Fifty years ago Sunday, the body of singer, actress, model and icon Marilyn Monroe was found in her Brentwood home on the westside of Los Angeles.
She died at the untimely age of 36, which means that the world never got to see her grow old. Monroe’s visage is locked in our collective consciousness as the original youthful beauty ideal of a blonde bombshell.
In a 1962 article in the LA Times, author Ayn Rand said, “She projected the sense of a person born and reared in some radiant utopia untouched by suffering, unable to conceive of ugliness or evil, facing life with the confidence, the benevolence, and the joyous self-flaunting of a child or a kitten who is happy to display its own attractiveness as the best gift it can offer the world, and who expects to be admired for it, not hurt.”
“She’s had a huge impact in her day and ever since, there’s no doubt about it. I would call her the Cleopatra of the 20th century,” said Lois Banner, professor of history at USC Dornsife college and author of “Marilyn: the passion and the paradox”
Since Marilyn’s death, many feel the beauty ideal has become focused on waif-thin models. It is worth noting that Monroe’s dressmaker listed her measurements as 36-22-35, which is more hourglass than stick figure.
In her day, the ideals of beauty ran from the very voluptuous brunette Jane Russell, with whom she starred in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, to the waiflike Audrey Hepburn.
“She was naturally extremely witty and also very beautiful and she had a natural sort of sexual attraction. And she put it all together into creating the Lorelei Lee character...she decided to create the dumb blonde,” said Banner.
The character was such a hit that many, including listener Matthew from La Mirada, see Monroe as the ideal woman.
Bill from Long Beach had a chance encounter with Monroe as a young 7 year old boy on Fire Island in New York.
“I had the fortune of being kissed by Marilyn Monroe back in the early 50s....There was this wonderful aura about her that just drew me in and I walked over and introduced myself...She had something magical about her that when you just looked at her or talked to her and were in that sphere that surrounded her you felt like you were in heaven.”
The aura of Marilyn is still a money-maker in today’s world. She is the 3rd highest grossing dead celebrity behind Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley according to Forbes Magazine.
Whether or not her 20th century icon status will translate throughout the 21st century remains to be seen. One listener from Westlake Village said he thinks Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is the new icon— for her intelligence, accomplishments and beauty.
Half a century after her death, is Marilyn Monroe still the gold standard for feminine beauty? Or have times and our perception of ideal beauty changed? How will we look back upon her legacy in another fifty years?
Lois Banner, professor of history at USC Dornsife college and author of “Marilyn: the passion and the paradox”