It May Be ‘IKONICK’, But Did Marilyn Really Say It?

“It stirs up envy, fame does. People you run into feel that, well, who is she who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe? They feel fame gives them some kind of privilege to walk up to you and say anything to you, you know, of any kind of nature and it won’t hurt your feelings.” – Marilyn talks to Richard Meryman of LIFE Magazine, 1962

As first reported here, ABG – the licensor of Marilyn’s estate – has commissioned a range of canvas wall art through the Los Angeles-based company IKONICK. Proclaiming Marilyn as “one of the truest Woman Hustlers out there,” the images feature quotes commonly attributed to her, but only one of them (shown above) is genuine. Once again, it seems that very little thought has been put into this product which boasts official endorsement. In their cringeworthy efforts to ‘modernise’ Marilyn, fake quotes like “You can try baby but you’ll never do it like me” distort who she really was.

What She Said: Marilyn and Chanel No. 5

Marilyn by Bob Beerman, 1953

Over at Garage Magazine, Tatum Dooley traces the origins of Marilyn’s famous quote regarding her favourite perfume…

“When asked what she wore to bed, Marilyn Monroe famously replied, ‘I only wear Chanel No. 5.’

The quote originates from a retelling by Monroe to Life Magazine in April 1952. The question wasn’t posed by Life; instead Monroe offered it up as a anecdote: “Once this fellow says, “Marilyn, what do you wear to bed?’ So I said I only wear Chanel No. 5.”‘

A bastardized version often tidily conflates Monroe as both speakers: ‘What do I wear in bed? Why, Chanel No. 5, of course.’

Monroe is the subject of the second advertisement in a multi-part campaign, titled ‘Inside Chanel,’ levied by the brand. The ad, at just over two minutes, makes Monroe a posthumous face of the venerable perfume. ‘We may never know when she said the phrase for the first time,’ the video states about Monroe’s famous reference to the perfume, going on to cite all the times they have proof it happened: April 7th, 1952, in Life Magazine. October 1953, at a photoshoot for Modern Screen. April 1970, Marie Claire.

‘°5, because it’s the truth… and yet, I don’t want to say nude. But it’s the truth!’

But…it’s the truth lingers on the screen.”

How a Fake Marilyn Quote Inspired a Meme

Social media has spawned many ‘fake quotes‘ wrongly attributed to Marilyn. One of the most ubiquitous, shown above, ends with the line, ‘If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.’ This quote cannot be sourced to any biography or interview, but it remains inexplicably popular. While more reputable publications now acknowledge that is dubious, it is still commonly linked to Marilyn. Recently, a more humorous take on the infamous quote has spawned a popular meme, albeit with the line slightly altered to ‘If you don’t love me …’

Among many celebrities joining in on Twitter are Smash star Katharine McPhee, and that most famous of Marilyn fans, singer Mariah Carey…

Marilyn Forever: Musings on an American Icon

Marilyn Forever : Musings on an American Icon by the Stars of Yesterday and Today is a new collection of quotes about Marilyn, compiled by author Boze Hadleigh. Those who knew and worked with Marilyn are featured here, alongside a wide range of public figures from past to present. Marilyn Forever is illustrated with around twenty full-page photos, all well-known. Hadleigh has researched his subject thoroughly, as many of the comments in this book were new to me. Not all of these are flattering to Marilyn, and some are highly speculative, but overall the tone is sympathetic.

My main criticism is that Hadleigh, who has written several books about gays and lesbians in classic Hollywood, seems determined to include Marilyn in their number, though in reality the evidence of anything more than curiosity on her part is rather scant. He focuses in particular on her close relationship with drama coach Natasha Lytess. Hadleigh also devotes several pages to the scandal of Marilyn’s nude calendar, framing her as a pioneer of the sexual revolution. While this may be true, there are other remarkable aspects of her life which are lesser known.

Nonetheless, Marilyn Forever is not overly sensationalised. When discussing the rumours about Marilyn and the Kennedys, Hadleigh gives equal weight to those who believe the allegations and other, more sceptical opinions. A brief epilogue features quotes from Marilyn herself, and I was relieved not to see any of the misattributed remarks which have become so rife on the internet in recent years. Marilyn Forever is well worth adding to your library, and I hope Boze Hadleigh will now consider writing a sequel, based on Marilyn’s own words.

Naked Truths: Drake, Rushdie and Marilyn

The award-winning novelist, Salman Rushdie, has praised the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake in a video for Pitchfork, noting an allusion to one of Marilyn’s most famous quotes in ‘What’s My Name‘, Drake’s 2010 duet with pop star Rihanna.

“He also complements Drake on a subtle Marilyn Monroe reference in the What’s My Name line ‘Okay, away we go/Only thing we have on is the radio’. As he explains, ‘She [Monroe] posed in the nude and she was asked if she had nothing on, and she said ‘I have the radio on’.”

