I was going to write about a certain Irish guitarist, but Sunday was the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death. I've been a big enough fan of hers over the years to be moved to write about this.
For months – literally months – I had a tune stuck in my head. Just the dah-dah-dah of it, and I knew I knew it from somewhere. I couldn't have told you from where and I felt like I just needed the next two notes of the tune and I'd be there. And for days, weeks and then months, this tune haunted me. It was haunting anyway, melancholic and psuedo-classical. If I hummed it long enough it turned into Brahms' Tales from the Vienna Woods. I could not recall where it was from but I finally got the hint of a lyric, something about "you will have nothing to lose if you lose your heart."
Do you know how many songs there are with that sentiment? It was driving me round the proverbial twist, knowing I knew it, liked it and yet… nothing recollectin'. Ask the guys I work with – it probably annoyed them almost as much as it annoyed me.
And then, more or less by chance, I decided to watch a motion picture I had not seen in a long time. the Prince and the Showgirl. It stars Laurence Olivier, who I can't stand, and Marilyn Monroe, who I've always adored. I've seen it a few times because while it is not a good film it has two things I like: a fake Ruritania type country (I also like The Prisoner of Zenda despite it being crap because of this) and MM.
My attachment to La Monroe is complicated, much like herself. I was drawn in by that face and kept by her charisma. Her true life story broke my heart and yet uplifted it. When I discovered Marilyn, my own self-esteem was about as buggered as it could've been. I truly believed I was a total troll in both body and mind, of no use or worth to myself, anyone else or the world. I believed everyone hated me and I could actually eat worms and not only would people not care, they'd use it as an excuse to hate me more.
So I drowned myself in movies and music. I threw myself at beautiful people: MM, Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, etc. I spent hours staring at pictures of MM, trying to see what it was which made her so beautiful. It wasn't her sex appeal for me, so what was it? I didn't want to have sex with her, and I didn't want to be her… so why did I stare at her? Why did I watch How to Marry a Millionaire and Ladies of the Chorus? And the really-not-very-good-would-be-forgotten-if-not-for-that-one-scene The Seven Year Itch. Why did I sit through The Prince and the Showgirl more than once, despite Olivier always causing me partly-irrational anger?
Sidenote: I couldn't tell you exactly why I detest him so much. It was before The Prince… and before I knew what a colossal douchebag he could be in real life. But I really do.
I've still not got a satisfactory explanation, by the way. I couldn't tell you what it is about Marilyn I adore. I like the vulnerability she brought to roles, I like her sassy moments. I love her comedy. Some Like It Hot is one of the greatest movies ever made, in large part because of her performance.
So I have to just say weakly that 'she has a quality'. But you know, writers have been trying to quantify and explain Marilyn since about 1951 and haven't come up with a decent answer yet.
She has such a quality that I watched a below-quality movie starring a man I detest enough times for a fragment of a song to ping back into my head years later. She is gorgeous – Olivier shot her well, I have to say that – and her performance elevates the role. I would like to have seen Vivien Leigh's take on it as well, but MM is wonderful. Broken and beautiful and luminous and most of all, most of all: a survivor.
So many people look at Marilyn Monroe as a victim. And she was in many important ways. But most of all, beyond all things, she was a survivor. You and I do not need to pity La Monroe. I feel sorrow for the bad times in her life and I despise those who took advantage of her. But I do not pity her.
I think I've just explained what I love about her after all: for everything that people tried to do to her, she never truly broke. Watch The Misfits and you'll see a spark of defiant humanity there. That's what I love and it's what I needed back then: to see someone bend but not break. If Marilyn could survive, so could I. I hadn't her beauty but I hadn't even half her sorrow.
So sure, I watched The Prince and the Showgirl even though it didn't deserve it. It's worth it for the end, when still wearing her evening gown, Marilyn tosses aside the heavy borrowed overcoat and struts out into the Edwardian London morning…
Worth it enough that a stray fragment of a tune stayed lodged in my memory, waiting for the day it would bug the hell out of me.