What a Girl Wants…

Another extract from film critic Richard Dyer’s essay, ‘Monroe and Sexuality’, published in his 1986 book, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, focuses on Cherie’s speech to Elma (Hope Lange) in Bus Stop (1956), and also her performance in The Misfits (1961.)

“Time and again, Monroe seems to buy into the ‘progressive’ view of sex, a refusal of its dirtiness – but that means buying into the traps of the sexual discourses discussed above: the playboy discourse, with women as the vehicle for male sexual freedom, and the psycho discourse, with its evocation of the ineffable unknowability of sexuality for women. The choice of roles from ‘Bus Stop’ on indicates the conundrums the image is caught up in. Only ‘The Misfits’ begins to hint at a for-itself female sexuality, and then casts it utterly within the discourse of female sexuality as formlessness. The men in the film look on, unable to comprehend her sensuality; grasping a tree she looks out at them/us with a hollow expression of beatitude, straining to express what is already defined as inexpressible.

Yet some of her later films do contain hints of the struggle, traps and conundrums of the fifties discourses of sexuality. ‘Bus Stop’ is probably the most extended example. It is possible, without straining too much against the drift of the film, to read Cherie/Monroe not just as the object of male desire but as someone who has to live being a sex object.

Cherie/Monroe’s longest dialogue comes in scenes with other women characters, and has thereby the quality of unburdening herself rather than putting on an act or standing up to men. With the waitress Vera (Eileen Heckart), she expresses her ambition to be a singer and Hollywood actress, referring to the lack of respect she has had up to now. With the young woman on the bus, Elma (Hope Lange), she speaks of the ideal man she is looking for, a notion of a man who combines traditionally masculine and feminine qualities:

‘I want a guy I can look up to and admire – but I don’t want him to browbeat me…I want a guy who’s sweet to me, but I don’t want him to baby me…I want a guy who has some real regard for me, aside from all that loving stuff.’

None of this is desperately radical or progressive; the ambition is mainstream individualism (‘I’m trying to be somebody’), the ideal man is a sentimental fantasy. But both are located in the consciousness of a dumb showgirl type, and given a legitimate voice by the seriousness of the performance, of the way in which they are filmed, and, especially, by virtue of the fact that they are spoken to another woman. The ambition and fantasy are not in the slightest ridiculed, and they have the effect of throwing into relief the showgirl role that Cherie/Monroe is playing.”

The monologue in Bus Stop is rightly considered one of the high points of Marilyn’s acting career. Unfortunately, it was heavily cut – which, Monroe believed, robbed her of an Oscar nomination.

In her 2007 book, Platinum Fox, Cindy De La Hoz revealed the text of Marilyn’s speech in its entirety. The edited parts are emboldened here.

Cherie: I don’t know why I keep expecting myself to fall in love, but I do.

Elma: I know I expect to, some day.

Cherie: I’m seriously beginning to wonder if there’s a kind of love I have in mind…naturally, I’d like to get married and have a family and all them things but…

Elma: But you’ve never been in love?

Cherie: I don’t know. Maybe I have and I didn’t know it. Maybe I’m expecting it to be something it ain’t. I just feel that, regardless how crazy you are about some guy, you’ve got to feel…and it’s hard to put into words, but…you’ve got to feel he respects you. Yes, that’s what I mean…I’ve just got to feel that whoever I marry has some real regard for me, aside from all that loving stuff. You know what I mean?

Elma: I think so. What will you do when you get to Los Angeles?

Cherie: I don’t know. Maybe if I don’t get discovered right away, I could get me a job on one of the radio stations there. Even singing hillbilly if I have to. Or else, I can go to work in Liggett’s or Walgreen’s. Then after a while I’ll probably marry some guy, whether I think I love him or not. Who am I to keep insisting I should fall in love? You hear all about love when you’re a kid and just take it for granted that such a thing really exists. Maybe you have to find out for yourself it don’t. Maybe everyone’s afraid to tell you.

Marilyn and the Pin-Up Grrrls

This 1952 shot of Marilyn exercising at home, taken by Philippe Halsman, is discussed in Is the Pin-Up Feminist?, a blog post by Rebel Grrrl Italiana.

