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July 20, 2012

There is a very sad photograph, easy to find on the web, of the dead Marilyn Monroe lying on her mortuary slab. She looks all deflated and stripped of the showgirl glamour which made her such a movie icon in life and in other ways seemed to be aging her too fast. Finally resting in peace, looking more like a child than a 36 year old woman, her surviving charisma makes it difficult to tear your gaze away.

So, in lust or vicarious anger or with great love and pity, we continue to obsess and try to bring her back to life as myth, gossip, enduring mystery and star.

The best I can do at this late stage is to seek out roles that might have given her greater satisfaction as an actress. Had she been stronger and lived, she might have found happiness more easily as a mother or great carer and protector of animals, but at least one may now ignore her troubled spirit, difficulty learning lines and “unprofessionalism” fuelled by insecurity and dependence on the “method” school of acting.

Others have played this game already and here are links to two examples:

Datalounge thread

[Some interesting ideas amongst the gossipy judgements here.

It would be lovely to see her in a feisty show like “the Golden Girls”, which celebrates the friendship and wit of women as well as Marilyn and Jane Russell do in too few moments of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”. However, I’m not so sure playing Miss Ellie in Dallas would have been a step forward!

And unlikely as it seems I like to picture Miss Monroe enjoying herself on stage, playing the title role in “Hello Dolly”, perhaps, but it could be truly marvellous to have her applying her great way with a lyric to “Send in the Clowns”, as Desiree in “A Little Night Music”.

I thought of Monroe as Mrs Robinson in “The Graduate” too, though she would have a hard time beating the brittle cool Anne Bancroft brings to the role in the film, made when she was the same age as Monroe was when she died instead of surviving long enough to fight for the part, at the grand old age of 41.]

Mike Watt’s blog post

[This gives an all too convincing picture of how things might have gone for her if she had lived another nine years. The sort of choices Hollywood had prepared for her make pretty grim reading and one shudders at the thought of Marilyn fighting to avoid the “aging sexpot” tag producers would have been eager to thrust upon her. What a fitting revenge on them if she’d been able to take on the role of Martha in “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, using her “baby” voice to grotesque and deadly effect!

Watt’s mention of “Carnal Knowledge” gives us another reason to wish Marilyn had lived longer, so she could have enjoyed the era of “sexual liberation”. However, the boys still ruled the roost in those days, and although Jack Nicholson, nine years her junior, with the same raffish charm as Robert Mitchum, could have made as good a screen partner, I can only imagine her taming him as Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. What an opportunity that would have been for Monroe to cover her glamour with the uniform and starchy manner of that harsh nurse, but to retain enough vulnerability to avoid making her completely hateful, as Louise Fletcher does so brilliantly in her portrayal.]

Well, this little survey has been fun, but it does seem to underline how poorly the movies serve such enthralling, haunting screen presences as that of Marilyn Monroe. European directors might have treated her with more respect, but who would have resisted the temptation to use her as some unrealistic kind of Earth Goddess, as a poor victim of the aggression of men or society or as the neurotic “kooky” kind of character that, in the wake of Monroe’s death, became so fashionable in a cack handed attempt to sympathise with complex and sensitive women when their voices were drowned out by the vulgarity and noise that surrounded them? Bunuel, perhaps? Or, by some time defying miracle, Almodovar? It makes you sympathise all the more with film actresses who still struggle to transcend the continuing crudity of the medium, and wonder again at all the qualities Marilyn Monroe manages to bring to the roles she was given in her brief lifetime.


From → Critic

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