While promoting her MDNA Skin range at Barney’s in Los Angeles yesterday, pop superstar Madonna revealed (to fellow celeb Kim Kardashian, no less) that Marilyn is still one of her ultimate beauty icons, as Lindzi Scharf reports for the LA Times.
“While Kardashian West, 37, shared that her beauty inspiration is her mother and grandmother, Madonna said that hers have long been Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth. ‘Obviously, I said all of their names in my song Vogue,’ she said, ‘but they were the personification of beauty to me.'”
In an article for Atlas Obscura, Jody Amable examines the breathless tone (or ‘ditz voice’) famously associated with sexy female stars from Marilyn to Kim Kardashian. It’s an interesting piece, though in Marilyn’s case, the ‘baby voice’ was partly an attempt to conceal her lifelong stutter (as discussed by Gerald McDermott here.) As careful study of her movies will reveal, her ‘breathiness’ has been greatly exaggerated by impersonators.
“A version of this voice has existed since sound met film and, in a way, since a little before that. Actresses of early film played mostly damsels in distress or wide-eyed young women, and by the time talkies took over, women were still portrayed as less headstrong, more head-in-the-clouds … Along with these girlish figures came a girlish voice—high-pitched, a bit breathy, and a little bit unsure, evident in Clara Bow’s pouty purr, and even Betty Boop’s singsong.
Shortly after the advent of sound in cinema, the scrappy, spunky flappers of the ‘20s were relegated to supporting characters—’the gangster’s moll, the cocktail waitress,’ says [Max] Alvarez. Musicals of the era, says Alvarez, were bastions of these kinds of wise-cracking wacky sidekicks …The speaking voices filling these film’s chorus lines were still childlike as in the decade prior, but started to show signs of the modern-day ‘sexy baby voice‘: a little bit breathy, a little bit nasal, and with fewer harsh consonant sounds.
Leading ladies like Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall portrayed feisty women through deeper voices as America entered the Rosie the Riveter era. It wasn’t until the 1950s, when women were less vital in the workforce, that softer voices took center stage again. And boy, did they ever. ‘We think of blondes as being dumb because we tend to think of Jean Harlow and Marilyn,’ says Alvarez. Though Marilyn was famously influenced by ‘30s screen siren Jean Harlow, her bubblier, breathier speaking style—most notably, her immortal rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’—still have a stranglehold on the voices used to denote ‘sexy, but not very smart.’
The unnaturally high pitch used over the years is all a diversion tactic, says Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at UC Berkeley, Robin T. Lakoff. Sounding ‘masculine’ often invites ridicule, so, whether they do it consciously or subconsciously, these hyper-feminine, childlike voices and mannerisms associated with un-serious women could be the result of them over-correcting to stave off criticism.
It’s also important to note that the actresses cast as wisecracking sidekicks or tawdry sex maniacs were generally savvy and intelligent in real life … Marilyn Monroe famously attended the prestigious Actor’s Studio to hone her craft … Though Kim Kardashian’s vocal fry is a far cry from Marilyn Monroe’s breathy lilt, the aim is still the same. ‘What people will not want to hear is it’s still with us,’ says Lakoff. ‘[They] still wanna please and [they] don’t wanna frighten.'”
Reality TV star Kim Kardashian made a social media faux pas when she posted a fake topless photo of Marilyn on Instagram today, reports The Blast (I’ve posted the original above, taken during a 1953 photo session with Bert Reisfeld.) While it’s very annoying, I don’t blame the gullible fans who post these fakes as much as the self-proclaimed ‘artists’ who inflict these fakes on the world in the first place. This is actually one of the tamer creations – websites like Ebay are ridden with badly Photoshopped, semi-pornographic renderings of Marilyn.
“The Blast tracked down Jeffrey Yarber, the artist behind the piece, who tells us the ‘photograph’ is one of thousands of celebrity fantasy artworks he has digitally created and sold over the years. In other words, he created the photo, it isn’t an actual topless Monroe photoshoot.
Kim’s hardly the first to share the Marilyn portrait, and Kardashian is so art savvy that she probably knew it wasn’t genuine, but tons of people thought it was legit.
As for the faux photo, Yarber says, ‘Fakes is a genre, I, and about four other fellows, originated. My artworks are marketed around the world, and are offered in just about every medium there is.’
Yarber tells us people — including respected galleries — often mistake his prints for originals, but he doesn’t like to correct them, adamant that his pieces are ‘virtually real, depicting the actual subjects in actual settings, without flaw.'”
After a recent mini-movie starring Kate Upton, UK fashion magazine LOVE has unveiled another Marilyn-inspired clip, featuring the model and young Kardashian sister, Kendall Jenner. Shot by photographer Rankin and apparently inspired by Marilyn’s late collaboration with Bert Stern, the effect is more Lolita than Let’s Make Love; but Kendall exudes a playful innocence here, keeping her hair brunette a la Norma Jeane, and (perhaps wisely) miming to Marilyn’s voice rather than attempting a full impersonation.
She’s not the first in the Kardashian clan to be linked with MM – eldest sister Kim was compared to Marilyn by husband Kanye West (of course, he’s biased), while Khloe received some iconic Monroe prints from the family matriarch, Kris Jenner, last Christmas. ‘What would Marilyn Monroe have made of it?‘ asks WWD‘s Samantha Conti – and that, of course, is anyone’s guess.
Floral tributes were left by Marilyn’s crypt at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles on what would be her 90th birthday, while devoted fans like Monica Shahri visited in person.
Canadian fan Billy made a heart-shaped card for Marilyn…
And there was cake too, courtesy of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the team behind the Golden Globes.)
