Today is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, and I had no idea until this morning.
Why is this significant? Yesterday I happened to read a story about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes which questions whether or not Holmes is a real victim, or if she’s the real fame-monger in this situation:
[Holmes’s NYC] building has a privacy-friendly underground garage, but. . .Holmes hasn’t even been taking advantage of it. If she wanted, she could exit the garage in a car with dark windows, and paparazzi would never catch a glimpse of her or Suri. Instead, every day, when she’s left the building for errands or meetings, she has promenaded out to a waiting car, in full view of photographers. Nor, when on foot, has she used the side entrance on 25th Street: She’s been stepping out right into the paparazzi maw for the sake of trivial grocery shopping. How about FreshDirect?
My interest piqued, I started down a garden path of links and lookups. The article says, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that Holmes was apparently “enraged” by Dawson’s Creek costar Michelle Williams’s success:
While Holmes was playing Jackie O. in a mini-series that ended up airing on Reelz—that’s Channel 238 in the Time Warner NY cable system, if you’re wondering—Williams was playing JFK’s sometime-mistress Marilyn Monroe, in a feature film, en route to a third Oscar nomination.
That led me to this GQ story about Williams, which led me to the movie, My Week with Marilyn (which I had no interest in before but now want to see). I was curious about the dancing scene in The Prince and the Showgirl, which led me to this fantastic clip.
Her little dance is so simple yet utterly captivating. That led me to Williams’s re-creation:
While Williams is charming and captures Monroe’s spirit, Monroe has something more. She has a lot more dancing experience so it isn’t really fair to compare the two, but there does appear to be something intangible about Monroe, that something that made her not just a star but an icon.
That led me even further away. The Wikipedia piece on My Week With Marilyn describes the scene: “Vivien [Leigh] comes to the set and watches some of Marilyn’s scenes. She breaks down, saying Marilyn lights up the screen and if only Olivier could see himself when he watches her. Olivier tries unsuccessfully to reassure his wife.” That led me to an article about Leigh, and this line: “Her irreverent and often bawdy sense of humour allowed her to establish a rapport with her co-star Marlon Brando.” I loved that for some reason: the fragile Leigh joking about sex with the brutish Brando.
That led me to look up Marlon Brando, which led me to this: “Singer-actress Courtney Love has claimed to be Brando’s granddaughter, making Frances Bean Cobain (1992) his great-granddaughter.” What the what? Apparently, Love’s mother, Linda Carroll, was adopted and discovered that her birth mother was Paula Fox, a well-known writer. Crazy enough right? Well, Carroll claims that Fox had an affair with Brando in the 1940s, and that she “she had DNA tests done to prove” that she is Brando’s daughter. But this seems not to be true at all, according to this People article: “Carroll, however, emphatically denies the reports. ‘First of all, it’s crazy, it’s not true,’ she told the Gazette-Times in Corvallis, Ore. ‘Second of all, my book doesn’t say that.'” How do these rumors start?
Anyway, the Brando piece led me to stuff about his first wife, including this famous picture; the tragedy around his poor kids, Cheyenne and Christian; and Cheyenne’s son and Brando’s (real) grandson, Tuki Brando, who is apparently a successful model and, not surprisingly, easy on the eyes.
But today it was all about Marilyn. What a hard life she had growing up. Reading about her mentally-ill mom, her getting passed from foster home to foster home, being sexually assaulted, all I kept thinking was that poor kid. As for her death, I couldn’t help but think, Look at all the people she had around her, but still it wasn’t enough. The timeline says she had a “casual meal” with a couple of “local playboys”; the son of Joe DiMaggio called her to talk; then actor Peter Lawford called to invite her to dinner. Afterward, worried about her, he called throughout the night but her phone was busy.
D.R. “Duke” Haney has a wonderful essay on Monroe over at The Nervous Breakdown. It’s interesting to learn that early in her career Monroe “cultivated” journalists into publishing stories about her “with Dickensian embellishments about her childhood, already so poignant that embellishments would seem unnecessary, supplied by Marilyn herself”; that “at especially desperate moments, she paid the rent by hooking”; and that she could be mean. For instance, she apparently once responded “to an assistant director’s knock on her dressing-room door: ‘Go fuck yourself,'” which cracks my shit up, imagining her dropping that breathy baby voice to say that.
Monroe, according to Haney, meticulously cultivated her look, her brand if you will (try not to barf). So much of what we see, what we think of the Marilyn, was orchestrated, like Katie Holmes’s encounters with paparazzi, Suri in tow, her divorce and current image as a free woman escaped from the clutches of a weird religion and possibly even weirder marriage. These are the stories that are fed to us, and we, or I at least, can’t help but eat them up.