“The Marilyn Monroe poster exudes sexuality, which was threatening during the time period (and some may argue, still is), as well as a resiliency/strength (lifting weights) rarely displayed in typical images of women.”

Ms. Magazine Cover Essay Contest

 Ms. Magazine, co-founded by the American feminist author, Gloria Steinem, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Marilyn graced their cover in August 1972, ten years after her death. Steinem’s essay, ‘The Woman Who Died Too Soon’, would later form the basis of a full-length book, Marilyn: Norma Jeane. (Her introduction was entitled ‘The Woman Who Will Not Die’.)

In conjunction with Ms., Stanford University invite you to write a 150-word essay on how one of their covers inspired you. More details here

‘The Feminist Betrayal of Norma Jeane’

The Secret Knowledge: The Dismantling of American Culture is a new collection of essays by the dramatist David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Wag the Dog.)

The central theme of this book is Mamet’s disillusionment with the liberal left. One of his essays concerns the feminist author Gloria Steinem‘s 1986 book, Marilyn: Norma Jeane.

While I have reservations of my own about Steinem’s book – though sympathetic to Marilyn, at times she seemed to see her as a passive victim – I do think Mamet is being unduly harsh (and, dare I say, ungentlemanly.)

I was pleased to see how highly Mamet rates MM as an actress. But I also felt that his ‘defence’ of her was something of a ruse to attack Steinem and others who don’t concur with his recent swing to the political right.

While Steinem’s book is not perfect, it has led to other, more up-to-date feminist studies of Marilyn from Sarah Churchwell and Lois Banner.

Here is an extract from Mamet’s essay – you can read it in full at National Review Online:

‘Marilyn Monroe, then, though her work brought and brings delight to literally hundreds of millions of people, although she created for herself one of the most revered icons in show business, had an impossibly successful career, though she did this through persistence, talent, hard work, and guts, must be dismissed by the wiser, non-working Left, which finds her neither a serious actress nor a comedienne. She did not, sadly, fulfil the vision which Gloria Steinem had for her, because she was not an intellectual — she was an actual worker.

In a more equal world, a top-down world, a world of equality (as envisioned and enforced by the Left) Ms. Monroe might have been taken in hand (by whom?) early on, and cured of her unreal escapist self (her talent), and still be alive playing Mother Courage in some Resident Theatre somewhere.

Can this be feminism? A dismissal of the greatest comedienne in the history of the screen because her work did not meet the high standards of Gloria Steinem?Is it possible that the wise Ms. Steinem mistakes the performances of Marilyn with the person? She does conflate, and seems to connect causally, Marilyn’s screen persona with her use of sleeping pills, suggesting that she killed herself (an open point) because she was “denied the full range of possibility” and, so, was forced to disappoint Gloria Steinem.

Would Ms. Steinem be happier if Marilyn had lived to play Medea and Queen Elizabeth? Is she ignorant of the working lifespan of an actress? Did she never laugh or smile at one of Marilyn’s performances? Of course she did, but now she wants to throw it in reverse and, having derived enjoyment from her work, derive further enjoyment from her superior sad understanding of Marilyn’s essential “slavery.” Marilyn, though vastly wealthy, though widely accomplished, though revered worldwide (and to this day), was somehow a “slave to men.” Why? Because she was a woman, and acting, thus, was somehow not “an expression of her real self.”

What balderdash. Shame on you, Ms. Steinem, for promoting hypocrisy. For anyone who might be foolish enough to nod along with your sanctimony will, along with you, the next time they watch one of Marilyn’s films, laugh and smile; you, then, are promoting a dual-consciousness, an indictment of that which one enjoys, of a legitimate pleasure brought about through the work and the talent of an actual human being, who, in your sad lament, you belittle and patronize. Were or are you smarter or more talented than Marilyn Monroe? Make me laugh.

[And note, Ms. Steinem, that it is not the job of an actor to “express her real self.” (Which of us knows what his real self is?) It was her job to entertain the audience. That was her job. And she did it as well as anyone who ever acted. What entertainment has ever come from your beloved solipsism? Would you go to see such a performance — an evening of someone “expressing her true self”?]’

 

Greer on Warhol’s Marilyn

The feminist author and art critic, Germaine Greer, has analysed Andy Warhol’s Marilyn in The Guardian.

