I call you that because I want to address the innermost part of you, and not because I don’t think you were Marilyn Monroe in essence, because I do. I think Marilyn Monroe was asleep for most of your life, stardom just awakened that part of you that perhaps you didn’t know yourself. I wish I was there when your life ended, Norma, because I want to know whether you ended it or not. And if not, I want to know who dared turn off such a light, who dared take down such a powerful force, who thought himself to be greater than the great Marilyn Monroe. Maybe you were the only one who was strong enough to do it. Maybe you were the only one who wanted to do it. Because, believe it or not, Norma Jeane, you had so much to live for. I know you were fighting an internal battle with your own mind, but there were so many people who were gladly willing to endure it with you. If you killed yourself you obviously didn’t recognize that properly.
I bring news. People still remember you. Your memory has not even begun to drift off and I am sure for at least a century after your death, you will still be remembered. How could it be different? You were iconic, you were a constructed ideal that brought together everything every man wanted to have and every woman wanted to be. Maybe that’s what killed you. Marilyn was too much of a hurricane for you to bear. Before you came to grips with who you were as Norma Jeane, what your past consisted of and what your future reserved for you, you had to become someone else entirely, someone out of your control, someone you didn’t necessarily want to be. And what I regret to say, dear, is that people remember Marilyn. People do not remember Norma.
That teenage girl that looked like the sculpture of an angel, getting married to escape foster care, modeling her silver white skin to make fifty bucks, who was at war with her own family, with her own desires, with her own mind; that girl is gone. That girl began to die with you on that hot night in August and she will continue to be killed slowly and painfully every time a lie about you is spread. That girl had a personality and a life story that did not match the legend she was forced into. She grew up hearing she was not the type of person who could afford to dream higher. Dreams cost money – of which she had none – and talent – of which she had plenty, but was too busy with survival to even begin to explore it. What catapulted her into fame was her extraordinary beauty, her star quality, her ability to catch the eye. She had perfect timing; she brought exactly what they were looking for, when and how they were looking for it. And so they created a lasting memory: One of a sex symbol, one of a mindless beauty, one of a strong, confident woman whose curves have the power to cure anything. What a digression from the shy, insecure Norma Jeane you always were. They dyed your hair platinum blonde and gave you a red lipstick. I bet you looked in the mirror and wondered who that was.
What you didn’t know, Norma, is that this dehumanization you suffered so early on in your life, eliminating your original personality from the public eye, would be the start of a much greater dehumanization you would suffer after death. You were intelligent, you had a business-oriented mind, and you built your own success from the ground up. You criticized your producers – so much so that you started to produce independently! Becoming as famous as you were – and are – is in itself a dehumanizing experience. But what they’ve done to you is build an empire based on lies. And now you are seen by a generation far younger than your own as a promiscuous, self-exploiting wannabe. How ironic that your ability to love and to be loved back so easily has been overlooked. I’ve seen so many teenage girls say they want to look like Marilyn, they want to be able to seduce like Marilyn, but I’ve never heard anyone say they wanted to love like Marilyn. Truth is, one kiss on the forehead from you and we’d all be on our knees. What’s more, you were so good at loving that it ended in naivety, in trusting too much all the wrong people.
As the years go by, society becomes increasingly frivolous and sex becomes more and more the only thing that sells. Thus, the image conjured from your memory seems to cater perfectly to what the masses are asking for. And with your 50th death anniversary approaching, how fitting that the Marilyn craze should have a comeback. And a comeback riddled with misquotes, wrong data and the overall manipulation of your story to make you seem like something you never were.
I would like to end this letter with a promise, Norma. I promise to keep your reality alive. I promise to defend you whenever your memory is assaulted. Because despite anything, you had what many people struggle to get and most die without: It is not sex appeal, it is not beauty, it is hope. It was the light at the end of your tunnel, a light you died trying desperately to reach. But you gave the world everything you had to give, and the world never gave any of it back.
Special thanks, Marcela!
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