Marilyn: America’s Lusty Blonde

Marilyn by Eve Arnold, 1960

The Village Voice is no longer in print, but much of its illustrious archive remains online – including ‘Blond Lust‘, a piece by Teresa Podlesney from 1993, questioning whether blondness still signified the white feminine ideal, or an increasing freedom of choice.

“Like every other choice we have in the supposedly ‘color-blind’ United States, the choice to be blond should be made so as to prove that one can make it, to prove that one is American. Today’s more effective hair coloring, and the continued main­streaming of wigs, enable blondness to be achieved by those with even the most resis­tant hair. Yet the democratization of blondness is not simply the story of perfected cosmetic technology. Blondness is where our changing notions of race and gender come together.

The blondness that attracts media atten­tion today is a blondness that blatantly conjures up images of the 1950s. Madonna and Linda Evangelista, the Kikit and Guess models, are/were all one-tone bleached blonds, their attraction lying precisely in their display of the obviously artificial. This is the key: bottle blonds are not simply women with fair hair. Bleached blonds are a complete and excessively visible package of a femininity considered ‘conventional’ since the height of its expression on the movie screens of the 1950s: dramatic make­up, usually with dark lashes and red lips; large or prominently displayed breasts; highly coded fetish-sexy attire; and, just as taken for granted but ostensibly lying out­side of the realm of constructed characteris­tics, white skin.

The feminine woman was once opposed to the sexual woman, sexuality in this con­text rendered too savage, too animal-like, the realm of those nonwhite races that had yet to assimilate Christian cultural values. In the ’50s, however, fascination with fe­male sexual behavior — driven by the popu­larization of Freudian psychoanalysis, the Kinsey report, and the secularization of so­ciety — allowed a conflation of femininity with sexuality. For an increasingly image­-organized culture, femininity was defined in terms of what was visible, and visibly sexual. Blonds were assured their promi­nence in this visual reinvention of feminin­ity in 1953, when Marilyn Monroe graced the pages of the first issue of Playboy.

Marilyn Statue Stolen From Lancashire Pub

From the Hollywood Walk of Fame to a humble English pub, the craze for stealing Marilyn sculptures (and sometimes murals) continues apace. The latest victim was snatched from outside The Anchor in Darwen, as Amy Farnworth reports for the Lancashire Telegraph. So do thieves really prefer blondes?

“Staff had bolted Marilyn to one of their coloured benches around two weeks ago as part of Thwaites’ Pubs in Bloom competition, in which pub bosses had also adorned the outside of the building with flowers.

But in the early hours of Tuesday morning, brazen thieves had obviously fancied themselves some ‘Monkey Business’, and nicked the beloved statue.

Landlord Lance Montgomery, who bought the blonde bombshell from eBay for a party around two years ago, said his customers loved taking selfies with Marilyn.

She even held punters’ pints for them when she lived in the pool room.

Mr Montgomery, who has run the Bolton Road pub with his wife, Melissa, for seven years, without an ‘itch’, said: ‘This is the first time anything’s been stolen from the front of the pub.’

Mr Montgomery said the whole thing was captured on CCTV, which has now been handed to the police to assist them with their investigations.

‘I always try and do things a bit controversial with the pub and the customers love it, so this isn’t going to stop me in the future, but we just want Marilyn back.’

Anyone with any information about Marilyn’s whereabouts should contact the police on 101 quoting log 0089 of July 30.”

Remembering Berniece Miracle

Berniece Baker Miracle, Marilyn’s half-sister, was born 100 years ago today. She died in 2014. (This photo, taken in 1994, showed Berniece aged 75.)

Berniece was born on July 30, 1919, to John ‘Jap’ Baker and his wife Gladys in Venice, California. She was their second child, Robert (or ‘Jackie’) having been born in 1917. Baker was sixteen years older than Gladys, who had married him aged just fifteen. The marriage was not a happy one, and in 1923, they separated. After the divorce, Baker abducted both children and returned to his hometown of Flat Lick, Kentucky. Gladys followed them there, but was unable to recover her children. She eventually returned to Los Angeles and after another failed marriage, became pregnant with Norma Jeane who was born in 1926.

