Surgical scars can be seen on Marilyn’s tummy in two of her final photo shoots, with George Barris (left) and Bert Stern (right), and in her ‘nude’ swim scene for the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, as Mehera Bonner reports for Marie-Claire. Marilyn underwent an appendectomy in 1952, and had her gallbladder removed in 1961, a year before she died. She also underwent several operations to alleviate her endometriosis and help her to have children, sadly without success. While surgical procedures are considerably more sophisticated today, our expectations have also increased. While there’s something rather liberating about these gorgeous, unaltered shots, it’s also important to remember that Marilyn – who exerted rigid control over her photo shoots, if not her movies – may herself have wanted to airbrush these photos had she lived long enough to fully review them. In fact, she vetoed many of Stern’s images, marking the rejects with an orange ‘X’; but after her death, he published the session in its entirety.
“Though she was famous for her perceived ‘perfection’ and ‘flawlessness’ (all the eye-rolls at the inherent sexism that goes into these terms), Marilyn Monroe had a pretty big scar across her stomach—which appears in both the Last Sitting and in Something’s Got to Give.
The scar itself is the result of gallbladder surgery that occurred before Stern’s famous images were taken. He says Marilyn was self-conscious about it, and called upon her hairdresser George [Masters] for reassurance before shooting. When Stern noticed the scar, he reportedly remembered Diana Vreeland saying to him, ‘I think there’s nothing duller than a smooth, perfect-skinned woman. A woman is beautiful by her scars.’
Diana Vreeland is right: women *are* beautiful with scars. But she’s also incorrect about women without them being dull. Either way, the sometimes-removal of Marilyn’s scar offers a fascinating insight into beauty standards in Old Hollywood—did she ever truly have agency as to how her body was portrayed?
Ironically, Something’s Got to Give was the first time Monroe was ‘allowed’ to expose her belly button on film—as most of her previous swimwear moments were high-waisted. Before her death, she’s said to have quipped ‘I guess the censors are willing to recognize that everybody has a navel.’
Among the recent tributes to Marilyn, many have focused on emulating her style (Vogue) and beauty (including Alyssa Morin at Hello Giggles.) Novelist Heather O’Neil went step further, living all week as Marilyn for The Kit. What better way to start your summer in the city?
“There’s always something attractive about looking as though you’re not trying. Marilyn understood that. She knew that a black dress never goes out of style, that it’s beyond style. It’s the ideal time-travel outfit: You could turn up in the 17th century looking more or less okay; you could travel anywhere in the future and women will still be wearing black dresses, especially when the world is overpopulated and we all live in small pods and keep our few clothes in a paper lunch bag.”
In an article for The Australian, Philippa Hawker charts the history of blondes in cinema -arguing that Marilyn continues to leave her mark on the evocation of blondeness.
“In cinema — not to mention fairytale, myth, art, literature, politics and the realm of popular culture in general — the image of the blonde or the fair-haired woman has carried a strong symbolic charge. It can be identified with innocence and purity but also with artifice and duplicity. It can suggest bounty, dazzle and allure, the implication that all that glisters is not necessarily gold. It can convey a heightened sense of spectacle. It is almost always associated with a notion of the feminine. The figure of the blonde is one of Hollywood’s most potent emblems and exports, and it has had an influence on other movie cultures over the years.
In cinema, the figure of the blonde often appears alongside the contrasting figure of the brunette; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, is probably the most engaging example…
And, of course, there is Monroe, defining Hollywood blondeness, and to some degree transcending it by sheer effort of will. Her body of studio work is surprisingly confined: only once, in Clash by Night (1952), in which she portrays a cannery worker, did she play a character with an ordinary job. In her major roles she was always a variation on a gold-digger or a stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’ — yet she managed to subvert the stereotyping or deepen its implications, no matter what the challenge was off-screen. In The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), on what was reportedly a chaotic and troubled set, she gives an effortlessly appealing performance in an unlikely period piece: it is her co-star, Laurence Olivier (also her director), who appears awkward and uncomfortable.
Monroe, one way or another, continues to leave her mark on the evocation of blondeness. In the 80s, Madonna did her best to own it, restaging Monroe’s ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number, rifling through the Hollywood cultural dress-up box for a variety of shades and identities. Her video clip for ‘Vogue’, directed by David Fincher, explicitly raids both classic Hollywood portraiture and the vogueing phenomenon of the gay club.”
Vanity Fair has released a one-off tribute magazine dedicated to Marilyn on the eve of her 90th birthday, as part of their ‘Icons’ series. It is currently available from newsstands in the US only, but can also be ordered from their website.
The cover image, by Bert Stern, has been used twice before by the magazine. It also appears excessively airbrushed, and is a disappointing choice overall. However, there are many more photos inside, as well as some of the better articles about Marilyn published in recent years.
Unfortunately, the special issue also includes more dubious pieces about Marilyn and the Kennedys, citing widely disputed sources like Robert Slatzer and Jeanne Carmen; and Tony Curtis’s questionable claims about his relationship with Marilyn.
Interestingly, the current issue of Vanity Fair‘s regular edition also includes a tribute to MM, with comedienne Amy Schumer recreating her ‘Golden Dreams’ calendar pose on the cover. And in France, Marilyn’s life is chronicled in L’Humanite, among twenty famous names from the 20th century – more details here.
UPDATE: Amy Schumer has been featured in another seemingly Marilyn-inspired cover shot, for American Vogue‘s July issue. (Marilyn wore a very similar red off-the-shoulder dress while promoting Monkey Business in 1952.)
A well-researched article about Marilyn’s beauty routine, including direct quotes from MM herself, is published today by Vogue.
“Despite its great vogue in California, I don’t think suntanned skin is any more attractive . . . or any healthier, for that matter. I’m personally opposed to a deep tan because I like to feel blond all over.”
Legendary fashion writer Suzy Menkes reports on Christie’s current online sale, ‘The Art of the Pin-Up‘ (including images of Marilyn by Andre de Dienes and Bruno Bernard) for Vogue, noting that the perky innocence of that era is now a thing of the past…
“I can imagine that in the wartime period of hard times, advertising posters with sex appeal brightened the dim streets … Marilyn Monroe in her early days was a curvy young thing on the beach, using her parasol as a support for her pose – bottoms up!
But suddenly, my smile was wiped out by this thought: the cheeky and cheerful images, from an era of playful innocence, looked alarmingly like Miley Cyrus doing her twerking, Beyoncé performing in barely-there outfits of sexual titillation, Kim Kardashian revealing her ever-famous posterior, and Britney Spears sexing up her once teen-girl appearance.
Would I ever buy a pin-up picture? Marilyn in 1949, snapped by Andre de Dienes, might be a cute purchase to enliven my study wall. Although bids can start at £300, Christie’s is putting a starting bid of £1,400 on Marilyn Monroe.
But there is something dispiriting about the idea of Miley and co continuing to distort their bodies as sexual titillation 80 years after Marilyn stepped out on that sandy beach. A century, a millennium and a feminist revolution have happened since then.”
A new photo shoot for German Vogue, featuring pop star Miley Cyrus, is being widely tagged as Marilyn-inspired. However, as Pink is the New Blog has noted, Miley more closely resembles Madonna during her Blond Ambition phase. Madonna recently dueted with Miley, who cites her as an influence. Marilyn via Madonna, perhaps?
Everyone’s favourite cartoon mom, Marge Simpson, has a Marilyn moment in this illustration by artist AleXsandro Palombo for Vogue, in a series of classic fashion recreations celebrating 25 years of The Simpsons:
“‘There is a Marge Simpson in every woman and with this tribute I wanted to ignite the magic that is in every women; the strength, femininity, elegance, eroticism and beauty,’ Palombo told us. ‘I made a strict and careful selection of what, in my opinion, has really influenced the style of the last 100 years. Each of these dresses really changed the course of the history of costume, giving a new aesthetic vision that has anticipated major changes in our society. We may not consider these clothes as art, but the aesthetic vision that they emanate has played an important role in giving strength to the path of emancipation of women since 1900. In many cases it’s the dress that has transformed a woman into an icon, but in many others, it’s the personality of the women that has enlightened the dress.'”
UPDATE: Here’s another famous MM pose, based on Ed Feingersh’s 1955 photo of Marilyn dabbing on her favourite perfume, Chanel No. 5…
Hot on the heels of her MM tribute in the ‘Give Me All Your Luvin” video, Madonna used another famous Monroe image for her performance of ‘Vogue’ at Sunday’s Superbowl.
One of Madonna’s special guests was rapper Nicki Minaj, who has just recorded a new track dedicated to Marilyn. (I like it, though I wish Nicki had researched her MM quotes a little more thoroughly when she wrote the lyrics!)