She had a sexy, sensational voice that today is still recognized as Marilyn Monroe; while the 50th anniversary of her death is the subject of the PBS American Master TV series Sunday evening.
The world of shimmering silks and glittering gems ended for the original “material girl” Marilyn Monroe 50 years ago when the famous actress was found dead on Aug. 5, 1962; while PBS is marking the anniversary with a “national encore” showing of a documentary titled “Marilyn Monroe: Still Life” that airs Sunday, Aug. 5 on PBS at 9 (ET) with a reminder to check local listing. “It has been nearly a quarter of a century since the death of a minor American actress named Marilyn Monroe. There is no reason for her to be a part of my consciousness as I walk down a midtown New York street frilled with color and action and life,” writes Gloria Steinem from a separate Monroe PBS tribute titled “The Woman Who Will Not Die,” that aired back in 1986.
With Sunday’s tribute to Monroe, the PBS “American Masters” TV series marks its 12th story about the late movie star since American Masters premiered in 1986 with Steinem’s story about this unique and lasting American celebrity.
The goal of American Masters is to develop and produce comprehensive film biographies “about the broad cast of characters who comprise our cultural history,” states a PBS marketing overview for this award-winning television program.
"Marilyn Monroe: Still Life" features rare photos
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death on Aug. 6, 1962, American Masters has turned to the photography of George Zimbel - who was there on the street among several photographers to document what would become Marilyn Monroe’s most lasting image - a blowing white halter dress.
More than the dress or the scene, Zimbel tells American Masters that he remembers “a Joe DiMaggio that couldn’t take all the bright lights that night: leaving Monroe all alone in a white halter dress.”
She was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926. Her official biography describes Monroe as an actress, model and singer “who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful movies during the 1950s and early 1960s.”
While her “dumb blonde” persona is still promoted today in American culture, those who knew this screwed actress said it was just something Marilyn “used to comic effect;” while Monroe was very smart in real life until she met her match with the Kennedy’s.
Marilyn may have been killed by someone powerful
While the Sunday evening airing of “Marilyn Monroe: Still Life” on the PBS “American Masters” television series focuses mainly on her remarkable photogenic appeal – with numerous images of Monroe, both in nude and in her outlandish costumes – the documentary does touch on her still mysterious death, and her connection to the Kennedy’s.
It was 50 years ago – on Aug. 5, 1962 – that Monroe was found dead in the bedroom of her Brentwood, California, home by her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson after he was called by Monroe’s housekeeper Eunice Murrary. According to the thousands of pages of FBI records – that were previously classified and released back in October 2006, under the FOI Act – she was 38 years old at the time of her death; while Monroe’s death was ruled to be “actue barbiturate poisoning” by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, that also listed it as “possible suicide.”
However, the once secret FBI files point to Jack Clemmons – the first L.A. Police Department officer to arrive at the death scene – who said he believed “she was murdered.”
While no murder charges were ever filed, the FBI files state that “the death of Monroe has since become one of the most debated conspiracy theories of all time.”
Moreover, after the FBI files were released in 2006, a writer named Philippe Mora reported in 2007 that he had discovered a three page report among the papers titled “Robert F. Kennedy” that discussed Monroe’s death. This report has since been included in the FBI index under the name “Marilyn Monroe.”
In turn, Sunday’s “American Masters” tribute to the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s death does mention the FBI report; while the program’s website also offers other details via the previous 11 other American Masters TV programs about Monroe that have aired since 1986.
In brief, the report about Monroe’s death was “written by a former FBI agent (name is redacted from the report) working for the then governor of California Pat Brown, it details Robert Kennedy's affair with the movie star and claims that Kennedy had promised Monroe he would divorce his wife and marry her, but after the actress realized he had no intention of doing so, she made threats to make the affair public. The report claims that to silence Monroe, who had a history of staging publicity-seeking fake suicide attempts, she was deliberately encouraged to do so again but was this time allowed to die. The report implicates Robert Kennedy, Peter Lawford, her psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, her housekeeper Eunice Murray, and her secretary and press agent, Pat Newcomb, in the plot. The report is prefaced with a statement noting that author of the report did not know the source and could not evaluate the authenticity of the information.”
Monroe, the eternal shape shifter
An Aug. 5 story set to appear in the Los Angeles Times – to mark the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s tragic death – is written by Lois Banner a professor of history and gender studies at USC, is the author of "American Beauty" and the just-published "Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox."
In turn, Professor Banner calls Marilyn Monroe “the eternal shape shifter” because, she writes: “We make her into an icon because we can also make her into whatever we want her to be.”
