Author Michelle Morgan writes an exclusive feature for Female First to celebrate the release of her new book, The Little Book of Marilyn: Inspiration from the Goddess of Glam. Here are seven ways Marilyn has been a positive inspiration to women from every generation...
1. She was outspoken and fought for her rights: It may surprise you to discover that Marilyn Monroe was fearless and one of the bravest women of her generation! Time after time she is labelled as a victim, but anyone who has actually studied the actress’s life will see that this is simply untrue. At a time when women were supposed to sit back and stay quiet, Marilyn spoke out about the studio system, misogynistic executives, and ‘Hollywood Wolves.’ She also fought extensively for her rights on set. For instance, while making Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the studio refused to give Marilyn a dressing room. Instead of just accepting their decision, the already-famous actress fought for her right to change costumes in private. “Don’t forget, you’re not a star,” the executive told her. “Well whatever I am, I am the blonde!” she replied.
2. She carried on, even when afraid: Marilyn loved being an actress, but the actual process of acting in front of cast and crew was terrifying for her. So much so that she would often lock herself in her dressing room, fearful of facing the cameras. Much has been said about how late Marilyn was on set, but almost nobody mentions that in spite of being terrified, she did eventually get the job done! Marilyn worked through times of great physical and emotional pain: While making Monkey Business in 1952, she was suffering from appendicitis, but carried on working because the director wouldn’t allow her time off for the operation! Then while making The Seven Year Itch in 1954, Marilyn’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio broke down. Instead of giving up, she worked through her emotional pain and ended up giving one of the best performances of her life.
3. She rose above gossip: Even when Marilyn was a young model (working under her real name of Norma Jeane Dougherty), she had no interest in publicly gossiping about her colleagues. While other models huddled in corners to partake in endless chatter, Norma Jeane kept to herself and concentrated solely on her work. This attitude continued throughout her life and even when the media tried to pit her against other actresses – Jane Russell, Diana Dors and Elizabeth Taylor specifically – Marilyn refused to bite. When reporters tried to gain an unkind word about ‘rival’ Diana Dors, Marilyn merely explained that she had never met the woman and was unqualified to comment.
4. She stood up for others: Marilyn was warned that she could damage (or even lose) her career, by standing beside playwright Arthur Miller, while he faced contempt of Congress for not naming names during the McCarthy witch hunt. This warning would be enough for some to abandon their relationship, but not Marilyn! Instead of walking away, Marilyn married Miller and even travelled to Washington with him during the trial.
This generosity of spirit extended to others, too. While playing host to future co-star Laurence Olivier, Marilyn heard him criticising young actress, Susan Strasberg’s performance in a play. Marilyn immediately jumped in and protected her friend. She behaved in a similar way while living in England during 1956. When she overheard her security man shouting at her resident pianist, Marilyn intercepted, told the guard that his behaviour was out of order and then apologised to the young musician.
5. She never stopped learning: Marilyn left high school in order to marry first husband, James Dougherty. However, this did not stop an insatiable desire to learn and study, throughout her life. From modelling classes at the beginning of her career, through to dance and drama courses while signed as a starlet with Twentieth Century Fox, Marilyn treated her studies seriously. She went to various acting classes on a regular basis; attended the famed Actors Studio in New York; worked with several acting coaches and even attended an art and literature night school course, when she was already a fairly famous actress. Later, Marilyn even enrolled on a distance-learning art course – materials from which were recently sold at auction.
6. She dreamed big: Raised in a series of foster homes and an orphanage, if anyone was destined never to become a worldwide superstar, it was Marilyn Monroe! While embarking on a modelling career, she did so without the support of her family, and with constant criticism of her looks and her curly, brown hair. Did this prevent Marilyn from reaching for the stars? Of course not! If anything it merely spurred her on, but even after finding fame, Marilyn was still faced with negativity and labelled as a dumb blonde who would surely fail without the studio behind her. Marilyn ignored the remarks, walked out on her contract, moved to New York and created her own film company. She eventually negotiated a new contract with Twentieth Century Fox, which gave her more power than she had ever had before!
7. She was nobody’s fool: Marilyn had a kind and generous heart, but if she felt that someone had overstayed their welcome, or taken advantage of her spirit, they’d soon hear about it! While she adored baseball star (and second husband), Joe DiMaggio, his opinion of how she should behave during their marriage was not to Marilyn’s liking. When he objected to the skirt blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch, it led to discord in the marriage and Marilyn walked out. She did stay friends with DiMaggio, but it was on her own terms and she vowed they would never marry again.
Colleagues could also find themselves on the receiving end of Marilyn’s temper. When her acting coach became far too controlling in her personal and professional life, Marilyn marched away from the relationship and never went back – even when the woman threatened to tell her story. Then, while in England making The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn took a great dislike to Laurence Olivier when he spoke to her in what she deemed to be a condescending manner. Even though Olivier was a huge star, Marilyn stood her ground and walked off the set on several occasions. The actor saw working with Marilyn as one of the most stressful times of his career, but even he had to admit that while watching the finished movie, Marilyn’s performance was stunning!
Michelle Morgan’s new book The Little Book of Marilyn: Inspiration from the Goddess of Glam (£12.99, Running Press) is available now.
Follow Michelle Morgan on Instagram and Twitter: @MMWriterGirl
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