Image courtesy of Google Images

The luscious, red lips which pouted deliciously over every word, the winged eyes which beckoned from beneath lowered lashes, those bewitching curves practised to wiggle just so, the halo of golden curls and the delicious air of innocent sensuality; Marilyn Monroe was like no other.

With half a century having passed since her untimely demise, her exquisite features can still effortlessly grace the modern glossy publications transporting us to a bygone era, a time of classic elegance and genuine style whilst still remaining eternally  relevant.

The story of her life is widely known; her rise to fame and stardom, her numerous love affairs, her infamous moments on/off screen and her poignant, mysterious death at the tender age of 36. However, these are just pieces of information; stories often falsely composed and related through the media, some of which only scratched the surface of this incredible creature and may have contributed to her early passing. Despite the abundance of available knowledge, the same question remains a constant; who was Marilyn Monroe?

Born ‘Norma Jeane Mortenson,’ she spent the majority of her childhood in and out of foster homes until the age of 16 when she wed her first husband, James Dougherty. During this first marriage, her modelling career intensified, sadly without her husband’s approval and this inevitably became a force which worked against her ambitious nature providing compelling grounds for divorce. Thereafter began her journey to international starlet and quintessential sex symbol under the guise of ‘Marilyn Monroe.’

The infamous dress from 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.'

The road to stardom was not an easy one. Bound by water-tight contracts and greedy Hollywood big-wigs, Marilyn Monroe became a golden ticket, a product to be ruthlessly sold over and over again to the highest bidder. She once proclaimed that Hollywood was the sort of place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.’ Yet Marilyn adored being adored. When her many admirers fawned over and doted upon her, she felt beautiful, desired, needed; aspirations which she came to covet throughout her life. These fleeting moments became a safety net, a refuge; in an instant she could forget her deep-rooted insecurities which stemmed from her upbringing; No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl. All little girls should be told they’re pretty, even if they aren’t.’

With all these pressures combined, Norma Jeane completed the transformation into Marilyn Monroe, a mask she would wear and hide behind throughout her lifetime. The public face, painted to perfection, would pout and pose, the curves would swish hypnotically and Marilyn Monroe could capture every heart the room. Sadly, the majority of these people, who exploited any opportunity to paw relentlessly at her, both physically and emotionally, failed to discover the little girl who hid underneath the make-up and carefully practised postures.  (An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like a machine. A money machine.’) I use the term ‘little girl’ because once the bulbs had ceased their flashing and the greedy media were momentarily sated, Marilyn was very child-like in her manner. She could relate to and understand children; ‘…it seems that at times children have a remarkable perception and insight and in some even a very humane trait which, while in the process of growing up one, loses touch with…’ and relished childish games and purile humour;  ‘On Hospital Gowns; my bare derriere, is out in the air.’ By making light of her often desperate situation, she may have found a momentary release from the depravity and immorality so eagerly played upon by Hollywood.

Marilyn was a profound thinker, forever blighted by uneasy and apprehensive thoughts, often loosing herself in her own contemplations; ‘Why do I feel this torture? Or why do I feel less of a human being than others. Always felt in a way that I’m sub-human.’ It was always the fear of being inadequate; in her appearance, her work, her relationships, her ability to please or entice and the preservation of her status as a sex-symbol for her public whilst simultaneously trying to keep the jackals from her door. (‘Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered.’) This would result in Marilyn constantly over-analysing herself, almost to the point of distraction; ‘for someone like me, it’s wrong to go through self-analysis – I do that enough in thought generalities,’ but despite trying to suppress them, the insecurities remained ever-present.

Thinking….

In spite of being the most desired woman in the world, Marilyn could not tolerate the receipt of compliments, ‘I’m always afraid when someone praises me…’ as though they were just empty flattery or intended for another. Her intense sexuality also frightened her. She claimed, in a personal note written around the time of her first marriage, that she had always possessed a ‘very strongly-sexed feeling since a small child.’ Sadly this seemed to either terrify the men in her life or disinterest them entirely. Of her first husband’s complete indifference she wrote, ‘…it’s my feminine being that wants satisfaction. Last night I was so badly sunburnt I wore a sweater and no bra – it gave me a sensual feeling I thought he might share.’ This thread of self-doubt and uncertainty continued throughout her life; ‘I’m afraid of my own genitals…my body is my body, every part of it…’and sadly never seemed to dissipate. Once the Marilyn Mask was thoroughly painted on, it became her greatest asset; her ability to ooze sex from every pore was almost supernatural yet behind the disguise lurked a deeply uncertain young woman who continually questioned whether these feelings were too deviant or peculiar.

