In 36 years Marilyn Monroe achieved a kind of fame that had never been seen before. Gone was Norma Jean and in her place was the myth of Marilyn Monroe; unprecedented, unparalleled and unbreakable.
Seriously, even death couldn’t stop the juggernaut that was Monroe!
It’s now 55 years on from her death and Marilyn’s finger prints are still all over our everyday life, from lipstick lines to shitty faux inspirational Facebook quote posts. But Marilyn’s impact is so much more than that!!
You see, Marilyn’s legacy is bigger than you, me, or her….it’s what it is to be a woman.
The Marilyn Meat Market
Marilyn Monroe died at home on the 5th August 1962. Immediately paparazzi swarmed her house, desperate to get that hot body bag shot – now I’m not saying Paps are scum bags…but here’s what one was over heard saying:
‘I’m just as sorry as the next fellow about Marilyn Monroe. But as long as she had to do it, what a break she did it in August.’
But this wasn’t new…Marilyn had always been free game. After arriving in Hollywood, she posed naked for $50, with the understanding the pictures would never be printed (and that she now had money to eat- hooray!) Flash forward to 1953; the nudes are sold without Marilyn’s knowledge to one Hugh Hefner, who uses them to launch his new magazine Playboy… Classy.
But it wasn’t just Mr Hefner skeezing it up, incredibly explicit pictures of Marilyn –obvs taken without her permission – were not rare. Photographers tried to get up the skirt shots all the time!
Even the most iconic image of Marilyn, was a cheap paparazzi photo op.
As Marilyn put it:
“My popularity seems almost entirely a masculine phenomenon.”
And it was. Unlike other female stars of the era, most of Marilyn’s media cuttings came directly from men. Similarly, the majority of books written about her have male authors.
The most obvious reason for this would be the kind of woman that Marilyn portrayed. A breathy mix of woman and child; malleable and rescue-able in equal measure.
Perhaps its this lack of on screen autonomy that is the reason that the media took so many more liberties with Marilyn than they did with her peers.. and 55 years on from her death, they continue to do so!
Those naked Playboy pictures still get paraded about every time Hefner or Playboy has an anniversary. Private photos of Marilyn constantly go up for auction (to then be featured in celeb gossip magazines) and in February 2017 tabloids reached never before seen heights of bullshittery when they released images that ‘proved’ Marilyn had been ‘secretly pregnant’.
As with any tabloid starlet, it’s Marilyn’s body that she is most known for. With journalists in both 1950’s America and 2017’s America desperate to know just how she gets that body (see an August 2017 Buzzfeed piece which tests modern audiences against Marilyn’s daily routine, as told by a 1952 magazine.)
But why are we still so obsessed with Marilyn’s ass, tits and well….more.
Well two key reasons:
- Marilyn was crazy beautiful!
- Marilyn died crazy young!
Really, Marilyn’s story is one as old as Hollywood: Beautiful woman. Dies young. Sad times all around. The end right?
Well…no. See Marilyn’s death is different. Because much like her life, it was made to revolve around men
As with much of the literature we have on her life, the majority of writing on Marilyn’s death was written by men. Most of her obituaries were written by men (focusing on her sexuality, emotional damage, female form and love life) and the majority of theories surrounding her death are too written by men!
Here are just a few of the common theories around why/how Marilyn died:
- Assassinated by John F Kennedy
- Assassinated by Bobby Kennedy
- Killed by the CIA/FBI to pressurize the Kennedys
- Murdered by the CIA because Marilyn knew the truth about aliens!!!
Bar the whole aliens thing (and the obvious fact that Marilyn died from an overdose and none of the above…) all the prominent theories surrounding Marilyn’s death revolve around her relationships with men and her role as a sex bomb (literally in this case…)
These theories work to fit Marilyn into a specific narrative, emphasizing her tragic femininity and sexual willingness.
Basically… it’s the plot of a film noir; attractive but damaged dame gets killed because she had sex with the wrong guy.
It seems strange that a figure so integral to how we see femininity, wasn’t addressed by women. But don’t worry, thats all changing!
In 1986, Glora Stienham released a biography, Marilyn, re-exmaining how we see Ms Monroe.
From there, it’s only been up and up. There’s been a huge turn in how historians view Marilyn and in the last 20 years more Marilyn books books than ever have been written by women. Huuuuuuge win!!
So what can we expect to see in this brave new dawn of Marilyn’s tale?
Well expect more research into Marilyn’s political views (…aside from which Kennedy brother was hotter…le sigh)
Marilyn’s political views really let her working class roots shine through. She was a founding member of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and an elected member of the liberal caucus. She was also open about her support of communism in Cuba and to be honest is a bloody wonder she wasn’t bought up on that!!
Not only this, but Marilyn was an ardent supporter of civil rights. She personally fought for Ella Fitzgerald to perform at whites only hot spot, The Morecambe Club. Arguing that Ella be allowed a regular spot and offering to sit front row for each performance (bringing the club and Ella tons of publicity!)
Ella personally credited this with getting her out of small time jazz clubs and getting her career in the mainstream. The two women remained friends until Marilyn’s death.
We’ve barley scratched the surface of who history’s most infamous blonde bombshell was, and I know I can’t wait to find out more!
This was really interesting, where can I find out more? Theres tons of really cracking books, but I’d suggest checking out Gloria Stienham’s book, Marilyn (she also has a couple of online essays on Marilyn that you can read for free!)
Now if you will excuse me…