​Forever Young and Blonde: The Legend of M.M.

9 March 2016

She is the ultimate icon of fame and beauty – the sex goddess of Hollywood. But perhaps the most enduring image we have of Marilyn Monroe is that of the dumb blonde. I had a picture on my wall once of Marilyn intensely reading Ulysses. It is one of my favourite pictures of her. Once a friend came by and saw it. “Is that Marilyn Monroe,” he said. “Yes,” I answered. “I love that picture. It’s a side of her you never really get to see”. My friend laughed and said. “It’s just a stunt. She’s probably just posing”. For some reason I found the comment so offensive that it might as well have been said about me. The image of the dumb blonde has surely taken a great hold over people’s imagination, and even after all the things that have been said and written about her since her death, the image still remains. But was that really all there was to her?

In August 1962 it was announced that the Hollywood star of the ages, Marilyn Monroe, had been found dead in her home in Los Angeles. The cause of death was an overdose of barbituates and announced as a likely suicide. Countless conspiracy theories contradict the official cause of death and claimed it was murder. Most notably due to her infamous affair with the Kennedy brothers. It is unlikely anyone will ever truly know how the star died, but what is certain is that her fame only has grown since her death. The undue time of it is precisely part of what draws audiences to her, even today. She is forever young and beautiful in our minds.

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles in 1926. Her father was absent all of her life and her mother was a paranoid schizophrenic, unable to care for her. Most of Norma Jeane’s childhood was spent in foster homes and orphanages. Marilyn herself concluded later in her journals that her childhood resulted in a mistrust and fear of the world and despite all of the success she would achieve as an actress she never truly trusted her own abilities. However, the determination and strength it takes to rise from her background and become the superstar of the time says something about her character.

At the age of 20 Norma Jeane Mortenson becomes Marilyn Monroe and is revealed as a talented actress. After her breakthrough, Norma seems to have stepped aside for the character of M.M.. Norma Jeane exits the stage and Marilyn Monroe enters. But the movie star Marilyn Monroe was someone else entirely – someone fictional. Marilyn herself claimed to have two natures. Norma and Marilyn, Jekyll and Hyde. One can only wonder what happened to Norma as Marilyn took the spotlight. Truman Capote recalled an episode where Marilyn had disappeared off to the powder room. After having waited for a long time he went to look for her and found her “confronting” a mirror. He asked her what she was doing and she replied: “Looking at her.”

Upon the death of Lee Strasberg, Marilyn’s acting coach and close friend, in 1982, personal possessions she had left for him were found. Among them were journals filled with dairy entries, poems and notes, offering the public a glimpse into the person behind the icon. The fragments gives the star a voice of her own and reveal a complex, lonely, and hopeful person, struggling to be sure of her own abilities and qualities. “Not a scared lonely little girl anymore”, she writes and goes on to remind her herself of her own talents.

Remember there is nothing you lack – nothing to be self conscious about yourself. You have everything but the discipline and technique which you are learning and seeking on your own. After all nothing was or is given to you – you have had none of this work thrown your way you sought it – it didn’t seek you.

There are many things that could be said about her and particularly regarding her love life – an endless amount of stories and anecdotes about her marriages to Joe Dimaggio and Arthur Miller, and her affairs with the Kennedys, but those are stories we have all heard time and time again. Since her death several voices have given their version of the icon and the person behind the legends. Truman Capote remembers a conversation he had with Marilyn where she asked him what Elizabeth Taylor was really like. 

I said well, she’s a little bit like you, she wears her heart on her sleeve and talks salty and Marilyn said fuck you and said well, if somebody asked me what Marilyn Monroe was like, what was Marilyn Monroe really like, what would I say, and I said I’d have to think about that.

Another part of her story that is rarely remembered is how ahead of her own time she was. In an interview Ella Fitzgerald remembered how Marilyn kick-started her career by securing her a spot in the popular nighclub Macambo.

I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt… She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t even know it.

Although she might have seemed like a happy and beautiful “dumb blonde” to her audience at the time, stories like these reveal a complicated and remarkable person hidden behind the icon. Upon her death she was one of the most popular Hollywood stars of all time and the news came as a shock to everyone. Most notably due to her seemingly glamorous and carefree life. How could someone so successful and beautiful commit suicide?

The story of the princess trapped in fame and celebrity status has become a modern tragedy. Whether her death was a suicide or not we will never know. Nor will we ever truly get to know the true person behind the icon. Through stories of those close to her and her own notes we are offered a mosaic that might tell us something about the tragic star. But these stories might also simply add to the legend that we are so fond of and include new stories that may or may not be true. At least we can say that a new image of her is emerging. One that looks past the image of the dumb blond “posing” for the camera. Hopefully.


by Nora Ljøstad

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