Why We’re Still Obsessed With Marilyn Monroe Six Decades After Her Death

By Meghan Dillon
·  7 min read
Screen Shot 2022-11-17 at 10.21.57 AM

Six decades after her death, Marilyn Monroe is more iconic and popular than ever.

From her childhood spent in foster homes to her stunning career to her tragic death by overdosing on barbiturates, Marilyn Monroe’s life and legacy are legendary. Unfortunately, many remember her for her beauty and sexiness, not for her talent and kindness. Though she was beautiful and tragic, she was also talented, smart, and kind. Her modern legacy encapsulates Marilyn on and off screen, and many fans remember her for being beautiful inside and out.

Marilyn’s Legacy in Pop Culture 

We all know Marilyn Monroe as a talented yet tragic figure, and it can be seen all throughout popular culture in movies, tv, and music. Some of Marilyn’s most famous movies are still beloved today, and modern fans love her for her persona and impeccable comedic timing. Some of her most famous movies include All About Eve, Niagra, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like It Hot, and The Misfits

Her roles as Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the unnamed girl in The Seven Year Itch are arguably the most famous of them all (and it’s no coincidence that these are some of her funniest performances) and have been recreated by countless celebrities over the years like Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Blake Lively on Gossip Girl, and Miss Piggy on The Muppets.

Marilyn’s story has been portrayed in movies and television numerous times over the past 60 years, and some of the most famous portrayals of her are Goodbye Norma Jean (1976), Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980), Goodbye Sweet Marilyn (1989), Marilyn and Me (1991), Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996), My Week with Marilyn (2011), The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015), and Blonde (2022). She’s also been portrayed in popular shows like Quantum Leap, American Horror Story, Feud, and The Kennedys. Of all of the portrayals, My Week with Marilyn is a fan-favorite and believed to be the most accurate.

Based on the two memoirs written by Colin Clark, Marilyn’s friend and assistant on the set of The Prince and The Showgirl, the movie takes a more intimate look into who Marilyn was. Colin (Eddie Redmayne) takes a job as an assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl and is introduced to the director Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and eventually to Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Colin gets to know Marilyn as she struggles to be taken seriously on set and witnesses the troubles in her marriage to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). Colin gets to know Marilyn on a personal and intimate level, giving audiences a chance to see who she was behind all of the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and her persona.

Music is another popular medium in which Marilyn’s story is told. The most famous song about her is easily “Candle in the Wind” by Elton John, and the lyrics “your candle burned out long before your legend ever did” perfectly encapsulate her legacy. More modern artists like Nicki Minaj and Kelsea Ballerini have also sung about Marilyn, mainly about how both women can relate to Marilyn and questions they have for her.

When it comes to Marilyn’s legacy in pop culture, Param Davies of The Richest believes that much of it has to do with her image and who she was behind the scenes. Davies writes, “Monroe posters are still a major obsession today – be it among teenagers or adults curating a professional space. This kind of clout over the public is also the result of the resonance that Marilyn created by her godly charm. The pop artist Andy Warhol also created the classic Marilyn Diptych in 1962, a silkscreen painting featuring the evergreen star. It later became an extremely popular poster.”

Davies continues, “Monroe broke through the shackles of regressive and predatory presences with sheer courage and fortitude and made her beauty and self-expression stand out. Her bold personality and charisma were the significant factors that made Marilyn Monroe one of the century's most influential figures.”

Marilyn’s Influence on Fashion and Beauty

Marilyn is just as iconic in the world of fashion and beauty. Since the recent release of Blonde, "Monroecore" is the latest beauty and fashion trend to mimic and modernize Marilyn’s beauty and style. From Kim Kardashian wearing one of her dresses to the Met Gala to TikTok influencers recreating her iconic curls, everyone is rocking her simple yet glamorous and elegant style.

Marilyn had two specific styles: her on-screen style and her off-screen style. According to Time, “Fashion historian and author of Classic Hollywood Style Caroline Young points to a few crucial factors to consider. Young notes that Monroe put forth a carefully crafted on-screen persona that was sexy, glamorous, and glitzy. This is the side of Monroe that was most heavily documented and that’s what we most associate with her style, even though it did not necessarily reflect Monroe’s actual wardrobe. While in her downtime, Monroe preferred slacks and turtlenecks or simple sheath dresses, it’s the images of her in striking outfits on red carpets or in classic on-screen moments – like when her white dress billowed out as she stood over a subway grate for the filming of The Seven Year Itch – that are much more widespread.”

However, many photos of Marilyn’s more casual style have come to light since the dawn of the internet, and most of them are just as chic as her more glamorous looks. The best part about this is that women can channel their inner Marilyn Monroe without wearing a gown; we can do it while going to work or lounging around the house.

Tragedy Is a Part of Marilyn’s Legacy

It’s impossible to divorce Marilyn’s legacy from her mental health problems and tragic death. A lot of adaptations of her story are sad, especially in the 2022 film starring Ana de Armas, Blonde.

While many praised Ana de Armas for her performance, some critics believed the film to be "exploitative" and "thinly-veiled trauma porn." Actress and model Emily Ratajkowski accused the film of "fetishizing female pain," and many viewers found the film to be disturbing and couldn’t get past the historical and factual inaccuracies.

Unfortunately, Blonde fell into the trap of oversexualizing Marilyn and focusing too much on her pain. Though it’s impossible to divorce tragedy from Marilyn’s legacy, this also goes to show why fans prefer films like My Week with Marilyn that humanize her.

Luckily, fans have taken it upon themselves to tell Marilyn’s real story. Greg Schreiner, president of the Marilyn Monroe Remembered Fan Club, writes, "I think that the public can have misconceptions. Certainly, the studio promoted the image of her being a dumb blonde. She was far from dumb. She was incredibly witty and clever, and she really was a very smart girl. When she read books, she was reading philosophers and very in-depth books. She was not reading a cheap novel. She was into always educating herself."

Schreiner also wants fans to remember Marilyn for her kindness, recounting an example of her generosity: "Anyone that really knew her, never even thought of her in those terms of a 'blonde bombshell.' They saw her as this giving, loving, very caring person. I remember talking to her stand-in, Evelyn Moriarty, and she said once she remarked about something Marilyn was wearing, how lovely it was. And the next morning, that item was packaged in front of her door. I mean, that's how generous Marilyn was." 

The fact that Marilyn went out of her way to be kind to others after everything she experienced is truly admirable. Though it’s impossible to remember Marilyn without her tragic end, her kindness also deserves to be a part of her legacy. Similar to how Audrey Hepburn is remembered for her style, talent, and kindness, Marilyn deserves to be remembered for these attributes too.

Closing Thoughts

Whether you’re a seasoned fan or have only seen one or two of her movies, everyone knows the story of Marilyn Monroe. Her legacy has long surpassed her life, mainly for her style, beauty, and tragic life story.

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