the stories of historical figures fall in and out of fashion. and so it’s possible for marilyn monroe and audrey hepburn and marie antoinette and jackie kennedy to be a vibrant, prevalent part of our culture as images entirely divorced from the details of their lives.
as a glutton for biography, i tend to forget this and blithely assume everyone i know is walking around ALL.THE.TIME similiarly burdened by an encyclopoedic knowledge of the kennedys, 1950s film stars, the british and russian monarchies and marie antoinette. that they aren’t is a source of constant surprise. and frustration.
because i don’t understand how those images can carry so much meaning, how they can resonate at all, when striped of the biographical details. the pictures are pretty, yes, but over time pretty gets pretty dull.
marilyn was beautiful, but isn’t the sexiest woman in the world rendered a bit more provocative when you consider that she may never have climaxed? doesn’t she look different when you know that, ashamed of her lack of education, she became an auto-didact and read checkov and joyce?
as a woman, audrey was an icon of prim femininity. as a girl, she carried messages through nazi-occupied territory to the french resistance in the sole of her shoe. she was thin not because it was fashionable but because, as a teenager, she’d escaped a deportation line and spent a month hiding and starving in an abandoned shed. audrey hepburn was a total badass. dear whole wide world, why do we not remember her for that?
marie was loaded and liked cake, but her life carries more meaning when you consider her death. when you know she was praised all around- even among the revolutionaries- for her great courage and that her last words were “pardon me, sir, i meant not to do it,” an apology to her executioner for having accidentally stepped on his foot.
and what of jackie? oh, jackie. as an intolerable jackie snob, i don’t think you can even begin to scratch the surface of appreciating her until you know that she knew about her husband’s pathological philandering. that her premature daughter died while her husband was sailing in france and that he continued sailing in france for a week before he returned home. that she lost a three-day-old son, a son she never saw, three months before her husband was murdered. that she was leaning in six inches from her husband’s face when the final shot hit. that, at parkland hospital, she nudged a doctor and handed him a sizeable chunk of her husband’s brain. and that four days later, the day she buried her husband, she threw a birthday party for her three-year-old son. and that’s just for starters…
images do not do people justice.
we’re in the midst of a bit of “a marilyn moment”. this has revealed that a significant percentage of my friend-group have never watched a marilyn film. that’s easily fixed and soon they’ll see the hilarity in the fact that my week with marilyn is actually a better movie than the movie it is about.
i confess i hope this will springboard them all into a full-blown obsession that i can further by loading them down with biographies and life narrative analysis and saturday afternoons spent discussing the importance of storytelling. it’s unlikely, i know, but it’s also the biographical dream.