So far on my blog I have written about a few of the great Designers who serve as inspiration to me, and who I have a love for. But there are people in the world of fashion who aren’t couturiers who inspire me just as much, if not more, in my own designs but in life as well. I’ve briefly touched on my love for Audrey Hepburn, and I will absolutely dedicate an entire blog to her very soon. But today I feel the urge to write about another lady who not only I, but the world is still in love with. She was a Hollywood starlet who made great films, but lived a very troubled and lonely life, and was tragically taken from the world too soon. But in the 36 years we had her for, she dominated our lives and ensured her legacy would live on. Marilyn Monroe; a beauty, a muse and a style icon.
Many know the story of Marilyn Monroe. A young girl with ambition who became a sex symbol of the 1950’s and into the 60’s through her work in film and modelling. But who was she really? A natural beauty with a troubled soul. A woman who strived to be loved my men to fill a void she felt deep within. A talented actress who wanted to be more than a blonde bombshell but sadly never got the chance. She came from nothing and ended up with everything, but it was not enough. I’ve watched many of Marilyn’s films, as well as documentaries about her life, and read countless books. This blog is a tribute to Monroe and showcases my own thoughts and opinions on her from everything I have read and watched. She is a woman who inspires and fascinates me. I hope you enjoy!
Norma Jean Baker was born on 1st June 1926 in the charity ward of Los Angeles County General Hospital. Her mother, Gladys Monroe Baker was from the working class and was poorly paid as a film cutter in Hollywood. Her father never recognised her. Norma Jean was placed into foster care by her mother at only 3 months old, as she felt incapable of looking after her. Seven years later, in 1933, Gladys bought Norma Jean to live with her in Hollywood. It didn’t last as Gladys was declared paranoid schizophrenic, and Norma Jean was placed into care once again. Until the age of sixteen when Norma Jean married, she lived in eleven different foster homes and orphanages. This certainly wasn’t the start to life that any child should have, and it is probably the reason why as a woman, Marilyn used to make up stories of her childhood to disguise the truth. At only sixteen, Norma Jean married the boy next door, James Dougherty in 1942. Their marriage was not one based on love, but more of a convenience so that Norma Jean would now be looked after by her husband and no longer a ward of the state. It didn’t last however, and only 4 years later the couple divorced.
During the Second World War, Norma Jean was working in a factory that made products for the military. It was here that she was discovered by a photographer, and soon became a model, taking risqué pin-up photos that were hugely popular with soldiers in Korea. From this modelling work, Norma Jean soon fell into acting, and wanted to make it big. Her overt sexuality was extremely popular with film producers of the time, and she started being cast as a ‘dumb blonde’ in Hollywood in the late 1940’s. Norma Jean was made to change her name to something more appealing, and Marilyn Monroe was born. Although she was known publicly as Marilyn from 1946, her name was not legally changed until 1956.
Her first few roles in film were not much to boast about. Monroe was cast with minimal speaking lines, and was there in the background with the direction to look sexy. Its wasn’t until the early 1950’s that Monroe started to get more notable film roles, and her small part in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) gained a lot of attention. The same year she impressed with her role in All About Eve alongside Bette Davis, and before long, Hollywood couldn’t get enough of the blonde bombshell. Even with her growing success, Monroe remained insecure about her acting abilities. She hired an acting coach, Natasha Lytess, who became infatuated with Monroe and remained by her side for many years. It’s reported that Monroe and Lytess were extremely close, living and working together most days. Lytess was very controlling over Monroe, and in hindsight seemed to offer more bad than good. Monroe suffered with severe anxiety and was often physically ill before a performance. This is reported largely as being the reason why she was so tardy on set, and why so many of her co-workers and crew became fed up with her. Over the years, Monroe was signed and released by contract with many production companies including MGM, Fox and United Artists. After being cast as the sexy starlet in most of her films, including Niagara (1953), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes alongside Jane Russell (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall (1954), and who could forget The Seven Year Itch (1955), Monroe wanted to show more of her serious side. In 1953, she went to New York to join an acting studio to improve her talent and increase her ability to attain more fulfilling roles. Then in 1956, Monroe returned to the screen in the dramatic comedy Bus Stop, and received mostly praise for her performance.
With her hourglass figure, breathy voice, sexy strut and bleached blonde hair, Monroe was an instantly recognisable star the world over. In 1957, Monroe scored a role alongside Laurence Olivier in The Prince and The Showgirl. The film was a box office hit in Britain, but not as popular in America. Monroe’s personal life was in turmoil during the shooting of this film, and she often didn’t show up for work. The 2011 film My Week with Marilyn was based on this troubled time in the starlet’s career. Further roles in which Monroe stared were Some Like It Hot (1959), Let’s Make Love (1960) and The Misfits (1961). The last film in which Monroe was working on was Something’s Got To Give (1962). The film was never complete due to Monroe’s death. It was rewritten, recast and reproduced in 1963 as Move Over Darling, staring Doris Day and James Garner. In total, Monroe completed and released twenty nine motion pictures from 1948 through to 1962.
