Marilyn Monroe: A look back at a misunderstood and unloved icon

Found unconscious in the crumpled white sheets of the bed of her last home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, Marilyn Monroe carried the real causes of her death with her before she died.

She was exhausted, tired. She was only 36 years old. A character created from the ground up by a film industry essentially male-run, Marilyn Monroe responded conscientiously—and contractually—to the studios of 20th Century Fox: a double occupation as male fantasy machine and film bewitcher. She was a sex symbol, like Hollywood liked to do at the time. A grueling mission at the antipodes of her secret dreams of becoming a respected actress. In recognition, she has been adorned with the nickname “handsome idiot” by those who sculpted, smoothed and planed her. Angry ingratitude. Today we would speak of a pure marketing product. Consumable, perishable, disposable.

But behind the shine, peroxide blonde to the roots of her hair and pubic hair, behind the star’s half-closed eyes in ecstasy, underlined by perfect eyebrows, behind the bow tie pulled over her half-open mouth, the drama of a man is in his Search for identity lost. Unlike the private individual, about whom little is known except that she suffered from endometriosis and suffered several miscarriages, everything was told about the star and its opposite, her aura was dissected down to the smallest outbursts.

Spotlight on predators

What can be said that has not been said sixty years after his death? The prospect of a projection in 2022 is enticing. Blond hair, the feature film based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, due out September 28 on Netflix, promises. Director Andrew Dominik found his punchline as a teaser:

“The film will offend everyone.”

Unrecognizable in the role of the icon, Cuban actress Ana de Armas portrays a larger than life Marilyn who fell prey to Hollywood predators in the 1950s, six decades before the #MeToo movement erupted. What if in 2022 only our personal perceptions were left to try and understand the agony Norma Jean Baker was locked in with a padlock? We all have a little bit of Marilyn in us.

A few decades before the #Metoo movement, Marilyn did everything the men of Hollywood wanted her to do. © GETTY IMAGES/MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVE

Nostalgia for a time young people didn’t know is one of the special signs of the neo-1920s, as if we couldn’t do better than what was already done. Strange as it may seem, Marilyn Monroe continues to hold a burning fascination for people, most of whom were not born when she died. As seen in some spray-painted murals on the forecourt of a carnival attraction, the American Dream has its enduring, extravagant spirits. Somewhere between the Coca-Cola and McDonald’s logos, the silhouette of Marilyn Monroe shines forever alongside James Dean and Elvis Presley.

The mirror room

Marilyn Monroe disappeared exactly ten years before I was born, the same month. Anyway, she appears in I don’t know where and is one of the first faces that made an impact on me. A creature with perfect contours, plastic more beautiful than nature, she was halfway between reality and a Betty Boop-esque cartoon heroine. I later understood it by becoming interested in the many facets of her personality, that face so clearly defined was none other than the Marilyn Monroe mask worn by Norma Jean Baker at the Hollywood Carnival.

Andy Warhol, the monomaniac incubator of his time, pushed the line by reproducing his likeness ad infinitum two years after his death. I studied her face in photos from my earliest childhood before I discovered her for the first time Some like it hot (1959, Some like it hot in French), by Billy Wilder. Like many people of my generation, my identity was constructed with the specter of Marilyn Monroe hanging over my head. As the slogan of a famous French magazine so aptly puts it: Marilyn Monroe embodies the weight of words and the shock of photos.

By scratching behind the sequins, we discover this need, this inevitable tragedy. In the photos, I sensed a kind of benevolence toward her in her second husband, baseball star Joe DiMaggio, that remained true to her until his last ride in the hearse, as I sensed the manipulation, jealousy, and contempt of her last husband, the writer Arthur Miller, felt .

The shortest of her three marriages to baseball star Joe DiMaggio was also the happiest. They will be very close after their divorce. © GETTY IMAGES/BETTMANN ARCHIVE

Instead of letting her grow wings, the famous man of letters sadistically held her underwater in her role as the lovable jerk. Notorious ingratitude. The couple, who would today be described as a power couple, had moved into a two-bedroom penthouse in Midtown East in New York after their marriage in 1956.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller are married on June 29, 1956. The car following them that day crashes into an oak tree. A journalist from Paris Match, Mara Scherbatoff, succumbed to her injuries. The actress will always see this drama as a bad omen for her marriage. They divorced in 1961. © GETTY IMAGES/BETTMANN ARCHIVE

While Miller wrote the screenplay for The outsider, the last film in which the actress appeared in the credits, Marilyn Monroe would spend entire days staring at herself from all angles in front of the wall entirely covered in a mirror in her bedroom. Hours lost, according to her husband, who considered this behavior comparable to when Narcissus fell in love with his reflection in the water. Intellectual as he claimed to be, Miller had failed to understand his wife’s desperate search for identity. Seeing her alter ego thrown into the public eye, Norma Jean tried to see herself as Marilyn Monroe. Vain.

The gentle wash back of the waves

Exactly the reflection of his soul in the water. Only by the sea, her hair singed but free in the wind, Marilyn Monroe seemed happy, relieved to see her ailment vanish with the waves. These photos of their composure close with the only photo of Norma Jean with her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker Mortensen Eley. This shot, taken on a beach in the late 1920s just before she was placed in foster care, attests to her difficult childhood.


Between a schizophrenic mother and an unknown father, inevitably fantasized who would sing in 1960 My heart belongs to dad (Mon coeur est à papa in French) in the billionaire, by George Cukor alongside Yves Montand, his life did not begin sprawled in a cozy nest of parents.

But let’s return to the water on his body that seemed to heal the bruises in his soul, as in the mythical pool scene in his last unfinished film. Something has to be given (1962). I will never forget this drawing I made of her when I was 12, a tear rolling down her cheek, which I titled “Even the Stars Have the Right to Cry”.

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