Why Marilyn Casts a Long Shadow

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

As the 60th anniversary of Marilyn’s death approaches, she is once again in the headlines. All too often, however, the stories shed little light on the lady herself. In the Sunday Times, Rosamund Urwin explores what Marilyn means to us in 2022.

“Few stars have cast such a long shadow. Andrew Wilson, a novelist and biographer whose next book is about the actress, said that this stems from her mystique, which allows fans to have their own view of who she was. Plain Norma Jeane Mortenson could go almost unnoticed in the street, but then transformed into the movie goddess Monroe, the character she created, who was luminescent on screen.

‘She is so open for interpretation and reinterpretation — anyone can project anything they want onto Marilyn and get something back,’ Wilson said. ‘That’s the classic definition of a star.’

Wilson added that Monroe was ahead of her time, too. ‘She was one of the first stars of the public era who examined herself — almost having therapy in the full view of the public eye — making her a very modern celebrity,’ he said. ‘She was always asking, “What does it mean to be Marilyn Monroe?” Marilyn was also quite messy that gives her a realness and rawness that you don’t really get any more.’

Long viewed as a victim, Monroe’s life is also being re-appraised in light of the MeToo movement, Wilson said. ‘There was always this argument about was Marilyn a victim or a manipulator?’ he said.

‘She had some terrible experiences with the “casting couch”, and it would be easy to interpret her as a victim of Hollywood at its worst, but at the same time, she was very savvy when it comes to business … She is one of those stars who resists binary interpretation, because she’s not “either, or”: she contains multitudes.’

Amy Greene, the wife of the late photographer Milton Greene and a friend of the actress, has spent six decades trying to make the case that Monroe was not a passive person. ‘She was never a victim … never in a million years,’ she told Vanity Fair this year. ‘She was a young, vital woman who loved life, loved parties, and had a good time.’