Thursday, August 05, 2010

Goodbye, Norma Jean

It was 48 years ago today that Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home in Brentwood, Calif.

Few people have been as mysterious in death as Marilyn. She was beautiful in life — and because of that, I suppose, a lot of people wrote her off, dismissed her as a dumb blonde — but she was much more than that. Dumb blonde was a role she played, and she played it well, although it lacked depth. Sometimes, it even lacked a name.

She had a lot of talent. I guess most people think of her in comedic roles, such as the ones she had in "Some Like It Hot" and "The Seven–Year Itch." And she did excel in those roles — at least, as much as the roles themselves would allow.

But on rare occasions she got to stretch her wings and take on heavier roles. Her final role, as Roslyn Taber in John Huston's "The Misfits," offered a glimpse of what might have been if she hadn't died on that August night in 1962 — but instead had lived into her middle age, even if it didn't include the husband and children she craved.

Cast opposite her childhood idol, Clark Gable, in what turned out to be the final film appearance for both, I felt Monroe delivered a solid performance, as did Gable and the rest of the cast — Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach. I happened to see the film recently — for the first time in several years — and felt impressed by things that wouldn't have been clear to anyone when the crew completed filming.

Mainly, I guess, it struck me that, while the film was telling the story of the end of the old West, it was also the film obituaries of Monroe and Gable — and it had some statements to make about their careers. I guess, when you get right down to it, neither of their careers turned out the way they had hoped, even though both were idolized by millions.

And that's a shame, I think, because both had more talent than the body of their work would indicate.

For them, "The Misfits" may have been an apt title for the final chapter of their careers.

Elton John's song, "Candle in the Wind," also summed up Monroe's complicated relationship with the world — and perhaps her disappointments as well. Strangely enough, that title was one of the first things that popped into my head when Princess Diana was killed.

I had no idea at the time that it would become synonymous with that tragic time for millions the world over. It just seemed appropriate to me. And then, of course, after a few adjustments to the lyrics, it did become Princess Diana's anthem.

But it was Marilyn's song first. And, no matter how many times I hear Sir Elton sing about "England's rose," I will always associate that song with Marilyn.

Excuse me. Norma Jean.