Sunday, July 20, 2008

At Neeley's Request, Marilyn Monroe

If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere.

Norma Jeane Mortenson was born June 1, 1926, baptized Norma Jeane Baker. She was the third child of Gladys Monroe, an unstable woman who was incapable of caring for herself, let alone her children. After years in foster care, Norma Jeane ended up in a marriage arranged by her guardian Grace, her mother’s best friend, to prevent her return to the orphanage. She was only 16 at the time and spent her days hanging out with the neighborhood kids until her husband, James Dougherty, six years her senior, called her home. Soon after their marriage, Jimmie joined the merchant marines leaving his young wife in the company of his mother. She went to work at the Radioplane Munitions Factory where she sprayed airplane parts with flame retardant and inspected parachutes. That is where an army photographer from YANK magazine stumbled across her while doing an expose featuring women working for the war effort and steered her in the direction of modeling.

Everyone is a star and deserves the ability to twinkle.

She and Jimmie divorced when she decided to pursue her modeling career which soon parlayed into a film career. It was the 20th Century Fox executive who discovered her in 1946 who recommended she change her name. She chose Marilyn after actress Marilyn Miller and Monroe, her mother’s maiden name. During her six month contract she had a few bit parts in some not so spectacular films and her contract was not renewed. Going back to modeling did not instantly provide her with enough income to survive so at one point she posed for nude photographs in order to pay the rent. It was Marilyn herself who suggested telling the truth when, in 1952, one of those photos turned up in a calendar, much to the horror of her then employer, Columbia Pictures.

A bit part in the Marx Brothers film, Love Happy, garnered her the attention of an agent who then arranged an audition that cemented her career in film. Soon after the blonde bombshell look was invented and put firmly in place. What you might not know is that Marilyn was highly regarded for her comedic ability but wanted to be taken seriously. So much so that she spent the majority of her acting career studying her craft in order to become a better actress. Unfortunately she was never widely recognized as a leading dramatic actress. The film, Don’t Bother to Knock, which she thought was her strongest dramatic work was poorly reviewed and not well received by the viewing public.

Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.With fame, came criticism.

Once Marilyn gained notoriety her behavior both on and off the set drew negative comments. On-set, she was thought of as difficult to work with. I’m not sure how accurate that description was however. From what I’ve read over the last few days it seems to me that she was merely insecure and needed the on-going support of her current acting coach to be able to perform a scene to the best of her ability. The constant presence of said coaches was not appreciated by any of the big name directors she worked with, Preminger, Hawks, Olivier, and Wilder. Off-set, at awards banquets, she was criticized by costars and other actors alike. After one such event Joan Crawford described her so unfavorably it brought Marilyn to the attention of Hugh Heffner who then put her, clothed, on the cover of the first edition of Playboy Magazine. Her photograph inside was nude.

A few individuals such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes costar Jane Russell, photographer Milton Green, and ex-husband Joe DiMaggio realized Marilyn was very misunderstood. She was shy and sweet and much more intelligent than people gave her credit for. She was dedicated to her performances, often rehearsing dance routines long after everyone else had left. She was a business woman who formed Marilyn Monroe Productions in order to secure better roles that were more than the blonde bimbo ones she was typically given at a pay scale more in line with her abilities than the low rate studios assumed she’d settle for.

Just before she died, Marilyn was back in touch with DiMaggio. They split due to his not being able to deal with her popularity. The trouble between them over this started with an impromptu USO tour in the middle of their honeymoon in Japan and ended with the filming of the scene with her in the white dress standing over the subway grate that director Billy Wilder himself turned into a media circus. At the end, DiMaggio felt she had fallen in with the wrong sort of people, including several noteworthy politicians, a doctor that prescribed all sorts of medicines and a so-called nurse/housekeeper with no real qualifications. The couple was to be remarried just days after her death which was classified as a probable suicide but was more likely a tragic accidental overdose, think Heath Ledger. DiMaggio remained a true gentleman regarding Marilyn. He had red roses delivered to her grave several times a week for 20 years following her death and, unlike her other husbands and self-proclaimed lovers, never spoke of her publicly or otherwise cashed in on their relationship. Even now, 45 years after her death, some of the photographers who were supposedly counted among her friends are still fighting for the right to sell her image.

Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.

Marilyn Monroe died August 5, 1962, just days before my birthday. I don’t know what really happens to a soul when someone dies but I would be honored to have a portion of hers because, though it was rarely recognized, it was a good one. To the end, she was still striving to improve herself. She had interviews and serious acting projects lined up. I, for one, am very sorry she died so young. Just imagine what she might have accomplished with age.

Tour de France update –
Winner Stage 15, July 20 – Gerrans, Australia
Overall Leader – Frank Schleck, Luxemburg


Regina Carlysle said...

Great post, Barb. I love Marilyn too and from everything I've read over the years, she was sweet, insecure, and craved affection. Bet not having her mother and all those foster homes added to that. She was beautiful outside, of course,but I think she was beautiful inside, too.

And the people who talked badly about her were soooo bad. Isn't it better to remain quiet than to hurt someone needlessly?

Amarinda Jones said...

I love all Marilyn movies. She had a tough life and no one will ever know the truth of what was going on in her mind and what happened to her. Beauty is not everything

Neeley said...

Thank you, Barb! Great research, I didn't know a lot of that... I really think Marilyn was an amazing woman, funny how so many of those don't get the recognition they deserve, but she is still alive in so many of us.

anny cook said...

Excellent post! Good job!

Sandra Cox said...

Excellent blog, Barb!

Anita Birt said...

I purchased Blonde by (oh hell the author's name is escaping me) I thought she did a fabulous story about Marilyn. I loved her movies. What a rotten way to end but her life was so sad and she was misused by everyone who touched her. I keep quoting the last line from No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod because it is so powerful. "We are all better when we are loved." Marilyn need unconditional love but her loves always had a hurtful hook.
Thanks for the great post.

Ray said...

I am glad she did have a few people who looked out for her. This is the first time I knew that Jane Russell was looking out for her. She must have at time thought she didn't have anyone who didn't talk behind her back or want something from her. Foster homes and jerk-off husbands can really ruin a young woman's life.

The current press is not kind to her either. Years after her death they don't want to bring up anything you can't call digging up dirt.

I was in Navy Boot Camp when she died. I didn't hear about it until after the fact. I was very saddened when I heard.


Molly Daniels said...

What happened to Cadel? Did he run out of steam?

Georgie said...

Great bio. I didn't know that much about Marilyn's early life.

Kelly Kirch said...

I like these informational posts but it must cut into your writing time huh? Still, I'm selfish for enjoying them. :) Thanks Barb.

Jean Hart Stewart said...

Good post, Barb, and interesting reading. It must be so easy to be totally misunderstood if you're in the limelight like that.