America’s Favorite Marilyn Monroe Snapshot

Most films that are widely vilified upon release simply evaporate in their own disfavour. Yet Andrew Dominik’s recent Netflix film, Blondlingered in the public consciousness weeks after its release and the criticism that followed for one simple reason: Marilyn Monroe’s enduring star power.

The film is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel, which promised 20 years ago to reveal, through fiction, the real person behind the famous image. “I must tell you immediately that I would never have written a book about Marilyn Monroe”, Oates said in an interview promoting the novel at the time. “I got very interested in writing about an American girl who is Norma Jeane Baker who becomes a celebrity later in life… To me, she’s still Norma Jeane.” It wasn’t a new idea then, and it isn’t today. The idea that Norma Jeane is more important than Marilyn Monroe won’t fade, because both the premise of Blond and his criticism WELCOME do everything too disengage.

Since the first press release written in the studio in 1946, the search for the real Norma Jeane behind the supposedly artificial character of Marilyn Monroe has pushed endless stories. After studying the myths around Monroe for many years and analyzing them in my book The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, I’ve seen how persistent and popular these tropes are. We keep talking about the Marilyn Monroe myth, but the Norma Jeane myth is its foundation, encouraging people to express open contempt for the “fake” Monroe by pretending to love the “real” Norma Jeane instead. . In fact, Marilyn Monroe was a real person recognized by our culture in every way except in our stories about her.

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in Blond (Netflix)

These stories, which insist that Monroe destroyed the real Norma Jeane, have been circulating for decades. For Elton John in “Candle in the Wind”, Monroe was really Norma Jeane: “Goodbye Norma Jean / From the young man in the 22nd row / Who sees you as something more than sexual / More than our Marilyn Monroe.” She was Norma Jeane to her early biographers, including Fred Lawrence Guiles, who published Norma Jean: The Life of Marilyn Monroe in 1969 (later correcting the spelling to “Jeane”, as it appears on her birth certificate). Norman Mailer closed Marilyn (which he called a “new biography”, because he romanticized at will) with the words “Goodbye, Norma Jean”, in 1973 – the same year Elton John sang them. The biography of Gloria Steinem in 1986, Marilyn: Norma Jeane, went in search of the real Norma Jeane; a decade later, photographer George Barris presented a book stating, “His greatest enemy was Marilyn Monroe. Her real self was little Norma Jeane.

The idea that Norma Jeane is both the real Monroe and someone different from Monroe is the myth of Marilyn Monroe. It’s a fundamentally misogynistic idea, blaming Monroe for the contempt with which she is treated. Dominik promoted his film by implying to a reporter that Monroe’s films aren’t worth watching, adding that Men prefer blondesin which Monroe delivers one of the greatest musicals ever filmed, is only about two”well dressed whores.” When Monroe left baseball legend Joe DiMaggio in 1954, a stranger handed her a letter with the word whore written in shit. Nothing has changed: people still shit on Marilyn Monroe.

No matter how oblivious it may be, reducing the wildly successful Monroe to “little Norma Jeane” has the undeniable effect of denying her power, keeping her infantilized, pathologized, and forever less than a whole self. Or too much of me, like when Mailer said Monroe “always lived with the full equivalent of two people inside her.” Either way, something is wrong with Monroe, rather than with society’s attitude towards her.


This basic disdain for the very idea of ​​Marilyn Monroe turns into a number of unquestioned clichés about her. One, for example, is that she hated herself – as the tragic circumstances of her death supposedly prove. Little that Monroe actually said suggests that this is true. In many interviews, especially in the fullness of her fame, she spoke of self-respect, emphasizing her self-worth, asking people to take her seriously. Monroe’s drug addiction was self-destructive, yes, but it probably got out of control before she understood its dangers. Addiction doesn’t have to be a symptom of self-hatred: it can also provide an escape from the derision of others.

