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Happy Birthday, Ms. Monroe

By Giulia Becker Miller

Image of Marilyn Monroe Ballerina Shoot circa 1954 via Pinterest

June 1st marks the birthday of Norma Jeane Baker. A girl who fell in love with the Chinese theatre in Los Angeles. A teenager hopping between the foster care system and possible permanent homes. A sixteen-year-old married in hopes of obtaining a more secure life than the one she had lived.

Image of Norma Jeane Mortenson circa 1944 via Pinterest

As World War II progressed, Norma Jeane Baker became a regular Rosie the Riveter. She worked in a factory helping assemble resources for the U.S. Army and Navy. During this endeavor, she was photographed in a starlet context for the first time. From then on, her missions and goals were set on becoming a model and an actress. Divorced from her first husband, she moved on to a single life with large ambitions. “Fear is stupid,” Marilyn Monroe would later say, “so are regrets.”

Image of American actress Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962) circa 1950 via Media Entertainment Arts Worldwide

Norma Jeane Baker’s transcendence into stardom and into the skin of Marilyn Monroe was a journey of struggle, questioning, and excitement. The independence that she was afforded with the path that she took in life was unheard of for women of her time. Women like her were only written about in women’s studies. Her existence begged the question, what is the rightful path for a woman, feminist or not?

The qualification must be made that Monroe never officially called herself a feminist. Yet, her life inspired and empowered women and femininity.

Simone De Beauvoir in The Second Sex, ponders the idea of “The Independent Women.” Beauvoir examines how this woman fails to satisfy both the feminists and anti-feminists of the time; she seems to exist in a limbo where her life revolves around missions and goals separate from any particular community and largely focused on herself. Beauvoir explains, “The fact of being a woman today poses peculiar problems for an independent human individual.” The independence that Monroe demanded in her existence produced, as Beauvoir predicts, a plethora of issues.

Image of Playboy cover circa December 1953 via Marilyn Geek

Marilyn Monroe found herself on the cover of Playboy magazine posing nude in the early years of her journey to become a star. This point in her career is often referenced as an overlooked decision and one that is to be looked down upon. However, Marilyn Monroe never shied away from this part of her life and career. After some time having been hired by Fox and working as an actress, the felicity (human resources) department got word of her transgressions as a nude model. Those who she worked for asked that she keep quiet about the calendars and magazines she had posed for and instead deny that she had ever posed nude. She felt wrong in doing so and as a result, she defied their wishes. When told to lie about this part of her career she said “but I did [pose nude]. I signed the release and I did. And I feel I should say it and so I did… They were very unhappy about it.” Monroe chose to take pride in her work regardless of the public reaction that such work might emit.

Making the decision to pose nude might have been one of urgent need stemming from financial hardship; however, her decision to stand by that shoot despite possible negative consequences was an inspiring feat. Whether on purpose or not, the message that Marilyn Monroe shared by defending herself was that her body and her decisions as a human being were not reasons for shame. In that moment, Monroe refused to allow her sex appeal to be used; instead, she made it clear that she was in charge of her own image no matter if those that cut her check thought otherwise.

Image of Marilyn Monroe on the set of Some Like it Hot via Sunday Post

After this moment, Monroe existed in her career as a rebel. She would defy instructions on set. She would demand roles that highlighted her acting ability rather than her body. She would take the spotlight from the male leads of the movies she would star in. Ms. Monroe would find herself despised by producers and directors alike for her defiance.

Image of Marilyn Monroe reading the book "To the Actor: On the Technique of Acting" by Michael Chekhov at the Ambassador Hotel in New York City circa March 1955 via The Insider

As a result of this constricting workplace, Marilyn Monroe would soon ditch L.A. and Hollywood production companies. In New York City, Monroe would delve further into acting in a more studious sense; she is remembered by her fellow classmates at the Actor’s Studio as a very quiet, reserved individual who was greatly interested in the information being taught. While in New York City, Marilyn Monroe would be the second woman on record in the United States to begin her own production company: Marilyn Monroe Productions.

Image of Monroe and Arthur Miller (right), along with Monroe's close friend, American photographer Milton Greene, stop for hot dogs in New York City on their way to Connecticut via The Insider

During her time in New York City, Monroe would be bombarded with threats, insults, and lawsuits from Fox Production Company. Despite this, she would thrive while working in the city that never sleeps. Monroe had left her abusive relationship with Fox and further abuse would not bring her back. Monroe knew her worth and refused to be treated any less.

Realizing that Marilyn Monroe was truly a unique asset to the company’s success and that their bullying would not lure her back, Fox gave in to her demands. She was granted a salary boost to $100,000 per film. But the biggest coup of all was creative control: She had won story approval, director approval, even cinematographer approval. Marilyn Monroe Productions would go on to independently produce The Prince and the Showgirl and also work with Fox Production Company to produce Bus Stop.

Image of Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald via Pinterest

Marilyn Monroe has been quoted as being disliked by other women and yet close friendships like the one she had with Ella Fitzgerald exuded a sense of women supporting women. The two would help one another in their careers as artists. They found intelligence, talent, and progressiveness in each other that was not otherwise recognized. Monroe would study Fitzgerald’s singing in hopes of learning from her immense talent. Fitzgerald would be vouched for by Monroe; as a result, Fitzgerald was granted access to sing in spaces that she would otherwise have to put up a major fight to perform in due to Jim Crow laws of the time. Fitzgerald would later discuss her friendship with Monroe, “She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it." The sentiments of the time encouraged women to despise women who might attract men and lure them away from the conventional concept of the nuclear family. This culture led many women to deny Marilyn Monroe friendship and instead offer negative judgment and increased pain. While this may have been the general feeling towards her, Monroe seemed to combat that notion. Friendships like the one she had with Fitzgerald suggest a story of women lifting one another up in defiance.

Image of Marilyn Monroe getting help dressing from Judy Goetz in her hotel room at the Ambassador Hotel in New York City, New York circa March 24, 1955 via The Insider

I begin this article with the statement, June 1st marks the birthday of Norma Jeane Baker. While many might tell you that Marilyn Monroe’s birthday is June 1st, I dispute that idea. Marilyn Monroe was a woman created, molded, and brought to life by Norma Jeane Baker. Norma Jeane Baker saw her life and found that she deserved better and strove to achieve such treatment; she made the moves she found necessary to do so. Norma Jeane Baker imagined a woman who could grant the wishes she had imagined for herself and named her Marilyn Monroe. She made the effort to become this woman and live a life of independence, empowerment, and love.

Image of Marilyn Monroe circa 1962 via Hypeness

Norma Jeane Baker and Marilyn Monroe alike deserve to be viewed in this light and portrayed in a manner that highlights their strength, resilience, and talent. As most women in society to this day, Norma Jeane Baker and Marilyn Monroe struggled. Society attempted to tear down their resilience. There were times when society won. The inevitability of powerful women being diminished in some sense exists and yet, they somehow succeed nonetheless. Rather than focus on those losses, these women have the right to be celebrated for their wins, their triumphs, and their victories.

Image of Norma Jeane Baker as an infant circa 1927 via The Vintage News

Happy birthday, Marilyn Monroe. You have been remembered and appreciated. You have inspired and empowered. Thank you.

Written by writer Giulia Becker Miller

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