Over at Joan’s Digest today, an article by Sheila O’Malley about Marilyn’s sexuality – the image, the reality, and how other women relate to her.
I have a lot of time for O’Malley, who has made many interesting posts about Marilyn – especially her acting – on her own website, The Sheila Variations. And I also think the subject of Marilyn’s sexuality is fascinating.
Unfortunately, the article got off to a bad start for me by quoting John Miner’s disputed transcript of tapes supposedly made for her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson (in which Monroe claimed not to have had an orgasm until her 30s.)
These tapes have never surfaced, and while I wouldn’t discount them entirely, there is something a little ‘off’ about the text. (Melinda Mason wrote in depth about this in her article, ‘Songs Marilyn Never Sang.’)
There is also an anecdote from Orson Welles about Marilyn’s supposed promiscuity which I’m not entirely sure of (Welles had his own peccadilloes, and thus was hardly a disinterested witness), as well as a quote by photographer Lazlo Willinger which is mistakenly attributed to Ernest Cunningham, who wrote a book about Monroe a few years ago, but never actually met her.
Nonetheless, O’Malley is right to note the disparity between Monroe’s ‘Sex Goddess’ image and her turbulent private life, and ‘The Anatomy of Marilyn Monroe’ is a thoughtful piece, especially towards the end:
“When working on a film, Monroe kept directors and crews waiting for hours while she holed up in her dressing room, staring at herself in the mirror. What was she looking for? Marilyn Monroe was second to none in crafting and perfecting her persona. Every element of her ‘look’, her hair, her makeup, her clothes, she engineered with a specificity and a cold eye towards what ‘worked’. John Strasberg, son of Lee Strasberg, Monroe’s acting mentor, made the insightful observation: ‘It was clear that she was aware that she had created a female character in the tradition of the sad sack tramps of Chaplin and Keaton.’ It is not always easy to step into your fantasy of yourself, to take on the persona you have created. Monroe’s looks were so startlingly beautiful and sexy, that on days when she felt low or panicked, it took an act of sheer will to step into that ‘sad sack tramp’ comedienne she had courageously created for herself. The exterior was what was valued in Monroe. Staring at herself in the mirror for hours, while keeping entire crews waiting, was not vanity. It took time to get the interior and the exterior in alignment.
Marilyn Monroe’s movie magic was in her ability to take her emotional interior and make it palpably visible to audiences. In so doing, her actual interior was ignored, for years. Staring at herself in the mirror was an act of searching, perhaps, an act of anxious exploration. What is it that they see in me? And can I see it in myself? Can I actually feel, in myself, what it is that others see in me? But where to even begin?’