The Double Identity of a Pop Culture Icon

Around age 14, circa 1940.

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

On June 1, 2013, Marilyn Monroe would have turned 87 years old. It is difficult to imagine what the rest of her life would have been like, had she survived whatever took place on that mysterious night of her death at the age of 36. She was at the height of her fame professionally, but struggling with deep psychological problems that constantly threatened to derail her. At the height of her problems was an inability to reconcile two identities–the fatherless foster child Norma Jeane Baker, and the internationally famous sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. Eerily, her birthday falls under the astrological sign of Gemini, the twins. Maybe neither of these identities truly defined her. She strove desperately to improve herself as an actress, taking classes at the Actor’s Studio and earning considerable respect from Lee Strasberg, who called her one of the most naturally talented students ever to come through the studio. She fought for civil rights and was a particular champion of Ella Fitzgerald, securing her an engagement at the previously all-white Mocambo club by promising the owner that she would be there, in the front row, every night. She was a voracious reader, taking a special interest in biographies of Abraham Lincoln and was a devoted admirer of Albert Einstein. Perhaps she so passionately threw herself into these interests to cobble together her own, self-styled identity, to take the best of both worlds she had lived and put them together to create a mosaic of her own experience. I don’t often talk about Marilyn. I have too much respect for her and how she handled life to perpetuate this false myth of her as a goddess-like, immortal creature devoid of humanity. It is nearly impossible to mention her name without unconsciously perpetuating this iconic image that has landed her, tastelessly, on mugs and T-shirts and postcards and lunchboxes in every seedy tourist trap in town. But on her birthday, she deserves to be spoken of and remembered. Not as a pop culture legend, but as a woman and a real, flesh-and-blood human being. That is what I strive for when I do speak about her, and what I feel is my responsibility to her, as a person with a voice through my blog. So for her birthday, a day late, I am paying tribute to the woman as she was. These are the images that I think most represent the face of the real, natural person she strove to maintain against the current of crass commercialism. Happy birthday, Marilyn.

With her adored foster mother, “Aunt” Ana Lower, and family friends, circa 1938.

Rare video with another foster mother, Grace Goddard (also her legal guardian), who appears in the dark blue dress.

An early modeling shot.

A quiet moment with third husband Arthur Miller.

At her wedding to Miller. Monroe had converted to Judaism, and was a practicing Jew for the rest of her life.

Speaking to reporters after returning from studies at the Actor’s Studio.

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3 responses to “The Double Identity of a Pop Culture Icon

  1. What a beautiful tribute – I really enjoyed reading it xoxo

  2. Indeed, Marilyn was not a goddess but a human being. An extraordinary human being. Thank you for honoring her so appropriately and respectfully.

  3. A very nice tribute to Marilyn on her birthday with great photos and clips.

    I loved that you mention all of the kitchy things with her likeness on them. Willing to bet that most of the people purchasing this stuff has never sat down and watched any of her films or even know much about her personal life and her struggles early on and throughout her life.

    Have a great weekend!
    See ya soon.
    Page

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