Happy Birthday, Marilyn Monroe

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June 1 marks the birthday of one of America’s most iconic women, Marilyn Monroe, who was born on that date in 1926. She lived a short life — she died in 1962 at the age of 36 — and therefore the world will never know the full impact she could have had on Hollywood and society at large. Today, the most enduring images of her are those that have come to symbolize femininity and powerful sexuality: her white skirt blowing in a gust of wind; her performance at John F. Kennedy’s birthday dinner, singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” 

The Marilyn Monroe Dress

To some, Monroe has become an untouchable figure in history — someone to be honored and lauded. When Kim Kardashian recently wore Monroe’s actual original dress from Kennedy’s birthday, opinions about the matter flashed over the internet, with some saying Kardashian was living up to the iconic nature of the dress and others saying she was horrible for having worn it. Almost across the board though, one thing was clear in the reactions: Monroe was an icon who changed the way people thought about femininity, female sexuality, and power. 

Another rallying cry splashed across Twitter. Marilyn Monroe was a real person, not just an icon. In response to a Tweet that claimed Kardashian is the modern-day Monroe, Twitter user @cvrvldvnvvrs said, “Marilyn Monroe grew up a dirt poor orphan who never knew her father, had a mother in psych wards & was bullied/beaten/molested/raped/assault before she even turned 16. Marilyn constantly went against the grain and was an early advocate for women, POC & the LGBT. don't compare.” Others urged people to watch a recent documentary, “Reframed: Marilyn Monroe” about Monroe that told the story of the whole of her life. 

Ahead of Her Time

Monroe’s biography does include a difficult childhood, marked by being put into foster care, being the victim of sexual abuse from her birth mother’s husband, and getting married at 16 so that she would no longer be a ward of the state or subject to the guardianship of her birth mother. These early parts of her life are often glossed over when her place as an icon in Hollywood is referenced. So, too, are her politics, and the fact she used her stature to help people in her life. 

In the 1950s, Monroe stood by Arthur Miller when he was accused by the government of Communist activities. According to Biography.com, Monroe’s approval and embrace of Miller helped him through that legal battle. “Her public display of loyalty likely helped keep him out of prison (Miller was given a suspended sentence for his contempt conviction in 1957; the conviction went on to be overturned in 1958).” 

According to Hollywood lore, as reported by Biography, Monroe made it her mission to keep Ella Fitzgerald from being held back in her career. Fitzgerald couldn’t get a job at the Mocambo, a famous club. “The club's owner felt the heavyset Fitzgerald lacked the glamour to draw crowds,” writes Biography. “So Monroe approached him with a proposition — if he booked Fitzgerald, she promised to sit at the front of the house every night and to bring along other celebrities. Monroe made clear the amount of publicity this would garner, so the club owner agreed to hire Fitzgerald for a couple of weeks in March 1955.”

“She was always way ahead of her time, championing the cause of the LGBTQ+ community,” writes Debadrita Sur in a piece for Far Out about Monroe’s place as a gay icon. In the same piece, Sur shares a quote from Monroe herself. “When two people love each other, who cares what colour or flavour or religion they are? It’s two human beings. It’s beautiful. Love is beautiful. It’s that simple.”

Monroe’s Political and Social Involvements  

Sur notes that Monroe was often pigeonholed into a “dumb blonde” persona, both contemporaneously and in the eyes of history. 

“Monroe’s relentless strife against the male-dominated stereotypes being imposed on her as well as her struggle to find acceptance resonated with those who were having an identity and sexuality crisis,” writes Sur. “Monroe did not hesitate to welcome her gay friends with an open embrace, striking a chord with the community and becoming an instant favorite.”

In the 1960s, Monroe was elected as an alternate delegate to Connecticut's state Democratic convention. She also became involved with the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. A Time Magazine article about Monroe’s politics portends that not nearly enough is made of her political involvement, especially when history sometimes allows that aforementioned “dumb blonde” persona to endure instead. 

“When you put it all together, [her political side] is pretty substantial,” historian Lois Banner told Time magazine in 2016. “But in most of the biographies, including mine, it comes out as salt scattered on the biography, because one gets so fascinated by her psychological makeup,” she says. “But the political involvements are no less real.”

Marilyn Monroe Quotes

Monroe’s life continues to enamor the interests of generations, impressing beyond the aesthetics of her images — as equally stunning and inspiring are her words. Here are just a few Marilyn Monroe quotes worth reciting. 

A wise girl knows her limits, a smart girl knows that she has none.

I don't forgive people because I'm weak, I forgive them because I am strong enough to know people make mistakes.”

 “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

Cutting negative people from my life does not mean I hate them, it simply means I respect me.”

“A woman is often measured by the things she cannot control. She is measured by the way her body curves or doesn't curve, by where she is flat or straight or round. She is measured by 36-24-36 and inches and ages and numbers, by all the outside things that don’t ever add up to who she is on the inside. And so if a woman is to be measured, let her be measured by the things she can control, by who she is and who she is trying to become. Because as every woman knows, measurements are only statistics... and statistics lie.”

“Just because you fail once, doesn't mean you're gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don't, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life's a beautiful thing and there's so much to smile about.”

The more I think of it, the more I realize there are no answers. Life is to be lived.”

 “I don’t stop when I’m tired. I only stop when I’m done.”

“Beneath the makeup and behind the smile I am just a girl who wishes for the world.”

Tags: Inspiration, Pop Culture

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Written By

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is an essayist, journalist, and fiction writer in Vermont, where she and her husband are raising their daughters. See Full Bio

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