Friday, February 24, 2006


by Nick Zegarac

“I want to be a big star more than anything,” an early press junket quotes Marilyn Monroe, “It's something precious.” Perhaps, but the most ethereal and mythologized creature in all of filmdom tragically proved too fragile and human once the flood lamps and press agents took over.

A decade later, a more seasoned Monroe would revise her initial dream with “A career is wonderful, but you can't curl up with it on a cold night.” It was that sad little epitaph that book-ended her meteoric rise from obscurity to one of the most celebrated and instantly recognizable women in films during the 1950s. But what is it about Marilyn Monroe that keeps us enthralled forty plus years after her untimely death?

True, she parlayed stunning good looks into a career that saw her through everything from Royal Triton commercials and the dubious distinction of being Playboy’s first centerfold. She starred opposite some of Tinsel Town’s most popular leading men and had a galvanic reputation as everyone’s favorite dippy blonde. But others in her stock and trade have trod that same familiar ground, only to have the curtain of time come down prematurely on their legacy.

Yet Monroe, if not during her lifetime, then since, has proven to be a cultural sphinx. Like Garbo, she exudes haunted mystery. Few, even amongst her closest friends, can agree on who Marilyn Monroe really was. Like Harlow, the original platinum sensation, Monroe leans toward a parody of the erotic. But she despised the crass rubber stamping of her personality as a ‘sex symbol.’

“To put it bluntly, I seem to have a whole superstructure with no foundation. But I'm working on the foundation.”

These shimmers of light and movement on camera were sandwiched between darker, more private times. She was almost smothered at age two, almost raped at age sixteen. And if her fame proved the aphrodisiac that brought her in contact with some of the most engaging male icons of her generation (Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller), that same maelstrom of success quickly washed them aside. At the other end of the spectrum was her frustrated romance with Jack Kennedy and untimely overdose (some say murder) that claimed her life.

Yet, Marilyn Monroe continues to haunt and taunt us from beyond the grave with her sugary sweet kisses, a rumpled set of flaxen curls and a “bo-bo-tee-boo” that no spectator sitting in the darkened recesses has ever been able to refuse. To men who would have desired to know her, she is the physical embodiment of a holiday in the sun; warm, sincere, yet intangible. For women, she remains the girl most envied and copied, yet strangely sympathized with; an innocent in an industry that never quite understood her.

But in the end, Marilyn Monroe represents that supple shadow or mirror on which is cast the assumptions of the ages; goddess, icon, and a good deal more than any woman should outwardly be, decidedly more than any man should ever have the right to possess. Time has been powerless to dull those reflections. And as the years pass, Marilyn Monroe becomes much more ours to extol than she ever was her own to treasure; the price of her fame undoubtedly her soul.