Tribute to a Misfit

Marilyn filming The Misfits, 1960

Film critic Mick LaSalle pays tribute to Marilyn in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Marilyn Monroe has been dead all my life, or at least all my conscious life. Yet even so, the idea still doesn’t sit right. ‘Marilyn Monroe is dead.’ That’s like saying life and joy and sex and fun are dead. How screwed up does the world have to be that it can’t even keep Marilyn Monroe alive?

One crucial aspect of her appeal, intrinsic to that combination of physical beauty and spirit that she was, is this: Marilyn makes people watching her feel that, if she knew them, she would like them. But no, it’s more than that. She makes them feel that she would see them and their true worth, their true virtue. It’s not just men who feel this. Women feel it, too, and like her. So do children.

But the times in which she lived didn’t help at all. What a wretched irony that perhaps the most desirable woman to breathe air, at least since the invention of photography, came to prominence in the one decade most likely to suffocate her, the 1950s. The ’20s, the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’60s – anything would have been better than the ’50s, with its thuggishness and prurience, its puritanism and giddy lewdness.

Even worse is the toll that the era’s guilty lust and judgment took on her. Go to YouTube, and watch Marilyn’s press conferences. Watch her eyes – as sensitive as a snail’s feelers – as they gauge, millisecond by millisecond, every hint of hostility and condescension, every tonal implication that she was some kind of idiot.

Yet if only she could have held on a few years longer. Politics, culture and social and sexual morality were about to move in her direction, to tell her, ‘Hey, kid, you’re not the one who’s crazy.’ And the aging that she dreaded? She had nothing to fear. Already in her last photos you can see what Marilyn was going to look like at 45, 50, 55. … She would have been lovely and so wise for having survived the wars.

No, in a better world, Marilyn Monroe would not be dead 50 years ago. She would be 86 years old, perhaps only now putting her affairs in order, and looking back on a life of triumph. That’s the life we keep wanting to give her, every time we see her onscreen. It’s the life that she deserved.”

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