Marilyn Monroe is one of the biggest celebrities of 20th century America. From baseball stars to movie actors, men of all ages and professions were awed by her beauty and sex appeal. Even the Heads of State were not immune to her charm, as it is an open secret that John F. Kennedy had a secret liaison with her during his presidency. It was the juxtaposition of her childlike innocence and a diva-like physical appearance that were key ingredients of her popularity. For example, Marilyn Monroe “was recognized around the world as the embodiment of beauty and glamour. Quite simply, her name and her image have timeless appeal.” (Lockwood, 2011) But behind the wealth, glamour and celebrity status was a lonely woman who was earlier an insecure child. It is now fairly conclusive that she died of over-consumption of sleeping pills – a sad and tragic end to an icon of American popular culture. She died so young – she was just 36 – but her legend continues to live even today. Her popularity may have been surpassed by celebrities from subsequent generations, but her place in the Hollywood Hall of Fame remains uncontested. Even within the film industry, she made a great impact. For example, “film-exchange managers, vice-presidents, producers, directors, exploitation men and actors, each felt in his own mind that he, personally, had discovered an exciting new personality. A succession of people discovered her”. (Johnson, 1952) The following passages will highlight various aspects of her Marilyn Monroe’s appeal to people.
Life and Achievements:
Grady Johnson’s article for the Coronet magazine, written in 1952, captures the popularity and appeal of Marilyn Monroe when she was a rising star of Hollywood. He notes how the emerging star had seen 11 private foster homes in the first 16 years of her life. Coming out of this uncertain start is tough enough. But when we take into account how she’d always felt as an unwanted, underprivileged and low self-esteemed child, this maturation into a beautiful heartthrob is all the more astounding. Even as early as 1952, she was described with adoration by various journalists and film analysts. Here’s a sample: “She has been pegged the most promising star of 1952 by Movie Columnist Hedda Hopper, and described by Saloon-and-Sex authority Earl Wilson as having “the year’s most outstanding figure.” Producer Jerry Wald says, “She walks like a young antelope. When she stands, its like a snake uncoiling. When she speaks, you don’t hear her words – it’s as though she were whispering love to you.” She even is developing a singularly unnecessary skill as an actress.” (Johnson, 1952) If such is the adoration of seasoned critics and commentators, one can understand the kind of impact Monroe must have made on the general public. She was able to transcend class and gender barriers and garner the admiration of a whole generation. Even today her legacy is firmly established and her iconic status remains undiminished. An aspect of Marilyn Monroe’s personal life which had added to her appeal is her numerous affairs. It is not surprising for actresses of her time to be involved with rich and powerful men. She had had relationships with sport stars, co-male-stars, and even with President John F. Kennedy. Instead of diminishing or sullying her image in the public eye, this tendency had only enhanced her romantic appeal. During her peak, she was every man’s dream girl. (Lockwood, 2011)
Contradictions in Personality
Acting did not come easily to Marilyn Monroe. Her personal insecurities and vulnerabilities showed up as stage fright and shyness during her early years of acting. But once the cameras rolled, she was able to shrug of these hindrances and glow with brilliance. In many ways, the camera and the film capturing her charm and beauty is an antidote to her personal travails. Celebrity status was a double-edged sword for Monroe, for it gave fame and wealth but infringed on privacy and personal relations. Her suitors came from all walks of life and at times she was forced to abide by the desires of the rich and powerful. All this took a toll on the already tormented psyche of hers. This accounts for the dependency on sleeping pills and the tendency to have suicidal thoughts. In many ways, the world of the celluloid with its fictitious notions of love and relationship served as the family life she never had. Her father died when Marilyn was a toddler and her mother was chronically mentally ill. This meant a childhood in a succession of foster homes. Her tough childhood is succinctly captured by this passage: “She was almost smothered to death at two, nearly raped at six. At nine, the LA Orphans’ Home paid her a nickel a month for kitchen work while taking back a penny every Sunday for church. At sixteen, she worked in an aircraft plant and married a man she called Daddy; he went into the military, she modeled, they divorced in 1946. She owned 200 books (including Tolstoy, Whitman, Milton), listened to Beethoven records, studied acting at the Actors’ lab in Hollywood, and took literature courses at UCLA downtown. 20th Century Fox gave her a contract but let it lapse a year later.” (IMDb, 2012) There are no straight forward explanations for why Marilyn Monroe was so popular during her lifetime and afterward. Born as Norma Jeane Mortenson, Marilyn never received due care and affection during her childhood years. Her father died when she was very young in an automobile accident and her mother was prone to mental illness – these negative factors reflected on young Marilyn. Yet, she was able to shrug off these disadvantages and grow up to be an independent woman and a successful actress. Another paradoxical feature of her appeal is that she was so popular because she was so ordinary. To elaborate this point, let us consider the case of Orson Welles, one of the most important American filmmakers of all time. The fact that his popularity is nowhere near that of Marilyn Monroe is less a testament to his talent and skill than to the easy visual access to the latter’s physical beauty. That Welles was an abrasive, argumentative and a tormented genius with the camera made him controversial among establishment elites. That he was a misunderstood and maligned artist who was a victim of bias and contempt from conservative film producers negated his popularity. (Lockwood, 2011)
Death and legacy
A key reason for Marilyn Monroe’s enduring appeal is how she was able to retain her male fan base even decades after her demise. Andrew Collins writes what Monroe meant to him personally as he grew up during her peak. When he was a teenager, he idolized Monroe by lavishly decorating his bedroom walls with her life-size posters. He looks back at those days with great fondness. One of his favorite pictures is “the one where she’s wearing the William Travilla-designed gold lame halter dress against a black background, as seen in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” (Collins, 2011) Even today, Television programs about her or based on her are being made. References to her in Hollywood movies have not abated. For example, a new British drama, My Week with Marilyn, depicts the Hollywood superstar’s mostly troubled relationship with co-actor and director Laurence Olivier in 1956, as evidenced by assistant Colin Clark on the Pinewood set of The Prince and the Showgirl. (Collins, 2011) A reflection of her stature in American culture even after all these years is the utilization of her brand image for product endorsements. To elaborate, “Marilyn Monroe is about to become a bigger brand. Authentic Brands Group LLC, in conjunction with NECA, a global media and entertainment company, has acquired the intellectual property of Marilyn Monroe LLC. Anna Strasberg, wife of the late Lee Strasberg, will continue her involvement as a minority partner in the joint venture. According to industry sources, the purchase price was between $20 million and $30 million. Monroe, a style icon who redefined sexy for generations of men and women, died in 1962.” (Lockwood, 2011)