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How Marilyn Monroe Was Misunderstood Then and Now



Despite a predictably effusive standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival, where it premiered in September, Andrew Dominik’s Blonde saw its awards potential quickly downgraded by Oscar handicappers once the reviews began posting. While critics had praise for Ana de Armas’ fiercely committed performance as a bruised and battered Marilyn Monroe, the consensus about the film itself — the Netflix release eventually scored a meager 42 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — was that it failed to recognize Monroe’s intelligence, determination and undeniable talent.

Writing for, Stephanie Zacharek observed, “Blonde allows no room for the real-life Marilyn’s multidimensionality, her capacity for delight as well as her deep depressions. Actors are always more than the sum of their parts, and Marilyn Monroe especially, as both a performer and a persona, is too complex to be reduced to parts in the first place. Her performances are a major component of her story, and the one that’s most often neglected.”

The film, for example, gives short shrift to Monroe’s glorious star turn in the 1959 classic Some Like It Hot. We briefly see two scenes from the movie being shot — in both cases, Monroe storms off the set, at one point yelling, “You think I’m too dumb to comprehend the joke’s on me.” And then there’s the movie premiere itself, where ghoulish fans, straight out of The Day of the Locust, threaten to devour her. There’s no appreciation for the fact that even though Monroe struggled during the reportedly difficult shoot in the wake of a miscarriage, she still managed to turn in a triumphantly lighthearted performance that bubbles with a self-knowing exuberance.

But while the Academy is now likely to penalize Blonde for not fully appreciating Monroe’s accomplishments, the truth of the matter is that during her lifetime, the Academy did not appreciate Monroe, either.

Although she was one of the reigning stars of the ’50s, Monroe made only one appearance at the Academy Awards during her career. At the 23rd Oscars in 1951, she was invited to present the award for best sound recording. She was still something of a starlet at that point, having had a brief part in the previous year’s All About Eve, where she was introduced by George Sanders’ acerbic Addison DeWitt as Miss Casswell, “a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts.” In introducing her to the audience at the Pantages Theatre, Fred Astaire hailed not her talent but her looks. As the orchestra played, “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” Monroe, who’d not yet perfected her breathless Marilyn persona, walked briskly to the podium, and without even looking up, read off the list of nominees before opening the envelope and announcing the winner — the 20th Century Fox sound department for All About Eve — and then quickly exited the stage.

In the years that followed, the Academy ignored her altogether. But elsewhere, Monroe earned BAFTA nominations as best foreign actress for both 1955’s The Seven Year Itch and 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl. She received one of Italy’s David di Donatello Awards for The Prince. And she was a Golden Globe nominee for 1956’s Bus Stop.

Some Like It Hot, an immediate critical and commercial hit, offered the Academy an opportunity to remedy that oversight. When Oscar nominations were announced, Some Like It Hot nabbed six, including writing and directing noms for Billy Wilder. Monroe’s name, however, was left off the list.

That might have been excused by the fact that the Academy often overlooked comic performances — except for the fact that Jack Lemmon was nominated as best actor. Apparently his donning drag couldn’t be ignored; what no one seemed to realize at the time was that Monroe’s boop-boop-de-booping Sugar was every bit as much of a drag act. And as if to underscore that comedy wasn’t verboten, that same year, the Academy did see fit to nominate Doris Day as best actress for the risqué romantic comedy. Pillow Talk.

In a 2018 list of “The 20 Greatest Oscar Snubs Ever,” The Guardian ranked the Academy’s giving Monroe the cold shoulder as No. 13, saying, “For sheer comic pizzazz, she should have been a shoo-in for Some Like It Hotalthough she wasn’t nominated — for that or anything else.”

But then, the Academy might respond with a shrug, echoing Joe E. Brown’s famous last line from the movie, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The News84Media magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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