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Happy Birthday Marilyn

Had she lived long enough to see the day, June 1 marks the birthday of cinema’s ultimate fractured sex goddess.

On this day, Marilyn Monroe would have been 82-years-old.

And despite all those coffee mugs emblazoned with her image, countless MM impersonators in their fluttery white dresses and so many sexy starlets naming her as an influence (Madonna, Mariah, Christina and most recently Lindsay) she remains fascinating.

It’s not just that she died tragically and in mysterious circumstances though, that has certainly added to her legend. It’s not just for her famous husbands and her Happy-Birthday-Mr. President dalliances with the Kennedy's (something I've always found incredibly sad -- what else was going on there?). And it’s not just for her iconic beauty and glamour.

No, there’s something more to Marilyn that makes her continually interesting. It's all her now legendary tragic contradictions -- her messy, mixed-up life, her massive consumption of pills and champagne, her continual and final mental instability juxtaposed with her peaches and cream gorgeousness, her absolute command of the big screen (in spite of her problems with lines) and her ultimate, natural talent. It’s her ability, after all these decades, to still pop off the screen with such undeniable “It” that we almost take her for granted. Of course Marilyn Monroe is one of the most famous women in the world, who doesn’t know how wonderful she is?

But then, watch her again perform “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with effortless charisma and cleverness, observe her studied, but certainly real and potent sadness in The Misfits, enjoy the Freudian fantasy -- the erotic fun she’s having in The Seven Year Itch, think about all that sexed up sadness from Some Like It Hot (and yes, she makes you actually think about it: "I'm through with love, I'll never love again..." at that moment, she really means it). Further, view her va-va-voom bad girl in Niagara, her tragic, heartbreaking instability in Don't Bother to Knock, her jeans-wearing authenticity in Clash By Night, and revel in her garish vulnerability and sweetness (and my God those beautiful close-ups) in Bus Stop -- she is just. So. Wonderful.

I had a thing for MM ever since I was a little girl (we were born on the same day). I even composed a slightly scandalous speech in the 7th Grade proclaiming the movie star was murdered (I think she ended her own life now, by accident or on purpose, as I go through life, I better understand why she felt so alone). But even without young conspiracy theories, most little girls love MM in some way, especially those obsessed with movies. My love would would re-ignite later in life after I watched nearly all her films by high school and moved on to other celluloid icons. Rita Hayworth, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Veronica Lake, Tuesday Weld, Brigitte Bardot, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr, Louise Brooks, Gene Tierney -- the list could go on and on and on -- I’d work through all of their movies before watching Marilyn yet again. But I always came back to her. Like re-reading a great novel or play, you understand her better with age.

And though people love to discuss Marilyn Monroe the underrated actress (which is true -- she was a great comedienne), rarely do they argue about MM the underrated singer. As proven in Some Like it Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, River of No Return, Bus Stop (oh lord...her sexy, warbled, scared, ripped fishnet version of "That Old Black Magic"...so brilliant) and the less classic Let's Make Love (where her rendition of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" is one of the best versions of that song ever recorded), the woman had distinct pipes.

Marilyn could sing. And she could sing with great soul, humor and character, with an unmistakable voice no other singer possessed. Isn't that the sign of an original artist? I think so.

Again, I realized later in life that I favored Marilyn both early in her career, when she was so fresh and un-mannered in films like All About Eve, Don't Bother to Knock and one of my favorite MM performances, Clash By Night (Marilyn slopping around in jeans eating that candy bar! So natural, so her.)

I adore her work during her so-called decline, like her odd glamour-puss beatnik performance from Let's Make Love, her sadeyed, superb method style in The Misfits and the absolutely mesmerizing bits and pieces I’ve seen of her in the ill-fated Something's Got To Give. She looked so stunning, so fit, who would think she was to die mere months later?

I also became even more fascinated by her later photo sessions; especially Bert Stern’s final sitting. MM is less made up, wearing simple clothes (if you ever look at the Christie's book on her auction, you'll notice how basic her personal style was) and you notice her skin aging, her fascinating flaws -- you can even see her appendectomy scar. But there is something so fantastically real, morbid almost, about these pictures. She looks a little modern (I always think of Debbie Harry or what Edie Sedgwick might have aged into when I look at these), very drunk and wonderfully rough around the edges -- less the big eyed-blonde and more the world weary movie star.

As Norman Mailer wrote of her in his perceptive ode entitlted Marilyn she was, “a female spurt of wit and sensitive energy who could hang like a sloth for days in a muddy-mooded coma; a child girl, yet an actress to loose a riot by dropping her glove at a premiere; a fountain of charm and a dreary bore…she was certainly more than the silver witch of us all.”

