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

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 district of Los Angeles, before dying, Marilyn Monroe carried with her the real causes of her death.

She was worn out, tired. She was only 36 years old. A character created from scratch by a film industry essentially run by men, Marilyn Monroe scrupulously – and contractually – responded to the studios of 20th Century Fox: a double employment of male fantasy machine and film bewitcher. She was a sex symbol, as Hollywood liked to make them at the time. Exhausting mission at the antipodes of her secret dreams of becoming a respected actress. By way of recognition, she was decked out with the appellation of “beautiful idiot” by those who sculpted, smoothed, planed her. Infuriating ingratitude. Today, we would speak of a pure marketing product. Consumable, perishable, disposable.

But behind the glamor, the peroxide blonde to the roots of her hair and her pubic hair, behind the half-closed eyes of the star in ecstasy underlined by perfect eyebrows, behind the fly drawn above her half-open mouth plotted the drama of a human being lost in his quest for identity. Unlike the private person about whom little is known, except that she suffered from endometriosis and suffered several miscarriages, everything and its opposite were told about the star, her aura was dissected until in the smallest bursts.

Predators under the spotlights

What can be said that has not been said, sixty years after his death? The prospect of a projection in 2022 is tempting. Blonde hair, the feature film adapted from the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, which is scheduled for release on September 23 on Netflix, makes the promise. As a teaser, director Andrew Dominik found his punch line:

“The film will offend everyone.”

Unrecognizable in the role of the icon, the Cuban actress Ana de Armas portrays a larger-than-life Marilyn, prey to the predators of Hollywood in the 1950s, six decades before the #MeToo movement broke out. What if, in 2022, only our personal perception remained to try to understand the torments in which Norma Jean Baker was padlocked? We all have something of Marilyn in us.

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

Nostalgia for an era that young people did not know is one of the particular signs of the neo-1920s. As if we couldn’t do better than what has already been done. Strange as it may seem, Marilyn Monroe still holds a burning fascination for people today, most of whom weren’t born when she died. As seen in some spray-painted murals on the forecourt of a fairground attraction, the American Dream has its eternal, flamboyant ghosts. Somewhere between the Coca-Cola and McDonald’s logos forever radiates the silhouette of Marilyn Monroe, alongside James Dean and Elvis Presley.

The room of mirrors

Marilyn Monroe disappeared exactly ten years before I was born, the same month. However, emerging from I don’t know where, she is one of the first faces that marked me. A creature with perfect contours, plastic more beautiful than nature, she was halfway between reality and a Betty Boop-style cartoon heroine. I understood it later by taking an interest in the many facets of her personality, this face so well defined was none other than the mask of Marilyn Monroe worn by Norma Jean Baker in the Hollywood carnival.

Monomaniac incubator of his time, Andy Warhol forced the line by reproducing his effigy to infinity two years after his death. I scrutinized her face from my earliest childhood in photos before discovering her for the first time in 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 above my head. As the slogan of a famous French magazine puts it so well: Marilyn Monroe embodies the weight of words and the shock of photos.

By scratching behind the sequins, we detect this distress, this inevitable tragedy. In the photos, I felt a kind of benevolence towards her in her second husband, baseball star Joe DiMaggio, faithful until his last trip in the hearse, as much as I felt the manipulation, jealousy and contempt in her last husband, writer Arthur Miller.

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

Rather than help her grow wings, the illustrious man of letters sadistically kept her underwater in her role as a lovely idiot. Infamous ingratitude. The couple, who would now be referred to as a power couple, had moved into a two-bedroom penthouse in New York’s Midtown East after their marriage in 1956.

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

While Miller was writing the script for The Misfits, the last film in which the actress would appear in the credits, Marilyn Monroe spent entire days staring at herself from all angles in front of the completely covered wall of her bedroom mirror. Hours lost according to her husband, who considered this behavior comparable to that of Narcissus falling in love with his reflection in the water. As intellectual as he claimed to be, Miller had not understood his wife’s desperate quest for identity. Seeing her alter ego thrown into the public eye, Norma Jean sought to recognize herself in the guise of Marilyn Monroe. In vain.

The gentle backwash of the waves

The reflection of his soul in the water, precisely. It was only by the sea, her hair scorched but free in the wind, that Marilyn Monroe seemed happy, relieved to see her suffering go away with the waves. These photos of her serene come full circle with the only photo of Norma Jean with her mother Gladys Pearl Baker Mortensen Eley. Taken on a beach in the late 1920s, this shot taken shortly before she was placed in foster care bears witness to her difficult childhood.


Between a schizophrenic mother and an unknown father necessarily fantasized, the one who was going to sing in 1960 My Heart Belongs to Daddy (Mon coeur est à papa in French) in The Billionaire, by George Cukor, alongside Yves Montand, did not start his life sprawled in a cozy parental nest.

But let’s go back to the water, which on his body seemed to heal the bruises in his soul, like in the mythical pool scene in his last unfinished film. Something’s Got to Give (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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