Marilyn Monroe is easily one of the most iconic and historical women to have ever lived.
She’s so revered that you don’t have to say her whole name. When we say, “Marilyn,” we’re not talking Manson, that’s for sure.
In fact, when I typed in “Marilyn” in Google Chrome’s image search engine, it took about 55 photos before I popped on a picture of Gail Levin a filmmaker in an article about Marilyn Monroe. It was well over a 100 photos before I saw a picture related to a Marilyn not named Monroe.
In honor of the lovely lady’s 90th birthday, let’s examine her everlasting fame and the potential causation for it. Because let’s be clear. I’m neither a Marilyn historian or a woman. These facts are important because there’s not a doubt that Marilyn has sustained eternal fame, but it certainly had nothing to do with men; I can tell you that.
Marilyn was a sex symbol yes, but sex is the shallowest motive. The men who stared at her poster would eventually move on to Racquel Welch or some other model. Today, there’s Gisele Bundchen, Kate Upton, Hannah Ferguson, or any girl in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition to stare at and pretend she’s their “girlfriend,” so no reason to believe she would attach on to the later generations.
No, Marilyn managed to sustain immortality because she’s revered by women. Women have kept Marilyn alive. Women and the feminine members of the LGBT community. Marilyn’s black and white headshot is still painted onto t-shirts to this day.
Not just her, but one of her quotes has gone mainstream: “If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
Well here’s the interesting that. That’s half the quote. Here’s the whole part.
“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.”
Let’s get something clear about Marilyn. She’s not a great “role model” in the typical sense. If you want your daughters to be the pure sweethearts who marry as virgins and become great bakers, then Marilyn Monroe is 180 degrees in the wrong direction.
Marilyn was an addict, struggled with depression, and had severe anxiety. She had affairs with Jack Kennedy while he was president, and his brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. She had an abusive (even if the love was genuine) marriage with Joe DiMaggio. She had another disastrous marriage with playwright Arthur Miller and her first marriage to a James Dougherty when she was 16 was doomed from the get-go. She went downhill from there and it’s generally accepted she committed suicide at age 36.
So why in Lincoln’s beard is this woman still thought of as a positive role model and therefore a constant icon?
To say there is one reason that Marilyn Monroe is remembered so positively isn’t possible. A constellation has to have more than one star in order to make an image. And her image had to play a major part.
Marilyn Monroe was born for movies; especially black and white. Black and white is “outdated” to most people and color is universal today except for rare exceptions. But the truth is that black and white movies are so much better because the mix of such contrasting colors make for amazing pictures.
Take a look at this screenshot from her role in “All About Eve”
Monroe’s blonde hair came on the screen as this pure white. Her confused look easily translated as innocence but also look at how sexy she is with the fur coat on and strapless dress. She’s making the chest besides the supple breast sexy. That takes talent considering how avaricious men are for what’s underneath. Then there’s the signature mole on her cheek, her hair isn’t even down, and the dress fits her perfect frame.
She was a goddess of sexuality and I don’t think there had been a sex symbol at her level before. Sure there was other women like Rita Haywood and Mary Pickford, but the 50s coined the term “sex symbol” and Marilyn was the queen of them all.
Now, she wasn’t the first beautiful blonde ever. She had earlier colleagues like Greta Garbo or contemporaries like Doris Day who achieved stardom before her. But what she was before the rest was the intentionally sexy and somewhat oblivious blonde character that created the “Dumb Blonde” archetype that’s been built on over the last half century. She made blondes sexy where Day made them beautiful and between the two of them, there was a whole new type of woman in Hollywood.
Marilyn Monroe was a gorgeous woman who was unashamed of her sexy body. Men didn’t want her to hide her body, but take off more clothes. However, she always kept the public wanting more unless they purchased the edition of Playboy she was in. But, she always kept them desiring her. She was easily the most beautiful woman in the pop culture at that time. Today, she’s evolved into a different role mode.
As you can tell, the woman was gorgeous, but look at her body. She’s not a stick. Some would consider her plus size by today’s standard because he actually has thighs. However, that’s where her new stature comes into play because women can embrace her as a role model for a woman to be happy with a plus size body as long as they are healthy.
But there’s more to Marilyn than her sexuality and here’s where I speculate and hope I don’t cause a group of feminists to make a voodoo doll of me to burn in effigy. I think she’s remembered because she defied the times with her sexuality and became a role model for women trying to break out of the established molds of the times. Feminism is one of the most controversial issues to take a side on because there’s radicals on both sides, moderates, and neutrals. Marilyn was a role model to any of the women who wanted to progress/evolve from the established roles of then.
Don’t mistake her intelligence. Even though she played the dumb blonde, she was actually quite talented. As an actress, she won the Golden Globe as female comedy lead (an Oscar snub arguably) and two Henrietta awards. Billy Wilder said
She avoided drama films for the most part or else she might’ve gotten Oscar consideration. Marilyn’s death came too soon, which helped cement her status as legendary because of the “What if?” factor like the one James Dean had.
Granted, her affairs with married men are not what feminists would want to promote, but luckily, those things were kept quiet. It wasn’t until Richard Nixon was president that the relationship between the president and the press was utterly destroyed. During Kennedy’s tenure, there was plenty of disregard for the president’s personal life because it wasn’t considered by editors to be news. So while Monroe let herself be taken with powerful married men, it didn’t destroy her.
In fact, today it could even help her image. Because in my opinion, I think it’s Marilyn’s flaws that make her that much more admirable and loveable. In today’s society, the stress to be perfect is crushing. To see a woman as beautifully flawed as Marilyn, it’s a relief to many who have made mistakes. Because no matter what happened to Marilyn, her light still shined bright until she finally died. She had her struggles, but she still succeeded at life.
Even today, people will argue about her. Some going as far to say she was just a blonde bimbo without acting talent (those will get my eternal disagreement) and others saying her popularity rivaled Elvis and Mickey Mouse (that I can believe), but I think near-universally the world would say that it’s a tragedy we lost her when we did.
Her popularity has sustained with help from music like hit song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel giving her a shout out and “Candle in the Wind” by Sir Elton John being specifically about her brief yet powerful time in the public eye.
Looking at all the things that Monroe did or didn’t do or did wrong or however you want to say it, one thing is clear. She was a symbol and here’s one more reason for the world to want to admire this woman that isn’t extolled enough.
Joe DiMaggio Jr. was not her son. He was Joe’s. But Jr did not like his namesake father that well. His father saw him as an irritant as a baby. Monroe and DiMaggio Sr. divorced after 1955 and her stepson was only 14. Many women could easily disconnect and go away. They aren’t related anymore by blood or by marriage. Not Monroe. She loved her stepson and they always remained close. He even spoke to her the night before she died and told her how he’d broken up with his fiancée. She made more time for him than his own parents did. That’s something that many people wouldn’t have done.
It’s truly impossible to encapsulate in a single article what Monroe was as a person, but if one was going to start. They’d start with this resume: Marilyn Monroe: Model, actress, sex symbol, role model, and mother.
That’s definitely worth remembering to say the very least.