Marilyn, the Internet and ‘Role Model’ Syndrome

In recent weeks, two articles have been posted online, suggesting that Marilyn is a bad influence on young fans. Firstly, Jenna Sauber’s ‘Marilyn Monroe Not a Positive Role Model for Today’s Women’, published at K-State Collegian; while on Thought Catalog, Charlotte Green writes, ‘Young Women, Please Stop Idolizing Marilyn Monroe.’

If nothing else, the similarity of these posts show that these concerns are hardly original. Their sentiments have also been echoed in more offensive, ‘slut-shaming’ memes. It doesn’t help that a lot of these prejudices are based on unconfirmed rumours and misattributed quotes.

Firstly, I think it’s a mistake to set up celebrities as role models. They are only human, with flaws like everyone else. But secondly, as the meme posted above illustrates, Marilyn had many admirable qualities and achieved a great deal in her short life. And thirdly, young people aren’t as dumb as they’re sometimes labelled. They are perfectly capable of forming their own opinions. Fourthly, I believe that most fans respond to Marilyn’s warmth, intelligence and talent, and not just the glamorous image.

To understand the real Marilyn, and why she still has such a strong impact on our culture, I recommend reading a reputable biography (such as Michelle Morgan’s MM: Private and Undisclosed), or Marilyn’s own writings, My Story and Fragments. And for starters, try Marijane Gray’s article, The Underestimation of Marilyn Monroe.


Pete Seeger’s Ballad for Norma Jean

The great American folk singer, Pete Seeger, died on Monday, January 27, aged 94. MM fans may not be aware that in 1963, he set Norman Rosten’s poem, ‘Who Killed Norma Jean?’ (based on an English nursery rhyme) to music, and performed the song in his legendary Carnegie Hall concert, as explained on the Murder Ballad Monday blog.

“Pete Seeger opens Chapter 11 ‘Money and Music’ in his book The Incompleat Folksinger (Bison Book, 1972) with this reflection.

‘The vision of hollow claws and fangs has come back to me more than once when I have seen a friend in the clutches of the ‘culture’ industry, which values human beings only for what profit can be sucked from them. This destruction goes on all the time, though it seldom is dramatically visible to the general public.’

As Seeger mentions in his introduction to the Carnegie Hall performance, the song was written by Norman Rosten, a close friend of Monroe’s. Seeger writes in his songbook, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Musical Autobiography, that he first read the poem in Life magazine, and put the tune to it then. He got Rosten’s permission to perform it after that.

‘Who Killed Norma Jean?’ appears not to have had much performance life outside of Pete Seeger’s performances of it. There are doubtless many other songs about Marilyn Monroe which we could explore, but that’s for another day. For this one, we’ll conclude with Janis Ian’s performance of the song on Seeds–Volume 3 of a series of tribute albums to Pete’s music, which was released in 2003.”

Attack of the Killer Wannabees

Spoof news website The Onion has turned its attention to the rash of Marilyn-inspired celebrity photo shoots in recent years:

‘NEW YORK—Since it first hit newsstands, the February issue of Elle has reportedly held the publishing world in awe with its groundbreaking Marilyn Monroe–inspired photo spread, which has been hailed as yet another dazzling milestone in the career of visionary photo editor Allison Shields.

The powerfully original 12-page spread, in which the actress Amy Adams recreates several iconic photos of the late Hollywood starlet, has earned Shields lavish amounts of praise as a “creative genius” and an “artistic mastermind years ahead of her time,” sources confirmed Monday.

“Not only did she have the incredible vision to recreate the famous image of Marilyn holding down her dress over a New York City subway grate, but she also had the brilliance—the audacity, even—to put Amy in a dress identical to the one Marilyn was wearing,” said Elle senior editor Clara Buckingham, adding that the first time she saw the negatives she was “absolutely blown away.” “They did her hair and makeup the same and everything. It was amazing.”’

Marilyn’s 21st Century Dream Date

I can’t help thinking that awards season would be more fun with Marilyn around, and clearly People magazine agrees with me. This digitally altered photo shows Marilyn as she was at the Golden Globes in 1962, where she was named World Film Favourite. But instead of her date that night, screenwriter Jose Bolanos, People have paired MM with a heartthrob of today – George Clooney. The question is, do you think  the 52 year-old actor, director and activist has what it takes to win Marilyn’s heart?

‘My Favourite Marilyn’: Photographers’ Stories

This shot of Marilyn with director Joshua Logan, on location filming for Bus Stop in 1956, is the personal favourite of photographer Zinn Arthur. In another preview of the Newsweek special – Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook – Douglas Kirkland, Elliott Erwitt and Lawrence Schiller share their own selections, while Joshua Greene picks one of his father’s shining moments. Read more here.


Norman Mailer’s ‘Factoid’ Marilyn

The word ‘factoid’ is often used to describe a point of trivia, but that is not its true meaning – as David Marsh explains in his ‘Mind Your Language’ blog for The Guardian – with a little help from Marilyn…

‘A factoid is not a small fact. It’s a mistaken assumption repeated so often that it is believed to be true.

At least, that was the meaning ascribed to the word by Norman Mailer, who is widely credited with coining it, in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. Mailer said factoids were “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”.

You can also use factoid as an adjective, to mean “quasi-factual”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which adds that it is used to designate “writing (esp. journalism) which contains a mixture of fact and supposition or invention presented as accepted fact”. I like that “(esp. journalism)”.

A true factoid should sound credible, and be assumed to be true by a significant number of people (if you are the only person who believes it, it may simply be a delusion). The Washington Times defined a factoid as “something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact”.’

When Norm Met Marilyn

This rare candid photo has a ‘meet-cute’ story behind it, as explained by blogger Posh Todd

“Never-before-seen photo of Marilyn Monroe, taken in Banff, Alberta, in 1953 when she was filming Otto Preminger’s River of No Return. The gentlemen in the photo is Norm Charach, the beloved late father of my jeweler, Marty Charach, of Broadway Jewelers, 943 West Broadway. Norm was waiting to use a pay phone to phone his wife Evelyn, who was then pregnant with Marty. Marilyn was waiting her turn to use the pay phone to call Joe DiMaggio, and Norm and Marilyn struck up a conversation, and voila, history was made.”

Another scan…

This colour candid may have been taken on the same day, with another fan…

UPDATE: The man in the photo seen above has been identified as Sandy Robinson, a resident of Jasper (more info here.)

A Sneak Peek at Newsweek

The much-vaunted Newsweek special, Marilyn Monroe: The Lost Scrapbook, is now on sale across the US, although some deliveries may have been delayed due to poor weather.

It isn’t yet available elsewhere, but I would advise fans to be patient rather than paying vast prices on Ebay. The magazine will be on sale until March 14, and speaking as a UK resident, I’ve found it’s normal for American magazines to arrive up to a month after publication. (And as I’ve mentioned before, previous Newsweek specials have been sold at WH Smith.)

Over on the Marilyn Monroe Collection Blog today, Scott Fortner gives us a preview – including several pages dedicated to Marilyn’s personal property, now owned by himself, and others by Greg Schreiner.

As to the rest of the magazine, Scott tells us that it ‘includes an introduction written by Joshua Greene, and has many photos of Marilyn along with comments from photographers Douglas Kirkland, Lawrence Schiller and Elliott Erwitt. Other information on Marilyn is also included in glossy, full color spreads.’

Despite the rather distasteful rumour-mongering about Marilyn’s relationship with Sam Shaw that has dominated media coverage of this issue, I remain confident it will be a must-have for fans.