Half a century after her death, the original blonde bombshell's candle burns as brightly as ever.
We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets.
Marilyn Monroe practised what she preached. Not only one of cinema's most iconic stars but also one of the twentieth century's most famous and enigmatic personalities, Monroe died 50 years ago this week at the tragically young age of 36.
However, though she undoubtedly lived life to the full, whether she was free from fear or regrets – particularly towards the end – is open to conjecture.
Born Norma Jeanette Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, Monroe had a transient upbringing, moving between orphanages and foster families due to an absent father and her mother's inability to cope as a result of mental and financial instability. After finding work as a successful model during the mid 1940s, Norma Jeane was spotted by 20th Century Fox and signed to a six-month contract on $125 a week.
It was at this point that she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, but it took a move in 1948 and a new six-month contract at Columbia Pictures before she began to win speaking parts and, as a result, come to the attention of the general public. It was attention with which she would come to have a love/hate relationship, even as it made her a Hollywood legend.
Monroe's apparent ambivalence towards the industry that made her a star is perhaps best observed in one of her most famous roles, 'The Girl' in Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch. The scene in which she becomes lost amongst the folds of her billowing skirt as she stands over a subway grate on New York's Lexington Avenue at 52nd Street has gone down in history as one of cinema's most iconic images.
Yet her husband at the time, Joe DiMaggio, who accompanied her on the day of the shoot, was reportedly infuriated by the raucous reaction of fans who had gathered to watch the scene being shot. Monroe herself was said to have become increasingly upset after Wilder insisted on numerous retakes, and later described what had started off fun as becoming a nightmare.
Despite her apparent antipathy towards the attention she garnered, Monroe's career blossomed. She was increasingly the focus in many of the films she appeared in – from All About Eve, to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Prince and The Showgirl – despite their casts featuring such legends as Bette Davis, Jane Russell and Laurence Olivier.
The truth was that towards the end of her life, Monroe's fame, as is the case with many stars, began to eclipse a genuine talent. It may be the persona of a ditsy, bubble-headed blonde – perfected in such films as Monkey Business and Some Like it Hot – for which the public best remember her, but she showed real depth and genuine ability in such thrillers as The Asphalt Jungle or Niagara, and dramas like The Misfits.
If Monroe had trouble with an adoring public, her private life was equally fraught. Her three marriages – at 16 to policeman James Dougherty; then to baseball star DiMaggio and finally to playwright Arthur Miller – all ended in divorce, often because of her husbands' failure to deal with her fame. But her extramarital affairs almost certainly caused her final downfall.
Reputed to have had close relationships with both John F Kennedy and his brother Robert, it was less than two months after her infamous appearance at a birthday gala for President Kennedy in May 1962 (in which the compere, with eerie prescience, jokingly called her "the 'late' Marilyn Monroe") that she was found dead at her home in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles.
The cause of death was officially recorded as poisoning resulting in 'probable suicide', though whether this was because of her fragile state or due to involvement from 'other parties' was never fully established.
Like all truly great stars, Monroe's influence has lived on long after her death – in fact, some would say it is as strong now as it ever was. From fashion to films, songs, art and books her peroxide bob, red pout and hour-glass figure can be seen everywhere, peering from television screens, billboards and magazine advertisements. Stars like Madonna have openly acknowledged the effect Monroe had on their careers – the video for her 1985 hit 'Material Girl' is a clear homage to Monroe's rendition of 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend' in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
The spell she continues to cast over the public is evident in Elton John's rendition of his own song 'Candle in the Wind', originally written about Monroe in 1973 and reworked in 1997 for Princess Diana's funeral. The use of the song was perhaps apt considering how much the two women had in common – both lived under constant media surveillance, and both women's deaths, at the age of 36, are shrouded in conspiracy theory.
It is her film appearances, however, for which Monroe will be most fondly remembered, and which will keep her candle burning brightly for generations to come.