Another disparaging cliché presented in Blond, for which the film was widely criticized, is that Monroe has always been the passive object of outside forces. As Oates said in 2000, “I actually never wanted to write about Marilyn Monroe. It’s something that happened to me, like her life happened to Norma Jeane. But Marilyn Monroe’s life did not happen to Norma Jeane Norma Jeane is only significant because she created Marilyn Monroe. If Norma Jeane hadn’t turned into Monroe, we would never have heard of her. But we’re not talking about Monroe as the agent of her own transformation; instead we talk about her passively Become Marilyn—which is also the title of a recent French documentary, stage show, and countless headlines over the years, including a number of recent descriptions of Ana de Armas’ performance in Blond.

We still refuse to do Monroe the fundamental justice of attributing her own stardom to her. “She started out with less than any girl I ever knew,” the head of her first modeling agency once said, “but she worked the hardest… She wanted to learn, wanted to be someone, more than anyone I’ve ever seen before in my life.” Monroe wasn’t put on a treadmill; she pushed and pushed her way over it, then beat the competition. Nobody made him change his name either: a casting director suggested it, and Monroe, hungry for fame, accepted. “Monroe” was, in fact, her mother’s maiden name, and thus has considerably more claim to being Monroe’s “real” name than the shifting surnames of her precarious childhood.

She legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe shortly after starting her own production company: there’s no reason to consider her name change anything other than a triumph. affirmation of his identity. She is globally recognized as Marilyn Monroe 60 years after her death, but people still mourn the loss of Norma Jeane. Cary Grant said everyone wants to be Cary Grant, including him, but no one is saying Archie Leach is the real Cary Grant. No one sings “Goodbye, Frances Gumm”; everyone prefers Judy Garland. We also prefer Marilyn Monroe, but we categorically refuse to admit it.


There is another Marilyn Monroe, remembered by those who actually knew her – a woman of extraordinary determination, ambition, humor and dedication to her craft. Her addiction to pills was severe; his stage fright was real and disabling; each of his hits was met with mockery and gaslighting. She rose above it all, fighting back, pushing them away, showing them off, until one day she took too many pills that she was taking too recklessly on a regular basis. Dominik’s film speculates that she deliberately committed suicide, but this is by no means certain.

Norma Jeane Mortenson (later Marilyn Monroe) poses for a hair products advertisement in 1945
Photo by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

“Everyone knows her insecurities,” another biography of Monroe quoted her friend, photographer Sam Shaw, as saying, “but not everyone knows how fun she was, that she never complained ordinary things in life, that she never had a bad word to say about anyone, and that she had a wonderful off-the-cuff sense of humor. The truly rare tribute to Monroe would focus on her survivalism, her ambition and her spirit, the courage with which she fought her detractors. It would show Monroe studying literature at UCLA at night, her sustained readings in psychoanalysis and, above all, the seriousness with which she approached the game as a form It would describe his political commitments, his support for racial and sexual equality, his hatred for McCarthyism and his defiance of the House Un-American Activities Committee, his interest in the Kennedys’ progressive agenda (as opposed to to a desperate hope that they quit would kill their wives for her), and her dislike of Nixon, whom she compared to some of the “born cowards” who ran Hollywood. She disdained Mailer too, refusing to meet him; after reading his Hollywood novel The deer park, she reportedly said he was “too impressed with the power”, adding, “You can’t fool me on that.” This Monroe also exists in public records, but it is not the one circulating in our stories about her.

The great struggle of Monroe’s life was not her struggle with addiction, depression and loneliness, it was her struggle for respect, which our culture still denies her. “Some people have been mean,” she once said. “If I say I want to grow as an actress, they look at my figure. If I say I want to grow, learn my craft, they laugh. In a way, they don’t expect me be serious about my work. I’m more serious about it than anything else. ” Monroe wanted above all to progress and improve, but we do not let her change, because then it would be necessary to change her mind and admit that she was one of America’s great success stories, instead of one of his favorite tragic myths. In truth, Marilyn Monroe offers one of the purest examples of the old American promise of reinvention. And, on the evidence of stories such as Blond, we continue to evolve much less than it.

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