost in a Harem, Maxwell briefly worked with actor John Conte. It seems something undeniable sparked between her and the young stage actor. Their chemistry turned out to be so undeniable, in fact, that they made a life-changing decision. 

John Conte in plaid jacketNBC, Wikimedia Commons

12. She Tied The Knot

After only months of courting, the two married in September 1944. Most married couples likely experience at least a few “honeymoon” years once they wed. But for this couple, the honeymoon came crashing to an end quickly. There's been speculation about why (more on that later), but the truth soon became undeniable.  

Marilyn Maxwell John ConteArchive Photos, Getty Images

13. She Moved On 

Just two years into their union, Maxwell and Conte ended their marriage in divorce. They'd had no children together and appeared to make a clean break after the marriage was dissolved. Interestingly enough, though, while Maxwell failed at romance and love, she continued to find success on screen.

Marilyn Maxwell in home wearParamount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

14. She Did Her Thing

Maxwell continued to appear in several films, earning her spot as a classic Hollywood film beauty. She acted and sang, receiving especially great praise for her role in the musical Summer Holiday in 1948. By now, though, you’re probably wondering if she bore any connection to another similarly named Hollywood blondie. And she did—but not favorably. 

Marilyn Maxwell looking down in striped t-shirt Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

15. She Couldn’t Escape It

With her career overlapping with that of the unforgettable Marilyn Monroe, people often compared the two, and even brought Monroe up to Maxwell in interviews. And while Maxwell’s career didn’t disappoint, it also couldn't compare to Monroe’s. Which explains why she responded to these interviewers with a bit of extra snark…

Marilyn Monroe, Photoplay - 1953Studio publicity still, Wikimedia Commons

16. She Drew A Line

In one notable interview comparing the two, Maxwell quipped, “I’m the blonde with her clothes on”. This sounded like quite the dig at Monroe, known for her sensual roles and fashions. Try as she might, though, Marilyn Maxwell couldn’t escape the comparisons. They just kept haunting her. 

Marilyn Maxwell in trench coat Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)


17. She Didn’t Stand Out

In 1953, Maxwell appeared on an episode of What’s My Line as their mystery guest. Take one guess at who the blindfolded panelist thought she was. All that being said, being compared to Marilyn Monroe isn’t the worst thing in the world. And considering both their luck with men, perhaps they had more in common than she thought. 

Marilyn Monroe in bathrobemfrissen, Flickr

18. She Did it Again

In 1950, Maxwell made another shocking move. She married a restaurant owner named Anders McIntyre. Considering the lack of details about their dating history, it’s not hard to believe she rushed right into another marriage. Even worse, she went into this marriage with a little extra baggage.

Marilyn Maxwell in blueScreen Plays, Champion (1949)

19. They Had History

From almost the beginning of her new marriage, there was an "other" man in Maxwell's picture. She’d worked with entertainer Bob Hope back in the 1940s during her stint entertaining troops. In fact, Maxwell served as an essential part of the act, notably wearing a very fitted sweater to sing “I Want To Love You”. 

When the two met again in 1950, those memories apparently came rushing back. 

Bob Hope in white suit and a hat Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

20. She Didn’t Care

At this point, Maxwell acted like she didn’t give two hoots about her marriage—or anyone else’s for that matter. Despite both of them being on their second spouse at the time, Maxwell and Hope began an affair. What seemed to make it even more obnoxious, though, was the way they went about it.

Bob Hope and Marilyn MaxwellParamount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

21. They Were Open

Not only did Maxwell and Hope work together onscreen, but they also carried on their extra-marital affair quite openly within Hollywood circles. They dated so openly, Maxwell earned herself a scathing nickname: “Mrs Bob Hope”. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the second “Mr Marilyn Maxwell” didn’t take the news well.

Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the movie in front of a door Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

22. They Fell Apart

Maxwell and her second husband divorced after only a year of marriage. What’s even more scandalous? Her affair with Hope lasted right through to 1954. It’s easy to see how her chaotic love life likely consumed much of her time. However, she still harbored other worries...

Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell singing Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)


23. She Kept It Cute

While her acting and singing made up her act, Maxwell seemed to understand and prioritize the importance of her looks. She took the upkeep of her dyed tresses, in particular, very seriously. So seriously that she even rejected roles that requested she dye her hair. 

That is, of course, until she figured out a genius way around the harsh dying procedures.

Marilyn Maxwell in black suit Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

24. She Played The Game

Rather than continue to damage her own hair, Maxwell took to wearing wigs to play her roles and even make live appearances. She managed to make her wigs look incredibly natural, and even got away with trying different hair colors at her own whim. Some things aren’t so easily fixed, though, like one impediment she tried to keep hidden.

Marilyn Maxwell in bathrobe Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

25. She Struggled To See

Maxwell never could see very well, and doctors recommended she wear glasses. There was one problem. She didn’t feel glasses fit the look of iconic beauty she aspired to. As such, she often refused to wear her specs. Unfortunately for her, her insistence on “the look” once got her in big trouble. 

Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in front of a house Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

26. She Missed Her Chance

On one notable occasion, Maxwell attended a party without her glasses on. Although she didn’t find out until after the fact, she totally blew off an executive trying to say hello to her. Truthfully, she just couldn’t see him. She started wearing her glasses after that, but it didn’t spell the end of all her physical troubles. 

Actress Marilyn Maxwell at an eventMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

27. She Got A Wake Up Call

Falling seriously ill in the prime of her career served as another point of realization for Maxwell. Although the details are scarce, she reportedly decided to take her health seriously once she recovered. She then became a proponent of physical and mental health throughout her career. 

Just in time, too, as she became a part of an iconic moment in entertainment. 

Marilyn Maxwell wearing jewelsIsabel Santos Pilot, Flickr

28. She Did It First

In 1951, Maxwell starred in The Lemon Drop KidHer current fling, Bob Hope, played her leading man. The movie itself did well, but most importantly, it debuted what eventually became a Christmas Classic, “Silver Bells”.  Maxwell sang the song with Hope at the top of the film.

Of course, Maxwell's affair with Hope went on for three more years after that. But once it was finished, she moved on fast. 

Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell outside Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

29. She Couldn’t Be Alone

Cupid struck again in 1954 when Maxwell married a third time, this time to writer and producer Jerry Davis. She’d likely brushed shoulders with Davis many times before, considering they both frequented the same Hollywood circles. And though luck didn’t seem to be on her side, their union seemed to be a good one—in the beginning.

Comedian Bob Hope (1903 - 2003) with actress Marilyn MaxwellExpress, Getty Images

30. She Settled In

Maxwell honeymooned with her new husband in Mexico before settling down into her new life in Hollywood with him. She seemed in this one for the long haul, and gave birth to their son, Matthew, just two years later. Being a mother and wife (again) didn’t slow her down, though. 

She continued her career, though not always in the way she hoped.

Marilyn Maxwell 1961ABC, Wikimedia Commons

31. She Found Her Niche

Maxwell continued to appear in films like New York Confidential in 1955 and Rock-A-Bye Baby in 1958. She often played the role of the sensual co-star getting in the way of the actual starring man. Furthermore, she cemented her place as a symbol of all things gorgeous and voluptuous in the 40s and 50s. 

Even so, a sad truth was dawning. 

Marilyn Maxwell in black fur coatWarner Bros., New York Confidential (1955)

32. She Wasn't A Star

Maxwell's roles never really earned her the fame of other Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe or even her super famous Hollywood boy-toys. We’d probably call her more of a B-List or even C-List celebrity in today’s times. Perhaps that explains her questionable side gigs.

Marilyn Maxwell in black and jewels Paramount, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

33. She Did What She Had To Do

While it seems her singing talent wasn’t overly impressive, Maxwell took up singing roles to fill in the gaps in her acting work. She sang twice on The Jimmy Durante Show in the mid 1950s. And when she couldn’t sing on screen, she did the rounds singing at New York nightclubs. 

But tragically, she ultimately found out all that glitters is not in fact gold.

Marilyn Maxwell in home clothes Warner Bros., New York Confidential (1955)

34. Things Fell Apart

While Maxwell managed to maintain her third marriage longer than her first two, it drew to an end just like the others. She and Davis divorced in 1960, six years into their marriage. There’s no news on the reason why, but judging from her past, it’s not hard to imagine some foul play. It turned out to be just the beginning of bad news.

Marilyn Maxwell wearing shiny shirt and earrings Warner Bros., New York Confidential (1955)

35. She Got Another Chance

In 1961, Maxwell landed a role in a television show that promised to be one of her most memorable roles yet. Bus Stop centered on the diner at a bus station, where interesting visitors stopped through every episode. Maxwell secured a starring role as the owner of the place. But this wasn't the escape she hoped for. 

Marilyn Maxwell Tuesday Weld Gary Lockwood Bus Stop 1961ABC , Wikimedia Commons

36. It Dried Up

The show started as moderate success, but started to shift as production ran out of guests to stop in at the bus stop. Eventually, the storyline focused more on the people of the small town nearby. Where did this leave Maxwell, you might ask? Well, she asked the same question. And the answer infuriated her.

Actress Marilyn Maxwell in black and pearlsSilver Screen Collection, Getty Images

37. She Gave Up

After just 13 episodes, Maxwell called it quits. In her own words, as the show changed gears, she concluded “There was nothing for me to do but pour a second cup of coffee and point the way to the men’s room”. Maxwell may not have had the career she wanted, but she felt too good for that.

 Either that, or she was too busy with other, more scandalous activities.

Marilyn MaxwellUSMC Archives, Flickr

38. She Hit The Streets

Around this time, Maxwell started frequenting places with actor Rock Hudson, already a certified superstar and Academy Award nominee. As expected, gossip magazines slated him as another one of her many beaus, and she never denied their relationship. But everything wasn’t as it seemed.

