Massively misunderstood Marilyn Monroe

Massively misunderstood Marilyn Monroe

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Marilyn Monroe

If ever it were asked to express the American Entertainment Industry in one photograph, Marilyn Monroe’s iconic pose trying to hold down her white dress against the wind embodies everything Hollywood is and aspires to be perfect.

The immortal starlet’s eponymous presence and stellar acting prowess has been marred by a string of scandals and has left her name tainted generations after her death. She is now more than a mere woman. She has now been reduced to an antiquated myth. And a seldom few who know her truth, fail to tell the god honest truth the way it is.

The melancholy in her eyes, the vulnerability showcased by her features and the power behind her graceful movements have since been emulated by many, though her screen presence remains indomitable.

Monroe till date remains a Princess Diana like the ethereal enigma that most have been unable to unravel and over the decades, she has become the face of millions of dreams and broken hearts, the world over.

Artists like Andy Warhol have tried really hard and failed to encapsulate her beauty on canvas. Even in movies, she was limited in scope by the times she was in and was reduced to playing the ‘blonde bombshell’. Her music career was stalled prematurely by the dominance of male artists, like Elvis Presley and Joe DiMaggio, of the era.

Becoming Marilyn Monroe

Massively misunderstood Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe’s given name was Norma Jean Baker. Though her lineage has always been under scrutiny, no concrete evidence about the same has ever come forth.

What most people know is that she grew up with a number of foster families and orphanages till she got married at the age of 16 to Jim Dougherty, if only to get emancipated and then she divorced him four years later.

She then reinvented herself and established herself as the peroxide buxom ‘blonde bombshell’ in Hollywood.

But the truth is that Monroe struggled with the human classification system of her time. In the era of 40s and 50s, where women who were physically attractive were never perceived as intelligent, she was plagued with immense self-doubt and could not establish herself as a ‘thinking man’s actor’.

Her inner dichotomy has been brought to the fore decades after her death. Many psychologists who have studied her behavior closely have said that because she was an orphan, she wanted constant attention from everyone yet craved validation for her intellectual prowess at the same time.

More than a thousand books and numerous documentaries have tried to explain the Marilyn Monroe phenomenon. Her ‘Cinderella’- esque persona only grew more mythical after her death under mysterious circumstances (which is widely classified as a suicide) and conspiracy theories galore have been hatched since about the involvement of the Kennedy clan in it.

The woman behind the veil

Massively misunderstood Marilyn Monroe

Many feminist theories have outrightly rejected the perceptions around Monroe and have hailed her as icon who was decades ahead of her time. This quote by her is the basis of their argument: “A wise girl kisses but doesn’t love, listens but doesn’t believe, and leaves before she is left” and “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.”

But there is another chain of thought that thinks she was a very shrewd businesswoman who was much more than the object of men’s desires and someone who was passed around by Hollywood’s leading men from bed to bed.

It is said her separation from her first husband was more than a ploy for emancipation and was a rather calculated move to win over the single women segment who would later become an integral part of her fan base. It is said that she later leveraged this fanbase to start her own production house Marilyn Monroe Productions just so that she could force 20th Century Fox to give her a talent holding deal.  

Marilyn Monroe – The Actor

Massively misunderstood Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe had a fairly short-lived acting career that lasted barely a decade from 1950 – 1962 in which she took a two-year hiatus from 1960 to 1962. She acted till she committed suicide in ‘62.

Though she started as a model, she was asked to do more ‘pin-up’ work than fashion photoshoots. But she was determined to become an actor and slept her way through to the top of the executive food chain at Fox but they never featured her in any movies.

She became famous in 1950 after small supporting roles in Love Happy, A Ticket to Tomahawk and The Fireball.

She then appeared in minor roles in two critically acclaimed films back-to-back: Joseph Mankiewicz’s drama All About Eve and John Huston’s crime film The Asphalt Jungle.

She then signed a contract with Fox which gave her more publicity. She appeared as a presenter at the 23rd Oscars and was able to get a full-length in the magazine Collier by 1951.

It was in the second year into her contract that she became a top-billed actress after giving a string of moderate hits in comedies in 1951. This growth was rudely disrupted in March 1952 when she admitted that she had posed nude for photographs that were being used in calendars.

But both she and the studio (Fox) chose to add a spin to the story that she was broke at the time she had posed for the photos. This move got her sympathy from the audience and further catapulted her standing.

But her dream run was thwarted in 1955 when she refused to do another musical or a comedy after wanting to change her image. Unhappy with her, Fox decided to suspend her after she refused to shoot a film opposite Frank Sinatra.

Though she appeared in multiple critically acclaimed movies post this, her career and personal life all but stalled in 1960. She was married to and divorced twice in this period. First to baseball star Joe DiMaggio and then to writer Arthur Miller.

The indication that her career had hit its last stop was when she was set to do Holly Golightly’s role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but that role went to Audrey Hepburn instead because the movie’s producers thought that she was too volatile for them to handle.

Marilyn Monroe – The Writer

Massively misunderstood Marilyn Monroe.

While many of her contemporaries grew old in front of the camera, many regard the mere fact that Monroe’s untimely demise has simply added immensely to her mystique.

Another simple truth is that the whiskey fuelled whirlwind life of sex and glamour that she lived and embodied have made it difficult to conjure up a septic image of hers. But her writings sheds light on a different Monroe.

If the BBC is to be believed, the notebooks and jottings of Marilyn Monroe reveal a sensitive, cerebral character with a poetic soul. When her personal diary entries and other personal papers were published in 2010, we got a peek into a side of her character that could be rarely found in the column inches that talked much about her.

When Marilyn Monroe died, she left her personal possessions to her acting teacher, Lee Strasberg. After Strasberg’s death, the collection passed to his widow, Anna, who some years later discovered among the dresses, pictures, and other miscellany a cache of personal writings.

While her contemporaries Jane Fonda and Tony Curtis have revealed that she was a “very vulnerable, terribly needy, terribly distrustful,” and added that she was “mentally and physically ill,” these her writings reveal a whole new side to her.

She comes across as someone who is driven to express herself in concise and coherent sentences. She can also be perceived as a complex and sensitive being who chose to peer into her own psyche to jot-down her observations of her own mind and of the minds around her.

Incredibly thoughtful albeit tortured is phrased that best describes her writings. She could have been a poet but famously lacked the patience or the control to become one.

These items of correspondence and ephemera were published in a volume called Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment.

The JFK-Monroe Scandal

Massively misunderstood Marilyn Monroe

Some say that her troubles began when she chose to voice her opinions on equal rights for African-American, countering the narrative being set by FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy.

But the fact is in her entire career Monroe was victim to only one massive scandal and news of that broke, too much of her respite, after her demise of a barbiturate overdose in 1962 when she was just 36-years-old.

The first scandal that rocked the entire nation was that she was having sexual relations with both the Kennedy brothers, President John F. and the Attorney General Robert. One of her biographers, James Spada, has gone on the record and confirmed this and said that the FBI even sent Robert a warning letter that ‘a book was about to be launched which would leak the news of their affair.’

According to Time magazine: Decked out in a skin-tight, nude-colored dress, she sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy, who was turning 45 later that month, at a rally at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962.

The performance remains a cultural touchstone decades later, and is also noteworthy because that event produced what is considered the only known photograph of Monroe and Kennedy together.

Spada however, said that any claims that the Kennedy brothers had anything to do with her death are entirely unsubstantiated.

But given the small time gap between Monroe’s ‘suicide’ and Kennedy’s assassination, conspiracy theories are abound that there is a connection between the two.