Durango’s brief brush with Marilyn

Production crew members and townspeople surround Marilyn Monroe during a get-together at Trimble Hot Springs Hotel during the filming of “Ticket to Tomahawk” in 1949. Enlarge photo

Durango Herald file photo

Production crew members and townspeople surround Marilyn Monroe during a get-together at Trimble Hot Springs Hotel during the filming of “Ticket to Tomahawk” in 1949.

Mickey Hogan readily admits it’s not fodder for a full-length Hollywood movie. But 61 years later, he can still share memories of the time he hung out with Marilyn Monroe.

The 82-year-old Durangoan who many know as the owner/operator of Hogan’s Store, which closed last year after an eight-decade run, served as standby labor in 1950 during the filming of “Across the Wide Missouri.” The movie starred Clark Gable and Ricardo Montalban, among others, but it was not a commercial success.

The estimated $5 million budget for the MGM production was huge for its day. Hogan made $1.67 an hour, and time-and-a-half or more for anything more than eight hours. Most days he got on a bus at the Strater Hotel at 6 a.m. and returned around 7 p.m. For a 21-year-old then, it was big money.

For some perspective: After he graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Colorado the next summer, a potential employer had to break some bad news:

“Why, they looked at my rťsumť and said, ‘Well, we can’t pay you what you made last year,’” Hogan recalled last week.

But enough about that. You’re wondering how a standby laborer would connect with one of America’s greatest sex symbols. Hogan even questions his own memory a little bit, but everything seems to add up. In any case, particularly with the recent release of “My Week With Marilyn,” it’s interesting to ponder.

First, about Monroe. She had been in the Durango area the previous summer, 1949, to film “A Ticket to Tomahawk.” Still a budding actress and model, Monroe had a small part in “Tomahawk.” On YouTube you’ll find a video of her in a musical number from the film.

In 1950, at age 24, Monroe was starting to become a big deal. In 1951, she signed a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox. She got her first lead role in 1952, about the same time she was linked to baseball player Joe DiMaggio. Her career skyrocketed from there.

So, what was she doing in Durango in 1950? She has no credited role in “Across the Wide Missouri.” She could have been trying to land a role, or trying to catch someone’s attention. Clark Gable was among her favorite actors – maybe she was observing.

“As I remember, she liked Durango and had a great time here (during “Ticket to Tomahawk”) and wanted to come back,” Hogan said.

The “Across the Wide Missouri” film crew and cast created a tent city at El Rancho Encantado, north of Durango where Colorado Timberline Academy now sits. The bus that Hogan took from the Strater stopped at the tent city before heading up to the high country – to Haviland Lake, to Andrews Lake, to Molas Lake or elsewhere – for filming.

As standby labor, Hogan was required to be near the camera, ready at a moment’s notice.

“Anytime a shovel or rake or hoe was involved, why standby labor did it,” Hogan said. His role was narrowly defined. Hollywood union workers were insistent on that.

“You didn’t dare jump in and do anything,” Hogan said. “They’d set you down immediately and say, ‘That’s not your job, son.’”

A major battle scene between the mountain men and the Native Americans was shot by Andrews Lake near the top of Molas Pass. That’s where he became acquainted with Monroe.

The topsoil around Andrews is a spongy peat moss that is flammable, Hogan said. Most everyone on the crew and the hordes of spectators were smokers, creating a potential fire danger. Hogan traveled on a horse with a fire extinguisher, putting out any smoldering spots in the peat moss.

Monroe asked if she could join Hogan on his rounds, and she was set up with a horse and fire extinguisher of her own.

“People got bored to death,” Hogan explained. “And that’s where Marilyn got involved with me and putting fires out. She didn’t have anything to do. ... She just enjoyed riding and doing something. It wasn’t any other reason she had.”

She joined him two or three times, and that was it: Hogan’s brush with Marilyn Monroe. He assumes she was just building her career and thought that people involved with the movie could help.

“That’s just a guess on my part,” Hogan said, “but I’m pretty sure it’s true.”

He also remembers Monroe visiting Hogan’s Store, and his father, Charles Hogan, waiting on her.

“My dad was very attentive on providing her with (jeans) to try on,” Hogan chuckled. “I never will forget that. I just laughed at my dad.”

Despite the extravagance of the filming and the beautiful setting, “Across the Wide Missouri” was not a hit. From a New York Times review of the movie in November 1951: “Obviously the cast enjoyed its safari into this rugged country even though their lines were many and uninspired.”

In April 1952, Monroe was on the cover of Life. By 1953 Monroe’s was a household name and she a full-blown, bigger-than-life star. She died Aug. 5, 1962, at age 36, of a drug overdose. The circumstances aren’t totally clear, but the Los Angeles coroner ruled it a probable suicide. “My Week With Marilyn” provides keen insight into her off-screen persona.

Hogan, meanwhile, began a career in accounting, returned to Durango in 1955 with his wife, Maureen, and ultimately took over Hogan’s Store in 1961. He’s retired now, has joined a local coffee club and plans to spend some time this winter in warmer climes.

Nope, Hogan’s life is not the stuff of Hollywood movies. Just the story of your average successful Durangoan.

johnp@durangoherald.com. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.

Monroe in 1949 Enlarge photo

Associated Press file photo

Monroe in 1949

Mickey Hogan remembers when Marilyn Monroe visited Hoganís Store when she was here for the filming of a movie. Hogan owned Hoganís Store, which when out of business a year ago. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald file photo

Mickey Hogan remembers when Marilyn Monroe visited Hoganís Store when she was here for the filming of a movie. Hogan owned Hoganís Store, which when out of business a year ago.