The Evolution of an Icon 💖
Marilyn Monroe’s style was a process of continual transition, and by 1962 she had reached the pinnacle of simple classic elegance. Marilyn had become the Mistress of her own wardrobe. It is important to separate the actress and her performance style from the style of the real woman and her every day living wear, Marilyn at home, reading books, seeing her therapist and taking her dog for walks.
Throughout her life, Marilyn worked on her appearance. In the 1940’s, looking back at old photographs of the youthful Norma Jeane, it’s clear to see she was as interested in fashion and make up as much as any other teenage girl at that time.
However, this was not the refined elegant, classical look that Marilyn was later to own, this was an eclectic mix of styles, patterns and colours, sometimes worn all at once! The lines of her silhouette were often fussy; she liked flounces and frills, tweeds and stripes, with neck scarves and head scarves. Norma Jeane wore an assortment of suits, skirt and pant suits, floral tea dresses, baggy trousers, check blouses and shirts, her love of all things check continued throughout her life.
Early 1940’s photographs of Marilyn are of course, mainly in black and white – only later, when she was working at Radioplane Munitions Factory did the colour photographs of Norma Jeane begin appearing in abundance. A group of photographers were sent to take picture of women working for the war effort – in a letter to Grace Goddard dated 4th June 1945 Norma Jeane tells her about the event.
“After they finished with some of the pictures, an army corporal by the name of David Conover told me he would be interested in getting some color still shots of me. He used to have a studio on ‘the Strip’ on Sunset [Boulevard]. He said would make arrangements with the plant superintendent if I would agree, so I said okay. He told me what to wear and what shade of lipstick, etc., so the next couple of weeks I posed for him at different times.”
The colour photographs show a young woman who was not afraid to be bold – favouring primary colours of bright red, green, blue and yellow and no fear of striking patterns – this was to change as Norma Jeane transitioned and Marilyn Monroe developed.
*Courtesy of LovingMarilyn.com
From the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville’s 1949 yearbook.
Forties Fantasia LV
Marilyn Monroe photographed by Earl Theisen, 1947.
“I guess I’m too emotional in the wrong spots-but if things weren’t like that I would probably bore myself–although if I were different I would hardly know the difference.” — A personal note by Norma Jeane in 1943. Found in Fragments.
Denali and Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska, 1947, 1948
Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)
Veronica Lake, ca. 1942
United States, c. 1945: No. 204
A cottage style house with a central hall connecting almost all rooms and a large bathroom for the era.
Small Homes on Parade by Clyde Simmons, c. 1945. (Portland, OR, USA)
I want a ladder like that.
From Memphis State’s 1945 yearbook.
(This is the original. There’s a parody version with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe that may actually be better known at this point in history.)
photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE Magazine November 1946
Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Theme Week: France 🇫🇷
Adjusted for inflation, this plus size slip would cost about $58 by today’s standards.
JOAN CRAWFORD WAS AN UNHINGED EGOMANIAC
Outwardly, Joan Crawford seemed like a woman living the dream. She was a three-time Oscar-nominated actress. She gave to charitable causes, adopting five children into her home. On the wild side, she had a steamy one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe, proving that real life can do better slash fiction than the internet. Inwardly, though, Crawford wasn’t as wonderful as she seemed. According to her adopted daughter, Christina, she was an egomaniac who was consumed by jealousy.
The accusations came the year after Crawford died, when Christina published her infamous book Mommie Dearest (via The Guardian). An account of her time as Crawford’s ward, it made the Hollywood star sound like the mother from hell. Among other tidbits were the revelation that Crawford had told Christina her birth mother was dead (she wasn’t), scenes of Crawford having a meltdown when she discovered her daughter’s dresses hung on wire hangers, and harrowing descriptions of the physical abuse Crawford occasionally unleashed on her children.
Christina’s book has its detractors. Two of Crawford’s other adopted children have disputed its account. Still, it remains plausible, partly because Crawford’s madness is so well-documented elsewhere. She went through shady back channels to adopt her kids, resulting in one being reclaimed by his furious birth mother just days after arrival. There’s also her bitter rivalry with the equally strange Bette Davis, which culminated in Crawford sabotaging her own film’s box office to stop Davis winning her third Oscar (via Vanity Fair).
THE STRANGE DEATHS OF JEAN HARLOW AND PAUL BERN
Blonde bombshell Jean Harlow married producer Paul Bern on July 2, 1932, and on September 5, they found his body. He was killed by a single gunshot wound, and MGM was quick to point out that he was also found with a suicide note. The contents of the note were never divulged. Harlow had been away at the time, and the studios claimed he had been embarrassed about his impotency. Case closed, at least, according to MGM head of publicity Howard Strickling and MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, who conveniently brushed contrary evidence under the carpet. That included ignoring things like a neighbor’s testimony that a “woman in black” had been dropped off at his home and that she’d been there when the gun went off. The blonde in question was likely Bern’s ex, Dorothy Millette, who killed herself days later.
Her gravestone was paid for by Jean Harlow, who would meet her own tragic end. When she died from a mysterious illness when she was only 26, there were a ton of theories. Now, it’s thought she died from the nightmarish concoction the studios used to keep her hair a desirable platinum blonde: ammonia, bleach, and peroxide.
JUDY GARLAND WAS BULLIED INTO PILLS AND DRUGS
There are few Hollywood stars who take the idea of the girl next door and elevate it to iconic, but that’s exactly what Judy Garland did. Behind the scenes, though, what happened to her was nothing short of abuse.
She was signed to an MGM contract when she was 13, discovered by MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer. Mayer heard her sing on the vaudeville circuit and was so taken with her that he didn’t even bother to see if she could act. His insistence that he didn’t care what she looked like — it was that voice that he wanted — ended up being horribly ironic. She was 14 when her first movie came out. She was told she was a “fat little pig with pigtails,” and the studio started her on a diet. Not content with just restricting what she was allowed to eat, they went so far as to serve her food … and take it away before she touched it. When she was getting ready to film The Wizard of Oz, a good number of studio memos about her had to do with her diet. When she got engaged to her first husband at 18 years old, she stood 4'11" and weighed what they thought was an acceptable 98 pounds. To maintain her weight, the studio had her on a diet that included only chicken soup, black coffee, 80 cigarettes a day, and appetite suppressants every four hours.
It’s not surprising she would spend her days fantasizing about food or that being forced to turn to pills and alcohol in the face of the eating disorders she developed led her to a condition doctors called “permanent semi-invalid”… at 37 years old.