In 1933, Berniece’s brother Robert tragically died aged sixteen. Two years later, Gladys suffered a nervous breakdown and would spend much of her later life under psychiatric care. Berniece, who believed her mother was dead, received a letter from Gladys in 1938 and also learned of her half-sister’s existence for the first time. The two ‘sisters’ began a warm correspondence. At nineteen, Berniece had just graduated from college and was about to marry her long-term boyfriend, Paris Miracle. Their daughter, Mona Rae Miracle, was born in 1939, and the family moved north to Detroit, Michigan.

Berniece and Norma Jeane, 1944

In 1944, Norma Jeane travelled to Detroit where she finally met Berniece in person. Two years later, Berniece – now living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – visited her half-sister, now a successful model and aspiring actress under her new name of Marilyn Monroe, in Los Angeles.

Berniece with Marilyn, Gladys and Mona Rae in 1946

In 1951, Berniece moved to Gainesville, Florida, and would later work as a bookkeeper at the University of Florida, while Mona Rae qualified as a schoolteacher in 1957 and was married a year later.

Although the sisters stayed in touch throughout Marilyn’s rise to fame, they would not meet again until 1961, when she asked Berniece to stay with her in New York as she recuperated from gallbladder surgery. Sadly this would be their last reunion, and in August 1962, Berniece was one of the first to hear of Marilyn’s death from her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. She travelled to Los Angeles to help Joe and Inez Melson (Marilyn’s business manager, and legal guardian to Gladys) and attend her sister’s funeral. She and Mona Rae were among the beneficiaries of Marilyn’s will.

Berniece at Marilyn’s funeral, 1962
Berniece with her daughter, Mona Rae Miracle

In 1967, Gladys left Rockhaven Sanitarium in California, and moved to Florida to live with her daughter. A few years later, she entered a nursing home. Gladys survived until 1984, and was joined in death by Paris Miracle six years later. My Sister Marilyn, co-written by Berniece and Mona Rae, was published in 1994. It is one of the most tender and intimate books ever written about Marilyn, and an essential read for anyone seeking a truthful account of her family background.

Crime Writer Howard Engel Got His Start in ‘Niagara’

Canadian crime writer Howard Engel, who has died aged 88, had a little-known connection to Marilyn, and a film noir classic. As Brian Kelly reports for the Sault Star, Engel played a bit part in Niagara – uncredited at the time, but now noted on IMDB – as ‘Man at Bus Stop’. It’s possible that he may be the man seated on a bench and holding a cigarette at the bus station, who briefly looks up as Marilyn hurries by, hoping to catch a bus to Chicago. However, this man looks older than his early twenties, as Engel would have been at the time.

A second possibility is that Engel was the man leaning on the pillar, who observes the commotion as the bus is cancelled. You can see his face more clearly at the left of this still photo, which shows the other players in this tense scene – including a disgruntled husband and wife, and two sailors involved in the police search for Rose Loomis (Marilyn.) Engel became a high school teacher and community theatre director, before launching his series of mystery novels featuring detective Benny Cooperman with The Suicide Murders (1980.)

Marilyn Book News: From Korea to Doris Day

Montage by MM Picture Page

Michelle Morgan’s latest, The Little Book of Marilyn, is now available and has been getting rave reviews from fans. It’s packed with well-chosen photos which aren’t often seen in print, plus chapters on why Marilyn continues to inspire, hair and make-up tutorials, fashion tips, and craft ideas.

Another tempting summer read is Ji-Min Lee’s Marilyn and Me, a novel set during Marilyn’s time in Korea. It’s next on my reading list, and hope to review both books at a later date.

Of related interest is Gravité Sur Billy Wilder, Emmanuel Burdeau’s French-language study of (arguably) Marilyn’s greatest director.

Coming in September, John William Law’s Goddess & the Girl Next Door compares Marilyn and that other fifties blonde, Doris Day. It’s a timely publication, arriving so soon after Ms Day’s passing (you can read my tribute to her here.)

And finally (for now), Biographic: Marilyn retells her story in infographics, coming in October from artist and author Katy Greenwood.

Keyon Christ’s ‘Marilyn Monroe’

Keyon Christ produced records for Kanye West and Rihanna before launching his own career as a solo artist. His latest effort, ‘Marilyn Monroe’, is aptly described by HYPEBEAST as “a whirlwind of R&B experimentation.” Unfortunately, the lyrics leave a lot to be desired, drawing on tired sexist tropes: “When you told me your idol was Marilyn Monroe/I thought to myself, ‘Oh, God, another one, here we go’/ Don’t make assumptions, I never called you a hoe/But I’ve got a feeling that you’ve done this before…”