Playing Marilyn: From ‘Goodbye, Norma Jean’ to ‘Blonde’

Michelle Williams, Kelli Garner and Ana de Armas as Marilyn

Now the first Blonde trailer has dropped (see here), Ana de Armas joins the pantheon of actresses who’ve played Marilyn onscreen. Entertainment Weekly looks back on some other renditions in movies and on television which run the gamut from sensational to lamentable.

  • ‘A bit of a stretch, but a decent attempt considering she was one of the first portrayals of the icon’ – Misty Rowe in Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976)
  • ‘One of the better-received films about the icon’s life by its release, even if it was a TV movie’ – Catherine Hicks in Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980)
  • ‘The only actress who saw Marilyn demonstrating the theory of relativity with balloons, and she did it with gusto’ – Theresa Russell in Insignificance (1985)
  • ‘A follow-up film to Goodnight, Norma Jean … Yes, it’s as lazy as it sounds’ – Paula Lane in Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1989)
  • ‘Not the biggest name to play Marilyn, but she’s certainly done it the most’ – Susan Griffiths in Marilyn and Me (1991.) She also played Marilyn in TV’s Quantum Leap, and a Monroe impersonator in Pulp Fiction (1995)
  • ‘Plays the actress sympathetically, as a fragile ditz’ – Melody Anderson in Marilyn and Bobby: Her Final Affair (1993)
  • ‘The two co-existing, challenging each other on screen, fosters an imaginative tension’ – Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino in Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996)
  • ‘We don’t see much of her … a wink to Marilyn’s persona’ – Barbara Niven in The Rat Pack (1998)
  • ‘A more introspective Marilyn, one with depth and decay’ – Poppy Montgomery in Blonde (2001), the first adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel
  • ‘Lukewarm at best, though that’s mostly the fault of the writing’ – Charlotte Sullivan in The Kennedys (2011)
  • ‘Shows a side of Marilyn that’s desperate to connect in such a singular way that it’s hard to imagine anyone else’ – Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn (2011)
  • ‘Beyond being a showbiz drama, the constant psychoanalysing of Monroe is trite’ – Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee and Uma Thurman in Smash (2012)
  • ‘She makes this fantasy woman seem like a human being … even if the film wasn’t up to par’ – Kelli Garner in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015)
  • ‘Just like her character, it seems she has mastered the art of playing the part’ – Ana de Armas in Blonde (2022)
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