Marilyn Monroe remains an iconic figure in the history of Hollywood, captivating audiences worldwide decades after her untimely death. While her legacy is undeniable, she has her fair share of critics such as Leo McKinstry, who argues that Marilyn Monroe was talentless, lazy, and a mere product of myth-making.
THE PHONY VICTIM
One common criticism levied against Marilyn is that she consistently played the role of a victim, often resorting to threats of suicide and emotional blackmail. However, when we delve into her troubled upbringing we are able to begin to understand her emotional struggles. Raised in a series of foster homes and having experienced abuse as a child, Marilyn’s early life was marked by instability and trauma. Her emotional challenges stemmed from these formative years, making it unfair to dismiss her struggles as mere acts of manipulation.
Critics often argue that Marilyn’s victimhood was phoney, pointing to her fame and success as evidence. However, her fame did not shield her from personal struggles and insecurities. Marilyn’s status as a sex symbol and Hollywood icon did not negate her vulnerability and self-doubt. To reduce her complex experiences to mere myth-making is a disservice to her legacy. In 1962 she told Richard Merman, “I think that when you are famous every weakness is exaggerated. … Goethe said, ‘Talent is developed in privacy,’ you know? And it’s really true. … Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you’re a human being, you feel, you suffer. You’re gay, you’re sick, you’re nervous or whatever.”
LIMITED ACTING RANGE
“I saw that what she looked like was not what she really was, and what was going on inside her was not what was going on outside, and that always means there may be something to work with. In Marilyn’s case, the reactions were phenomenal. She can call up emotionally what is required for a scene. Her range is infinite.” – Lee Strasberg, creator and director of the Actor’s Studio, Marilyn’s acting coach and friend
“She is a brilliant comedienne, which to me means she also is an extremely skilled actress.” – Sir Laurence Olivier, co-star in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)
“As near genius as any actress I ever knew.” – Joshua Logan, director of Bus Stop (1956)
“She was an absolute genius as a comedic actress, with an extraordinary sense for comedic dialogue. It was a God-given gift. Believe me, in the last fifteen years there were ten projects that came to me, and I’d start working on them and I’d think, ‘It’s not going to work, it needs Marilyn Monroe.’ Nobody else is in that orbit; everyone else is earthbound by comparison.” – Billy Wilder, director of The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959)
“Marilyn Monroe is the greatest farceuse in the business, a female Chaplin.”– Jerry Wald, producer
McKinstry contends that Marilyn lacked depth in her acting career, frequently portraying the same shallow character. While it is true that she excelled in roles that embodied the “dumb blonde” archetype, it is important to acknowledge that the Hollywood studio system was known for pigeonholing actors and actresses into specific roles. Marilyn’s versatility was constrained by the industry’s expectations and limitations, which, in itself, is a testament to her ability to thrive within those confines not to mention the amount of well-renowned names who commented on her acting ability.
In addition, Marilyn did have a few roles which went deeper than her Lorelei Lee persona:
– Don’t Bother to Knock
– The Misfits
– River of No Return
– Clash by Night
– Bus Stop
McKinstry criticises Marilyn for always being late on set and struggling with her lines, painting her as unprofessional. However, one should recognise the immense pressure and scrutiny she endured throughout her career which may have triggered these anxieties. Instead of labelling her as “lazy,” we should empathise with the insecurity she felt. Her on-set difficulties were a manifestation of her battles rather than a sign of indolence. Not to mention how hard Marilyn worked to improve her craft, spending much of her salary on acting lessons and personal guidance from coaches. She said, “My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothing I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn! To change, to improve! I didn’t want anything else. Not men, not money, not love, but the ability to act.” Marilyn had no issues during her modelling career but it seems that this in part had to do with her being in control, as opposed to being directed on film.
AMBITION AND RELATIONSHIPS
Marilyn Monroe’s ambition and determination to pursue her career should be celebrated rather than condemned. Her choices, such as divorcing her first husband, Jim Dougherty, to further her career, were acts of independence and self-realisation in an era when women’s opportunities were significantly limited. Criticising her relationships fails to acknowledge that she, like anyone else, was a complex individual who grappled with the challenges of fame and romance.
Drawing parallels between Marilyn and contemporary celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan is an oversimplification. Marilyn lived in a different time with distinct societal norms and expectations. Comparing her to individuals from today’s vastly different entertainment landscape overlooks the unique challenges and pressures she faced as a woman in the entertainment industry during the 1950s and early 1960s.
Marilyn Monroe was more than just a sex symbol; she was a multi-dimensional individual who faced personal challenges and navigated professional constraints. While she may not have adhered to the traditional Hollywood star mould, her impact on popular culture and the entertainment industry cannot be denied. It is crucial to view her life and career through a nuanced lens, appreciating her contributions while recognising the difficulties she encountered. Debunking misconceptions about her character allows us to appreciate her true legacy as a trailblazing figure in the world of entertainment and an enduring symbol of vulnerability and strength.