Wednesday, June 01, 2016

What Would Marilyn Be Like at 90?

The question that is posed in my headline is purely hypothetical, of course.

Marilyn Monroe has been dead for more than 50 years. Trying to picture her at the age of 90, which is what she would be today, is just about impossible to do since we have no idea what she would have been like at half that. She died almost nine years before her 45th birthday. We need those images of an aging Marilyn to put things in perspective, but we have been deprived of that. You can't jump from 36 to 90, even in your imagination.

And yet we can't help speculating, can we? Would she be sharp in old age like George Burns and Doris Day? Or would she clearly have one foot in the grave, the way Bob Hope did?

She was truly remarkable in many ways. There were the obvious ones, of course — Marilyn's face and figure, her breathless voice, a way of walking that Jack Lemmon once described on camera as "Jell–o on springs."

That, of course, was in "Some Like It Hot," one of a couple of movies she made for Billy Wilder.

I always felt she was underestimated by many observers — seen only as a dumb blonde bombshell by many but recognized by some as the talented actress that she was. She still has the ability to persuade people. I have seen it happen. Someone who saw Marilyn as only a sex symbol sits down to watch "Bus Stop" or "The Misfits" and is converted.

Few human beings are recognized the world over by a single name — but Marilyn was one of them.

Her continuing popularity, more than half a century after her death, is testimony to her staying power.

She was a trailblazer in many ways.

She was Playboy's first pinup — Miss December of 1953 — although I do not believe the centerfolds were known as Miss Anything at that time. Marilyn's appearance was in the magazine's first issue. I don't know how many people thought there would be a second issue.

There was, of course, and it continues to be published today — and, until recently, with photos that were much more explicit than any of Marilyn's. But there can be little doubt that it survived and thrived due in no small part to Marilyn's contribution.

She had her share of problems when it was revealed that she had posed nude for photos before she became a star.

Such a scandal probably would have ruined many, but Marilyn was kind of like the Donald Trump of her day. She didn't run for president — although rumors persist that she slept with one — but it didn't really seem to matter what was said about her. Her popularity just grew.

It was part of what made her one of Hollywood's most bankable stars.

Unless they are unusually dedicated to staying in shape, sex symbols usually lose their looks, and Marilyn may well have met that fate, too. She died at 36, which is probably near the end of the line for most sex symbols. To make most, if not all, of the next 40 years as successful as her first decade or so, she would have had to evolve. She would have had to take roles that relied less and less upon how she looked and more and more on the way she acted.

Could she have done it? I think she could have. I think she was already doing it.

But we'll never know. All we can do is speculate.