“I’m very definitely a woman and I enjoy it”, so said the iconic actress Marilyn Monroe.
Never a truer word spoken and on the 50th Anniversary of her passing, we remember the life and legacy of the legendary big screen star, whose blonde bombshell figure and pin-up girl looks catapulted her into superstardom and made her one of the world’s foremost sex-symbols.
Monroe, who died at the tragically young age of 36, is as big a star in 2012 as she was back in the 40s and 50s, and half a century after her death, the Some Like it Hot actress is still held up as an icon of both film and fashion.
However, the success Marilyn would achieve later in life was a world away from her tough upbringing in Los Angeles, with a large portion of her youth spent in foster care and orphanages. A childhood which involved a single mother who was incapable of looking after her and an estranged father whom she would never meet, led Marilyn to feel that she was “never happy” or “never loved” as a child.
Nevertheless, despite her childhood hardships, in her teenage years, Marilyn found fame as a model and more notably, as an actress and thus, the shy and timid Norma Jean was transformed into the sensation that is Marilyn Monroe – an intriguing and complex beauty, oozing sex appeal and bursting with exuberance and confidence.
While Marilyn would become known for her iconic portrayals of sultry blondes and naïve materialists, the actress herself, was an incredibly clever young woman who was able to control the image she projected of herself onto the media. She once said, “I can be anyone they want me to be”, proving that she was more than just an actress who could make a name for herself in the notoriously difficult hard to impress Hollywood. Marilyn understood media; she knew its politics and she knew how to be the best. And Marilyn really was the best. The unassuming Norma Jean might be shocked that 50 years after her death, she has remained as one of the world’s most talked about cultural and fashion icons, but somehow, I feel the canny and intelligent Marilyn Monroe would have expected it.
A keen reader of James Joyce, Monroe was a student of the University of California, where she read literature and art appreciation. It is believed that at the time of her death, Marilyn had a personal library of over 400 books, with titles such as Das Kapital by Karl Marx and Aristotle’s Metaphysics.
People are fixated on figuring out exactly who Marilyn really was: a Hollywood superstar with bags of charisma and talent, or an enigmatic and often misunderstood actress? In truth Marilyn was both, and more. She said it best herself, when she told her friend Susan Strasberg, “I’ve got many strings to my bow.” Fashion houses, models, actresses and bemused fans from every corner of the globe strive to emulate her look. Over the years, there have been hundreds of documentaries made about the star, thousands of books written and many movies created about Monroe, but none of them come close to capturing the sheer magnetism of her irrevocable presence.
“We all lose our charms in the end”, Monroe sang in what is assuredly her most famous song, Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend from the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, however Marilyn’s star hasn’t suffered at the fickle hands of time. From her humble beginnings as Norma Jean, she went on to become of the most iconic superstars the world has ever seen. In the 50 years since her death, Marilyn has continued to be one of the most charming and talked-about screen sirens ever to emerge from Hollywood. It’s a charm, which will undoubtedly persist for another 50 years.