I always loved Milton Greene’s photographs of Marilyn Monroe best. They capture other facets of her personality beyond her glamorous beauty: joyful, focused, lazing around at home without make-up, and pensive. She could also be witty and she had a wicked sense of humour. I remember once reading a bizarre practical joke Marilyn played on a journalist who was interviewing Marilyn as she brushed her hair and got dressed. When the journalist looked away for a moment she says she turned to see Marilyn was standing up brushing her pubic hair as a joke. This is so wrong and broken but it always stuck with me because it goes against the demure picture painted of Marilyn as some fragile, docile flower. She obviously had a quirky – if not lewd – ability to be incredibly silly.
Not many people know that Marilyn was a keen business woman. She was one of the first Hollywood actresses to negotiate her way out of an unfair studio contract. She would go on to have stronger autonomy over her film career by forming her own production company that she started in partnership with Greene. Marilyn could have continued to make a lucrative living out of playing a stereotype of her sexy self in fluffy but highly entertaining romantic comedies. Instead she attended the Lee Strasberg Studio to study acting. Marilyn took on more serious and dramatic roles that challenged the way the public saw her, such as the forlorn saloon singer in Bus Stop and an alienated dance teacher in the phenomenally heart-breaking The Misfits (written by her husband at the time, Arthur Miller).
Most people characterise Marilyn Monroe as a victim. I see a determined woman who worked very hard at her craft. Yes she created an iconic image, but it was forged through dedication and meticulous attention to detail. I love that she aspired to be more than most other people wanted her to be.