Norma Jean Mortenson was born on June 1st, 1926 in Los Angeles, California and has since become, adapted, and thrived as one of America's most iconic and valuable treasures: The Late, Marilyn Monroe. Ninety years have passed since the birth of Hollywood's greatest star and since then, even in death, the image and the movement that followed her is still making a significant and inescapable impact on the world's rapidly changing culture today. Take a trip with me as we look back on some of Marilyn's incredible performances, listen to the words she spoke that shook the foundations of which Hollywood stands, and dream about how it felt to be in the presence of someone so truly magnificent.
The Art of Marilyn: Her Body, Every Piece of It
Love Happy - 1949
Groucho Marx, who hand picked Marilyn for her walk-on role in the 1949 comedy Love Happy, spoke of nothing but high regard for the young actress. He stated in an interview that the director of the film brought in a few girls and asked him to pick one for the single scene. Marilyn was the last girl to come through. When asked later about which girl he liked best, Marx looked to the director with a confused expression and stated, "Are you serious? How can you pick anyone but that last girl?" She was paid a mere one-hundred dollars for her role in what Marx would later describe as a "truly terrible film" but it would end up kickstarting her tumultuous relationship with the Hollywood elite.
The Asphalt Jungle - 1950
Marilyn's first big break came with the 1950 crime-noir thriller, The Asphalt Jungle. The drama was directed by well known Hollywood A-list director, John Huston (father to The Witches' Angelica Huston and American Horror Story's Danny Huston) In the film, Marilyn portrayed - in another small but memorable role - a young girl by the name of Angela Phinlay. Although she was majorly unknown at the time, she was featured (but not named) on the movie's official posters. She took the advice of a longtime friend when accepting this part, having heard that it's far better to take a bit part in a film by an excellent director than to take a big part in a film by a horrible director. The film would later be nominated for four Academy Awards and in 2008, be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
All About Eve - 1950
Further along in 1950, Marilyn struck it big time when she was cast in another bit part for Twentieth Century Fox's All About Eve, this time starring alongside legendary veteran actresses Bette Davis and Anne Baxter. This film is widely regarded as one of Monroe's career's most integral pieces. Though she barely had much screen time, she shared it with some of the brightest and best that Hollywood had to offer and managed to hold her own in a world where she knew she was selected as the immediate outsider. All About Eve was among one of the first fifty films to be selected for the National Film Registry and has been considered one of the best films ever made by numerous critics, film websites, and fellow Hollywood artists.
Niagara - 1953
By the time the 1953 crime noir-thriller, Niagara, was released, Marilyn Monroe's career was starting to heat up in the most intense of ways. Photos she had taken early on in her career - for money she desperately required to get her car back - began to surface and in true Hollywood fashion, she was taken aside, asked about the pictures, and subsequently demanded that she deny she ever took them and that it was some poor woman who had the misfortune of looking like her. She refused. And the result was sheer and utter irony. The film companies expectected immediate backlash and boycott of any film starring the infamous and newly scandalous Marilyn Monroe, but what they saw was increased ticket sales and the breathtaking rise of one of the very things that would eventually end up keeping 20th Century FOX from going belly-up. Niagara represents another culturally iconic moment in film history for the scene where Marilyn is seen walking away from the camera. The walk she invented, her body was moving in such a way audiences had never seen before: A woman acknowledging her sexuality and not being even slightly afraid to show it.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - 1953
1953 also saw the release of director Howard Hawks' film adaptation of the broadway musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In the film, Marilyn starred alongside Jane Russell, who often attempted to suade Marilyn into finding religion on set. The film featured Marilyn's now iconic rendition of Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, a move that's been numerously copied and honored by artist's such as Madonna, Kylie Monogue, and many others. It's also become a significant pop-culture moment in American entertainment. The film was greeted by audiences and critics alike with rave reviews and roaring applause for both Russell and Monroe especially. Even though in Monroe's distaste, they portrayed women who believed marrying rich was the best way for a woman to succeed financially. Monroe and Russell were later honored in a huge publicity stunt for the two of them, by being asked to place their hand and foot prints in cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
How To Marry a Millionaire - 1953
How To Marry a Millionaire is significant in Marilyn's career because, coming just slightly ahead of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, this film ultimately became the forth highest grossing film of 1953. This showcased Marilyn's ability to, once again, hold her own against castmates who were already well known throughout the world and to end up being the sole focus of every captivated member in any movie theater's audience.
The Seven Year Itch - 1955
Alas, we've finally reached that infamous film with that infamous scene: The Seven Year Itch. Probably the second most iconic film in Monroe's career, but featuring the most iconic moment of her entire life. This film, though she later admitted she did enjoy making it, was martered with disaster and controversy. During filming of the subway scene, when the air would blow up her dress and reveal her bright white underwear, the studio thought it would be a good idea to alert the press, letting them know exactly what was going on. It didn't take long for the people of New York to catch on as well and in a mere hour, the streets were flooded with her adoring fans, watching on as the director ordered a retake of the scene over and over again. It apparently got so out of hand that the police had to be called to set up barriers. Although it would become one of Marilyn's highest grossing pictures, it would also ultimately be responsible for the tragic end of Marilyn's marriage to conservative baseball legend, Joe DiMaggio. Marilyn later stated about DiMaggio after their divorce, "he could not endure".
Bus Stop - 1956
Bus Stop marked Marilyn's first big break from the studio's desperate attempt to keep her in the small slew of typecasted roles she had become so well known for: the sex pot, the dumb blonde, the man-eater. Marilyn's character, Cherie, had something Marilyn had been craving for ever since her earliest days as a professional actress: depth. This was a character Marilyn could relate to and give life to without feeling restricted by what the studio typically expected of her. It was one of her first real wins in the world where men were seen as Gods and women were seen as their playthings. Many other wins, especially against the greed enveloped studio called 20th Century FOX, would come later on.
The Prince and The Showgirl - 1957
In 1956, Marilyn - alongside new love of her life, Arthur Miller - flew to England to film The Prince and The Showgirl alongside legend of the British cinema, Sir Laurence Olivier. The film was described as the lightest of comedies, but during filming, it was anything but that. Though the film marked Marilyn's departure from her studio contract and the formation of Marilyn Monroe Productions - which she co-owned with photographer and close friend Milton Greene - it became one of the hardest films she ever had to make. Olivier was tasked to direct on top of starring and in doing so, grew increasingly irate with Marilyn's erratic behavior. She was often late to the set - if she came at all -, was self medicating and drinking, and often butted heads with Olivier who reportedly once said to her in frustration, "Can't you just be sexy, isn't that what you do?". After that, she knew the ability to work peacefully with him was all but gone and she admitted later that she began to be "bad with him".
In the end, the film was met with great praise for Marilyn who, as many describe, acted Olivier right off the screen. The two never worked or spoke to one another ever again. The filming of this movie was the subject of the 2011 drama, My Week With Marilyn, where Monroe was portrayed by Michelle Williams, who later earned a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for her performance.
Some Like It Hot - 1959
1959 saw the release of Marilyn's most celebrated film to date: Some Like It Hot. She was personally hand picked by director Billy Wilder for the role of Sugar Cane Kowalczyk, after having directed her in The Seven Year Itch. At this point in Marilyn's life, things were beginning to rapidly fall apart. Her marriage to playwright, Arthur Miller, was in near shambles after having several miscarriages and increasing her self medication with drugs and alcohol. Like on the set of The Prince and The Showgirl, her behavior became a great issue with the rest of the cast and her director, who, when wrecked with anger over Marilyn's behavior, wrote several angry letters to Arthur Miller. Her co-star, Jack Lemmon, said she could be quite a handful on and off set and he once heard her tell someone to "f*** off" when asked to check on her during shooting. He also stated that one time she came to set so late and her only excuse was, "I just got lost". She reportedly even began a secret affair with her other co-star, Tony Curtis. An affair that's rumored to have been a key factor in Curtis' failed marriage to Janet Leigh. But, amongst the conflict and internal destruction, Marilyn's performance outshined her two co-stars and earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Some Like It Hot joined several of Marilyn's other iconic films in the National Film Registry in 1989.
The Misfits - 1961
Finally, we've reached the last film that Marilyn would ever finish. The Misfits, written for her seemingly as a gift by her husband, Arthur Miller. The film spoke volumes about just how dire the situation had become between the two former lovebirds. It didn't take long for Marilyn to realize that the character she was portraying, Roslyn (spelled with an l-y-n just like Marilyn) was almost entirely based off of what her husband truly thought of her. In the movie, the script he wrote, in a scene where alluring pictures of her are shown, asks for her to call herself a joke. Though not all bad, she did get to star alongside Clark Gable, a man she had been fond of since her early childhood. On set, she grew close with him and with his wife. The two often referred to him as "our man". Unfortunately, the film was also marred with other disasters outside of Marilyn's personal life. The director, John Huston, was almost more erratic than his star and the studio saw fit to place all the blame on Marilyn. Filming took a hard toll on everyone involved, marking the final film of Clark Gable, who passed not too long after filming was completed.
Something's Got To Give (incompleted) - 1962
Marilyn began shooting another film before her death in 1962, it was to be called Something's Got To Give, and it co-starred her close friend and rat pack member, Dean Martin. Her tempestuous behavior had reached it's peak with the studio and in an attempt to make a showing of their power over her, they almost immediately fired her from the film. 20th Century FOX released statements following her firing, saying Marilyn was out of control, came to work looking awful and never remembered her lines. She challenged them in a magazine interview and released several lovely pictures of her looking great and smiling, seemingly nothing wrong. Dean Martin also threatened the studio that he would not go on with filming unless they rehired her. In embarassment, FOX had no choice but to rehire Marilyn and this time, intead of paying her the measly amount she was used to from them, her renegotiated contract included a proper payment of one-million dollars.
