“Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”
"Loneliness was tough, the toughest role you ever played. Hollywood created a superstar and pain was the price you paid”
–Elton John ('Candle in the Wind’)
We often look at the past from our own modern perspective. In that way, yes, many of the gender representations and perspectives are completely outraging. I’m not saying that these are attitudes we should continue embracing or that they are right. My point is that sometimes we forget we hace our own biases and we are quick to judge others instead of actually looking at the context. One of the clearest examples of what I’m saying is the case of Marilyn Monroe. Her name and image, famous for the roles she played on the silver screen as well as the character she created to be in the spotlight, was not the real Norma Jeane Mortenson, the poet, philanthropist, and above all, human being.
When judging Monroe’s life, we tend to focus on the controversies around her, the use of drugs (mainly painkillers), her promiscuity, early and suspicious death, and her constant mood changes. Besides that, Marilyn Monroe passed to history as the stunning, extremely sensual, blonde woman capable of taking the breath away from anyone. Yes, no matter how many movies, TV series, or biographies try to change that perspective, she will always be remembered as the hot blonde, kind of dumb girl who made a career out of her looks and personality. And sadly, she was actually aware of this fact, which brought her a lot of sorrow and her ultimate depressive situation.
Marilyn embodies the classic superstar legend with a tormented life. You know, the story of the girl neglected by her mother, who went from home to home and was raped by one of her tutors, but whose strong spirit led her to success. Naturally, all those facts about her life are seen as very interesting to sell and to explain the causes of her alleged suicide. In that same way, many of her movies have been judged under the same glass that. Although they had a great reception in their time and have become icons of the Hollywood Golden Era (just like her), sometimes they are criticized for the way they portray women. One of her most important movies, and the one we’re referring to in the title of the article, is precisely Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).
Considered one of the best 100 movies of all times, it tells the story of two friends, different from each other in terms of looks and personality, but with a very strong bond. Dorothy (Jane Russell) is an intelligent and sassy brunette girl who longs for romantic love, while Lorelai (Monroe) is a kind of dull and ambitious blond girl who doesn’t care about love, and is more concerned with marrying a rich man. See, where I’m going? For years, many have considered this film as an anti-feminist story, especially for the way Monroe is portrayed. People claim it’s the embodiment of female objectification and a praise to the male gaze in cinema.
If you actually thought that, get ready to shatter this idea. Yes, the film does exploit the image of the sensual dumb and greedy woman who uses her charms to get what she wants. Let’s start with the portrayal of the dull woman. We have two contrasting characters who differentiate from the other in other ways apart from the hair color. While Dorothy is portrayed as the smart and intelligent brunette who is constantly correcting her blonde friend, at the end of the day, Lorelai proves to be smarter than she appears. Actually, it could be said that she’s just playing a character in order to reach her goals (could it be a reflection of Marilyn’s life itself?). Both know how to play in this man-centered world and use all they got to achieve their purposes.
Now, regarding sexuality, instead of thinking about the idea of the objectification of the female body for men’s pleasure (that yes, it happens to some degree), why don’t we focus on the fact that these women are sexually liberated and enjoy their sexuality in the way they want. Naturally, some will say that “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friends” is an apology to that patriarchal and sexist society where women are portrayed as ambitious, but according to Myrna Waldron (feminist writer), if you pay close attention to the lyrics, it would seem like the character is convening a sense of financial independence. So, yes she convinces men to give her expensive gifts, but at the end of the day we’re talking about the fifties, a time when women didn’t really have that many job opportunities to achieve a financial stability. The song and the movie, in general, become the portrayal of a young woman's hope to be free and independent without having to depend on anyone else.
Finally, why do we say that the movie ruined Marilyn Monroe’s career? Simple, many thought of her to be just like the characters she represented. This movie turned her into a cultural icon but also trapped her in that classification forever. Though she constantly attempted to play other types of roles she ended portraying the same stereotype over and over. She was living in a tornado of emotions and mental afflictions that, together with the fact that she was constantly harassed due to the image she portrayed, ended up sinking her in a mass of negativity. Now, I won’t say that this drove her to take the decision of committing suicide, since we can’t be so sure that she actually did it. But what is true is that constantly living behind the persona she built with Marilyn Monroe drove Norma Jeane to a very dark place.
Hollywood has given us amazing stories through its films, but the ones that took place behind the screen and the spotlights were as impactful as those of fiction. Take a look at some of them: