What Makes Marilyn a ‘Timeless’ Icon?

Marilyn Monroe: Timeless, the exhibition which opened at Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds on June 1 (Marilyn’s birthday), remains on display until September 30. Among the photographs is an important Monroe artifact – the framed Cecil Beaton ‘triptych’ gifted to her by Joshua and Nedda Logan in 1956, when she married Arthur Miller.

Over at the Eastern Daily Press, arts editor (and MM aficionado) Andrew Clarke asks why is Marilyn – along with only a few other stars, like Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn – still iconic today?

“Marilyn continues to transcend time. All these pictures were taken between 1948 and 1962. They are a window into a life which has long since ended and reveal a world that no longer exists. Marilyn lived at a time when Hollywood studios still had stars under contract and America was yet to be scarred by the Vietnam War and long-drawn out wars in the Middle East.

These images shouldn’t speak to us but they do. Marilyn Monroe, as the exhibition makes clear in its title, is timeless. She has a talent and personality that not only continue enchant fans who grew up with her but, judging by the age of my fellow visitors, who were largely young women, she continues to attract new fans.

Although her films continue to find new audiences – restoration film company Park Circus have re-issued Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot in recent years – the real secret to her success is that her image speaks louder than her work.

This then begs the question when does a star become an icon? Stars fade but do icons live forever? It’s an interesting question. If that is the case, what attributes do you need to become an icon?

Popularity is part of the equation but it’s not everything. You have got to have presence and you’ve got to have a unique style about you. It’s that uniqueness that will help you stand the test of time – and you have got to have a quality that speaks to people and makes them care about you.”

‘Timeless Marilyn’ in Bury St. Edmunds

Marilyn Monroe: Timeless, a new photo exhibition, has opened at Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St. Edmund’s, Suffolk, following a preview performance by lookalike Suzie Kennedy last night. Among the artists featured are Alfred Eisenstadt, Frank Powolny, Philippe Halsman, Elliott Erwitt, Milton Greene, Bert Stern and George Barris. Additionally, a silver-framed triptych of portraits and text by Cecil Beaton (a wedding gift to Marilyn and Arthur Miller from Joshua and Nedda Logan in 1956), is also on display (see video here.)

Arts editor and MM fan Andrew Clarke has reviewed the exhibit for the East Anglian Daily Times.  (The lovely image below, credited in the article to Andre de Dienes, was actually taken by Joseph Jasgur in 1946.)

“Part of her enduring appeal can be put down to the fact that she is adored by women (particularly young women) as much as she is by men. This is down to the fact that she was a strong woman, who refused to bow to the studio system, went to work on her terms, and was always looking to improve herself … She loved the camera and she recognised its value and the support it gave her, even at her lowest moments. Even when she had been fired from her unfinished film Something’s Got To Give, opposite Dean Martin, she commissioned at least two photo-sessions to not only keep her name before her loyal public, but to let them know she was evolving and moving on.”

In the same article, Clarke also interviews curator Brian White of Kudos Memorabilia…

“One of our personal favourites, however, is a bewitching black and white portrait of Marilyn, from 1953, by famed portrait photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995). Marilyn, age 26, is posing informally in a simple black pullover and white slacks. Her nuanced expression is exquisite, and her warm, yet casual, intimacy, combined with an almost palpable vulnerability, memorialises an authentic Marilyn that many studio photographers failed to capture. This image was originally shot by ‘Eisie’ as a potential cover image for Life Magazine. At the time, editors considered it to be too understated to make the grade, but, every year since 1953, this image has grown in prestige amongst collectors of classic Marilyn Monroe photography. This beautiful silver gelatine print also features Eisenstaedt’s personal signature.”