You know who she is.
Growing up, you knew her face, even if you had never seen any of her movies. You saw her everywhere, on all kinds of products and in all kinds of places. You heard her name in movies, cartoons, songs, read it in books, magazines, and on billboards or perfume bottles. She has been written about, studied, photographed, filmed, re-imagined, marveled at, and explored literally more than the bottom of Earth’s oceans. And due to her untimely and mysterious death, she went from being simply famous to a legend.
Maybe, like me, you reached a point where you wanted to know just who the hell Marilyn Monroe was, and what the big fuss was about. WHY was Madonna trying so hard to be this person in the 80s? And why was everyone so skeptical about her achieving it? At the time, the similarities to me were more numerous than the differences: they were both blonde, white, and famous, both were beautiful, and both were paid vast sums of money for doing things that sometimes involved taking their clothes off. I readily admit that at 10, many nuances about life were lost on me.
When I was about 19, I worked in a retail video store called Suncoast. If you wanted to buy a movie that wasn’t on the top 10 rack at Target or the grocery store, that’s where you went. We had thousands of movies, including foreign films, imported anime (which was where you had to get it before places like Cartoon Network showed it), informational stuff, old tv shows, and softcore pr0n.
My boss was a man whose encyclopedic knowledge of film was nothing short of staggering. Did you see something once where a guy had a dangerous operation while his wife looked on and she was crying and wearing a red hat? That guy with the mustache was in it? I just made that shit up and Bill would have recommended a movie to me. A movie with that exact scene in it. SERIOUSLY. He was that good. “Oh Bill, I saw this German made-for-tv movie that only played twice on one channel in Berlitz and it may have starred a man with two legs. It was about the history of the xylophone, but not really, it was all just a metaphor. There was a scene with a basket of figs. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
And he would.
He only looked up things to get serial numbers when he ordered them for people. He often described himself as ‘The Jewish Geppetto’ (referring to Pinocchio’s creator) and was a retired phlebotomist. He and his boyfriend had been together longer than I had been alive, and they had a sulphur-crested cockatoo they referred to as ‘the chicken.’ I would like to look him up sometime to see how he’s doing, but I digress.
When I told him I loved movies, but had never seen one with Marilyn Monroe, he told me I needed to do that. That it was important.
So I did. I didn’t watch one right away, it took me a little while to finally sit still and do it (I think of my late teens and early twenties as my fidgety years), but I did.
In the life of a film fan, there are only two times you watch a Marilyn Monroe film: There’s the first time you see her, in all her glory, and realize what the big deal is all about, and there’s the time you realize you’ve watched all the movies she ever made; that there are no more. Barring someone having some old home movies they release, or maybe some stills or cut footage from the finished films that were forgotten in someone’s attic for sixty years, there will be no more. I think this applies to any other actors and actresses who died young, but the first time I became aware of this phenomenon was with Marilyn.
The first Monroe film I ever saw was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I was hooked.
Blondes is the story of diamond-hungry Lorelei Lee and down-to-earth Dorothy Shaw, the latter played with a charming brassiness by Jane Russell. The two are showgirls, and Lorelei is engaged to Gus Esmond, the son of a millionaire. She intends to marry him, but Gus’s father is opposed to the match, viewing Lorelei as a ‘blonde mantrap.’
Lorelei and Dorothy embark on a trip to Paris so that Lorelei and Gus can be married, but Gus’s father calls him at the last minute and prevents him from going with them. The girls go by themselves, with Gus promising to find Lorelei, and giving her a letter of credit to spend as she likes. Unbeknownst to them, following the two is Sam Malone, a private investigator hired by Gus’s father to dig up dirt on Lorelei.
There are numerous hijinks and some glorious musical numbers, as well as some really hilarious jokes. The writing for Dorothy especially is great, as is Russell’s performance as a sultry, sharp-witted brunette to Monroe’s wide-eyed ingenue balances the movie well.
What I especially like about this film is how my appreciation of it has grown over the years. In the beginning, I was mostly enjoying the songs and the banter and the clothes. Now, I look at Lorelei’s somewhat pragmatic approach to life by marrying rich with a new perspective. I’ve struggled to make ends meet, and I know what it is to be panicked that you have six dollars to your name, barely any food in the house, and another thirteen days to go until payday. I had a lot of fears and nightmares in that situation; for example, what if my cat got sick? Or worse, what if my parents became ill or were in an accident and I flat out didn’t have the gas money to drive the 85 minutes to see them? My friends would have helped me out, and I am fortunate for that, but I can’t help but feel that it would be failing as an adult to find myself in a situation like that, and not be able to do anything about it, especially when the amount of money in question is so little. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have an ill spouse or child and find myself in the same circumstance.
“If a girl spends all her time worrying about the money she doesn’t have, when does she have time for love?” is her logic, and it’s not entirely as warped or materialistic as it sounds; most relationships and marriages break up in times of financial crises, showing that the strain of financial straits isn’t to be dismissed. It’s one thing to never have any money because of your own bills and spending habits; it’s quite another when you’re broke because of someone else. So, while it might not seem to be the most altruistic rationale, it’s definitely realistic. It’s better to have money and not need it than need it and not have it, as the saying goes.
Granted, I’m not talking about supporting a Kardashian lifestyle, here. Just covering the bare necessities with a bit left over for savings and the occasional trip or present or meal out is my idea of having made it, financially.
Anywhoo, I digress.
Watch a Monroe movie, any one, maybe not even this one. Although it is WORTH it to see this one, just for Lorelei and Dorothy strutting through the middle of the ship’s dining room, Lorelei in orange, and Dorothy in shimmering dark green. Especially the ones in color… Marilyn’s ruby lips and sapphire eyes are a special effect unto themselves!