Much like Che Guevara, Marilyn Monroe has been manufactured into a global brand with her face plastered on a range of memorabilia including T-shirts and wine bottles. For someone with such vast exposure, people know shockingly little about her. Over time she’s been reduced to a sex symbol and Kennedy’s whore. So let’s set the record straight, she represents so much more than that.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, Marilyn reached superstardom by reinventing herself. Prior to starring in thirty-three films, Monroe changed her name and became the blonde bombshell. Due to pressure from the studios she bleached her hair, showed off her famous hourglass figure and created the signature look. From then on red lipstick, plunging necklines and curvaceous figures became the defining elements of female pulchritude. For women, Monroe is a style icon. She was a trendsetter rather than follower, much like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. She is also arguably the most beautiful woman who ever lived.
Interestingly, her performance style contrasts with her sex appeal. On screen she radiated an image of purity and childlike innocence, completely unaware of suffering and evil. Her sweet naivety was entrancing and contagious, particularly in the film adaptation of The Seven Year Itch. However, Monroe grew tired of playing the ‘dumb blonde.’ After marrying playwright Arthur Miller (author of the Crucible) she expressed an interest in exploring more serious roles. To do this she created her own production, an unheard of pursuit in the 1950’s. She wanted control over her image and work, a luxury that she’d been denied throughout her acting career. Monroe’s intense emotional vulnerability was one of her most beloved qualities. She wore her heart on her sleeve and spoke earnestly about her struggles. Her genuine nature could not be manufactured.
Both in life and death, Monroe remained a mystery. She was found dead in her home at age 36. Whilst it was ruled a suicide, there are many conspiracies that surround her demise. But, sadly we will never know the truth. Her early death left her beautiful and forever young, untouched by age.
Marilyn Monroe’s complexity will continue to fascinate us. We admire her beauty, question the mysteries surrounding her and perceive her as a quixotic, intricate character. For these reasons she cannot be diminished to a sex symbol and a President’s mistress.