Marilyn Monroe remains a film and American con, not unlike others that died young, starting with Jeanne Eagles, a star of the 1920s, who died of drugs and alcoholism at age 39. Others, like Jean Harlow, the first blond bombshell, Judy Garland, and James Dean followed that same path to fan immortality. Aside from Monroe, there were many other great women stars, and the critics knew talent when they saw it: Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Mary Astor, Greer Garson, Meryl Streep, Claudette Colbert, Vivian Leigh, Barbara Stanwyck, Katherine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, Susan Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, Audrey Hepburn and Ginger Rogers among many others. By the way, they were all attractive. If not, they could never have made it in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
As for blond bombshells there have been many that followed Jean Harlow, like, Virginia Mayo and Carol Landis. But no one could capture to her electricity. Others, like; Lana Turner, Betty Grable and ultimately Marilyn Monroe were the heirs to Harlow. Monroe certainly created a new look that brought on her own imitators, like Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors, Joi Lansing, and Carol Wayne, who was an almost a regular on the Johnny Carson Show.
With Marilyn, no one could deny her sex appeal and film charisma. But, In fact, I would judge Jean Harlow to be miles ahead of Monroe in talent. She also had her problems with her mother and her home life, like Mary Astor and many others. Throughout Hollywood history a number of husbands exploited their working wives, but in fact, neither Jim Daugherty, baseball super star, Joe DiMaggio nor famed playwright Arthur Miller exploited her. She dumped first husband Jim Daugherty, DiMaggio was a misogynist and had no clue regarding social graces, and Miller dumped his first wife for her. What else is new? Nothing can be deprecated regarding her strong sex-appeal. But this is nothing new in the world of Hollywood. In fact, the original “It Girl,” was Clara Bow. There were many, many others like, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Hedy LaMarr and Rita Hayworth, who many fans often call great actresses. They were far from it. Some have had more talent than others, but they would hardly be compared with other stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood: Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Claudette Colbert, Rosalind Russell, Vivien Leigh, Irene Dunne, and Barbara Stanwyck
For sure, not every evaluation is based on sex or sexism. Not every man is a male chauvinist, and there have been countless women who have taken advantage of their good looks to climb up the ladder of fame, success and fortune. I believe, and know, that Monroe had enough talent to come off the pages of the fan magazine, pass a screen text, and be shaped by the body and face sculptors of Hollywood. After that re-make effort, one must really judge her body of work, not just her body! Frankly, I have always liked her in pretty much whatever she did. But, whom am I, but another red-blooded American boy!
Obviously there are film buffs, critics, casual fans and others who buy into “the cult of the personality.” In reading various comments on Marilyn Monroe, one finds two overwhelming dynamics: one an over-analysis of all of her films as some critics and fans try to find the secret to her electricity, allure, and as Billy Wilder said, “flesh appeal” and the other, a more detailed look at what she really accomplished, the depth of her roles, her actual skills and how they evolved.