Blonde is a lie – Marilyn Monroe was no victim

Blonde is a lie – Marilyn Monroe was no victim

Blonde is a lie – Marilyn Monroe was no victim

'A young, vital woman who loved life, loved parties and had a good time': Marilyn Monroe - Getty

“A young, vital woman who loved life, loved parties and had a good time”: Marilyn Monroe – Getty

Marilyn Monroe “was never a victim, honey,” according to her friend, Amy Greene. “Never in a million years.” You wouldn’t know that watching Blonde, the new Netflix behemoth charting the star’s life. Based on the fictionalized 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, each of the film’s 166 minutes is more depressing than the last, depicting Monroe as a sunken plaything for a conveyor belt of men all too willing to abuse her.

Her career is barely a backdrop to the doomed relationships she jumps from – some imagined, some real – including a fling with Charlie Chaplin Jr, her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, and trysts with President John F Kennedy. She calls most people ‘daddy’; each mentions a reminder, lest the viewer forget for five seconds, of the father figure whose abandonment fueled her lifelong craving for men.

The disturbing vision painted by director Andrew Dominik is at odds with the Monroe many who knew her describe; a woman who went from foster care to earning $200 million (equivalent to $2 billion today) at the box office over two decades, and established her own production company (responsible for 1957’s Prince and the Showgirl, starring Laurence Olivier) . To Greene, with whom the actress moved in after her marriage to DiMaggio broke up in 1954, Monroe was—as she told Vanity Fair—”a young, vital woman who loved life, loved parties and had a good time.”

Earlier this year, a CNN docu-series cast the star of Some Like it Hot and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as a shrewd operator, with its executive producer, Sam Starbuck, describing her as “so much more interesting and smart and funny than I could ever have actually imagined. She was a total powerbroker and trailblazer.”

There’s one glimpse of that in Blonde, where we see Monroe, played by the Cuban actress—choose her stage name. Waving off Norma Jeane Mortenson – who had grown up in the shadow of her mother’s psychiatric problems – and recasting herself as Marilyn Monroe was no accident. “I wanted my mother’s maiden name [Monroe] because I felt it was rightfully my name,” she later explained. “And true things seldom come into circulation.”

That edict feels prescient given the Netflix movie. Oates’ book, which was later made into a miniseries, sought to blur the lines between fame and fiction, but there is no such foreshadowing in front of the movie Blonde, which seems to present itself as truth. Expecting The Crown to faithfully depict royal events behind closed doors, Blonde is a window into a world that only half-existed; one that criticizes the sexualization and frivolous treatment of Monroe while doing exactly the same.

De Armas is often naked, or referred to as “meat”; there are shots with a vantage point through her legs, or face down on top of the president’s genitals (the film is rated NC-17, the US equivalent of an 18, the highest level). Blondin veers from creepy to downright grotesque – especially the swirling CGI fetuses to represent Monroe’s miscarriages – despite Dominik’s earlier assessment that his film would be “one of the ten greatest films ever made”. The other nine on his list he can’t bear to think about.

De Armas’ quivering and coquettish Monroe does not portray a woman well versed in the film machine; one who knew that the right PR, angles and men would put her on the career path she wanted. It began when Monroe – then 19-year-old housewife Norma Jeane Dogherty – was working in a munitions factory in California during World War II, and was discovered by a photographer on assignment. She began modeling for snapper David Conover and his friends, and signed with a modeling agency the following year.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller in 1957 - Getty

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller in 1957 – Getty

It quickly brought an end to her first marriage—her Navy husband, James, didn’t want a wife with a career—with her pinup shots eventually leading to contracts with Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox, the shedding of her brunette hair, and Name . “I can be clever when it matters,” says Monroe’s Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, seeming to echo the actress herself. “But most men don’t like it.”

That seemed to be the case for Harry Cohn – the female boss of Columbia Pictures, and once the most powerful man in Hollywood. While Monroe was under contract there, he invited her to his yacht, and she replied, “Will your wife come with us?” Her contract was not renewed.

Nevertheless, there were plenty of other great men with whom Monroe mixed the personal and professional; her “intimate relationship” with director Johnny Schenk was to thank for the Columbia contract, and Johnny Hyde, three decades her senior, served as both her agent and lover. Monroe’s hard-fought seven-year contract with Twentieth Century Fox was rumored to have been signed by Hyde himself.

Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch - Alamy

Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch – Alamy

As Mira Sorvino, who played Monroe in 1996’s Norma Jean and Marilyn, once put it: “I think Marilyn accepted that she had to go out with people to get what she wanted. And I don’t think she should ever have had to choose that. But at least there was a decision in it on her part.”

When the lines were crossed, Monroe spoke out. While her star was rising, she co-authored a 1952 MeToo-esque essay titled The Wolves I Have Known, which condemned Hollywood’s cast of sofa predators. Such a wolf “should have been ashamed of himself, for trying to take advantage of a child,” she reflected on an audition in which all the poses “had to be reclined, even though the words I was reading didn’t seem to call for it.”

When Monroe found out that Frank Sinatra was to be paid three times the fee for Girl in Pink Tights, Monroe stormed off and refused to return. (After scribbling the word “TRASH” on the script and throwing it in the trash.) She immediately donned a dark wig and glasses and took a plane to New York under the name Zelda Zonk, staying there until Twentieth Century Fox agreed to to give her more money and better roles.

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe on the set of Blonde - Matt Kennedy / Netflix

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe on the set of Blonde – Matt Kennedy / Netflix

After a year, she was cast in The Seven Year Itch at a salary of $100,000, given full script and director approval, and became the first actress since Mary Pickford to start her own production company. “Actress Wins All Claims,” ​​read a headline the next day, with the news story continuing: “Marilyn Monroe, a five-foot-five-and-a-half-inch blonde who weighs 118 alluringly distributed pounds, has brought Twentieth Century Fox to his knees.” The Sinatra movie was never made.

“She knew what she had to do — shake her ass,” Greene said. “But she understood what she was doing when she did it.”

Politics hardly passed her by either: she was staunchly opposed to nuclear weapons, and converted to Judaism for Miller, her third husband, who had been subpoenaed for his former links to the Communist Party. Blonde mentions none of these things, preferring images of her residents in the White House and passed out on airplanes instead.

Monroe’s death from an overdose at 36, like all those lost while she was young, blonde and beautiful, means she is forever consigned to myth. Whether feminist hero or doomed femme fatale was closer to the mark, or how many times she might have swung between the two in the years that never followed, is up for debate. Like anything else – purpose films like Dominik’s servant. If Hollywood was guilty of abusing Monroe then, what excuse is there now?

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