Marilyn Monroe @ New York – 21st Century
“Chin up, love” quips the voice behind the camera. The heavy device is shielding the photographer’s face. Marilyn hates that you can never fully see their features, never meet their eyes. If the setting of snapping photos of a pretty girl in revealing clothes seemed impersonal, the fact that the two people never looked at each other made it horrific. Marilyn is wearing low heels and strappy sandals, showing off her painted toenails. She is draped in a dramatic white dress thrown in her arms this morning, the material; all egg-shell and exclusive.
Marilyn sneaks a glimpse of herself in the window of a sleek car. She has a mole by her lip, but on her, it’s not a mole, not an unfortunate spot lessening the level of attractiveness. On Marilyn Monroe, it’s a beauty mark. Five years from now, young women will still poke a faux dot right above their lip, just like Marilyn had. The girls all claim to look up to her, but Marilyn knew better than most that adoration was resentment waiting to sink in.
They had all read the paper slapped on their doormat this morning. The review about the newest film she was featured in, cruel sentences about how Marilyn Monroe didn’t belong on the screen. How she was living off other people’s expectations, seeking validation from the crowd. She was seated on the throne of everyone’s insecurities. The review reached a conclusion: “Marilyn Monroe is a blonde dream and unfortunately her acting is as convincing as one.” The previous week it was even worse; the revelation of an affair with a Hollywood executive covered all the top tabloids. Marilyn’s management recommended she remove all her social media posts, but she had deleted them all before they could ask.
Marilyn looks at her own reflection one last time. Her cheeks are coated with a thin layer of foundation, the assistant had been so upset with Marilyn this morning when she had cried the makeup off, heavy streaks of mascara chasing her chin. “I don’t want to shoot today. I haven’t slept for weeks and that photographer is a menace.” Frida, her assistant had sighed, insisting that they were all depending on Marilyn to complete this shoot. Marilyn had stared at her, then burst into laughter, “They all loathe me.”
They’re on 52nd Street, north of Midtown and Marilyn hears the roar of the train just below her feet. The metal grate is inches away from her bare toes and, almost without thinking, she moves so she’s standing directly on the solid grate. The warm breeze fans her ankles and the strength of the wind makes her white dress lift slightly, exposing her legs. The photographer leaps to his feet, raising the camera so his face disappears. Marilyn frowns, holding the dress tightly in her hands, pressing the fabric down so it conceals her skin. The photographer shakes his head, eyes gleaming with something nefarious. “No, no. Just stand as you did before. It’ll be perfect, darling. Let go of the dress a bit.” “Won’t it be too much?” Marilyn asks. She’s tired; her shoulders are heavy and her head is droopy. She has been standing, posing and pretending for five hours.
The photographer laughs, a mean snicker as he distractedly swipes through the pictures on the tiny screen. “It’ll be just enough, darling. Don’t worry.” The photographer firmly gestures to his own face, flashing a large smile. Marilyn smiles. She tilts her head back, grinning widely and laughing as if it aches. Her lips are cherry red and her teeth twinkle. It’s becoming her signature, the red lips and bubbly laughter. Bystanders raise to their tiptoes, hoping to catch a glimpse. They’ll see it in British Vogue next month; the dashing cover of Marilyn Monroe, the cherry lips, and charming chuckle. They’ll see the white dress and the wind. They’ll read the words she hardly said about Hollywood being a dream, how she’d wish she could live forever in this paradise. Marilyn smiles, big and toothy, and she’s not sure it looks real anymore. It’s not an issue, it never is. If her smile wasn’t genuine, or her curves too much so, they would clip and fix as needed. “And smile! Big smile,” the stranger behind the camera says, snapping photos wildly. He bends his knees and jogs backwards, catching the scene on film from every angle possible.
Marilyn Monroe is only seen through the lens.
Written by our first guest writer:
Sara Høylo Egeh