Marilyn Monroe, emancipated, powerful and free woman


Special file Marilyn
Do you really know Marilyn Monroe? Rebellious, committed, woman of fights, whistleblower,… On the occasion of the 60e anniversary of the death of the icon of American cinema, Humanity looks beyond all the stereotypes drawn by Hollywood.

You don’t become Marilyn Monroe by chance, because you have a pretty face and a bit of sass. In Hollywood, temple of the seventh art, applicants of this type are legion, and few are those who win the Grail, a real role. Even rarer are those who will go down in history with star status. And unique the one who will become an icon. Marilyn needed permanent lucidity, courage and combativeness to impose herself.

In the beginning was Norma Jeane

Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jeane Mortenson, then Norma Jean Baker) was born of an unknown father and a crazy mother, interned when she was 9 years old. She knew, until she was 16, eleven foster families. She got married for the first time at a very young age and started working in the factory. Photography, before being noticed by an agent, allowed him to make ends meet. But the Hollywood dream was still a long way off: how to enter this closed environment when you are a small worker with major cultural gaps, a memory that has never really been exercised and no relationships? Norma Jean’s first genius was to analyze her weaknesses and remedy them. “Marilyn Monroe invested everything she had, and everything she could, to improve herself.

For example, when she was a model, she took anatomy classes to understand how the body moves. She also took « singing, diction, drama lessons », notes Sébastien Cauchon in his « Marilyn » published by Stock editions in 2016. She also studied literature at the University of Los Angeles . And had dazzling intuitions, such as going to train at the Actors Studio when she was already in the limelight: « The Actors Studio is then the place that is changing the way actors work,” insists historian Antoine Sire. Marilyn Monroe, « fascinated by Broadway but whose career takes place in Hollywood », he continues, represents this end of the « golden age » of the studios, and heralds auteur cinema.

Victories against Fox

She will fight against the Fox, which pays her much less than her contemporaries like Elizabeth Taylor and offers her roles which she rejects. She won her trial for the first time in 1955 and, to the money, « preferred to obtain by contract the choice of her roles, screenwriters and partners to make the films she wanted », writes Sébastien Cauchon. Better still, with her photographer accomplice Milton Greene, she launched her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions.

In 1958, in Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe and her coach, Paula Strasberg, on the set of the filming of « Some like it hot ». © Richard C. Miller/Donalson Collection/Getty Images

A few weeks before her death, there was a new coup: the film she was then shooting under the direction of George Cukor, « Something’s Got to Give », was stopped: Cukor demanded the dismissal of the actress for her repeated delays, and the studio is claiming $500,000 in compensation. Dean Martin, her very elegant partner, immediately told the press that “no Marilyn, no picture”: no Marilyn, no film. The actress begins a showdown with the studio. And once again, Fox is forced to bend: she is rehired, on the condition of not imposing her coach Paula Strasberg. His salary, until then much lower than that of the two other stars of the film, Cyd Charisse and Dean Martin, is revised significantly upwards (one million dollars for two films, against 100,000 dollars at the base). Filming was to resume in October. Marilyn won’t have the opportunity to savor her victory.


Marilyn also had political battles throughout her life. First against racism. A jazz lover, she met Ella Fitzgerald in 1954. The two women, who had lived through a traumatic childhood, sympathized. Ella explains to Marilyn that select establishments, notably the Mocambo in Los Angeles, refuse to let her sing because of her skin color. The actress, in full glory, goes, in April 1955, to see the owner of the establishment, and explains to him that she will be there every evening for a month, in the front row, with friends, if he agrees to let Ella Fitzgerald sing. She kept her word, and this sequence made it possible to launch, in a big way, the career of the singer. Later, says the jazz singer’s biographer, Geoffrey Mark, in « ELLA. A Biography of the Legendary”, seeing that her friend, whom she had come to listen to in Colorado, was denied access to the main door of a club, she refused to enter. Until you get satisfaction.

1956. They were married on June 29, in Roxbury, Connecticut. Marilyn Monroe and her third husband, American playwright Arthur Miller. © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Under FBI surveillance

The simple presence, not insignificant at all, of Marilyn also made it possible to change the fate of Arthur Miller. The latter, suspected of communist sympathies, was obviously annoyed by the sinister McCarthy commission. Deprived of a visa for ten years for his « un-American » activities, the writer only received a suspended sentence. The fact that Marilyn supported him and was present in the room during the judgment undoubtedly weighed. Later, as shown in filmed archives by Céline Chassé and Raphaëlle Baillot in their magnificent documentary on France 5, « Marilyn, woman of today », she protected, verbally, in front of the press, in all simplicity, the one who had become her husband by supporting him in his fights. From the beginning of her relationship with Arthur Miller, Marilyn was conscientiously followed and spied on by the FBI.

Icon QuoteMarilyn was animated by a true revolutionary idealism.Arthur Miller

This surveillance also harmed her later: one day in 1961, while traveling in Mexico City, she met Frederick Vanderbilt Field, an exiled leftist. She confided to him, the reports of the FBI attest to it, her position in favor of the civil rights of the American Blacks, her hatred towards the boss of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. And, also, reports Anthony Summers in his film « The Marilyn Monroe Mystery, Untold Conversations » (on Netflix), his doubts about the nuclear strategy of the United States. Which, according to the journalist, would have instantly ended his relationship with the Kennedy brothers. « Marilyn was driven by a true revolutionary idealism, » wrote Arthur Miller. Despite and probably because of its difficulties. We lived together at a time when America was still going through one of its reactionary phases. Social conscience was only a vague memory and this played a role in her discouragement vis-à-vis her country and herself. »

Marilyn is still too often presented as the Fox wanted to show her: as an idiotic blonde. The whole journey of his short life shows both his absolute modernity and his intelligence, in head and heart.


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