Marilyn: ‘A Desired Brand’

‘Barcode Marilyn’ by Scott Blake

Writing for Forbes magazine, Patrick Hanlon looks at Marilyn’s continuing popularity. It’s an interesting piece, despite a few misattributed quotes.

“Powerful brands have a creation story, and Marilyn’s tale of a beautiful abandoned child and rags to riches contains elements of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, a Horatio Alger tale, and Joseph Campbell’s mythic orphan rolled into one.

Like the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, Marilyn Monroe is a mystery of parts. She meant sex in an era when sex was a four-letter word. She was also uniquely feminine, a Woman in an age of Men. She struggled, fought, and succeeded against the desires of men who tried to bully her.

Legendary brands give us mental images, words, voicing, sounds, and feelings to remember them by. Marilyn left behind a massive image bank. Photographers like Bert Stern, Cecil Beaton, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Weegee, Ernst Haas, Milton Greene, Eve Arnold, Garry Winogrand, Bruce Davidson, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Richard Avedon immortalized MM in thousands of photos that captured all her many moods. Directors like Billy Wilder, Howard Hawkes, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz put her film catalog on celluloid. And in 1962 at Madison Square Garden, some unknown cameraman taped an iconic black and white moment of Marilyn singing a breathy ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ to President John F. Kennedy.

Stories are rivers of meaning. Tugging at the string of narrative that runs from creation story to creed, icons, rites, lexicon, nonbelievers, and leader, is what keeps brands meaningful, alive, relevant and a resonant legacy for future generations. It’s what moves people along the path from, ‘Who cares?’ to ‘care!’

Ever since her mysterious, legendary, hallowed death in 1962, Marilyn Monroe the controversial mortal has been embraced, promoted, propped up and immortalized by uniquely lesser talents who have basked in her halo, and as no small consequence have rolled up millions of dollars. Of the ten richest dead celebrities (which includes Einstein, Charles Schulz, and others), Marilyn Monroe is the only woman on the list. (Ironically, Marilyn herself once quipped, ‘I don’t look at myself as a commodity, but I’m sure a lot of people have.’)”

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