“Drawing and painting are fun, and most people like doing them, especially if they are considered good at them, but they are not art until they acquire separateness. A recognisable likeness of a celebrity will be artless, unless it acquires its own position in relation to all the other images of that celebrity and celebrity itself. Andy Warhol refined the image of Marilyn Monroe till it was almost insubstantial, a hieroglyph in place of a likeness, with neither age nor identity nor expression. It may seem the diametric opposite of the most famous portraits of history, but it isn’t. The portraits that survive have outlived their subjects and taken on a life the subjects could never claim. Those pictures exist in their own versions of the wandjina/Warhol zone.”

In her most famous book, The Female Eunuch (1970), Greer wrote of Marilyn:

“It still comes as a surprise to most people to learn that Marilyn Monroe was a great actress, most pitifully to Marilyn herself, which is one of the reasons why she is dead.”

‘Fragments’: MM Fan Review

Marilyn photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1956

Writer and MM fan Stephanie Nolasco has reviewed Fragments for the Elevated Difference website.

” ‘Fragments’ gives us a glimpse of a woman who was used and misused many times over. Finally, we have the truth of who really was one of the twentieth century’s greatest icons…It’s certain that loyal Monroe fans will instantly fall head over heels for ‘Fragments’…There are still many unanswered questions, yet ‘Fragments’ ultimately reveals how Monroe was a curious, hopeful and passionate woman willing to overcome the many obstacles that came her way by trying to take control of her fate.”

Read Stephanie’s review in full here

Internet Quotes: ‘Consider the Source’

Photo by Ben Ross

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

This quote has been attributed to Marilyn countless times on the internet in recent years. However, I have never been able to find the source: not in any biography, memoir or interview.

Therefore, I consider this quote to be dubious at best. However, a writer at Gender Agenda has posted a feminist critique, no less, entitled (with no apparent irony) ‘Women Who Just Don’t Get the Point.’

“If you haven’t heard this quote before then you must acquaint yourself with all the right people. The women who use and adopt this quote (it is almost invariably women), I am sure, do it in the spirit of GIRL POWER. Women do this, and like this, and act like this; and, if you can’t deal with it, then tough. Women get emotional, women can be erratic – and if you won’t handle our cons then you can’t get our pros. I think that this detrimentally misses the point of feminism, which I believe to be gender diversity, equality and acceptance.”

As I was unable to log into the site, I could not point out that this quote was probably not said by Monroe. However, I see that another reader has commented, quite eloquently, on the matter in hand.

While I think that you fundamentally have a good point, I would disagree with you on your assessment of Monroe’s quote; I don’t believe that there is any sort of broad base for the quote, it is intended to be entirely personal. Monroe was known for having personal issues, at the same time as being the most desired woman of her era.

In the same way as I might comment on my own personal problems, we do not assume this to extend across all of male-dom. If I say I have issues with anger, or drink, or self-esteem, or the colour blue, I am not taken as the mouthpiece of all men, all Asians, all scientists, or any other demographic. This is reflected in the structure of her sentence-’I’; it appears more as an affirmation of self-worth, if you cannot cope with the negative aspects of her character, then she has no reason to let you experience the side of her that she likes and appreciates. People desired the ideal of Marilyn Monroe, but her quote indicates a refusal to grant them this ideal, if they didn’t want to/couldn’t handle having the real, 3D, human, Marilyn Monroe, née Norma Jeane Mortenson, at the same time, as irrevocably intertwined were the two.

Jill Clayburgh 1944-2010

Actress Jill Clayburgh has died aged 66. She starred in films such as Portnoy’s Complaint (1972), Gable and Lombard (1976), Semi-Tough (1977), An Unmarried Woman (1978), and La Luna (1979.)

She was known for playing strong, liberated women, and once told reporters, ‘There was practically nothing for women to do on the screen in the 1950s and 1960s. Sure, Marilyn Monroe was great, but she had to play a one-sided character, a vulnerable sex object. It was a real fantasy.’

In recent years, Clayburgh has appeared in television dramas including Nip/Tuck and Dirty Sexy Money (with Donald Sutherland.) She married playwright David Rabe (The Firm) in 1979, and they had three children.

Jill Clayburgh died of leukaemia after living with the disease for two decades. Her final film, Love and Other Drugs, opens in the US later this months and also features Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway.