(Author’s note: Read Angie Brown’s column before you read this one.
Seriously, I’ll wait.
Sometimes, even I tire of me being a pompous blowhard, so this week, I bring you an excellent guest column from my friend Kat James, marking the death of a beloved American icon.)
An American Dream, An American Tragedy
When I was about 8 years old, my parents and I went to visit my older brother for a weekend at his boarding school. It was a fall afternoon, and I will never forget entering into his small cramped dorm room that donned the typical posters of a teenaged prep school boy in the 1980s.
There was Farrah Fawcett, Madonna, Michael Jackson and another lady that I did not know. She wore a white dress that was windblown up around her knees, and she was laughing as she was trying to push her frock back down.
I asked my brother “who is that?”. He replied “Its Marilyn!” in a tone that he could not believe that I was unaware of who she was.
Now, we all know which image that I am talking about- Marilyn Monroe standing over the New York City subway feeling the wind ruffle her dress, which was a scene in “The Seven Year Itch.”
I was captured by her. Who was she? I mean really- who was she?
August 5th marked the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s mysterious death, and what is even more mysterious to me is how she still mesmerizes and captures the American public.
Why? How does she do this so many years later after her demise? After reading about her and seeing most of her films, I have only one conclusion- she is the American dream.
Found at the right place, at the right time by a photographer as a factory worker during World War II, she posed for him which eventually led her to signing with a modeling agency then going to Hollywood.
Monroe’s upbringing was less to be desired. Nee Norma Jeane Mortensen, she was a daughter of a mentally unstable woman and father unknown, tossed from foster home to foster home, reared in poverty, and married for the first time at 18 years old to James Dougherty. (Monroe had an estranged relationship with her mother who was institutionalized due to mental illness and passed in 1984.)
Once she was discovered and after countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, Marilyn Monroe was created and born- blonde, glamorous, desirable, beautiful, famous, successful.
Is that not what the American dream is and what it teaches us to do? To raise yourself up by your boot straps, to create a better position for yourself with success and wealth, and to truly “make it?”
Considering the time that Monroe was discovered and created at the end of the war, her timing was perfect for the Baby Boomer generation was beginning.
Marilyn Monroe became the quintessential American blonde bombshell flown to Korea to entertain the troops and posing countless times for pin- up photos and magazines. Yes, she became our dream girl; she became an icon. She was and is the girl that every man wanted and the woman that every girl wanted to become. Furthermore she reached her professional goal super ceding her looks by becoming “the girl” in film.
As a student of Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, she gave us the unforgettable characters in “Some Like It Hot,” “How to Marry a Millionaire,” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” just to name a few. Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” is still considered by film historians to be the greatest comedic film to date.
I cannot help but note the artistic irony of the last two films she made- “The Misfits” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” As the end her life began to unravel, Monroe battled her demons of depression, failed marriages, barbiturate abuse, and loss of sense of self and love.
Her dream became a tragedy- and our tragedy- as we all know. We created her- the American Dream girl, which became an American tragedy. After all, F. Scott Fitzgerald did once say “show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.”
We shall never know what really happened the night of her death and what killed her figuratively and literally, we will never understand. Honestly, it does not matter. As Norman Mailer wrote in Marilyn (1973) “In all this discussion of the details of her dying, we have lost the pain of her death. Marilyn is gone.” Yet her memory remains strong, and she still has a spell on us today.
In conclusion I can only ask this:
Miss Monroe, what did you do to us? You captured us with your beauty, your humor, your sadness, and your ability to fulfill the American dream, and you continue to do so. I can only hope that in your last hours you found some of the peace you long sought, and you came to realize that you are loved and will always be loved. For I have loved you ever since I saw your image on my brother’s dorm room wall on an autumn afternoon.
Kathryn James is a psychotherapist in San Francisco and continues to be a Marilyn Monroe enthusiast.