Marilyn Monroe’s Two Secrets
What I learned about the icon by folding her capri pants.
When you look at Marilyn on-screen and—armed with the information I have just provided—you realize that the busty, ample gal brimming over Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot is literally one-third your size, you have every right to become suicidal. If she looks like that—zaftig, almost chubby—what on earth would you look like under similar circumstances?
Conventional wisdom says that the camera adds five pounds. After my Marilyn experience, I would say it’s more like 500 pounds.
This schism, between what one thinks one actually looks like and what one looks like when one is represented on film or in a photograph, is a central issue for the women and gays of today. This is why we, the gays and the girls, make fat jokes all day long.
We live in an age where photo documentation is not just part of life, it is life. Any and all social gatherings are relentlessly filmed and YouTubed and snapped and Facebooked to the point where people do not even feel they exist unless somebody is lensing the moment.
Why are we doing this to ourselves? Cameras are not our friends. Photographs are brutal and unkind. They ricochet images in which we look three times fatter than we thought we were. Back in Marilyn’s day it was only movie stars whose lives were so ferociously documented. Now it is every gay and every girl on earth.
As a result we are all striving for a new level of thinness. Now we all desperately want to be camera-thin. This has forced girls and gays to adopt extreme measures. In every office across the country every gal and every gay has a bottle of an alarming bilge-colored beverage at hand.
“I’m on a cleanse” is the mantra du jour.
No gal will walk down the office hallway unless she is wearing skyscraper porno heels that attenuate her entire body into camera-readiness. We have all turned into a bunch of Marilyns.
Before we move on to my next Marilyn revelation, and before anyone takes yet one more unflattering picture of your ass, let me offer you a couple of great posing tips. You cannot stop your drunken pals from taking your picture, but you can minimize the horror with a little fashion insider knowledge.
Tip 1: THURSDAY. Irving Penn, the greatest fashion photographer of all time, allegedly advised his models to say the word “Thursday” right before he snapped his camera. Thursday was his “cheese.” “Thursday” creates a glamorous moue followed by a natural, subtle smile. If some crazy chick lurches toward you with an iPhone, say “Thursday” and hope for the best.
Tip 2: CHIN ON THE LEDGE. Kate Moss has been overheard repeating the phrase “chin on the ledge” while shooting. Kate’s mantra is accompanied by a light neck stretch and a proffering toward the camera of her magnificent bone structure. Kate’s tip will maximize what little neck you have and minimize your chins.
And for my second Marilyn bet-you-didn’t-see-that-coming revelation …
Marilyn Monroe was a huge movie star, but she owned diddly-squat. She was not materialistic!
Marilyn’s estate was a bunch of poignant schlock. The auction raised more than $13 million, but not because of any intrinsic value in the numbered lots. There were no Renoirs or Picassos. Her knickknacks were pedestrian. Her cookware was greasy. Her spatulas were bent. Even her Golden Globe was broken.
The majority of her clothing showed surprising wear and tear. She had worn it all repeatedly and there just wasn’t that much of it.
Her jewelry? With the exception of her DiMaggio wedding ring it was a bunch of paste danglers and costume crap.
Shoes? Yes, there were several pairs of black suede Ferragamo stilettos with worn heels. But Marilyn—brace yourself for another shocker—was more into books than shoes. Her poignant desire to cultivate her mind and give herself an education resulted in an extensive library of first editions. Take that, Carrie Bradshaw!
This stunning lack of materialism made me love and respect her more. What do you need in life other than a good book, a few capri pants, and a cotton sundress or two?
Yes, there were a few fur coats. But compared to the gimme-gimme-gimme stars of today whose hangar-size closets are bursting with freebies, she was a total bread-and-water-eating, hair-shirt-wearing, self-denying nun.
Marilyn the enigma. Marilyn the sphinx. Marilyn the gay icon. Will she endure?
According to marketing folks at Christie’s, the M.M. auction was timed to coincide with the turn of the century, after which it was anticipated that her popularity would begin a slow and natural decline. Stop screeching with horror and indignation and remember that exactly the same thing happened to those silent-movie stars, back in the day. In 1920 Mary Pickford—in many ways far more famous and well liked than Marilyn—could not leave her house without hordes of people yanking on her ringlets. Mary who? And when Rudolph Valentino died, there were riots and people killed themselves. Does anybody remember the old kohl-eyed poof now?
I recently rewatched Some Like It Hot. When Marilyn walks down the train platform—her luminescent beauty is showcased in a black tailored fur-trimmed coat with a feather-trimmed cloche hat, and she is clutching her little ukulele case—she is the hippest, most stylish chick in the universe. It’s hard to imagine that the poofs and style addicts of the future will not get a chill when they encounter such loveliness.
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)