How Hollywood Sold Marilyn’s ‘Relatable’ Glamour

This image of Marilyn with her pet chihuahua Josefa, taken by Earl Leaf in 1950 at the home of her agent and lover, Johnny Hyde, at West Palm Drive, Beverly Hills, illustrates Kristin Hunt’s latest article for JSTOR, ‘How Hollywood Sold Glamour.’ (Kristin has also written about Marilyn’s risque ‘pool scene‘ from Something’s Got to Give, and a friend from Marilyn’s starlet days, actress Laurette Luez.)

“Stars had to be beautiful, otherworldly creatures, but they also had to be down-to-earth homebodies, even if their ‘homes’ were sprawling mansions. The idea was to make glamour seem both attainable and impossibly out of reach to the average fan. Maybe you could claim a small piece of it, if you bought the right lipstick—the one advertised in the same magazines that carried celebrity portraits—but you could never quite have it all.

But glamour was also a means to sell products, so it couldn’t be unknowable all the time. As Jeanine Basinger explains in her book The Star Machine, magazines mined Hollywood stars for beauty advice, proffering ‘makeup tips’ from celebrities that nobodies at home could put to use.

To better sell the idea of glamour for all, stars also had to seem a little like the common people. In interviews, they would share studio-approved stories about their relatable hobbies and families, with photos to back it up. In Basinger’s estimation, stars had to take at least six types of photos, all of which would be disseminated to the press. There were the expected ‘fashion shots, close-ups, glamour poses,’ as well as ‘cheesecake,’ a slang term for pin-up looks. Yet stars also had to have ‘human interest’ photos featuring their babies or pets and even comical ‘seasonal shots’ in their portfolio. (Google ‘Marilyn Monroe + turkey’ for a delightfully deranged surprise.)* This levity, this softening was crucial.

To some, most notably portraitist George Hurrell, glamour was little more than ‘an excuse for saying sexy pictures.’ But for the stars that practiced it, glamour was a very careful art. The most enduring celebrities knew when to smoulder in couture—and when to smile with their kids.”

Illustrating the varied aspects of Marilyn’s image, here’s a sneak preview of Google images from that ‘MM + Turkey’ search – including her rather bizarre ‘sexy pilgrim’ photo shoot, her Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, and the Turkish soldiers she met in Korea.