Looking for Marilyn
by Matt Worley
I'd never seen a Marilyn Monroe movie before last night. I've seen clips, songs, parodies, nude pictures and news shows about her and her famous lovers and husbands. But a whole movie? I guess I never got around to it.
There was a window of time last night, and I took in Some Like It Hot before band practice. Hailed by many as the best American comedy film ever, the film is a master course in misdirection. Everyone is scamming someone somehow except for one character. Marilyn Monroe plays the straight woman--and she readily admits she's actually scamming herself. Once she hit the screen, I couldn't take my eyes off her. She's beautiful, sexy, full-bodied, and I now completely understand why everyone reacted the way they did to her.
There is somewhat of a point to the way she went out: how do you stay on top when you are selling sex all the time? Eventually even the sexiest man or woman becomes to old to sell traditional sex appeal. With apologies to Viagra and Cialis, sex is a young person's game. The game changes a bit with time, but it's pretty much the same. There are some people you can watch and not care what they say or what they do. You are, really, just watching them to watch them.
So who is our new Marilyn? This archetype of sex appeal and rebelliousness (in Some Like It Hot, she's a drunk with a fondness for saxophone players) is harder and harder to replicate.
I think the answer is there are many and there are none.
Entertainment is a larger world than it ever has been. Basic cable has 70 channels. Big movies open on 4000 screens or more. There are ten to twenty major radio stations in big cities. No one coordinates all of these things and dominates every game. That was something Marilyn was able to do because she just had to be a movie star. And she was the biggest movie star in the world. There is no biggest movie star in the world anymore.
I recently read a small article about a TV show called "CSI." It's on a major network, and it's been on for four years. I have never seen the show and do not know the stars of the show who were fired for asking for more money. I assume, because it's been on for four years, that it's doing pretty good. But these two (a man and a woman), despite being on a "hit" show, are not household names. And they are easily discarded by the network.
I'm not crying any tears for them--they have, I'm sure, made many multiples of what I have over the last four years. But it didn't make either of them the biggest TV star in the world--there are 69 other channels people could watch at the same time their show is on, and most of us do just that. Watch something else.
But here I was watching a movie more than 40 years old, watching a former starlet still working it at the "advanced" age of 37, and I couldn't take my eyes off of her. Marilyn would look different today, if she was the same age 40 years later. In this movie, she's a full-bodied woman. She's got tits, she's got an ass, and she's even got a bit of a stomach. Now, she'd be sent to a trainer and told to do crunches until she's sweating off that great ass. There would be snickering about whether or not she's pregnant. In short, we've changed our idea of sexy--at least sexy on screen.
We do have our share of "dumb" blondes. Jessica Simpson seems to have no other talent than being a dumb blonde. There is no rebellion, no grit, no great back story of struggle--except that her first solo album didn't really sell well and, just to pay the bills, had to let MTV film her and her new husband's fledgling marriage. Now she's hugely famous for being an untalented idiot who seems to have grown up in a bubble. Or maybe it's just that her head is a bubble. Truthfully, I find her brunette (and still with her original nose) younger sister more attractive, but I can do without either.
Britney Spears, who was selling sex before most of the guys buying it could legally get it from her, seems to be going into the same type of downward spiral Marilyn did. And Britney's only 22.
Maybe it's the company they keep. Simpson married a b-list teenie bopper. Britney's marrying a dancer in her entourage--talk about not looking outside your immediate zone. Monroe married the best baseball player in the world, and one of the best playwrights of the 20th century. It's not hard to see who did better. Of course, neither could save Marilyn from herself.
But many of my "heroes" had this same problem. They chose not to fade out and deal with being old. They are forever young in our eyes. And, after watching Marilyn use every asset she had in Some Like It Hot, I don't think it's such a bad thing.