Maria Bakalova Inspired by Marilyn

It’s a sore point among Monroe fans that she was never nominated for an Oscar, and attended the awards ceremony only once, to present an award. Nonetheless, she is frequently referenced in Academy presentations, and her influence is often glimpsed in red carpet fashions.

This year’s fairly stripped-down event nonetheless had one important Marilyn moment. When introducing the nominees in the Best Supporting Actress category, Brad Pitt (whose production company A24 is overseeing the upcoming biopic, Blonde) noted that Maria Bakalova – an unknown Bulgarian actress cast in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm after answering a Facebook casting call – was inspired by Marilyn in her quest for fame, as revealed by the starlet in a Deadline interview.

“At the performing arts high school in her hometown, where she was a straight-A student majoring in acting and minoring in flute, she started doodling the Hollywood sign on her desk, and jotted down thoughts about moving to L.A. in her notebooks.

‘I started dreaming that I was arriving in Los Angeles, rolling my suitcase down those iconic palm tree-lined streets, with the Hollywood sign in the background, and I was telling myself, “I’m going to be a great movie star someday,”‘ recalls Bakalova, quoting Marilyn Monroe.

But as she entered her late teens, reality set in. ‘I told myself, these are just childhood dreams. There haven’t been any big Hollywood stars from Eastern Europe.’

While she says she would feel extremely lucky to fulfill her childhood dream of attending the Oscars, ‘that’s not something where I would feel like I’ve made it,’ Bakalova says. ‘It would rather represent me starting to take the first step toward building a career, and it would restore my own belief that anything is possible.’

Bakalova’s Borat success already has done that for others. As Bakalova is adjusting to the limelight, the biggest gift for her has been opening the door for underrepresented Eastern European actors in Hollywood, she says.

‘That has been the most gratifying thing, giving people hope that it is possible. That if you give it your all, it could happen to you. Why not?'”

Actually, it wasn’t Marilyn who said she would ‘be a great movie star some day,’ but plenty of others did, starting in childhood with her mother’s best friend, Grace Goddard, who would routinely parade the little girl in front of her co-workers at the Columbia Studios film cutting lab, with these cajoling words: “‘Tell Ella what you’re going to be when you’re all grown up. Say: ‘a movie star, baby! Tell her you’re going to be a movie star!’ This brainwashing continued every week for months and months,” recalled a former colleague, while another said, “It was just a plain fact with Grace. Norma Jeane was going to be a movie star, and that was that.” (For more info, read Donald Spoto’s Marilyn Monroe: The Biography.)

In her 1954 memoir, My Story, Marilyn would reflect on her early days in acting: “I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, ‘There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.'”

My Story also reveals the source of the quote so beloved by Maria Bakalova and many other fans. “‘You’re going to be a great movie star,’ Johnny Hyde said to me. ‘I know. Many years ago I discovered a girl like you and brought her to Metro – Lana Turner. You’re better. You’ll go further. You’ve got more.'”

One has to wonder what Lana Turner thought of this quote. But although taken slightly out of context, its resonance with fans and Hollywood hopefuls alike reveals a certain truth about Marilyn’s appeal – she embodies a kind of modern-day fairy-tale, a Cinderella story, although without the requisite happy ending.