Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Image

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Marilyn Monroe. The name alone conjures up an image of unattainable beauty and legendary status. Nearly 57 years after her passing, the blonde star is still being heavily discussed today in both positive and negative ways. Some choose to buy into tabloid rumors, whether they realize they are untrue or not, while others actually work to familiarize themselves with the strong woman underneath all the glamour.

Marilyn in 1952
It can be very easy for admirers to connect with Marilyn on an emotional level. She, like many stars of her time, endured a difficult childhood, and faced many tragic blows as a little girl that would greatly impact how she lead her adult life. She faced numerous challenges along her personal life and career, and most people don't take the time to inquire about who she was as a person, thus the image and the idea of her gets passed down more commonly than the woman behind it.

If one dug a little deeper into her childhood, one would find a little girl named Norma Jeane who simply wanted to feel like she belonged somewhere. This feeling of abandonment was instilled in her from a young age. She was bounced around various foster care homes before being required to stay at Hollygrove Orphanage in Los Angeles for a full year until her mother's close friend and co-worker, Grace McKee, was able to obtain legal guardianship. This was after Gladys, Marilyn's mother, was declared legally insane in 1935 and transferred to Norwalk State Hospital. Gladys did not have much of a relationship with her daughter after those years, and Marilyn would always live in fear that she’d one day inherit her mother’s schizophrenia. The true identity of her father will never be substantiated, though the majority of Marilyn experts come to the conclusion that he is a man by the name of Stanley Gifford, Gladys's supervisor, with whom she was engaging in an affair with at the time she became pregnant.

Marilyn at 2 years old in 1928
If one explored Marilyn’s teenage years, one would find that she first got married at the young age of 16. Still a minor and facing the prospect of another orphanage stay when Aunt Grace and her new husband Doc could not afford to bring her with them to West Virginia for Doc’s job transfer, it was suggested that she marry 21 year old neighbor Jim Dougherty, who she had known from school. Dougherty enlisted in the merchant marines, and the youthful couple moved to Catalina. It was not long after this move that Marilyn, then still Norma Jeane, began to develop a serious interest in modeling. She was signed to the Blue Book Modeling Agency in 1945 after being discovered by photographer David Conover, who was on an assignment at the Radio Plane Munitions Factory where Marilyn was working.

If one ventured into her early starlet years, they would learn that it was her modeling work that eventually led her into the heart of Hollywood; the Hollywood that changed her name, her image, and even her story. When she was signed to Fox, they promoted her using a false story of being discovered while working as a babysitter. She would spend her early years being compared to stars such as Lana Turner, Betty Grable, and Jean Harlow, and yet she still crafted her own unique image for her public. Marilyn was one of those stars who embraced her sexuality and femininity at a time when it just wasn’t as accepted. Nowadays, women who are comfortable in their own skin are often seen as strong and empowering, but back then it was written off, for the most part, as cheap and vulgar.

Marilyn at 23 years old in 1949
If one peeled back the layers around the peak of her success, they would find a woman who traveled east to New York, determined to prove her studios wrong with the creation of her own production company: Marilyn Monroe Productions. They’d find a woman who had grown exhausted with being typecasted among moviegoers and studio heads as nothing more than a ditzy onscreen sex symbol. Marilyn had hopes of establishing herself as more of a dramatic actress, so she took it upon herself and created her own company where she would have control over many aspects of her films that she didn’t have before, such as director and script approval.

If one delved into Marilyn’s final years, one would discover a woman who had spent a lifetime working her way to the top, and although loved by millions, constantly felt alone. And yet, the girl who felt like the most lonesome person in the world at times, would go down in history as one of the most talked about and influential women in America. One has to be curious as to what Marilyn might think if she knew the effect she’s had on the generations after her, especially young women, so many years after her death.

Marilyn at 36 years old in 1962
If you’re looking for a woman as perfect on the inside as she appears on the outside, you aren’t going to find her. Marilyn Monroe wasn’t perfect. She was a human being just like the rest of us who made mistakes. But the fact that she today continues to inspire millions of people around the world speaks volumes. To those who haven’t taken the time to properly expand their insight on her will forever live in a world of fabricated Kennedy conspiracies, unsubstantiated murder theories, and provocative affairs. To those who choose to go against the grain and delve into her personality and accomplishments as an artist might be surprised at what they uncover.

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