Before Britney, before Madonna, one woman ruled entertainment: Marilyn Monroe.” This is the opening line of a teaser for the new film Blonde, a fictional account of the life of the 1950s Hollywood star. Based on the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, the movie stars Cuban and Spanish actor Ana de Armas, and focuses in part on Monroe’s traumatic childhood and how it influenced the public and private person she became.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926, Marilyn went on to become a highly successful actor and the most famous sex symbol of all time. However, she also faced many difficulties, both in her career and in her personal life. Despite being a successful businesswoman with her own film production company, she was often typecast as the “dumb blonde” in films, and was underpaid for her work. It is also now believed that she suffered from endometriosis as well as borderline personality disorder, both of which likely contributed to her dependency on barbiturates. Monroe was found dead from an overdose at her Los Angeles home at the age of thirty-six.
the greatest of all time
To find out more about Monroe, Speak Up talked with Greg Schreiner, president of the Marilyn Remembered Fan Club. Founded in 1982 “to help keep the memory of and the truth about Marilyn alive”, it is the world’s biggest fan club dedicated to the star. We began by asking Schreiner about Monroe’s legacy.
Greg Schreiner (American accent): Marilyn Monroe, in my opinion, is probably the most recognized of all stars of all time, and she’s endured. Her fame, if anything, has in some ways increased even more since her death. Her image is everywhere. I think almost anybody in the world, if you ask about Marilyn Monroe, would know [her]. Whereas most of the older stars are forgotten now. So her impact is far greater than any other star that’s ever been on the silver screen.
However, says Schreiner, Monroe is persistently oversimplified and misrepresented in the media.
Greg Schreiner: There’s certainly an element of people who just think of her as sort of a dumb blonde kind of sex symbol. But anyone that studies her, and really looks at her films or studies her life, will find an incredibly complex woman who was very bright, very intelligent, very much not of that image at all. A lot of that image was put on her by the studios who were looking to project that image for her, but she really wasn’t that way at all. She was a very multi-faceted individual. And the more you study her, the more you come to realise how many different facets there were to explore.
a humble human being
We asked Schreiner to tell us more about her real character.
Greg Schreiner: Things that come out when I talk to people that knew her was her generosity, her willingness to help others and think little of herself, her lack of materialism... She really didn’t care about owning things or having a lot of money, that wasn’t important to her at all. She really was always going for the underdog, in a sense. She supported certain charities that she really believed in. She loved animals. Marilyn would bring her lunch and go with the stagehands and the extras, and eat with them rather than the stars, that she felt comfortable doing that. And that’s very unusual.
So, would she have been as iconic had she not died young?
Greg Schreiner: Well, that’s always the big question, isn’t it? When you look at Elvis Presley or James Dean or those other people. It’s hard to say. Maybe. There’s something about dying at your peak of beauty and height of your stardom that keeps you going. But Marilyn’s soul kind of generates its own thing, I think. Susan Strasberg, who was a very good friend of Marilyn’s, told me that she felt that Marilyn’s spirit, when she died, started spinning outward, and it’s just spinning bigger and bigger all the time. So, in a sense, she’s not dying at all, but actually enlarging herself amongst the world.
LUST FOR LIFE
Monroe had a difficult childhood and struggled with fame, says Schreiner, but this does not mean that she wanted to end her life.
Greg Schreiner: She was seeing a psychiatrist on an almost daily basis towards the end of her life. She struggled with that for many, many years, and with depression. There was, I think, a bit of manic depressive about her, which unfortunately back then, they had no drugs to help with that. So, you kind of had to just deal with it. But I think that was part of her make-up. It just was her personality. I don’t know that she was ready to die. I think that there was so much she was looking forward to. She had just bought a new home, she was furnishing it. She had film projects coming up. She was planning for the future. So, this does not sound to me like a woman who’s thinking, I’m going to check out of life. It just doesn’t sound right to me.