The Myth of the “Torn” Monroe

Monroe set two records that year, six decades after her death, which has not yet been fully clarified, presumably from an overdose of sleeping pills, on the night of August 4th, 1962: In May, Andy Warhol’s picture “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn ‘ was sold at auction in New York for 195 million dollars (around 185 million euros), making it the most expensive work of art of the 20th century ever sold at auction.

Also in May, Kim Kardashian provided the highlight of this year’s MET Gala in the original Monroe outfit. The beige sparkly dress that Kardashian wore was what Monroe wore when she sang a birthday song to then-US President John F. Kennedy in 1962. The star paid almost five million dollars (around 4.8 million euros) for it, which made it probably the most expensive dress of the moment.

Torn between icon and private individual

Beyond the superstar and sex symbol projection that Monroe remains today, the fascination with the downside of her success continues. The young woman, who worked her way up from difficult circumstances and could be stylized as the embodiment of the American dream in order to be marketed as a blonde and naive pin-up girl, contrasts with the image of the private Monroe.

A woman who desperately wanted a child but suffered a number of miscarriages, an intellectual who was advised by the studio not to be seen publicly reading books that could have been classified as “radical” in the McCarthy era.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Normal Mailer worked through the tension between the “private” and the “public” Monroe. “Like an animal, in a photograph she is never just herself, but herself plus the sum of her surroundings,” he wrote of her. The representative of “New Journalism” was supposed to write the text for a Monroe illustrated book in the early 1970s, and the result was a “biographical novel” that has just been reprinted.

“Blonde” fuels discussions

However, the image of the “double” Monroe had a lasting impact on a similar project: the novel “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates, which in 2001 supplemented and condensed Monroe’s biography with more than 1,000 pages of fiction. A new biopic by Australian director Andrew Dominik, set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival and available to stream on Netflix in September, is based on the novel. The Cuban actress Ana de Armas takes on the title role.


Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde

The waves have been rising because of the film for a long time. The first trailer was released last week. The almost two-minute video from Thursday shows many facets of the Hollywood legend, acclaimed and plagued by self-doubt.

A matter of emphasis

“Marilyn Monroe only exists on screen,” says de Armas as Monroe in one scene. She can’t get used to fame, she always feels like Norma Jeane. The trailer shows famous scenes from the film and the iconic moment when the star stands on a subway ventilation shaft with her white dress billowing.

Scene from the film


De Armas as Monroe reenacting the famous scene above the subway shaft

After the trailer was released, criticism of the cast of de Armas was raised: Her accent didn’t match Monroe’s breathy tone. According to CNN, Marc Rosen, president of entertainment at Authentic Brands Group (ABG), who owns Monroe’s estate rights, disagreed: “Any actor who steps into this role knows they have big shoes to fill. From the trailer alone, it looks like Ana was a great casting choice as she captures Marilyn’s glamour, humanity and vulnerability. We can’t wait to see the film in its entirety!”

A completely different criticism of Oates’ novel and indirectly of Dominik’s film came from Monroe biographer Anthony Summers in The Guardian. In her novel, Oates tells how Monroe is murdered and suggests that Robert Kennedy is connected to it – a thesis that is actually repeated again and again. “Reliable information indicates that Kennedy was allied with Monroe. His brother Robert, the research says, also had some sort of covert connection to her. However, there is no evidence that they or anyone else murdered them,” Summers said.

Fact vs Fiction

Netflix also implemented his biography and the underlying research. The documentary “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” reached an audience of millions. Ultimately, however, the repeated attempts to interpret the “Monroe myth” show one thing. The media stylization of the icon created a mixture of facts and fiction during Monroe’s lifetime, which has such a strong impact that even after 60 years it is still too early for a complete dissolution of this amalgam.

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