Let’s face it, HBO documentaries are the bee’s knees. And when I heard about HBO’s Love, Marilyn, a Marilyn Monroe documentary, I got reaaaaaaally excited. Having already known a good amount of detail regarding the beauty icon’s life, I was eager to see what HBO was going to reveal. The Marilyn information and persona that’s been pushed out by the press, previous films, biographies and photos can only answer so much about her. Stories of her sex pot ways, her inability to act and her knack for causing havoc on film sets is often the way Marilyn’s portrayed. Recently, two boxes of Marilyn’s personal journals, poetry and various other writings/drawings were discovered. Jack. Pot. This in-depth look at the joy, turmoil, hard work, love and emotion, written by Marilyn herself, is fascinating and eye-opening. And the way that Director Liz Garbus presents us with Marilyn’s innermost thoughts and feelings and emotions is amazing. If you think you knew Marilyn Monroe before, you’ll have a whole new understanding at the end of Love, Marilyn…for better or for worse. Just like she’d want it.
The all-star “cast” of Love, Marilyn delivers Marilyn’s journal entries and letters as if they’re performing monologues for a dramatic scene. There’s less about Marilyn’s known backstory and a lot more about her own feelings, written on these recently discovered pieces of paper. Interviews from the people who were closest to her offer a glimpse into the real Marilyn, not the dumb-blonde that most people think of after seeing her in the movies. Marilyn’s own words and those stories from her friends and family show a strong Marilyn — a true business woman, hard-working actress, take-no-crap-from-anyone, self-made brand who ruled Hollywood while she struggled with relationships. While the letters and journals are revealing, they still manage to add mystery to the woman who’s also known as Norma Jeane.
Going back to the Marilyn Monroe era allows for easier understanding of how all her small actions ended up proving themselves to be huge. Dumb blonde? Nah. Not even close. Her dedication to becoming a good actress and being treated as such caused her tantrums and bad behavior on set. The brand she built, the Marilyn Monroe, both made her and trapped her. Marilyn understood how to make it to the top and never apologized for doing what it took to get there.
One of the most pleasantly surprising details of Marilyn Monroe’s life was her dedication to becoming an actress. Her written schedule and to-do list was extensive and it included: dance classes, acting classes, exercise, singing and regular school classes. Marilyn’s insecurity with her lack of formal education was certainly an exacerbation on her struggle to be more than just a pretty face. Though she earned her way to major films via the “casting couch” method, Marilyn resented her typecasting as the idiot, gold-digging girl — which is the way she was portraying in all of early films. She was not respected by the directors or 20th Century Fox Studios, but Marilyn worked hard to prove that she wanted it baaaaaaad. And then, during it all, the commotion of Marilyn’s first nude photos came to light. You know, the famous ones in the calendar? Welp, apparently Fox was none too happy about all that…except Marilyn was like yah, I did it, so what? Even when the studio told her to lie about it, she refused and went on to twist it into a sob story of her being forced to pose nude in order to make money. Boom. And there goes her rise to stardom.
From the genesis of the Playboy spread, Marilyn didn’t just look the part…she created the part and persona. Marilyn read The Thinking Body and designed her walk and talk around the instructional piece. Marilyn would remind people of her art by asking, “Wanna see me be her?” referring to turning on the Marilyn Monroe personality that the spotlight knows and loves. But of course, when one rises to fame by constantly playing a character, one does struggle with finding inner peace and love — and that’s evident in her writing. Marilyn’s a lonely and tortured soul, constantly aware that her character is making her both successful and keeping her from getting serious roles in films. She was plagued by her insecurities — especially around classically-trained actors — and she often struggled to keep up. Her OCD and need for perfection did cause havoc on the sets. But when Marilyn made it on screen, everyone agrees that she owned it.
Not to say that Marilyn wasn’t a trained actress. Love, Marilyn lets us into the obsessive world of her relationship with acting coach Lee Strasberg. And even with her ups and downs in her personal life (which included marriages, divorces, miscarriages and a constant refusal of her supposed gender role), Marilyn succeeds where most every person in the same position has ultimately failed. Her loyalty to her husbands (Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller) never made it as far as her loyalty to becoming a well-respected actress. Even days before her death, Marilyn stated that she was the happiest she’d ever been. In the end, Fox Studios survived because of Marilyn Monroe…and she knew it.
Like so many other public figures who are constantly in the spotlight, Marilyn struggled with insomnia, pill addiction, failed relationships, constant paparazzi and media swarming, invasive personal questions, depression, loneliness and finding herself. Her journal entries reveal a sad young lady who was desperate to find love and happiness. In the end, Marilyn succumbs to alcohol, sleeping pills, depression and loneliness. The truth is, sadly, we can’t have it all. But our affair with Marilyn will never end. Her tortured soul and brutal honesty makes her even more endearing to us. Because she’s human…and a damn good writer…and a smart woman who wows with her natural beauty. And there will never be anything or anyone like her, again.