Mailer, Siegel and the ‘Angel of Sex’

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962

Over at In These Times, Lindsay Beyerstein eloquently responds to the literary critic Lee Siegel’s curious assertion that Marilyn’s legacy has been ‘de-sexualised’, and in particular, his bizarre attack on Norman Mailer (who, if anything, was even more fixated by Monroe’s sex appeal than Siegel seems to be.)

‘Was it all an act? Monroe biographers have wondered ever since. It must have been to some extent, because, as we all know, angels of sex aren’t real…

Mailer wisely refuses to create a false dichotomy between the image and the woman. He’s not impressed by the Norma Jeane Baker vs. Marilyn Monroe cliches. She could be open, playful, and lusty. But she was a person with needs, ambitions, and limits of her own.

Mailer is equally upfront about the fact that Monroe enjoyed sex and romance for their own sake and defied many of the restrictive sexual mores of her era…

Siegel conflates Monroe’s sexual allure and her sexuality, as if it were a foregone conclusion that those were the same thing. My Week With Marilyn is all about Monroe’s sexual allure. Almost every scene shows someone gaping at her. Most of the laughs come from seeing Monroe vamping and men slobbering.’