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Two American Cultural Icons come to mind immediately when thinking about touchstones for entertainment in the United States. One, Elvis Presley, is a singer who seemed to single handedly "create" the complete genre of rock and roll after he hit the scene in 1956. The other "icon", a female movie star and also a singer, was already an established "sex goddess" when Elvis arrived. Marilyn Monroe, who, as with Elvis, has become so popular and cherished that even more than 45 years after her physical death, she is known worldwide by the single moniker "Marilyn" or "MM", grew from bit parts in Hollywood films and calendar model photos to an iconic "goddess" who is almost "worshipped" by her fans, a great many of course nowadays who never knew her in life. Marilyn Monroe is America's premier female superstar, and her status as "goddess" grows more in stature with each passing year.

In the sexually emegent but still largely buuton down world of the fifties, Marilyn Monroe established the soon to be universally acknowledged image of a wholesome, big breasted "girl next door". She cultivated an archetype in part to hide her own inadequacies. She was a "sex goddess" who was emotionally immature. Her "real life" is long past, and since she died mysteriously at the young age of 36, she remains immortally young in the countless images taken of her

during her lifetime and the dozens of films in which she appeared. The "buxom" or "Rubenesque" ideal of womanhood is a cyclical occurrence in cultural history, and in the fifties it came bursting on the scene through the almost spiritually good looks of Marilyn Monroe.

 

Marilyn looks glamourous yet tired in this still.

Monroe has said that "Marilyn" was a "persona" which she had to "don". Consisting of equal parts makeup, wardrobe, and attitude, "Marilyn" took hours to prepare, and while as "Marilyn", Norma Jeane Mortenson, who was born on June 1, 1926 and spent her childhood living in a variety of foster homes and orphan institutions, could lose her thoughts and memories of her early life and bask instead, in the adoration and worshipful nature of her fans. Her career skyrocketed during the early 50s, and by the time of her death, on Aug. 5th, 1962, of "an overdose of sleeping pills", she was poised on the brink of icondom already, having already been seen in thousands of photographs, and starring in 32 movies. The career and life of Monroe has been dissected innumerable times. 36 major biographies have been written about her. The circumstances surrounding her death have provided food for thought for dozens of conspiracy buffs. Like the later Elvis, Marilyn made records, but they were largely support media for her movies. Unlike Elvis, Marilyn is revered by a lot of people merely on her appearance in photographs and on film. The songs she sang are unforgettable, but they come from a time when popular music came from movies. Elvis was about to change all that, but Marilyn's career began in the late 40s, even before television hit the cultural zeitgeist.

Norma Jeane Mortenson's mother, Gladys, was a movie loving film company employee on the RKO lot. Her male parentage is suspect even today. Gladys had a family history of mental illness that caught up with her pretty quickly. By the age of five, Norma Jeane was in an orphanage. For the next few years, she was shuttled to different foster homes, and her mother was committed to a mental institution. At 16, having to face the prospect of either having to marry or go back to live in an orphanage, Norma Jeane married Jim Dougherty, who was serving in the Merchant Marine during WWII. Norma got a job as a Rosie the Riveter, and was spotted by photographer David Conover. The rest is pop cultural history.

In the fifties, the nation was at a crossroads. Before the "big war" stole so many young men from their famiies and dropped them smack in the middle of war torn Europe, America's sexual well being was still largely Repressed Potestantist. When the boys came back, they were sexually free men who had tasted not only sex but death. The missionary position soon found dozens of other postiions vying for the male sexual ego. Marilyn came along at the right time. She was a "pin up", who was featured on calendars and magazine covers. Her exposure in the photographic medium caught the eye of the movie industry, and in 1946, at the age of 20, Marilyn got her first film role.

Soon after, more film roles poured in. The early roles, in the late 40s, were walk on parts in which she caught the attention of anybody paying a casual interest in the film. By the time 1956 rolled around and that kid Elvis first started some sexual urges in some of the young women of the era, Marilyn had been headlining pictures such as "The Seven Year Itch" and "Bus Stop" which gained her acting accolades to add to her talents. Young boys and middle aged men alike fell in love with her charismatic charms.