More significant in her endless reflections however, was her desire to be viewed as a serious, intelligent woman and actress. Her diary entries and outbursts of deliberation on whatever parchment she could find, not only scream of self-doubt within different acting roles; ‘I’m tired, I’m searching for a way to play this part,’ but are also littered with notes on classical music and the 15th Century Italian architect, Filippo Brunelleschi which demonstrates her eager thirst for knowledge and culture, no doubt in an attempt to better herself.

Determined to entice grittier movie roles, Marilyn endeavoured to enrich her skills as an actress, often taking extra performance classes in addition to studying techniques developed by the Russian actor and director, Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski who had reached international recognition. She also enrolled at the University of Southern California to read Literature and Art. Certainly this love of the arts was for her own liberation but as she persistently made a point of being photographed pouring over some great piece of literature, one can’t help but think this was a deliberate indicator to Hollywood that she was not just a piece of meat, a sex symbol, a cash cow, but a woman of substance with intellect and wit who enjoyed the finer things in life.

Marilyn reading James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’

However, underneath the glamour, the sparkle and the diamonds, her deepest yearning was a simple one; Marilyn Monroe just wanted to be loved, truly and completely for the woman behind the mask, not merely the character she had created. Her second marriage to the all-American jock, Joe DiMaggio ended nine months after it began with Marilyn citing ‘mental cruelty’ but less than two years afterward in 1956, she wed the seemingly geeky playwright and Hollywood outsider, Arthur Miller. No doubt their contemporaries were rather thrown by this latter marriage of the buxom, flirtatious starlet with the limelight-shy, somewhat awkward Mr Miller but for a time, at least, they were in love.

It was probably during this time that Norma Jean and Marilyn Monroe began to collide. Her unravelling was noted by Arthur in his numerous writings as he witnessed her increasing sensitivity and unconscious battle with her own mind. Whilst walking along the beach on their delayed honeymoon, Marilyn watched the local fishermen landing their fish. The sight of these creatures gasping for air distressed her beyond belief; she shut her eyes, covered her face with her hands and shrieked. According to Miller she was ‘over the top about animals, children, old people. She could be fierce about protecting them. She would get absolutely outraged that somebody killed a fish.’ Miller eventually found these outbursts too much and despite her best efforts, the marriage was beyond repair by 1960.

In spite of being ‘the romantic esthetical soul that I am…’ she once wrote ‘I guess I have always been deeply terrified to be really be someone else’s wife since I know from life, one cannot love another, not really.’ Whether the breakdown of her first marriage spoilt her ideals or whether it was her choice in men which led to the repetitive heart-break, we will never know. What we do know is that she remained steadfast in her belief that she deserved a love that was worthy, ‘I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.’

Her greatest sorrow was her inability to conceive and carry the child she so craved for. We can but speculate whether, had she been able to carry full term, a child would have brought not only a little stability or normality to her life but provided her with someone to love, and who would love her, unconditionally.

Shortly before her death in 1962, Marilyn believed she was checking into a hospital for a rest cure but instead found herself confined to a psychiatric cell at Payne Whitney in New York. Her friends were unable to respond to her cries of help as none were, legally speaking, family members. Letters to her friends and confidants Lee and Paula Strasberg portray her terrible distress; ‘You haven’t heard from me because I’m locked up with all these poor nutty people. I’m sure to end up a nut if I stay in this nightmare – please help me Lee.’ Whoever was guilty of placing her in this institution under a false pretence was probably one of her numerous acquaintances who no doubt had her ‘best interests at heart.’ To the very end, Marilyn was stuck on a roundabout of emotional turmoil, partly created by herself, partly by her fame but generally by the people who were supposed to care for her. As she so poignantly said, ‘I really can’t stand human beings sometimes.’

Those close to her, who saw the real girl behind the façade, fully believed she did not wish to commit suicide and that during her final days, as is obvious from her final writings, Marilyn felt she had overcome a hurdle, was in good spirits and had exciting plans for the future. What really happened on the day of her death we will never know. However, the girl on both sides of the mask will never be forgotten. I often wonder what she would think if she knew how recognised and celebrated she continues to be. Regardless, this exquisite creature was taken from us too soon and it is our responsibility to keep her spirit alive.

The legend, the pin-up, the icon; the only woman who managed to portray such alluring sensuality and child-like innocence simultaneously, the legend that is Marilyn Monroe can  never be reproduced or even imitated. One of her most poignant diary entries stated, ‘I don’t want to make money. I just want to be wonderful.’ If only she knew.

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