The Inner and Unexplored Brilliance: Norma's Words
Life- I am both of your directions. Somehow remaining hanging downward the most but strong as a cobweb in the wind - I exist more with the cold glistening frost. But my beaded rays have the colors I've seen in painting - ah life they have cheated you.
Oh damn I wish that I were dead - absolutely nonexistent - gone away from here - from everywhere but how would I. There is always bridges - the Brooklyn Bridge - no not the Brooklyn Bridge because I love that bridge (everything is so beautiful from there and the air is so clean) walking it seems peaceful even with all those cars going crazy underneath. So it would have to be some other bridge, an ugly one and with no view - except I particularly like in particular all bridges - there's something about them and besides, I've never seen an ugly bridge.
Only parts of us will ever touch parts of others - one's own truth is just that really - one's own truth. We can only share the part that is within another's knowing acceptable. So one is for the most part, alone. As it is meant to be in evidently in nature - at best perhaps it could make our understanding seek another's loneliness out.
I can't stand human beings sometimes - I know they all have their problems as I have mine - but I'm really too tired for it. Trying to understand, making allowances, seeing certain things that just weary me.
Alone!!! I am alone - I am always alone no matter what.
What do I believe in. What is truth. I believe in myself, even my most intangible feelings. In the end, everything is intangible. My most precious liquid must never spill, don't spill your precious liquid. Life force. They are my feelings no matter what.
Oh silence, stillness hurt my head - and pierce ears, jars my head with the stillness of sounds unbearable/durable - on the screen of pitch blackness comes/reappears the shapes of monsters, my most steadfast companions. My blood throbbing with unrest turns it route in another direction and the world is sleeping. Ah peace I need you - even a peaceful monster.
I guess I have always been deeply terrified to be someone's wife since I know from life one cannot love another, ever, really.
Everyone's childhood plays itself out. No wonder no one knows the other or can completely understand. By this I don't know if I'm just giving up with this conclusion or resigning myself - or maybe for the first time connecting with reality.
How do we know the pain of another's earlier years let alone all that he drags with him since along the way at best a lot of lee-way is needed for the other - yet how much is unhealthy for one to bear.
I think to love bravely is the best and accept - as much as one can bear.
To New Hollywood, She Was Something Truly Unique
The stars of Hollywood's current age have spoken of great fondnes for the late blonde bombshell. But when they speak, they speak from a place of understanding that you'll find most who know and admire her can never truly seem to grasp, their fascination based on whatever they can find at the local mall.
To The People, She Was Everything
She was the epitome of glamour and beauty, but she also projected a sweetness that made it seem like she was unaware of how amazing she was.
I'd say that in many ways she's the iconic model and paved the way for most careers in that field today. I also feel like she very much exemplifies traditional beauty in the minds of most people.
Her Cinderella story gone awry is probably the most tragic the American people have ever had to come to terms with. I think in that is where you'll find where most of her allure nowadays comes from.
She projected an image of herself that was just that: an image. There was so much more to her than the sex symbol, especially when you think about how intelligent she must have been to get as far as she did and do the things she did. It was all in great contrast with what female actors were allowed to do and be at the time.
She survived, for a long time, under the guise of a woman who wasn't real. That'll do extreme damage to anyone who already isn't safe inside their own mind. It's a miracle she made it as long as she did.
I just see pain when I look or think about Marilyn Monroe. In her eyes, there's just so much pain. I feel terrible about what she had to go through.
She makes me smile, honestly. Fighting through all her inner demons to bring such excellent performances to life. What a marvel it must have been to see her in action back in the day. I can only imagine. I bet it felt like the very first time you fall in love. Except with her, falling in love happened over and over and over. An endless love affair. That's cool.
Her Lasting Legacy
She embodied so much of what people describe today as "ideal beauty", "tragedy". and the unfortunate idolization of suicide. What remains perfectly clear is that Marilyn remains today as famous and iconic as she ever was, if not more so. The mysteries of her life and of her death only enhance the fascination surrounding this symbol of the silver screen's long forgotten glory days. Was it murder? Unlikely. Was it intentional? Probably not. Did she, for a moment, lapse into a self doubt and wander past the point where anyone who may have been able to help her, ceased to become so? Maybe. The point is this: Marilyn remains iconic because of that very mystery. The question that can and will never be answered. As long as it remains, so shall the fascination the public has taken with her image, her life, and her deeply meaningful words.
I'll let Marilyn finish this piece in her own words, the last she would ever speak to the public. In retrospect, her final words can be so easily applied to her fans now, especially given what her image has become. Give a listen and please try to remember her final request.