She began to give "iconic" performances in her films, such as Cherie, the poor gal who dreams of a better life in "Bus Stop", Lorelei Lee, in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", and ,"Sugar" Kane Kowalczyk, the singer in the band in which Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis' musicians join in their attempts to escape the mob in "Some Like It Hot." . Each film brought her more and more accolades. By 1959. when she made Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot", she was at the top of her game. In her personal life, failed marriages to baseball icon Joe Di Maggio and theater icon Arthur Miller and an increasing unruly behavior on film sets caused her grief and her directors' problems. Her last movie was 1962's "Something's Got to Give" which was never finished because of her death.

Her legacy has increased since her death. Even in the early days of the internet, it was difficult to gather images of her, since her legacy is closely watched by her guardians in death. Almost every photographer who ever included an image of her in his resume and one early husband has published a book about her. She has remained important and sexually desirable. Hugh Hefner, editor of Playboy Magazine, bought the gravesite next to where she is buried. Playboy is an iconic periodical famous for it's "centerfolds" of nude models. Marilyn was it's first centerfold.

Icons such as Madonna, who is included in the Blender, would never have existed if not for the "MM" persona. It is doubtful if anyone other than Marilyn Monroe could have invented Marilyn Monroe. She continued to redefine her image as her career advanced. The photographers and directors who captured and controlled her image are certainly responsible for her enduring fame and status, but she can be credited for a lot of her own image herself. She was a shrewd business woman, and knew how to please her ever growing public.

She trained with the Actor's Studio in the early days, along with Marlon Brando and Susan Strasberg. Her portrayals were increasingly more detailed and powerful. She was busy with several projects, even if her behavior on "Something's Got to Give" was legendarily irksome. She was tired of Hollywood's portrayal of her as a "dumb blonde" and she developed a production company to make her own films.

Her death came at 36, and most acknowledge that it was accidental and not executed by Kennedy's minions or anybody else. Since she was frozen forever in time at the age of 36, and was still sexually stunning and vivacious, here legend has not aged with time. The various photographers whose portfolios have endured and the many reissues of the films on video and in DVD collections, plus the wide assortment of tribute websites and clips that are now collected on websites like YouTube , have cemented her iconic status. She is adored and idolized by millions of fans. She remains the most recognizable person on Earth, even by those who are not heavily influenced by American culture. Marilyn is forever.

WHY MARILYN: Marilyn Monroe was my second "icon", after "Elvis" to make it into the blender. She represents not only the sexual revolution, but women power players in Hollywood and the talented who are also business savvy. Her personal choices were sometimes faulted, but all she really ever wanted was to be loved, and history proves that she is indeed universally loved as both an icon and a hero.

 

 

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Photos obtained from various websites using a Yahoo image search. The movie footage has been embedded from a user at the YouTube site.

 

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Marilyn first appeared on magazine covers and on calendars.

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A reconstruction of Tom Kelley's original Marilyn calendar.

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An early black and white photo of the young Norma Jeane Desmond, later to become "Marilyn Monroe".

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Early "model shot" of Marilyn when she was still "Norma Jeane" wearing brown hair insted of blonde.

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A composite image using what was originally a black and white photo, colorized in the computer, and set in front of a new background.

Here is a typical "glamour shot" taken when Marilyn was famous. Her visage is unmistakale. Beautiful in an almost spiritual way.

A pensive Marilyn.

The iconic still taken during the filming of the "subway grate" scene in "The Seven Year Itch" from 1955.

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Posing on the set of "The Seven Year Itch" .

A colorized version of a publicity still. Marilyn's most enduring characters in her films are the "lost chanteuses" like Cherie in "Bus Stop" (1956)

As Cherie in "Bus Stop"

Marilyn relaxing with a smile. Contrary to her public persona, the "real" Marilyn was partially depressed on many occasions.

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A composite image witha photo from one of Marilyn's later shoots, with a background of my own concoction.

 

The "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" production number from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953)

 

One of the many "Tribute Videos" to Marilyn Monroe, this one from YouTube member heartagramgirl1593, who, by the way, is 23 years old. Marilyn would have been 100 years old in 2006.

Here is a link to a video showing lots of rare publicity shots from the late 40s and early 50s

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Cultural Blender uses images and references to American Popular Culture. So even though, in the interest of science, images and references are used, full credit will always be given, or at least attempted, within the context of this document. If you see a photo., part of a composite, mention of a trend or a feature of American Popular Culture which you do not believe I have documented correctly,please email the webmaster.

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