Monroe was married three times during her short life, and was reportedly engaged to marry again at the time of her death. Her first marriage, to James Dougherty as previously mentioned, was somewhat immature and loveless. Her second wedding was much more of a fairy-tale. In 1952, Monroe met baseball star Joe DiMaggio, and the pair instantly struck affection for one another. They soon became the ‘it’ couple of Hollywood, with the press following their every move. On January 14th, 1954, the couple wed at San Francisco City Hall and were mobbed by both fans and reporters. While on their honeymoon in Japan, Monroe was asked to perform for the troops in Korea to lift their spirits. Being an ingénue, she naturally accepted, cutting their honeymoon short and leaving a brooding DiMaggio on his own. After only 274 days of marriage, the couple divorced in October 1954. Monroe claimed that she never stopped sleeping with DiMaggio. Two years later, Monroe wed again, this time to playwright Arthur Miller. The couple were married for five years, being the longest and most successful partnership of Monroe’s life. Whilst married to Miller, the couple tried to have children. Their dream was never made a reality, with Monroe having several mischarges during this time. It had a grave effect on her mental state, and shortly after her divorce from Miller in January 1961, Monroe was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It was DiMaggio who secured her release from the facility, and did his best to look after the damaged star.
During Monroe’s career in Hollywood, she wore some of the most stunning costumes. Most of her attire left nothing to the imagination, being tightly fitted with plunging necklines. There was one man who is famed with dressing Monroe during this time. William Travilla was a costume designer from America, who dressed Monroe in some of her most iconic outfits. He received two Academy Award nominations for his work on How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and Bus Stop (1956). The two had a very strong admiration for each other, however Travilla chose to remain in the background and make Monroe the star. One of his most recognisable works is the Red Dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, showing a plunging neckline, thigh high split and sequins to die for. The dress sparkled as though covered in rubies, with Jane Russell wearing a matching one in the opening credits of the film. Monroe oozed sex appeal while wearing this dress, which was made from a heavy crepe, lined in silk, and had thousands of sequins hand sewn onto it. The outfit was completed with a diamond broach on the hip, with more diamonds dripping from Monroe’s wrists, neck and ears. Another memorable costume was the Gold Dress, also from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This outfit only appeared briefly in the film, but left an unremarkable stamp on the world of fashion. It was made from gold lame and sunburst pleats, and was so figure hugging that Monroe had to be sewn into it. When Monroe later wore the dress to an awards ceremony, she chose not to wear anything underneath, a very risqué move but one that attracted huge amounts of publicity. Then there’s the White Dress from The Seven Year Itch, possibly the most recognisable gown that Monroe ever wore. This dress has captured the hearts of movie buffs and fashionistas alike for years. Again Travilla used pleats to create this masterpiece, with a halter neck and small bow on the left side of the waist. It was made from ivory coloured rayon-acetate crepe, which gave the garment enough body to flow, but also allowed it to be light enough to billow up in the famous subway scene. The most notable dress in cinema history, was sold in 2011 for $4.6 million! Travilla also crafted many more Monroe outfits, including the showgirl costumes in River of no Return, and he also made the fur trimmed suit Monroe wore on the day she wed DiMaggio. There’s no doubt that Monroe would not have become the star she did, had it not been for the talent, style and love of William Travilla.
It seemed too many onlookers that Monroe was in the prime of her life, with her career flourishing and the star receiving more notable film roles. But privately, Monroe’s world had been falling apart for years. With the collapse of three marriages, not being able to bear children, and no family to offer her support, Monroe sought comfort from drugs and alcohol. On the day of her death, Monroe was reportedly anxious and became erratic as the afternoon went on as she had not slept the night before. She had known issues with insomnia, and her doctors had prescribed many different sleeping pills for her over the years, including Nembutal. There are many different versions of how Monroe died, whether it was suicide or murder, and who was involved. The only people who really know the truth have never been forthcoming with it, including Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, who was there on the night she died, and her psychologist Ralph Greenson. Rumours circulate too about the involvement of the Kennedy brothers, Bobby and John, and that they may have tried to cover up their affairs with Monroe. Whatever the true story is, it’s certainly a tragic one. Monroe was discovered in her bed in the early hours of Sunday 5th August 1962, lifeless and naked. There were empty prescription pill bottles littering her bedside table. Why the police were not called straight away has remained a mystery for all these years, harbouring the notion of a cover up. When an autopsy was finally complete on the star, the official ruling was probable suicide, caused by a fatal amount of sedatives found in her system.
The death of Monroe shocked the world, and made front page news of all the papers in America and most of Europe too. Her funeral was planned by Joe DiMaggio, and he chose to avoid the big Hollywood circus. She was buried in a crypt in Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery, not far from Monroe’s home in Brentwood, Los Angeles. Only thirty one people were invited to Monroe’s funeral, with Hollywood and the Kennedy’s banned from coming anywhere near it. DiMaggio was angry for the way they had treated Monroe, and did his best to protect her from them even in death. Floral tributes were as far and wide as the eye could see, and Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” was played during the ceremony. It’s reported that after the ceremony conclude, and the guest dispersed, that security could no longer hold back the crowd of thousands. They stormed the cemetery tearing apart the floral arrangements so they could have some sort of souvenir. In death, as in life, Marilyn was an object of fan devotion and they would stop at nothing to get a piece of her.
I’m not entirely sure why I have such an admiration and fascination for Marilyn Monroe, or when it even began. But I too, like so many of her fans, can’t get enough of her. I do wish that she had lived for many more years, and had continued to inspire the world. I will always remember Monroe for her looks, her sass and her unmistakable style. Elton John said “It seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in. And I would have liked to have known you, but I was just a kid, your candle burned out long before, your legend ever did”. And I think these words ring true for many of us. Rest in Peace Marilyn.
Love Always, Anastacia Rose xx