Monday, August 23, 2010

The Five Top Marilyn Look-Alikes

Marilyn by Eve Arnold
Eve Arnold, who famously photographed Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits and in other settings, wrote something about the platinum blond that has always stuck with me:

...she knew she was superlative at creating still pictures and she loved doing it. She didn't have to learn lines as she did for her movies, she could let her imagination range freely....It was always her party and often there would be champagne and music, but always total attention. It was she who in essence was saying, 'Let's make Marilyn.'

When I was the editor of a photo magazine, it was pointed out to me many times that I indulged my fascination with Marilyn perhaps a bit too much. I plead guilty and continued on with special Marilyn issues and whatnot. There were two reasons for that:
          1) I never got tired of looking at pictures of Marilyn and trying to figure out what qualities made them so compelling, and
          2) The readers of the magazine also found her fascinating. She always sold well. 

She was so compelling, in fact, that long after her death young actresses continue to establish their own claim to commercial and cultural immortality by being photographed as Marilyn. Being Marilyn is a coded message that, when decoded by viewers, says "I'm a star"—a sort of Hollywood rite of passage. The faux-Marilyns have appeared on magazine covers, in ads for perfumes, and in music videos, all of which used the imagery as coded messages that, when decoded by potential shoppers, say, "This is glamour." I assume that in all these instances the products sold well.

 I mention this because the Huffington Post included a poll last week inviting readers to vote for "Who Makes the Best Marilyn." (Apparently there are rumors that a Marilyn biopic is in the works, and the lead role has yet to be cast.) The last time I looked, these were the top five choices.

Angelina Jolie as Marilyn
Scarlett Johansson as Marilyn

Drew Barrymore as Marilyn

Madonna as Marilyn
Christina Aguilera as Marilyn
I started to vote for my favorite, then stopped, because I remembered what Eve Arnold said. It was Marilyn who knew how to make Marilyn. I still can't tell you how she did it. But if you have a few hours and ever want to grab a drink somewhere in New York, I'd be glad to discuss it at length.

By the way, here's a trivia question you can ask people: What was the first magazine cover the real Marilyn appeared on? According to my wonderful former colleague Carol Squiers, now a curator at the International Center of Photography, the future sex goddess appeared on the April 26th 1946 issue of that heartland favorite, Family Circle.

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