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Posted in: Arts, Film & Culture

Published on Dec 04, 2011 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for PJ Media

My Week With Marilyn: When Innocence Was Sexy


The movie My Week With Marilyn both saddened and charmed me. It brought me back to 1956, to an era in which a kittenish, impish, slightly naughty, only slightly undressed, whispery-voice child-woman was considered the world's biggest sex symbol.

I am talking about the incomparable Marilyn Monroe and the very good actress Michelle Williams who now plays her. She does not "impersonate" Marilyn. Williams really acts the part, carefully re-creating Marilyn's childish, playful, giggle-of-a-wriggle, her incandescent screen presence, her calculated but spontaneous sauciness, her little-girl-lost real persona.

Contrast this innocence to Paris Hilton's decision to use a sex tape to launch her celebrity "brand," or to Kim Kardashian's XXX-rated video of her own. Compare this to the stream of prostitutes and porn stars who enjoy 15 minutes of fame because one of their clients was a governor or a major athlete. Stop and consider the dirty sex language people use on the internet and how many untold hours of pornographic films are available free of charge with only the click of the mouse.

The film is based on two books by upper-crust Brit Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) who, for nine days when he was 23 years old, had a platonic-erotic romance with Marilyn, a woman whom he viewed as a "Greek goddess." He was the "third assistant director" working for the great Laurence Olivier on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl. This great, great actor, played by the brilliant Kenneth Branagh, was bested on the screen by the American pseudo-Method actress who perpetually came late, kept forgetting her lines, and who needed countless retakes and the aggressive protection of acting teacher Paula Strasberg. She was "unprofessional" and yet even Olivier conceded that the camera loved her, not him.

So far, at least ten actresses, including Ashley Judd, Mariah Carey, and her impersonator, Susan Griffith, have played Monroe. Countless books about her "secret lives" have also appeared with never-before-seen photos, written by Donald Spoto, J. Randy Taraborrelli, Sarah Bartlett Churchwell, Bert Stern, and Norman Mailer. Donald H. Wolfe wrote a book which suggests she was assassinated.

So, who was she, really?

First, Marilyn was not really a blonde. She was a brunette. Our most famous blonde bleached her hair. The movie studio men surgically fixed her nose and teeth. She was painfully shy and had intense stage fright And Marilyn Monroe was not her real name — it was Norma Jean Mortenson or Norma Jean Baker.

Marilyn had been abandoned by her two mother figures: Her biological mother, Gladys, who suffered from a mental illness, and by her mother's friend who took her in. As a result, Marilyn had "abandonment" issues. She was in state or foster care from the time she was seven years old; she even did time in a Los Angeles orphanage. Marilyn was sexually assaulted in one home or another from the time she was nine years old.

Raped children are usually afflicted forever after with insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and an addictive personality. Consider: Marilyn was no different. Thus, she drank and she took pills. She did not become a prostitute, as raped children often do, but she did use her sex appeal as a survival skill, to both please and succeed. And, as a struggling actress and model, when she had no money to pay the rent, she posed nude for photos.

By our contemporary standards, Marilyn's nude photos were rather tasteful, charming, modest, soft-core, not vulgar or lewd. Although she "starred" on the very first cover of Hugh Hefner's magazine, she did not display her genitalia.

Today, everyone seems to do so. Men, women, children, celebrities — teenagers on Facebook.

Marilyn was more Jean Harlow, less Mae West, more a risqué Doris Day or a sexy Judy Holiday, not a sultry Sophia Loren.

Marilyn was an ingenue, an eternal child, a heart-warming "dumb" blonde. This combination drove the boys wild. She somehow remained innocent, virginal, both Madonna and Magdalene.

When I interviewed prostituted women, it became clear that those who are children or can still pass as one are the most highly valued assets. Adult prostitutes are often asked to dress like schoolgirls. In some countries, a young, virgin prostitute fetches the highest sum. Most prostitutes have a short shelf life. And, given that so many of them have run away from violent and incestuous families (these are the blue-collar workers), they take to drink and drugs, often have pimps who control and beat them, and they look like hell by the time they hit thirty. Melissa Farley's work has confirmed these conclusions.

Yes, glossy MBA call girls do exist and they earn a pretty sum but they are in the minority. The most a working girl can hope for is to become the Madam of a high class brothel or to be "rescued" by a John.

Not gonna happen.

Marilyn was not a prostitute or a call girl. She was a sex goddess, an icon of what was sexually permissible in the 1950s.

Despite her screen successes and world fame (maybe because of it), she still needed pills. Lots of pills. She needed therapy. In 1961, she did time in Payne-Whitney and in the psychiatric ward at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. She left her second husband, Joe Dimaggio, for the intellectual playwright Arthur Miller, who did not wish to be Mr. Monroe or her caretaker. That marriage ended.

Marilyn died when she was only 36 years old — dead of an overdose of chloral hydrate and Nembutal, prescribed for her by her Los Angeles psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. Was it accidental, did she want to die, was she assassinated?

I certainly do not know. But when someone dies young, they remain forever young, forever dead. Marilyn's cruel passing is still exploited, mourned, glorified, remembered as some kind of human sacrifice for all who "loved" her.

Her death is not part of the film. Here, she is flirtatious, laughing, shy — but not shy about appearing naked. She is some kind of Pagan goddess figure. But a very human and vulnerable one.

Today, it is difficult to feel any sympathy for sex icons. Marilyn had a humanity, an air of self-conscious bashfulness, an awkwardness that was charming and reminded her many admirers that she was all-too-human. Today's stars are cunning, corporate-sponsored, self-marketers devoid of any real personality. They seem cold and vulgar when compared to Our Lady Marilyn.


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