Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Makes Marilyn so Special?

Please hold your tomato throwing, boos, and hisses until the end.  Thank you.

Marilyn Monroe.  There isn't much to be said that hasn't been already.  Yes, she was beautiful.  Yes, she certainly had "it".  Yes, her story is tragic, mysterious, and star (and politician) studded. BUT, out of all the amazing talent in Hollywood in her heyday, why is she the number one person that made it out iconic? She is freakin everywhere. There are a million blogs, a million fan pages (google search, i dare ya), her picture is plastered all over town, people are still freaking out at auctions over her pictures and belongings (okay that part i kind of get), and a lot of the time to have any discussion with classic film fans about something other than Ms. Monroe is like pulling teeth. Sure there are plenty of Audry, Grace, and Liz fans, but they aren't on billboards on the metro. They don't plaster them up and down the boulevard. There hasn't been a "My Life with Deborah Kerr" movie made.

Is it the rags to riches story?  She had a hell of a childhood, but, so did most of Old Hollywood, thats how they ended up here. Is it the drop dead beauty?  She is stunning, but in my book not any more than Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, or Cyd Charisse. The glamour? The people she knew? Because she was perpetually the child that needed protection and never got it? Or because she was the poster child of the Hollywood double life - rich and glamorous in public, poor and miserable in life . . . *sigh*

I've watched every movie I have available with her in it this week -  Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and how To Marry a Millionaire, trying to figure out either A. what makes her such a huge deal today or B. why, unlike the vast majority of movie fans, do i not really enjoy her films.

I think a little of it is i find it hard to relate to the ditsy, breathy, hair twirling types. There were a lot of those then (hell there's a lot of those now), but I don't see anyone really freaking out about Judy Holliday or Jayne Mansfield these days. In most of her movies it seems like she was mainly cast as a piece of meat. Im not a bra burner but that whole "let me bend over slowly and pick your jaw up for you" routine is a major turn off. At least Harlow and West seemed smart.

Im not sure exactly what happened but somewhere between her earlier roles like Clash by Night and Dont Bother to Knock and her mid-career films her diction and way she carried herself totally changed. It seems by the time she got to Seven Year Itch, Hollywood magnified the ditsy sex kitten role so much it was almost unbearable to watch. She was decent in Clash.  But it's like she gave up, kind of Peter Lorre style, and stopped fighting the typecast. Lorre once said something along the lines of "Id like to do other things but if that is the Lorre they want, I dont want to disappoint". Is that what happened? That's sad if it is.

  Monroe in Clash By Night

Another part of it is how angry I am at the system and how they used her and made her life hell.  I dont think she was stupid in real life but to hear Billy Wilder tell it she was a grade-A moron, he claims she'd get lost  coming to work so much he had to hire a driver for her, and she couldn't remember simple lines.  (I read somewhere he told her Tony Curtis looked better from behind in a skirt, which is just mean if its true). I also read somewhere that she was so self conscious on camera she would constantly freeze, miss marks, and forget whole scenes, and the studio execs would harass her until she got it right.

Something I do find really interesting about Marilyn is our governments handling of her demise.  A lot of that has been circling this month, being the 50th anniversary of her death. Why WOULD the FBI need to black out her files if it was "just" a suicide? But again there were/are tons of weird deaths (Thelma Todd for one) in Hollywood.  Aside from James Ellroy's stories, none have been as intensely looked at as hers.

I understand the allure when people die to soon like with James Dean or Jean Harlow. But it just seems out of everyone that left us too soon Monroe has gotten far more attention than anyone I can think of.  I read somewhere that she really wanted to top Liz Taylor in magazine covers so I suppose, in a way, in longevity and popularity, Marilyn wins.

Maybe it's the combination of all the things I mentioned that makes her the face of Hollywood. I spend a lot of time on Hollywood Boulevard and get so bummed when people skip over Pickford or Jack Lemmon to stick their hands in Harry Potter's prints at Grauman's.  No one skips over Marilyn though, that's for sure. Young, old, everyone knows who she is.  I suppose I should just suck it up and be happy that kids at least know her, and hopefully learn more about the era from her. But I can't help but be just a little curious about why someone else isn't in her limelight.

Okay, you can throw things now.


  1. I liked your post although I am a Marilyn fan. (I love her comic timing in "How to Marry a Millionaire".) However, you raise some good points, and I won't be throwing anything today. :)