Norma Jean. Marilyn Monroe. I just love her. She’s my all-time favourite icon.
Not only did she exude sexuality, sophistication and charm, but she was a much more complicated character than that.
I’ll be exploring why I love her so much in this blog post.
(photos I use in this blog are obviously not mine, but were found on Instagram)
My interest in Marilyn started when I was seventeen and in college. I studied a few subjects including Media Studies, Film Studies and Photography. In Photography, we covered some of the greatest photographers ever, including Milton Greene, Eve Arnold and Phil Stern, which inevitably lead on to me discovering countless beautiful photographs of Marilyn Monroe in my work.
She intrigued me. I’d obviously heard about her, knowing about her sex bomb persona, seemingly rather public sex life and icon status (her face is still featured everywhere today), but as a photography student, I was now analysing photographs of her, what they portrayed, how they made me feel and what side of her personality or persona they were showing. She was photogenic, sure, but I couldn’t help but notice she had a certain naivety and innocence to a lot of her photos, too. In fact, the later images of her show a sadness and vulnerability to her.
Around the same time, I was set coursework for my Film Studies course, which allowed me to choose anything within the film industry, to write a ten thousand word essay on. After speaking to my teacher, we agreed that exploring how Marilyn Monroe was portrayed in films throughout her life was a topic I’d be genuinely enthusiastic about and I could really get my teeth in to. This is where my obsession with the ‘vintage’ era began. I bought many of her films, a Marilyn ‘encyclopedia’ and read article after article online about her life. I soon learnt that her sex bomb persona and typecast roles as the dumb blonde weren’t entirely accurate, as she was incredibly intelligent, witty and strong. After years moving between many homes as a child, going through several traumatic experiences and feeling somewhat lost, Marilyn was desperate to be loved and ‘just wanted to be wonderful’.
She hadn’t been shown much love throughout her childhood.
She wanted to be a movie star.
Perhaps a very early form of feminist, Marilyn wanted to be able to show her sexuality and embrace it, but still be respected as an actress and artist. She had many sexual relations with many men throughout her career, for which she often receives criticism, but how many men of that time also slept with just as many, if not more women? Her body wasn’t everything though, she was smart and determined too. She read a lot and was often see with a book in hand in between takes.
She became frustrated at the movie industry, famously exclaiming “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul!”, eventually setting up Marilyn Monroe productions, where she could have more artistic rights over what film roles she did. She then began picking different and more complex characters compared to the usual ‘dumb blonde’ ones she used to be put in to.
She began her acting career in type cast, ‘dumb blonde’ roles, where she was almost always posed to the side, in positions that highlighted her bust and bottom. Perhaps her most famous role, as an unnamed ditsy blonde in The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn’s body was used to sell the picture a lot, and she began to feel frustrated not long after.
The very filming of this scene of her on the grate for The Seven Year Itch caused her an argument with then husband Joe DiMaggio, who she later ended up divorcing. Although they stayed friends for the rest of her life.
As the years went on, Marilyn’s characters changed, as she took on more complex characters, such as those in Bus Stop and The Misfits, where she was able to showcase a wider range of acting abilities. I personally love her ability to produce comedic performances, for which she was vastly underrated for. In The Prince and The Showgirl, she was divine at this. I review her films on my blog, too.
She was difficult to film with at times, due to her doubts in her own abilities but also her battles with mental and physical health (miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy included). She was, at times, on several prescription drugs to help her and she was admitted to a mental hospital for a short stay. But she always came back bouncing and with a huge smile on her face. Being an actress was her dream and she got to live that dream.
I have always felt some kind of connection to Marilyn, whenever I read about her personal life. It is believed she had bi-polar disorder and having gone through many traumas in her life, Marilyn had a certain vulnerability to her, which became apparent especially in her later photos, towards the end of her life. She said multiple times that she just wanted to be loved but feared that no one would ever love her. Not her anyway. Many men loved her body, sure. Many men loved Marilyn, her persona, but Norma Jean was more than that.
Even though she was around way before my time, I feel protective of her, which is kind of mad, but I relate to her on so many levels and understand why she sometimes behaved in the way she did. I admire her strength, I admire her confidence when she was feeling anything but confident, I admire the way in which she took her sexuality and embraced it unapologetically, as she was entitled to do, and I admire her determination to pave the way for female actresses to be more than just sex objects or whiny women in the movies. She was a businesswoman.
In terms of her looks and style, I do believe Marilyn to be the most beautiful woman there’s ever been. And I know this is all down to personal opinion, but to me, she was more than just her golden, perfectly quaffed locks, red lips, big doe eyes or curvaceous body. In her eyes, there was a sense of innocence. The way she carried her body was captivating. Her smile was confident and she exuded fun and youth. When I first starting looking at her photos in photography, truth be told, I thought to myself ‘I don’t understand the fuss with this woman. Why is she considered to be an icon in her appearance?’ But once I started learning more about her, Norma Jean, she glowed with beauty. She was and always will be the perfect example of 1950’s Hollywood, sophistication, sexuality, a pin-up model, yet also had great innocence and vulnerability. She was a strong woman, even though she often doubted this, who was, and still is, adored by many.
I’m going to end this post with Elton John’s tribute to Marilyn. Many don’t know that Candle in The Wind was originally written about Marilyn, but the lyrics are beautiful. I hope you like it.
Subscribe to my blog via email so you never miss a new post! (on the right side of this page)