Happy Birthday, Miss Monroe
Today is the first day of June and also, if she were alive, the 85th birthday of Marilyn Monroe.
Born in Los Angeles in 1926 and reared in a series of foster homes, Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, managed to cling to her unique and beautiful spirit, and manifest it outward, in person and on screen.
The young Norma Jean was a master of practical glamour: she studied herself, then optimized her face, figure and movements to realize and communicate the persona of Marilyn, and she did this with few resources. She jogged in the streets to maintain her figure well before it was a trend, she studied anatomy charts and even lobbed off a bit of the heel of one of her pumps to enhance her sensual sway. Good move, for her walk got her a bit part in a Marx Brothers movie (Love Happy) where she was showcased simply walking across the screen, an appearance that got her a mention in Louella Parsons’ high profile gossip column and caught the eye of her future agent.
Much has been written about Marilyn Monroe as a star and a woman, but the most on-target analysis I have ever read comes from Ayn Rand, who wrote the commentary “Marilyn Monroe: Through Your Most Grievous Fault” two weeks after Marilyn’s death on August 5, 1962. Below is an excerpt:
If there ever was a victim of society, Marilyn Monroe was that victim–of a society that professes dedication to the relief of the suffering, but kills the joyous.
None of the objects of the humanitarians’ tender solicitude, the juvenile delinquents, could have had so sordid and horrifying a childhood as did Marilyn Monroe.
To survive it and to preserve the kind of spirit she projected on the screen–the radiantly benevolent sense of life, which cannot be faked–was an almost inconceivable psychological achievement that required a heroism of the highest order. Whatever scars her past had left were insignificant by comparison.
She preserved her vision of life through a nightmare struggle, fighting her way to the top. What broke her was the discovery, at the top, of as sordid an evil as the one she had left behind–worse, perhaps, because incomprehensible. She had expected to reach the sunlight; she found, instead, a limitless swamp of malice.
It was a malice of a very special kind. If you want to see her groping struggle to understand it, read the magnificent article in the August 17, 1962, issue of Life magazine. It is not actually an article, it is a verbatim transcript of her own words–and the most tragically revealing document published in many years. It is a cry for help, which came too late to be answered.
“When you’re famous, you kind of run into human nature in a raw kind of way,” she said. “It stirs up envy, fame does. People you run into feel that, well, who is she–who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe? They feel fame gives them some kind of privilege to walk up to you and say anything to you, you know, of any kind of nature–and it won’t hurt your feelings–like it’s happening to your clothing. . . . I don’t understand why people aren’t a little more generous with each other. I don’t like to say this, but I’m afraid there is a lot of envy in this business.”
“Envy” is the only name she could find for the monstrous thing she faced, but it was much worse than envy: it was the profound hatred of life, of success and of all human values, felt by a certain kind of mediocrity–the kind who feels pleasure on hearing about a stranger’s misfortune. It was hatred of the good for being the good–hatred of ability, of beauty, of honesty, of earnestness, of achievement and, above all, of human joy.
Read the entire piece here.
*More Marilyn can be found here, in a 6-photo slideshow of seldom-seen photos taken by a LIFE photographer. They show a young Marilyn who, despite being in studio starlet training mode, nonetheless appeared to be every bit the blossomed star.