Honestly, I have no patience for people who seem to confuse Marilyn Monroe with the characters she played onscreen. Most people who do this have seen one of three roles - Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Girl in The Seven Year Itch, or Sugar in Some Like It Hot, and - though they are only a fraction of her onscreen performances - those roles have typecast her into that ‘dumb blond’ stereotype (the fact is often overlooked that those women themselves are actually all unique in their own ways, portrayed with different layers by Marilyn, and none of them are stupid or even one-dimensional, but I digress). She wasn’t just some bubble-headed, money/fame hungry, seductive star. I wish I could help to dispel that false perception, but even if I can’t, I want to write this anyway, and quote her own words (and words about her).
I think my favorite scene in My Week with Marilyn is when she asks, “Should I be her?" and she playfully launches into the public Marilyn persona for the cameras and the fans, because it felt like such a genuine moment. Many people who knew her would comment on how she could simply turn it on, like a light, but even that outward personality was an illusion, wasn’t really the heart and soul of who she was in daily life.
Always be yourself. Retain individuality; listen to the truest part of yourself.
They think beauty is meant to serve them. I wrote a poem about that once. How people like to corrupt beauty, bring it down to their level. They don’t know how rare it can be. Everyone can be beautiful in their own way, but most people don’t let themselves be beautiful. Most people don’t like themselves.
“She worked so hard. She wanted to do everything right. She never hurt anybody. When I was with her, she was the kindest, sweetest person to everyone on the set." -George Barris
“She listens, wants, cares. I catch her laughing across a room and I bust up. Every pore of that lovely translucent skin is alive, open every moment - even though this world could make her vulnerable to being hurt. I would rather work with her than any other actress. I adore her.” -Montgomery Clift
“Marilyn was so good hearted she always picked up people that nobody else liked. That was her modus operandi. She was perverse: If you didn’t like that statue, she liked the poor statue because nobody else did. She was really a nice human being." -Amy Greene
"She was trying to prove she was a serious actress and not just a movie star playing bimbo parts. She was trying to prove she was an actress of substance, and in my opinion she certainly did." -Don Murray
"She wasn’t the stupid dumb blond we saw in the movies. You could really see her humor and wit." - Lawrence Schiller
She did not sleep her way to the top:
"Marilyn has never co-operated in studio-managed romances. She almost never went out with a man who she didn’t want to go out with. She would not exchange sexual compliance for a line in Hedda Hopper or Louella Parsons or a story in Photoplay Magazine. Andshe never submitted to sexual advances even if they could help her career. I’ve been told this many times, often by persons who had tried to seduce her in bygone years, men, often who were in a position to put her in good parts if she went on a weekend with them to Palm Springs, Tiajuana, or Las Vegas. The conclusion of these men is summed up in this statement by a producer, “Marilyn never slept with a man who could do her any good.’" (fromMaurice Zolotow’s biography)
I think I had as many problems as the next starlet keeping the Hollywood wolves from my door. These wolves just could not understand me. They would tell me, ‘But Marilyn, you’re not playing the game the way you should. Be smart. You’ll never get anywhere in this business acting the way you do.’ My answer to them would be, ‘The only acting I’ll do is for the camera.’ I was determined, no one was going to use me or my body—even if he could help my career. I’ve never gone out with a man I didn’t want to. No one, not even the studio, could force me to date someone. The one thing I hate more than anything else is being used. I’ve always worked hard for the sake of someday becoming a talented actress. I knew I would make it someday if I only kept at it and worked hard without lowering my principles and pride in myself.
Look, I’m a woman. Sex is part of nature, and I’m part of nature. I don’t understand all the whispers about the subject. I don’t do anything that’s wrong—I just behave as a female. What’s wrong with that?
She was not obsessed with riches or fame:
People always ask me if I believe diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Frankly, I don’t.
Those things the press has been saying about me [are fine] if they want to give the wrong impression. It’s as simple as all that. I’m not interested in being a millionaire. The one thing a person wants most in life is usually something basic that money can’t buy. I’m not the girl next door - I’m not a goody-goody - but I think I’m human.
Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.
I don’t want to make money, I just want to be wonderful.
She was never in it for the fame or the sex appeal:
First, I’m trying to prove to myself that I’m a person. Then maybe I’ll convince myself that I’m an actress.
That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. But if I’m going to be a symbol of something, I’d rather it be sex than some of the things we’ve got symbols of…I just hate to be a thing.
People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.
I want to act. I really do. I had enough of all that Hollywood shit. I guess I looked pretty good, but there were so many girls out there who looked better. You should see it. It’s like a beauty contest. I guess I was lucky, for a while. They tell you to cry one tear, and if you feel two and therefore cry two, it’s no good. If you change ‘the’ to ‘a’ in your lines, they correct you. An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like one. A money machine. I did what they said, and all it got me was a lot of abuse. Everyone’s just laughing at me. I hate it. Big breasts, big ass, big deal. Can’t I be anything else? Gee, how long can you be sexy?
My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn, to change, to improve!
I think that when you are famous every weakness is exaggerated…Goethe said, “Talent is developed in privacy," you know? And it’s really true. Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you’re a human being, you feel, you suffer.
I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn’t argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn’t.
Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one. I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity. If fame goes by, so long, I’ve had you, fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experienced, but that’s not where I live.
She admired philosophers, poets, and statesmen, and could often be found reading. She helped other artists and was as interested in fostering their talent as she was her own. She cared deeply for other human beings, and particularly worried about underprivileged children (x), along with being invested in the civil rights movement.
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt…it was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.” - Ella Fitzgerald
I am involved in a freedom ride protesting the loss of the minority rights belonging to the few remaining earthbound stars. All we demanded was our right to twinkle.
To say that Monroe was born on the wrong side of the tracks is an understatement. She spent her childhood moving in and out of foster homes in Los Angeles, living for a few snatched years with the mother who had reclaimed her before being dragged off, watched by her daughter, to a mental home. When Monroe was sent to an orphanage at the age of nine, she protested she was no orphan, since her mother was still alive, as she would go on insisting until the end of her own life. The story has been told many times, not least by Monroe herself; some of the details have been contested, but it is mostly accepted as true. Paradoxically, however, it is the truth of the story that has allowed it to become part of her façade – the rags to riches tale which makes her the embodiment of the American dream. For Monroe, this story was no romance. She was far more precise. ‘The lack of any consistent love and caring. A mistrust and fear of the world was the result. There were no benefits except what it could teach me about the basic needs of the young, the sick and the weak,’ she observed in the 1962 notes: ‘I have great feeling for all the persecuted ones in the world.’ (x)
I see her maligned/shamed for being a sex symbol, as if we don’t have sex symbols now, or as though there weren’t many other sex symbols of the time? And the only thing wrong with being a sex symbol is when people refuse to see a person as anything else, see them as that and that alone.
She was an aesthetically beautiful woman and that was celebrated, but much more importantly was that she was an internally beautiful person, and by all accounts kind, generous, and tender. Did she have flaws and make mistakes? Absolutely. Did she have insecurities and difficulties, did she struggle? Yes. Did she fall in love (and gasp! have sex) with people and then have those love affairs end? Yes. Last time I checked, those troubles are part of being alive.
She could have lived by her looks alone, exploit the business to her advantage, but she didn’t - because that was never her. She hurt deeply and loved deeply and was passionate about her craft, always trying to better herself. So before anyone lauds her for the facade (or even worse, demeans her for it), remember that an actress is not the characters she plays, the clothes she wears, the pictures she takes. At the end of the day, an actress is a woman, made up of all the varied and unique and glorious things that create her, and understanding their humanity is far more important than noting their (often mistaken) infamy.
Respect is one of life’s greatest treasures. I mean, what does it all add up to if you don’t have that?
I have feelings too. I am still human. All I want is to be loved, for myself and for my talent.
I don’t understand why people aren’t a little more generous with each other.
Love her or leave her, but on the merit of who she truly was - not a legend or myth, but an honest, delicate, and real person.