Remembering Marilyn Monroe -or- A Popular Ode to Norma Jeane
Marilyn Munroe's Star Light, Star Bright -or- Warhol's Marilyn Diptych
In film noir, women are seen as desirable and attractive, but deceptive, conniving and not to be trusted. Classic "private eye" detective stories begin with the dream like entrance of a beautifully fetishistic woman, who often is also a femme fatale. As the American noir screen writer Raymond Chandler "Farewell, My Lovely" wrote: "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."
Following in the fairy tale limelight of Hollywood's star light, star bright of the likes of Jean Harlow and Mae West, Marilyn Monroe was the blond bombshell who became Life magazine's "The Talk of Hollywood" in 1952. Ten years later, on August 5, 1962 the star was found dead under mysterious circumstances, the Hollywood stuff Los Angeles noir films like Chinatown and LA Confidential are made of.
Marilyn was found in the nude on her bed with a telephone still in her hand. Monroe's story instantly became part of the yet to be written American mythical stuff of Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls". After an autopsy, the LA coroner determined that Monroe's death was a probable suicide, however many conspiracy theorists see her death as a result of foul play. Who really called her, or who was Marilyn trying to call? If we knew the true story, would it make our hair curl?
Today, fifty years later after Marilyn's tragic passing, Monroe is still the talk of the town. Marilyn has become an immortal urban myth of beauty, fame, fortune and dreams in the global village. Always imitated, never duplicated, Norma Jeane's life, dreams and nightmares remains inimitable. Using the popular cultural lens of a Star Trek episode "That Which Survives" to see the beauty that was Monroe, Mr Spock sees the transience of the beauty of an alien woman (Lee Meriwether) who had died long ago, and now all that was left was a disarmed lethal yet vulnerable femme fatale computer image projection. In disagreement with Spock's observation, Captain Kirk looking at the projected computer image wistfully responds; "Beauty, survives."
Marilyn Monroe's beauty and vulnerability has survived, she remains the archetypal popular iconic image of hopes and desires, the stuff of light hearted dreams and the dark terrible nightmares that modern femininity are made of. In 1962, shortly after Marilyn's death, Andy Warhol created the popular artwork "Marilyn Diptych" based on the publicity photograph from the noir film "Niagara". The black and white Marilyn side of the picture can be seen as the commercial noir side of the Hollywood dream factory which consumed and disposed of Monroe in real life, like it did with so many nameless others who poetically rest in unmarked graves. Think of the fictional Norma Desmond in the Billy Wilder noir film "Sunset Boulevard". Desmond represents one of the many discarded famous silent victims in search of a Hollywood box office comeback. Norma now lives in the delusional dark shadows of Hollywood's Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
On the colorful side of Warhol's Marilyn, are the romantic comedies of Monroe seen in such films as "Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend", and "The Seven Year Itch" (directed by Billy Wilder), which features the humorous iconic New York City street scene, when a passing underground subway causes a gust of wind to magically influence Monroe's rising dress and the voyeurism of her audience, who never could see enough of Marilyn. Monroe's performance in "Some Like it Hot" another Wilder film, is for some the greatest Hollywood romantic comedy ever. Seen from an art history perspective, Monroe's sex goddess star light has eclipsed the pagan mythology of the ancient Greek sex symbol and femme fatale Helen of Troy.
In the anthology of articles "all the available light: A MARILYN MONROE READER", the on and off screen phenomena that is Marilyn Monroe, remains a "story that continues to weave itself around our collective consciousness." Marilyn was not only a force of nature, Monroe is a popular iconic and oneiric force of visual culture, a way for us to see and understand the stars. It has been said that Marilyn Monroe (MM) is "arguably the most famous movie star ever...." Her Hollywood star having gone supernova 50 years ago, those that have contributed to the literary bouquet of the anthology, include the likes of Joyce Carol Oates (Centrefold), Gloria Steinem (The Woman Who Will Not Die), Kate Millet (Marilyn, We Hardly Knew You), Molly Haskell (We Would Have to Invent Her), and Sir Lawrence Olivier (The Prince and the Showgirl).
