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The line between blatant self-promotion and selfless magnanimity is often hazy, and it takes a delicate sense of balance — or a great gimmick — to neatly straddle the two. Case in point: a young actress, in a rush of wartime patriotic fervor, decides to raise troop morale by a surefire, if unorthodox, method. And if her well-meaning stunt earns her some welcome publicity — well, where’s the harm?
Here’s how LIFE magazine described just such a scenario in an article titled “LIFE Goes to an Army Party,” published in the uncertain days of March 1942:
Alas, there’s no record of whether or not Marilyn, who died in 1981, went on to kiss another 9,267 soldiers to reach her lofty, publicly stated goal. For her own part, she did enjoy a brief, modest success in the movies and, many years later, had small parts on hit TV shows like The Wild Wild West and My Three Sons.
Not the enduring fame that, as a young actress, she energetically pursued — but for several hundred grateful American soldiers, she was a star of the first magnitude.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.