Marilyn Monroe was blonde. She was a beautiful, buxom, brainy (not a known fact), bodacious, bootylicious, bubbly, blue-eyed, buoyant (in film, anyway), bedazzling blonde with an “e” icon who changed the face of magazines, fashion, and film in the 1950’s. She was the muse for the Elton John song “Candle in the Wind,” which, when rerecorded in 1997 as a tribute to newly deceased Princess Diana, became the biggest selling single of all-time. Only Cleopatra, Mary of Nazareth, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, Mother Theresa, Madonna, and the aforementioned Princess Diana, can claim greater name recognition among female historical figures (assuming Madonna counts as a historical figure).
Brunette by birth, blonde by choice and shuffled between a series of foster homes at a young age, her looks and personality sparkled as much as her life away from the spotlight fizzled. It was only after becoming a model as a teenager and transitioned into films at age 20 that she evolved into the voluptuous, vibrant, vivacious vixen we know today, 50 years after her death from a drug overdose.
Born Norma Jeane Mortensen on June 1, 1926, in the same year as The Professor (from Gilligan’s Island), Alice the Housekeeper (from The Brady Bunch), Fidel Castro (mass murdering Cuban revolutionary-turned-dictator), and the recently deceased Gore Vidal, the young Monroe—who went by the name Norma Jean Baker, Baker being the surname of her mother’s first husband—lived a sad life characterized by neglect, instability, and alleged sexual and emotional abuse. Her mother, Gladys, was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, as was her half-brother, Robert. Her maternal grandfather was bipolar, as was her maternal grandmother, who was institutionalized following a psychotic meltdown. Both an uncle and great-grandfather committed suicide, hanging themselves amidst the chaos and misery of psychosis and institutionalization.
Given the many calamitous leaves on her family tree, it seems a matter of fate that she would have a difficult life of her own. Monroe suffered from bipolar disorder (or perhaps borderline personality disorder) and addiction to barbiturates and alcohol, and indulged in numerous volatile romantic relationships. Few would want to walk in the footsteps of such anguish and strife. And yet, many have tried do just that – albeit, with a happier, less turbulent personal arc.
Nearly every blonde celebrity who followed Marilyn Monroe has been compared to her, while most of those who preceded her have been forgotten. Mae West, Jean Harlow, and Betty Grable are among the few pre- Monroe blonde bombshells still widely remembered, though none holds a candle in the wind to Monroe in terms of Q Score. Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Mansfield, and Sharon Tate are among the actresses who modeled themselves after Marilyn, both during and after her lifetime, and each fell far short of achieving Monroe’s stature.
Early in her career there was nary a journalist who didn’t compare Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone to either Marilyn Monroe or Deborah “Debbie” Harry, herself eternally compared to Monroe. For more than two decades—before Madonna permanently snagged the mantle of World’s Most Famous Blonde Celebrity Ever—no blonde actress, singer, model, or celebutante with even a spec of notoriety could escape the comparisons to Monroe made by pen-wielding pop culture pundits. And, the thing is, nearly all were flattered by the comparison; in fact, most consciously modeled themselves at least partially after Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe was found dead in her Los Angeles home, her death attributed to acute barbiturate poisoning. Speculation as to whether she died from an accidental overdose, suicide, or even murder (the latter connected to her liaisons with Kennedys John and Robert) has been rampant ever since, and will likely never be resolved to anyone’s full satisfaction. It is, perhaps, her connection to the Kennedy brothers that has stirred the imaginations of the public over the last five decades.
Her death on August 5, 1962, was overshadowed the following year by the assassination death of her former fling, JFK. Still, her life seems to have held its grip on the collective psyche of the American—if not global—public more than ex-husband Joe DiMaggio’s had, in spite (or, perhaps, because) of the 36 year death gap. DiMaggio had roses sent to her grave three times a week for 20 years after death. He refused to speak publicly of her or their union, maintaining his self-imposed gag order until his death in 1999 at age 84. Dying old and fulfilled has more than its share of merits, and most would prefer it that way. Dying young brings immortality to the mediocre and slightly above average among us, and ensures the exceptional will be idealized beyond anything that can be achieved living a full lifespan. That’s why James Dean is an icon and Robert Mitchum – not so much.
Not as respected for her acting skills as contemporary and longtime nemesis Elizabeth Taylor, Monroe was sought out and prized by auteurs for her looks, comedic skills, and breathy vocal stylings. This might explain why Monroe, despite being 20th Century Fox’s most bankable star for nearly a decade, was paid $100,000 for her final film, Something’s Got to Give, while Taylor earned $1,000,000 for her role in the disastrous epic Cleopatra, co-starring her soon-to-be fifth husband Richard Burton. Much of her allure derives from intangibles; or, maybe, lots and lots of endearing attributes that, when put together in a single, collective package, become irresistible in the now and unforgettable in the forever. Perpetuity and Marilyn Monroe may be her relationship not destined to the ashbin of memory.
Despite being viewed as something of a lightweight in her time, Monroe starred in many films that are now considered classics, and most are best remembered for her presence in them. Perhaps her most celebrated role was in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – or maybe The Seven-Year Itch or How to Marry a Millionaire; her most celebrated film might be Some Like it Hot, or even All About Eve (for which she had a minor role). The songs most associated with Monroe are “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” (from 1953’s Gentleman Prefer Blondes) and “Happy Birthday.” The latter was sung to President You-Know-Who less than three months before she died.
Marilyn Monroe was blonde, blonde, blonde, blonde, blonde. Perhaps half or more of all blondes you or anyone else will run into in your lifetime got their chroma-manes from bottles, but Marilyn Monroe owned blonde more than any natural born Goldilocks. So, we salute you, Miss Monroe, in what would have been your 87th year of life. In so many ways, you’re more alive now than ever before.
By Greg L.
- Bell, Rachael. “Marilyn Monroe.” Crime Library. TruTV. Web. 07 August 2012.
- “Too Long a Silence: Marilyn Monroe’s History of Sexual Abuse.” Ordinary Evil. Word Press. Web. 07 August 2012.
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