Today is the birthday of Marilyn Monroe, one of the biggest American figures to ever surface during the 20th century, whose visage and image was, is, and remains one of the most recognizable of all time, and not only one that comes from the likes of Tinseltown, but also from an iconic standpoint as well, the flashy, dazzling, misunderstood, bubbly, first as an ingénue, then as a flashbulb popping chartreuse star, and finally, a tragic figure.
It would be unthinkable to imagine the whole scope and spectrum of Hollywood’s surreal realism of its fan based historic imagery and not have Marilyn Monroe right at the forefront. Exuding a kind of ditzy, effervescent charm in everything she did on camera and in the way her star navigated itself through the Hollywood constellations, Monroe was at once forceful, tender, strong, vulnerable, leered at, and eventually almost shunned. Starting out as a troubled youth in her real guise as one Norma Jeane Baker, and somehow having the good fortune and hard work to transform herself into a voluptuous blonde by way of peroxide and oozing sexuality, Monroe became an almost sensual mythical figure to the many adoring fans who positively swooned over her in her heyday, and then after her untimely death at the tender age of 36 from a barbiturate overdose in 1962, and up to now, became a larger than existence figurehead which was able to spread her image far and wide, becoming a symbol of iconic proportions, and came to represent the female Hollywood starlet as something raised to the highest art.
Ironically, however, it really had nothing to do with her art, or her acting craft, or her singing, or the way she carried herself, with a cross to bear and demons within, yet with a firm bubbly irresistible charm on the outside. It had more to do with her physical being that endures her charisma today on many forms of carefully marketed imagery which keeps her image fresh in the world’s collective consciousness: the imagery of her performing “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”; the famous cheesecake picture of her being the very first Playboy Magazine Centerfold; her skirt rising above the gated sewer as steam from beneath it makes it rise in The Seven Year Itch; the photographs and legend of her relationships with New York Yankees baseball legend Joe Dimaggio and famous literary scribe Arthur Miller; her spellbindingly and almost parodic in many ways breathless crooning to John F. Kennedy “Happy Birthday” while donned in a cocktail dress that barely fit her curvy frame, and the many photos taken of her during her lifetime, especially the ¾ pose with her head cocked to the side, eyes closed and open mouthed million dollar smile, it remains these images which are forever burned in one’s memory and it’s the repetition of this imagery which keeps the flues burning red hot of the vivid past of Marilyn Monroe alive in the present and into the future.
Her tumultuous private life has been the subject of much debate and scorn, dissection, and urban legend, tales run rampant of her inability to finish takes while filming movies, notoriously recounted by her stint on the all-time classic comedy Some Like It Hot, which remains one of the funniest films of any age in Hollywood. The director of that production, Billy Wilder, has been quoted about his many headaches dealing with her. The co-star of the film Tony Curtis famously exclaimed once that performing a kissing scene with her was akin to “Kissing Adolph Hitler.” It was stories like these that added to the Monroe legend and allure and in a perverse way, it helped shape the entire spectrum of what Monroe was about; it almost added a three dimensional Jekyll/Hyde quality to the common public perception of how she was perceived by the adoring public.
While she didn’t have the cocksure winking swagger of a Mae West, or the sharp natural beauty of an Ava Gardner, she somehow fell somewhere in the middle of both of those ladies, and even though she parlayed her life through her career on a rollercoaster while blindfolded it seems, Monroe still remained a bankable and memorable force in show business, a head-turning, audience-pleasing actress who had somewhat gifts for comedy, light drama, and song and dance musicality.
Marilyn Monroe remains, alongside Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne, Groucho Marx, and a few others, an instantly recognizable face of Hollywood and all it had to offer. She also remains a viable brand of sorts, as T-shirts, posters, mugs, pillowcases, figurines, handbags, and plenty other forms of physical minutiae still sport her visage and image and still sell in the millions to this day. Monroe still represents a kind of a form for females, young or old, of at once the hero, anti-hero, sage, the submissive, a piquant, airheaded yet witty, and irresistible kind of influence and inspiration for them. In a strange way, she is old Hollywood and still remains fresh in new Hollywood. Starlets of the past who followed her cues and ones today who make it on their looks and wily guises first and their craft second, if they indeed even have crafts, can thank Monroe for directly or indirectly carving the paths.
As singer Elton John sums it up in his 1973 ode to her entitled “Candle in the Wind” (lyrics written by longtime John collaborator Bernie Taupin) from his memorable album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Monroe’s “candle burned out long before her legend ever did.” But in a way, the candle never really snuffed itself, the physical Marilyn Monroe did, the flesh and blood real woman did, but her flame has been high like a torch ever since she started, and almost remains untouchable from any external elements that could have quelled its burning hot charisma that was Marilyn Monroe at the absolute forefront. That in itself remains an eternal flame forever, and that in itself remains a candle that burns hot and bright for all time.