Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blonde Ambition

The tragic story of Marilyn Monroe has been told many times and in many ways in nearly half a century since her death.

But, to my knowledge, it was never told quite the way it was told in an HBO movie that made its debut on this day 15 years ago.

I was an HBO subscriber in those days, and I remember watching the film the first night it was televised. Reviews were mixed, but I was impressed.

In the movie, Norma Jean (Ashley Judd) and Marilyn (Mira Sorvino) were treated as two distinct parts of the same person, waging battles with each other at critical moments in Monroe's life.

I never thought the movie was telling the story of a split personality, but I did feel it was the story of someone who was haunted by her past. At times, there were parallel stories that were told in flashback form, creating the impression that Marilyn repeated the same errors in judgment.

That, of course, is all speculation — albeit, at times, convincing speculation.

Norma Jean, of course, was her identity before she became a star, the name she went by as a child, and much of her childhood was spent in foster homes, some of which were abusive.

Marilyn was her persona after she achieved stardom — but the premise of the film was that she never gained the things that mattered most to her.

The title hinted at the internal conflict that may well have gnawed at her throughout her life — and, in the end, may have been responsible for her death.

You probably have heard all of the tragic angles of Monroe's life — her unpleasant childhood, the simultaneously liberating and smothering stardom she found as an adult, the relationships that failed.

(If ever there was a poster girl for the old adage "Be careful what you wish for ...")

But no one knows of her struggles with her inner self. That will always be a source for speculation.

As I say, it is intriguing speculation, speculation that can never be challenged — at least not successfully.

Marilyn has been dead for nearly half a century. She can't dispute anything that anyone says about the wars that were fought within.

The story that was told on HBO 15 years ago tonight may or may not have been true — substantially.

But it is true — and it will always be true — that Marilyn died far too young — and perhaps for reasons we will never know, that only she could ever know.

Whatever the truth behind her death may have been, it died with her in August 1962. For nearly 49 years now, we have been left with speculation.

Over the years, I have heard some people say her death was an accident. Others have said it was a suicide. Still others have said it was a homicide.

The coroner's office ruled it a "probable suicide," but the fact is that all three arguments can be persuasive — and none has proved convincing enough to be regarded as the definitive account of what happened.

I suspect that it is a case that will always be a lot like Marilyn herself — mystifying, perplexing, tantalizing, exasperating, promising much but, ultimately, delivering little.