Marilyn: beyond the myth

As a new feature film about Marilyn Monroe's 1956 London sojourn premieres at the Dubai International Film Festival this week, Helena Frith Powell examines her legacy.

Marilyn Monroe was becoming a major star when this photograph was taken in 1954.
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When I was 10, The Sunday Times magazine serialised Norman Mailer's biography of Marilyn Monroe. I don't know how or why I had heard of her but I collected all the articles and stuck them in a scrapbook, on the cover of which I wrote Marilyn. Unfortunately, my stepfather thought it was unsuitable reading for a little girl and confiscated it.

The point of the story is not how strict my stepfather was, but rather how Marilyn grabbed the attention of a child, and how she still captures the imagination of millions, almost 50 years after her death.

I can gaze happily at photographs of Marilyn for hours on end. There is something so captivating about her beauty, and also something intangible that draws you back again and again. She seems so much more special than countless other actresses.

Although Marilyn cultivated the "dumb blonde" image, it was inaccurate. Jane Russell, her co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, called her "very shy and very sweet and far more intelligent than people gave her credit for".

For her acting, there can be no higher accolade than that of Lee Strasberg from the legendary Actors Studio: "I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of actors and actresses," he said, "and there are only two that stand out way above the rest. Number one is Marlon Brando, and the second is Marilyn Monroe."

And let's not forget she could sing and dance as well. Has anyone ever heard a more seductive interpretation of Happy Birthday than the one she sang for JFK in 1962?

But if we're honest, we don't remember Marilyn because of her films or even her songs. Rather, there is something about Marilyn the woman that is endlessly fascinating. Her self-doubt, her disastrous relationships, her humour (famously late for everything, she once quipped: "I've been on a calendar, but I've never been on time") and of course, that endearing vulnerability.

Marilyn didn't take her sex symbol status lightly. "Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry," she once said. "Especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered."

My Week With Marilyn will receive its UAE premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival on Tuesday. The film goes on general release in the UAE on December 22.