Marilyn Monroe gave an interview to Time Magazine and the story appeared in the May 14, 1956 edition. Marilyn reported having a dream as a child, here is the dream; "I dreamed that I was standing up in church without any clothes on, and all the people there were lying at my feet on the floor of the church, and I walked naked, with a sense of freedom, over their prostrate forms, being careful not to step on anyone."
Fragments of Marilyn Munroe -or- Goddess of the Religion of Love
The poetic and romantic idea that all the people were lying at Norma Jeane's feet, was in fact a child like Hollywood dream that would come true for Marilyn Monroe. Reportedly at some point, Marilyn was receiving 5000 fan letters a week from her "smitten" admirers. True to the innocent imagery of the dream, Monroe when asked what she wears to bed, wittingly responded, that she only wears "Channel No. 5". Was the "sense of freedom" of her nakedness in church an empowering religious compensation and spiritual awakening for the helplessness, powerlessness and the nightmare of the reported sexual abuse she suffered as a child?
As an adult who is retelling the dream of the child Norma Jeane, Marilyn curiously if not accurately uses the words "prostrate forms" to describe her formidable influence over the church crowd. Marilyn may have realized at a very young age the artistic power of the nude art form and visual iconic medium of the body. The eye of the camera fell in love with the radiant images of beauty that was Marilyn Monroe. To say she had photogenic intelligence after looking at all the evidence is an understatement. If the English idiom of a picture being worth a thousand words is true, then Monroe's many thousands of pictures speak volumes about her savvy.
Gloria Steinem in her article; "The Woman Who Will Not Die" writing 25 years after Marilyn's death states; "There is no reason for her (Marilyn) to be part of my consciousness as I walk down a midtown New York street filled with color and action and life." Yet wherever Steinem looks there Marilyn is, in a dress shop window, in bookstore window, look-alikes on magazine covers at newsstands. Steinem clearly understands that Madonna is an imitation with a 1980's twist, of the purist femaleness phenomena that is Marilyn Monroe.
As a popular art icon, Monroe was, and still is revered by many as a goddess of visual culture's religion of love. While Elvis, Michael Jackson, Madonna and many other pop iconic images can be found circulating in our collective dream patterns, Monroe's monumental memory can be seen as having found a special place in our mass media driven popular culture and dreams.
The literary fragment which played an important role in romanticism, was used by Novalis as an art form. For German romanticism, Novalis "blue flower" was a poetic, oneiric and natural symbol of the "religion of love." Monroe personifies the romantic literary fragment, the dream of the blue flower and the modern religion of love.
Ironically the editors Stanley Buchtal and Bernard Comment chose the title for Monroe's 2010 book; "Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe". If the ancient Greek's goddess Mnemnosyne is the personification of memory and the mother of all art, then Marilyn's modern fragments of her popular iconic memory still artistically resonates and poetically influences our collective memory, consciousness and dreams.
Marilyn writes about her early abuse; "I will not be punished for it or be whipped or be threatened or not be loved or sent to hell to burn." We can also find in her fragments an artistic thought, memory and an emotional identification with Francisco Goya's demons and monsters, Marilyn tells us; "I know this man very well, we have the same dreams, I have had the same dreams since I was a child." Monroe wanted to educate herself in the arts, literature, and theatre, Marilyn also wanted to understand herself better and so she was enticed to enter into a Freudian psychoanalysis.
Freud had already medically used the romantic idea of the literary fragment when he published "Dora: Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria." In 1955, the year I was born Marilyn wrote down an insightful psychoanalytic dream she had on the stationary of the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City where she was staying. This dream will be featured in another interpretation. On a final note, Elton John sings "Goodbye Norma Jeane" to Marilyn.