There will always be a gross fascination with celebrities' deaths, especially the ones who left us before they really showed the world their power and talent. James Dean, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Carole Lombard are just a few, but they have not met as much notoriety for their death as Marilyn Monroe. Everyone has a theory about how she passed away, but we will not focus on how she died. Although August 5, 2012 will mark the 50th anniversary of the day newspapers reported the world's sex symbol passed away at the age of 36, we prefer to talk about Marilyn Monroe, her life and what she means to us, as classic film fans.
As everyone knows now, Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jean Baker on June 1, 1926. She spent much of her childhood in abusive foster care and at 16 Norma was married to Jimmy Dougherty in order to avoid returning to the orphanage or foster care. While Dougherty served in World War II, his young wife, Norma worked in the Radioplane Munitions Factory to inspect parachutes. It was when a few pictures were snapped of her in the factory and appeared in Yank magazine, photographer David Conover encouraged her to try a career in modeling.
From a successful career as a model, she came to the attention of Ben Lyon at 20th Century Fox studios. Marilyn was offered a six-month contract and a new name. Her first choice was "Jean Monroe" after her idol, Jean Harlow, and her mother's maiden name, Monroe. But Lyon substituted Jean for Marilyn. Later, the actress would regret her name change and always wish that she had fought more for "Jean Monroe." At first, she had no speaking roles but then Marilyn steadily became a familiar face after her appearances in "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950) and "All About Eve" (1950). The potential scandal of her nude photos reaching Playboy magazine, set fire to her career as the new sex symbol.
She was undoubtedly a sex symbol, but her talent is overlooked, typecast in "dumb blonde" roles - but there is remarkable diversity. One of her first starring roles was as the deranged babysitter in the thriller "Don't Bother to Knock" (1952). Then she was cast as the memorable scheming femme fatale in "Niagra" (1953). Even in comedies, "The Seven Year Itch" (1955) where she played "The Blonde", Marilyn does not play the "dumb blonde". Upon further viewings, one would see she is playing a character with layers - an innocent young actress-model from Colorado who happens to have sex appeal. She has her iconic roles in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953) and "Some Like It Hot" (1966), with everything in between that further constitutes her strength as an actress and comedienne.
Due to Marilyn's untimely and unfortunate death, speculation has arisen as to the exact cause. Be it a conspiracy in which many believe the Kennedy's were involved in a cover up, or others believing it was accidental overdose. It is something we will never know for sure.
Her story and her image could be argued as a way to personify a woman's experience in this world. Marilyn was always two people at once - Norma Jean, a wildly curious but also very insecure individual. And then, she was Marilyn, the sex symbol with the white halter dress from "The Seven Year Itch" (1955) or as Playboy's first playmate. Because in our society, celebrities are known to be put on a pedestal, she is also known for being late on set or forgetting her lines. Little was said about her constant attention to perfect her craft as an actress and her involvement with the Actor's Studio and the Strasberg's, until it was recently made known to the general public in the film "My Week with Marilyn" (2010).
But what we do know for sure is that Marilyn Monroe represents a lot of things to us individually and collectively. Marilyn Monroe is the reason why we watch classic films. She represents the timeless glamour, character and fantasy that keeps us watching and waiting for more.
As Sam Shaw, a photographer and friend of Marilyn's once said:
"Everybody knows about [Marilyn's] insecurities, but not everybody knows what fun she was, that she never complained about the ordinary things in life, that she had never had a bad word to say about anyone, that she had a wonderful spontaneous sense of humor."