Yes. Lying on that mattress on the floor in that modest little house at the end of her life, so many women (and men too) can understand and/or relate to her sadness -- and so many can see what demons (or demon) led to her demise...and yet, she remains mysterious.

MMmisfits.jpg

And though she may be ultra ubiquitous she also remains important. Sexy, breathy, objectified, so-called dumb blonde? Someone's got to show them how to do it. And perhaps even more important, someone's got to reveal so much joy and pain yet remain so very specifically enigmatic. The cracked fantasy.

Someone has to be the real movie star.

Happy Birthday Marilyn. You really were something else

Comments

Brett L

A Happy Birthday to you both.

Miranda Wilding

My sentiments exactly, Brett L.

This is a brilliant evocative piece that captures Ms. Monroe's true essence.

From one glamourous West Coast blonde to another, I am incredibly impressed with your writing. The indelible style, grace and deep perception are all tremendously moving.

This is going up on my site...

Jeremy

There are very few people I admire more than Marilyn Monroe. Outside of being one of my favorite actors, it's the bravery that she demonstrated time and time again in her life that brings me back to her over and over.
From breaking out of a unbelievably tragic background of abuse, abandonment and solitude to her leaving Hollywood for New York in the mid fifties at the risk of losing her Fox contract only to come back totally triumphant in Bus Stop, to those final Bert Stern photographs that showed her at her most daring, defiant and soulful.
I often put in those clips from Somethings Got To Give and just marvel at how she looks...so strong, healthy and I dare say just entering her peak. I am amazed by people who describe her as out of it in these clips...she is positively radiant and almost other-worldly.
More than twenty years after I first discovered her in my early teens, she still destroys me in how much she emotes spiritually as well as physically whether it be in films, photographs or recordings.
Beautiful post for a really special person.

Shawn

Gee, I wish I could write like this, especially about Monroe. Growing up, I became a huge fan of her, to the extent one of my classmates stated, "You want to BE Marilyn Monroe" (so what, doesn't every 15-year-old gay boy?) after I wore my prized T-shirt with a metallic image of Monroe embossed on the front to school. What drew me to her first was her presence in all those remarkable photographs (add "Great Model" to her list of accomplishments)- she could be even more soulful and sexy on this other type of film than she was on the screen.

VHS was just coming into play as I became aware of Monroe, and therefore I was slowly exposed to her films ("Some Like it Hot" was the first VHS tape I owned, not a bad start) as her titles became available. To be honest, I didn't warm up to her as quickly in her films, as I found her work highly variable, and I still prefer her earlier films (it's great you pinpoint her naturalness via that "Clash by Night" clip- who knew she'd take to Odets so well?). However, whether she was at a high or low point, Monroe remained an unmatched original throughout her career, much to the chagrin of all the Mansfields and Van Dorens that came along and quickly faded from view (the public's fascination with Monroe was just as prevalent during her life- I love watching the "Mystery Guest" segments from "What's My Line?" during the 1950's and 60's, and I lost count how many times the intelligent urbane panel, in eager anticipation that THIS would be the night their fellow New Yorker finally showed up, asked if the mystery guest was either a "beautiful blonde movie star" or Monroe- hell, they asked this almost every time a whistle was heard when the guest came out. Alas, although the likes of Hedy Lamarr and Ava Gardner graced the "Line" set, the elusive Monroe kept to her apartment).

Although her comedic ability is awesome and untouchable, Marilyn's increasing vulnerability and sadness make her a compelling force in her later work, and she could still do the baby doll innocent act with comic aplomb (her work in the often overlooked "The Prince and the Showgirl" offers a fascinating blend of the funny and heartbreaking, and Monroe was never more lovely or convincing on the screen).

I love how you singled out Marilyn's singing for special praise. There's a story that Monroe, normally fragile and stage fright-plagued as a performer, confidently marched into Zanuck's office and burst into song when she was told he planned on dubbing her in "Blondes," to show him she was up to the task- others could imitate HER singing, thank you very much; Monroe wasn’t having it the other way around. She was valued as a singer (publicity for "Hot" played up the fact Monroe would be warbling in the film) but her ability in this area tends to get overlooked in the face of her overwhelming legend. In high school, I once showed a clip of her take on "Diamonds" to prove Monroe was a great talent, and the person I showed it to left the room in the middle of it, unimpressed. I was puzzled by the observer's reaction, as I thought, "Who else could do what Marilyn does in this scene?" I guess Monroe made it look too easy.

Ryan Kelly

This post is just. So. Wonderful. And touching, and sweet. Great job, truly

Respect for the institution of the movie star is something that is sorely lacking for the most part these days, and it's good to see the spirit alive and well at Sunset Gun!

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