The Character Assassination of Marilyn

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

In an article for The Independent, Andy Martin explores the subject of public humiliation, citing Marilyn’s ‘dumb blonde’ stereotyping as a prime example of character assassination. He also looks at her marriages and battles with directors, although I would argue that it is her continuing misrepresentation in the media – and in particular, false and degrading conspiracy theories – that is most damaging to her legacy today.

“Consider the case of Marilyn Monroe. Unequivocally one of the icons of the 20th century …The ‘Stradivarius of sex’ as Norman Mailer described her. But therein lies the rub. Did she necessarily want to be some kind of instrument? Does anyone? … Anything is possible, but more likely she was the victim of humiliation.

There is a case for saying that Joe DiMaggio, her baseball player husband, was humiliated on account of the shoot when she is standing on a subway grate and her dress is being blown up in the air and she is trying to hold it down … She is exposed. But it is DiMaggio – coming from a working-class Italian-American family – who feels humiliated …

She was certainly no airhead, no kind of ‘bimbo.’ You would think that, all in all, the Monroe-Miller combination ought to have been workable. But it wasn’t … He wanted an All-American Girl to symbolically get him off the hook of the McCarthy black list … Maybe Monroe could save him. But she needed him to save her. And instead of that he humiliated her … Laurence Olivier was another of her humiliators (an ugly word, I know, but then it is ugly) …

She almost certainly committed suicide. Overdosed on barbiturates. Or, rather like Amy Winehouse, abdicated life … No one can coincide (at least, not for very long) with their own myth. But everyone else wanted her to be nothing but the thing she was supposed to be. She strove to be something else, quite what she never knew, or was never allowed to know. She was asked to get back in her box. But she didn’t want to. So she ended up in a box anyway. No living being wants to be reduced to a thing, like a frying pan. Not even a Stradivarius.”

Another Candle in the Wind

This photo shows singer Amy Winehouse, who sadly died this weekend aged just 27, at home in 2004. You may notice a framed picture of Marilyn on her wall – as her father, Mitch Winehouse, confirmed in 2008, she was quite a fan:

“One thing helping Amy is her Marilyn Monroe films. Amy loves ‘Some Like It Hot’. She’s a huge fan of Monroe and thinks she’s wonderful.” – MTV

Amy referenced another MM movie in the lyrics to ‘In My Bed’, the third single from her debut album, Frank:

“Wish I could say it breaks my heart
Like you did in the beginning
It’s not that we grew apart
A nightingale no longer singing

It’s something I know you can’t do
Separate sex with emotion
I sleep alone, the sun comes up
You’re still clinging to that notion

Everything is slowing down
River of no return
Recognise my every sound
There is nothing new to learn…”

Like many other women, Amy was inspired by Marilyn’s ultra-feminine style – and perhaps, on a deeper level, she looked to Marilyn’s example when she had to confront her own personal difficulties.

In the end, Amy – like Marilyn – lost the fight. As we approach the 49th anniversary of Marilyn’s death, this most recent tragedy should remind us to make time for each other, for we never know when our lives may be cut short.