Rock Hudson, August 1954 in plaid suitUniversal, Wikimedia Commons

39. She Pretended

It didn’t come to light until long after their romantic liaison, but Maxwell and Hudson were lying through their teeth. They'd made up the whole thing. In fact, Hudson’s publicist requested that the two fake-date in order to cover up Hudson’s actual romantic preference for other men. 

But for all this somewhat noble pursuit, Maxwell didn't seem to get much out of it in the end.

Rock Hudson and Marilyn Maxwell at eventGraphic House, Getty Images

40. She Tried

Maxwell continued to act, appearing in films such as Critic’s Choice in 1963 and Stage to Thunder Rock in 1964. But behind the scenes, life looked glum. Perhaps she finally gave up on her pursuit of lasting love after all three failed marriages. Or perhaps she truly realized she’d never be a megastar. 

Either way, she felt it was all too much, and she began destructive habits. 

Critic’s Choice in 1963 Marilyn MaxwellWarner Bros., Critic's Choice (1963)

41. She Spiraled

Reportedly, Maxwell found her reprieve by drinking, and drinking far too much. As the 60s wore on her vice started to take a toll on her, affecting both her acting ability and the good looks that helped carry her through her career. And then came her rock bottom. 

American actors Rock Hudson and Marilyn Maxwell at an eventDarlene Hammond, Getty Images

42. She Bared It All

In 1967, people began finding out Maxwell's secret. They spotted her in the very last place they likely expected to see her: Working as a risque dancer in Queens, New York. This represented the farthest fall for her, from a prime position in Hollywood society to a likely thankless position in a darkened club. 

Even so, she didn’t have much time to grieve her losses.

Queens NY, 1960Alden Jewell, Flickr

43. She Wasn’t Well

To make her situation worse, Maxwell struggled with her health again during this time. Doctors diagnosed her with both lung disease and hypertension, which were probably further aggravated by her habits. She kept trying to carry on performing in order to care for herself and her son Matthew.

Marilyn MaxwellEvening Standard, Getty Images

44. They Had Chemistry

By now we know that Maxwell's second marriage ended in the midst of an affair with Bob Hope...but the ending of her first union to actor John Conte was scandalously similar. In fact, it was even worse. 

Maxwell crossed paths with famous “My Way” crooner Frank Sinatra several times early in her career. If you know anything about Sinatra, you probably know he carried a reputation for being quite the ladies man. Well, the two also had quite the chemistry together, and it led to their disaster. 

Frank Sinatra in Capitol Studios, circa October 1957.Capitol Records, Wikimedia Commons

45. She Took What She Wanted

Just a year into her marriage with Conte, Maxwell found herself in closer proximity to Sinatra, though he too was also married to his wife Nancy at the time. Maxwell moved to Hollywood to continue acting, while Sinatra moved to Beverly Hills thanks to his growing music career.

Eventually, the two began a steamy affair, managing to keep it mostly concealed. That is, until they slipped up big time. 

American actress Marilyn Maxwell in black dressSilver Screen Collection, Getty Images

46. They Got Careless

It all started with a diamond bracelet. Some time into this affair, Sinatra’s wife Nancy found a diamond bracelet in his car. Although she knew her husband to be quite the flirt, she assumed he’d hidden the bracelet to give to her that Christmas. 

But when Maxwell stepped into the Sinatra Christmas Gala that year, Nancy discovered the horrifying truth.

Sinatra family 1949, Nancy Barbato wife Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

47. She Kicked Them Out

As soon as Nancy spotted the bracelet on Maxwell’s wrist, it all clicked into place. Frank hadn't bought the jewelry for her, he'd bought it for his mistress. 

She promptly kicked both Maxwell and John Conte out of the party. Reportedly, Nancy then managed to save face and finish out the posh event. But by the end of the night, she confronted Sinatra full on. His response might surprise you.

Photo of Frank Sinatra and his first wife, Nancy Barbato SinatraWide World Photos, Picryl

48. He Didn’t Claim Her

Sinatra insisted to his wife that his relationship with Maxwell was only "casual," so even though they were having an affair, it was nothing to worry about. That obviously wasn't quite good enough for Nancy, because Maxwell and her illicit lover soon broke off the intimacy—and Conte and Maxwell quickly divorced. 

Sinatra Family 1946Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

49. He Found Her

In March 1972, Maxwell was again, and still in the throes of her health crisis. Her teenage son arrived home to a horrifying sight. He found his mother’s lifeless body. By the time authorities arrived, she’d been long gone due to a heart attack at the age of 50. 

The very thought of Maxwell, once a Hollywood It Girl and life of the party, passing alone in her home is tragic.    Her friends seemed to agree, considering her star studded funeral.

Film actress Marilyn Maxwell wearing jewelsBettmann, Getty Images

50. They Remembered Her

Maxwell’s honorary pallbearers included both entertainment star Bing Crosby and comedy legend Jack Benny, as well as Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. While her career never climbed the heights she seemed to desire, she managed to make lifelong friendships along the way. 

The way she made those friendships was unconventional, yes, but they didn’t desert her in the end.

Frank Sinatra in a carBert Verhoeff, Wikimedia Commons

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