The L.A.-based fanclub, Marilyn Remembered, organised a donation to Hollygrove, the former children’s home where Marilyn once lived. Now known as EMQ Families First, the charity has launched a new fundraising drive, ‘Modern Marilyn‘.
Everlasting Star admin Sirkuu Aaltonen went on a book hunt…
And UK superfan Megan posted a touching tribute on her personal blog.
“Another year has gone by and Marilyn’s star keeps growing brighter and brighter, people are still fascinated and enthralled by this beautiful soul. Did Marilyn have her faults? Of course she did, it’s hard to believe, I know, but she was a human being just like us. I love Marilyn for Marilyn and that will never change. I’d like to think that there are more genuine fans who love and respect Marilyn than conspiracy lovers who just follow their ignorance.”
Rapper Kanye West has compared his girlfriend, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, to Marilyn in a radio interview, reports EntertainmentWise. ‘Kate Upton ain’t Marilyn Monroe!’ he said on Chicago’s Power 105.1, referring to the blonde supermodel. ‘Kim Marilyn Monroe! She was controversial. She controversial.’ (In the same interview, Kanye also compared himself to Walt Disney and Michelangelo.)
It’s not the first time that Kim has been compared to Marilyn. Carine Roitfeld, editor of French Vogue, told Time Out in October, ‘First of all she’s beautiful – and in fashion, that is a talent you know. She was also a very sweet person, a hard worker. You don’t see her in parties drinking loads of alcohol. She’s controversial, but so was Marilyn Monroe and I always like controversial people. I hope the issue will be a good souvenir for her and her baby.’
Full disclosure – I have never watched Kim’s hit show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians. However, I do think she is striking in looks, and a great businesswoman. However, the reason behind the comparison – that like Marilyn, she is ‘controversial’ – is a tenuous one.
In her time, Marilyn was no more controversial than other stars. While she was frank about her sexuality, she did not have as many affairs as was later alleged. And, while she may have posed nude, there is no hard evidence that Marilyn ever made a sex tape – unlike Kim, who famously sold hers.
While controversy may be part of Marilyn’s appeal, she would soon have been forgotten if not for her intelligence and talent. It may be too soon to judge if Kim Kardashian can achieve the same lasting cultural impact, or if she – like many others, once touted as ‘the new Marilyn’, will be remembered instead as a minor celebrity, frozen in time.
Pamela Keogh Clarke, author of Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?, offers her thoughts on how these two iconic women might have fared in today’s world of reality TV and social networks…
“Jackie would have loved Facebook for the JFK Library, and would have used it to keep in touch while also keeping everyone at bay. And she would have shopped, absolutely, at sites like Net-a-Porter, Gilt, Chanel. But her email address would be like the nuclear code, probably three people would have had her email address.
“They both had somewhat addictive personalities, Marilyn would lose a lot of stuff, probably leave her phone in the back of a cab. She would use Facebook to stay in touch with her fans, she had an obsessive need for publicity, Facebook would have been perfect for that.”
The two women are transcendent in stature and continue to influence today’s culture; we asked Ms. Keogh how she thought they would fit into a society obsessed with celebrities. (The talented author’s response even referenced one of our original Anti-Preps!)
“Their attractiveness came from their accomplishments. They were both very dignified women, they would *not* have done reality shows. Neither one of them would have done endorsements of things, unless maybe Marilyn Monroe was asking people to donate to something like the ASPCA.
They both also had mystique and you don’t have mystique when you’re followed around by TV cameras. [Marilyn] wasn’t like Kim Kardashian.”
We also spoke of designers the women might favor should they still be with us today. Ms. Keogh believes Jackie Kennedy Onassis would still be sporting Oscar de la Renta, perhaps Ralph Rucci, others creating classic, good-looking fashions. She thinks Marilyn Monroe would be wearing Alexander McQueen were she twenty years old today, but in reality, probably more dignified labels like Valentino.
This is the question posed by Lena Corner in today’s Independent, with a byline stating that ‘if she were alive today, the actress would be just another druggie starlet.’ (Needless to say, I strongly disagree…)
“Our enduring obsession with Monroe owes much to the fact that she was working in an older, gentler world in an era before the media made it its business to get its nose into everything. Unlike Lohan and other stars of today, who we get to see snorting coke, sporting alcohol-monitoring tags and wearing no knickers, we never witnessed anything like that with Monroe.
Recreating Monroe’s mix of wide-eyed innocence, overt sexiness and the frisson of danger and power that comes from being associated with the mafia and the Kennedys is nigh on impossible. Celebrities these days only seem interested in having access to Premier League footballers which isn’t nearly so interesting.”
“Monroe wasn’t a serious actress. There are stories that she wanted to play amazing parts and that Lee Strasberg (the method acting coach) thought she was a great actress. I don’t believe it. I don’t think she could really carry more than a line or two at a time.”
However, even Thomson – despite his low opinion of Monroe’s talent – has to concede that she is an enduring icon…
“Our obsession isn’t going to stop for a long time yet. These days we don’t believe in stars in the same sort of way. We are much too cynical. Celebrity has taken over from stardom and celebrities have a built in self-destruction factor which means they’re always going to implode or burn up. There is no one remotely close to Monroe and I don’t think there ever will be.”
“Have we really developed a celebrity culture so thin on the ground that it no longer requires its icons to have real talent, but instead slavishly worships and rewards those who bring nothing more to the table than bouts of bad behaviour or a bodacious booty?
But, hey, what about Marilyn Monroe, you say?
Didn’t we worship her as nothing more than the original blond bombshell?
Well, if you have to ask, then you’ve never seen Monroe’s achingly intimate and vulnerable performance in The Misfits.
Kim Kardashian does nothing, and for that she is famous.