At one point in her last interview Marilyn made a very definitive statement: “Fame will go by. So long, I’ve had you fame. If it goes by, I’ve known it was fickle. But that’s not where I live.” She sounded breezy and unconcerned when in reality, Marilyn was very worried about her career and that career evolved around fame. Marilyn Monroe couldn’t be an actress without being a celebrity. She was too iconic, she had achieved too much fame to play supporting roles next to someone else’s leading lady. She was the leading lady. She was box office draw. People waited eagerly to see her next film, whatever it would be.Her name stood alone on a marquis and people lined up beneath it.
To understand Marilyn-speak means realizing that often when she said something profound about her career or her life she really meant the opposite. Her comment that she had no concerns about fame and that it didn’t define her as a person were farther from the truth as anything she’d ever said. She once stated, “I knew I belonged to the public because I’d never belonged to anyone or anything else.” Clearly these are not the words of a woman who brushes off public attention as easily as lint on a blouse. She made the statement, not in reaction to anything Meryman asked during the interview, but because it was on her mind, it worried her. She was obsessing. Although she was a goddess, ultimately she was human and she couldn’t prevent herself from aging. Once the beauty was gone, so was Marilyn Monroe.
For now she was still a blonde goddess, too beautiful to be believable. No other woman lit up the silver screen like Marilyn. She was born to it. Her close-ups fascinate because her beautiful features revealed themselves to be utterly simplistic. She had wide, clear blue eyes, more childlike than grownup. The tip of her nose was round and bobbed, like a baby. Her mouth wasn’t extraordinary except when she smiled that gorgeous smile that lit up her face. If actresses such as Jane Russell and Sophia Loren dominated the screen with their sophisticated beauty, then Marilyn charmed audiences with her utterly childlike appearance.
Yet in her pictures during the Meryman interview, she looks troubled, anxious, reflective and dare I say it, old. She looks anything but the bubbly, laughing blonde in her films. In the last sitting with Bert Stein she looks anything but childlike and youthful. She has crows’ feet at the corner of her eyes when she smiles or laughs. Some of her pictures reveal exhaustion, fatigue, particularly the shots where she leans her head on her hand and gives the photographer a pensive, wary look. She is tired and she looks lit. These are not her prettiest shots. They do not have the same appeal as her brighter, happier visage. There isn’t just fatigue in her eyes, There is a darkness, a certain sadness, that she finally escaped forever 4 weeks later.
The Bert Stern pictures of Marilyn, taken six weeks before her death, depict her lying on a bed nude, her hair tousled and a sleepy-eyed look on her face, are unforgettable Along with her most glamorous shoots, just as effective are the photographs that reveal her flaws, something we’ve never seen before. “I wouldn’t want someone to publish a picture of me looking like that.”A friend of mine once commented when looking at these photographs. “They look terrible.” Frankly, I think those pictures look prettier than many women, including my friend (although I’d never tell her), on their best day.
If Marilyn was going to maintain her status as Queen of Hollywood, she had to hang onto her beauty and youth and that was impossible. How did one refuse to grow older? Marilyn was fearful about this and once said, “my time’s to come, gravity catches up with all of us.” A housekeeper of hers told a tale of Marilyn walking around nude in front of her mirrors, inspecting her body with a sober look on her face. Marilyn wasn’t admiring. She was critiquing and clearly she found many imaginary flaws that her final nude photographs prove were merely her imagination. Over the years had she lived, her observations would have proven correct. In the photographs from the sitting and the brief pool scene in the unfinished Something’s Got to Give, For now Marilyn reveals the body of a goddess. At 36, she hadn’t begun to droop or sag anywhere and she was at her lightest weight (117lbs).
“How’s this for 36?” Marilyn taunted Stern as she revealed her naked breasts during the last photo shoot. She was referring to her age, not her bust size. Clearly, she was insecure about posing nude that day as had been their agreement. She refused to remove her pants when she sat or stood for topless pictures, and she carefully covered her breasts even for those shots. She did remove her pants for a nude but she revealed nothing. In most of the shots, she showed only a side view of her breasts, a leg, and midriff, which were perfect, except for a long, ugly puckered scar where her gallbladder used to be. The operation had left her with a noticeable scar but this wasn’t the reason Marilyn wouldn’t pose nude since she had no qualms about leaving her midriff bare. She was fearful about baring all for reasons only she knew and never stated.
Marilyn was aware that younger up-and-coming actresses were emerging in Hollywood all the time. She must have been intimidated by their youth and flawless beauty. In her mind she made unflattering comparisons and probably dreaded the day when the headlines would state that Marilyn Monroe was no longer the beauty icon of her youth. Nor would she then have been a Hollywood goddess. There would be someone newer, younger, supposedly prettier to replace her. It happened to Betty Grable who was forced to work with her replacement in the movie How to Marry a Millionaire. In fact, photographers wanted Marilyn to pose in front of Grable’s door during filming and Marilyn refused. Perhaps Grable’s humiliation was now beginning to haunt Marilyn.
“I sound paranoid or something and I don’t think I am,” she remarked during the last interview. Neither do I.