As Stacy Eubank reveals in her excellent book, Holding a Good Thought For Marilyn: The Hollywood Years, Marilyn’s remark was first reported by gossip columnist Erskine Johnson in August 1952, while she was filming Niagara on location in Canada. Marilyn’s candid humour won over the public, though her detractors questioned whether the quote was really her own.

In 1955, Roy Craft – Marilyn’s publicist at Twentieth Century-Fox – dispelled the rumour, telling the Saturday Evening Post‘s Pete Martin, “To give it a light touch, when she was asked, ‘Didn’t you have anything on at all when you were posing for that picture?’ we were supposed to have told her to say, ‘I had the radio on.’ I’m sorry to disagree with the majority, but she made up those cracks herself.”

Photographer Tom Kelley – who shot the nude calendar in 1949 – told Maurice Zolotow in 1955, “It wasn’t the radio. It was a phonograph. I had Artie Shaw’s record of ‘Begin the Beguine’ playing. I find ‘Begin the Beguine’ helps to create vibrations.’

In a 1956 interview with Milton Shulman, Marilyn herself explained, “It was a large press conference, and some very fierce woman journalist – I think she was Canadian – stood up and said: ‘do you mean to tell us you didn’t have anything on when you posed for that nude picture?’ Suddenly, an old nightclub joke popped into my head. ‘Oh, no,’ I said. ‘I had the radio on.’ I just changed the words around a bit, but I thought everybody knew it.”

The Importance of Not Misquoting Marilyn

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The mainstream media may be finally waking up to the fact that not all quotes attributed to Marilyn are genuine, if Mary Grace Garis’s latest article for Elle is any indication. (However, the piece is remarkably similar in some aspects to Marijane Gray’s ‘Misquoting Marilyn‘, back published in 2012.  You can learn more about Marilyn’s words of wisdom – real, and fake – at Immortal Marilyn Quote Unquote.)

“In all seriousness, during my search I came across an interesting response to a journalist about whether she had writers prepare material for her interviews. In this 1956 article from the Saturday Evening Post, Marilyn vehemently asserted that she refused to sign her name to that kind of falseness. In her own words: ‘This is wrong, because when I was a little girl I read signed stories in fan magazines and I believed every word of them. Then I tried to model my life after the lives of the stars I read about. If I’m going to have that kind of influence, I want to be sure it’s because of something I’ve actually said or written.’

I still don’t 100% get the Marilyn Monroe thing, but I can admire that she was a glamorous, titantic force, with undeniable charisma and a slew of memorable lines. She used her power to support the civil rights movement, which was huge at the time. She fiercely stuck to her brand, even while it probably ate away at her soul. And I think it’s only fair that we pause before trying to attach that brand to something she probably never said, especially knowing how her icon status makes her a huge role model for so many people.” – Mary Grace Garis, Elle

Scarlett, Elle Under Marilyn’s Spell

Elle Fanning for Interview – photo by Craig McDean

Actress Scarlett Johansson – who is sometimes compared to Marilyn – talks to another famous MM fan, 16 year-old Elle Fanning (now starring as Princess Aurora in Maleficent), about her idol in the May issue of Interview magazine.

“JOHANSSON: Growing up, my idol was Judy Garland. I loved her fragility, but also her strength. I know that you love Marilyn Monroe. Do you relate to Monroe as a performer? What is your Marilyn story?

FANNING: I was seven when I first saw a picture of her. I didn’t know that she was such a big icon. But I would just look at her and I was mesmerized. She was beautiful and so … truthful. She’s not faking it. If she’s having a terrible day when the picture was taken, she’ll show that she’s really depressed and having a terrible day. You can see it in her eyes. There are all the layers behind it. She not like, “Oh, let me just put on a smile.” That year my dad got the DVD of The Seven Year Itch [1955]. I was probably way too young to watch it. I didn’t even know what the story was about, but I was just looking at her the whole time and the way she talked was so light. That year I was Monroe in the white dress for Halloween. It was interesting to me that she did mostly comedies but her life was so tragic.

JOHANSSON: Sounds like you were attracted to her, if not attracted to her tragedy—you could see there’s such a soul to her.

FANNING: I felt like there was something deeper. It wasn’t glossy—there were bumps. There was more to her than just her blond hair.

JOHANSSON: Have you seen The Misfits [1961]?

FANNING: No. I’ve seen most of them but I haven’t seen that one. I bought this Marilyn Monroe app on my phone, and I was reading all her quotes.

JOHANSSON: Wow. I think there’s something really interesting about a really young girl—seven at the time—noticing the depth to Marilyn, because so many people only respond to the surface glamour or movie star glitz of her.”

(And for anyone looking to read genuine quotes by Marilyn, I recommend Immortal Marilyn Quote Unquote.)