Also, the professor asks in the Aug. 5 edition of the L.A. Times: “Why is Marilyn Monroe still an American icon 50 years after her death? She is endlessly analyzed in films and biographies; her image appears on T-shirts and posters; her popularity is reflected in the 52,000 Marilyn-related items for sale on EBay. My USC students, fixated on contemporary pop culture, know little about 1950s Hollywood stars, except for Monroe. Like everyone else, they puzzle over her death, respond to her beauty, recognize her paradoxes: the ur-blond child-woman, the virgin-whore of the Western imagination.”
But it is another role, she adds: “that of shape shifter; that makes her especially relevant. Monroe's multiple transformations allow each generation, even each individual, to create a Marilyn to their own specifications.”
Professor Banner also writes: “It is well-known that Norma Jeane Dougherty (her name when Hollywood discovered her) actively shaped the person known as Marilyn Monroe after signing a contract with Twentieth Century Fox in 1946. But the complexity of the Marilyn that emerged is often overlooked. She wasn't just split into the shy and angry child Norma Jeane and the exuberant and sexual adult Marilyn Monroe. ‘I've got many quivers to my bow," she told her close friend Susan Strasberg. "I can become anyone they want me to be.’”
PBS Masterpiece features the real Monroe’s
A preview of Sunday’s “American Masters” tribute for Monroe on PBS mirrors Professor Banner’s Aug. 5 story in the L.A. Times that explains how the star “loved intrigue and playing practical jokes, possessed a self-deprecating wit and had a love-hate relationship with her celebrity status. She used aliases and wore disguises; she had secret friends and secret apartments. A psychologist might say her split self was caused by a childhood spent in 11 homes and an orphanage, and by episodes of childhood sex abuse. Such trauma could have fractured her persona and caused her to "dissociate." We can guess that she drew on this dissociation as she shaped her many public personas.
By all reports, Monroe could be shy, added the professor writing how Monroe had “no self-confidence, taking drugs to keep herself on track; or a banshee screaming in anger; or so charismatic that few could resist her. Photographs prove she could be a glamour queen on the order of Marlene Dietrich, or a lost waif who resembled Shirley Temple. On screen she was a convincing ‘dumb blond’ clown; in interviews, an ironist who made fun of dumb blonds; in acting class, a dramatic artist in the making. When she married baseball great Joe DiMaggio in 1954 and famously promised to give up her career, she was the maternal, domestic Marilyn who liked to cook and clean. When she married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956, she was the intellectual Marilyn who read books and wanted to be a serious actress.”
Why Marilyn Monroe still matters
For the first “American Masters” TV program about Marilyn Monroe, PBS asked Gloria Steinem to write her thoughts back in 1986. For instance, Steinem stated on American Masters that “if you add her years of movie stardom to the years since her death, Marilyn Monroe has been a part of our lives and imaginations for nearly four decades. That’s a very long time for one celebrity to survive in a throwaway culture.”
Nonetheless, Steinem wrote how “Monroe’s personal and intimate ability to inhabit our fantasies has gone right on. As I write this, she is still better known than most living movie stars, most world leaders, and most television personalities. The surprise is that she rarely has been taken seriously enough for us to ask why that is so. One simple reason for her life story’s endurance is the premature end of it. Personalities and narratives projected onto the screen of our imaginations are far more haunting – and far more likely to be the stuff of conspiracies and conjuncture – if they have not been allowed to play themselves out to their logical or illogical ends.”
Thus, writes Steinem, “When the past dies there is mourning, but when the future dies, our imaginations are compelled to carry it on.”
Monroe wanted to be taken seriously
According to the now released FBI records, Monroe's friend and secretary, Patricia Newcomb, has said that “Monroe pleaded unsuccessfully with the reporter of her final interview to end his article with her saying, "What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers. Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe."
In turn, Monroe’s documentary states that she was friends with Ella Fitzgerald “and helped Ella in her career. Ella Fitzgerald later recounted: I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt ...it was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the '50s. She personally called the owner of the club, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn's superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”
Also, the daughter of Monroe's last psychiatrist, Joan Greenson, said that “Monroe was “passionate about equal rights, rights for blacks, rights for the poor. She identified strongly with the workers."
Thus, all this history of the death of Monroe some 50 years ago Sunday can be found both on the PBS “American Masters” TV show Aug. 5, and on the programs website that features all 12 of its programs about Monroe since American Masters first aired back in 1986.
Image source of Marilyn Monroe from the 1959 comedy “Some Like it Hot,” that earned Monroe the Golden Globe for Best Actress. Sunday, August 5 marks the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s death; that is today viewed as an unexplained murder. Photo courtesy Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_Monroe
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