Why We Still Love Marilyn

I know a lot of girls who have gone through a ‘Marilyn Monroe’ phase, a time of various degrees of obsession with the late icon. This can manifest itself by reading everything ever written about the actress, watching all her movies (even the not very well known ones), voraciously inhaling all images of the screen queen and, of course, engaging to some point with the various conspiracies regarding her death. I don’t have a first memory of ‘knowing’ who she was; she just has always been there as part of the parameters of the cultural landscape. Her worth as an image and an idea has far surpassed anything she could have dreamed during her lifetime; yet it is only through death that her earning potential as a ‘brand’ has been able to be fully realized. From wallpaper to perfume, clothing to toilet paper, the ability to buy into the myths and mystique are omnipresent, as even the space above her crypt in Los Angeles was auctioned off on eBay for £3million pounds.

What is it about Marilyn that keeps us all coming back for more?  My own fascination with Monroe has come and gone in waves throughout my life. I think the reason I love her is that there is a ‘Marilyn’ for every occasion and narrative. Though she built her career playing the dumb blonde, the trajectory of Monroe’s career from brunette Norma Jeane to bombshell Hollywood blonde is one of perseverance, personal re-invention and out and out chutzpah. Though riddled with ups, downs, tragedies and triumphs, the highs- such as her legendary performance singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to then president JFK- to her shocking lows- drug addiction- really are arguably a celebrity style reflection of our own life journeys, filled with amazing moments, sheer hell and lots of doldrums.  Her much publicized constant search for love and acceptance is shared by most of the people I know- for their entire life (I know far too few people who feel confident and comfortable in their own skins, no matter how famous or good looking). One of my favourite shoots of Monroe is the one where she is in the gym lifting weights; she looks like such a strong bad ass. I doubt it was popular for ladies to pump iron on a regular basis back when the picture was snapped, yet she looks so focused.  Growing up in the 90s, when ‘heroin chic’ was all the rage, I remember people saying all the time, in defence of the fuller figure, that Monroe was a (SHOCKING!) size 16 in her life, a kind of ‘big girls can be hot, too’ rhetoric. But when you really look at pictures of her, she looks timeless: neither ‘big’ nor anorexic, she just looks, well, perfect.  It makes me very sad when I read that Marilyn thought herself washed up and over at the tender age of 36. I am now almost ten years older than she was when she passed away, yet I still find her an intriguing figure. It is her malleability- to be tough, timid, silly, seemingly stupid, always interesting- that has kept her legacy in the lime light more than 55 years since her passing. Any new picture, quote or scrap of Monroe that is left behind acts as a kind of Turin Shroud, as it is the closest we will ever get to touching, feeling, communicating with the woman behind the myth.

If you love Marilyn like we do, why not check out The Essential Marilyn Monroe

Jennifer is the author of the amazing Why Vinyl Matters, you can see more on this title here