Given the limited news sources in 1962, it seems more likely that the death of Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe would have been announced to the majority of the world on Monday, August 6th, 1962 during the morning television news. Around this time, there would have been a large amount of tears and speculation about Monroe’s death.
Fifty years later, there are just as many tears and just as much speculation about Monroe’s death. Typing her name into Google News today, I received “page 1 of 4,710,00 results”. When an icon passes away, the public takes notice. When someone like Monroe remains a mystery throughout her entire life, a mystery that never gets solved, people cannot stop talking about her.
For those less familiar with her work, Monroe may be remembered as the girl who danced and sang about her love of diamonds, the girl whose looks enticed her married neighbor, the blonde preferred by gentleman, or someone who delivered surely the most unusual birthday greeting to President Kennedy. Yet all of these were roles that she took on. None of them can ever be singled out as the definite Monroe. Given her amount of mystery and paradox, one may never know who the “real” Monroe was.
Though known mostly for her comedic roles (it is such a shame that more do not know of her serious roles in Don’t Bother to Knock, Bus Stop, and The Misfits), Monroe’s claimed ambition was to be a serious actress. After receiving worldwide fame, she made the most unusual decision by going to get acting lessons with Michael Chekhov at the famed Actor’s Studio. Monroe, throughout most of her life, was also interested in the literary world. She wrote poems, though none were published until after her passing. When not working on a movie set, she would take literature classes at UCLA. She read authors like James Joyce, Colette, Sigmund Freud, Albert Camus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Fyodor Dostoevsky and read poets like Walt Whitman, D.H. Lawrence, W.B. Yeats, John Keats, and Robert Frost. She most likely also read playwright Arthur Miller, as she was married to him for close to five years. Though her comedic roles earned her much money at the box office, that glamour was nothing to her compared to the true glamour of proving herself.
Some may wonder, if this dream was so important, why she did not just take more serious roles and stop with these comedy films. In some ways, Monroe was a victim to her surroundings. Under heavy contract at the studios, Monroe did not always have a choice in which films she could select. Many times, Monroe had to form a compromise with the studios. For example, in order to take part in “The Seven-Year Itch“, Monroe first had to act in “There’s No Business Like Show Business“. Nowadays, this type of studio control is unheard of. Actresses are able to reject any role that they do not wish to do and may only receive a warning from their publicist. Monroe did not have these choices. (It may also be worth noting that, though Monroe was involved in box-office hits, she was so poor at the time of her death that she could not even afford her own funeral service).
Yet to call Monroe a total victim would be wrong. Yes, with her girly voice, her voluptuous body, and her charm, she brought many to the movie theaters. Having to use sex appeal is not exactly control. Her star power was used in other ways, such as getting Ella Fitzgerald to play in the then-racially segregated Hollywood Mocambo club. At the time, Fitzgerald was used to playing in very small venues. She was nowhere near the household name that she is today. With one phone call, Monroe got Fitzgerald booked and sat in front row while Fitzgerald played her set for multiple nights. According to Fitzgerald herself, “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt…after that, I never had to play a small jazz club again”.
There was also power in what some may see as a large flaw: her legendary tardiness and perfectionist traits. As her career progressed, it would take hours for her to come out of her hiding place (which was usually her trailer or bedroom). Yet what some may not see was that she was not being difficult. Monroe was not just sitting in her trailer watching television. Rather, Monroe was preparing herself. She knew that what she had to give to the camera was everything she had. This type of dedication is practically unheard of today in major Hollywood stars. Even in interviews, she felt a strong compulsion to give each interviewer something different that they could use for their stories. She found it her duty to help others.
Seeing this, if one selection from her career catalogue had be picked as her defining mantra, it might be her song, “I Wanna Be Loved By You“. Listen to the lyrics.
With a father who reportedly died in an automobile accident and a mother who soon went to the mental institution, Monroe was someone who wanted to have parents to love her. After being tossed around in various foster homes, Monroe’s last remaining parental figure came from the public. She embraced this as much as she could.
To have lived the life that Marilyn Monroe lived took tremendous courage and strength. She never stopped giving as much of herself as she could. Her fighting spirit and her commitment to her art will not be forgotten. She was, is, and will continue to be a legend.