During her lifetime, but perhaps even more significantly in the sixty years since she died, Marilyn Monroe‘s presence has loomed large in our collective imaginations, providing endless inspiration for film, television, books, music, and art. With the September 28th release of “Monroe,” Monroe will be back in the forefront of cultural conversations. Blonde.
Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, based on the 2000 Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, the film stars Ana de Armas as Marilyn and uses Monroe’s life as an inspiration to delve into the mystery and fantasy that surrounds one of the world’s most famous women. Although Blonde takes inspiration from real events, figures, and long-held rumors from the actor’s life as a jumping point to imagine what Monroe may have thought and felt, the film is by no means a biopic. Like Oates’ book, it’s a definite work of fiction, dabbling in the experimental and including fantastical elements.
Here’s what’s fact and what’s fiction in Blonde.
Her childhood and her mother’s mental health issues
Marilyn Jeane or Norma Jeane is a young woman growing up in Los Angeles. She recollects her mother telling her stories about Clark Gable, her father absent from her childhood. Her mother, a heavy drinker fixated on being abandoned by Marilyn’s father, shows signs of mental instability, including being physically abusive to her daughter, attempting to drive into the flames of the 1933 Griffith Park fire, and trying to drown Marilyn in a scalding hot bath. Following one of her mother’s episodes, neighbors intervene and Norma Jeane is put into foster care, entering an orphanage while her mother is committed to a mental institution.
Monroe’s actual childhood was as turbulent and tragic as what is shown in Blonde. Gladys Pearl Baker (a RKO Pictures film cutter) became pregnant after an affair with Charles Stanley Gifford, her superior. Monroe was born Norma Jeane Baker, in 1926. Monroe didn’t meet her father. Monroe lived with her mother up until Gladys suffered a breakdown and was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Gladys would spend the remainder of her life in various hospitals after she was placed in a mental institution. Following her mother’s commitment, Monroe stayed with family friends and was later made a ward of the state and placed in various orphanages and foster homes, until she married James Dougherty in 1942 at the age of 16, to avoid having to return to the orphanage.
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Charlie Chaplin Jr., her alleged lover
Blonde. L to R: Xavier Samuel plays Cass Chaplin; Ana de Armas portrays Marilyn Monroe; Evan Williams is Eddy G. Robinson Jr.
Matt Kennedy/NETFLIX—2022 © NETFLIX
One of the greatest liberties is Blonde takes with Marilyn’s life is the throuple relationship she embarks on with Charlie “Cass” Chaplin Jr. and Edward “Eddy” G. Robinson Jr. Their threesome, which they dub “the Geminis” becomes the scandalous talk of the town, with Marilyn’s talent agent urging her to end it to try and curb bad press. A pregnancy that ends in an abortion brings the end of “the Geminis’” relationship. In reality, there’s no no evidence that Monroe was in a throuple or that the relationship was ever a subject of Hollywood gossip, although a brief affair between Monroe and Chaplin was the subject of rumors at the time and was later confirmed by him in his 1960 autobiography.
Her marriage to Joe DiMaggio
Blonde. L to R: Bobby Cannavale as The Ex-Athlete & Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe.
2022 © Netflix—2022 © Netflix
Blonde follows the rise and fall of many of Monroe’s relationship and marriages. In the film, she meets and falls in love with “The Ex-Athlete,” a character based on the baseball star and Monroe’s ex-husband Joe DiMaggio. They share a common desire to marry, have children and live a peaceful life away from the spotlight. After they marry, however, some disparities between their hopes for the future arise: The Ex-Athlete doesn’t share her interest in poetry or fine art and on visits to his family’s home, Marilyn is gently mocked for her lack of homemaking skills. His volatile jealousy, domestic violence and volatile jealousy are the real problems in their marital relationship. One particularly disturbing scene is when he beat Marilyn with his belt after seeing her filming her subway grate scene. The Seven Year Itch.
In real life, DiMaggio’s jealousy and violent behavior led to the end of his marriage to Monroe. After two years of being together, the couple married in 1954. They began to experience marital difficulties almost instantly. The marriage lasted only nine months. Conflict began during their honeymoon, when the couple traveled to Japan for DiMaggio’s promotional baseball tour. On the trip, Monroe was asked to perform for American troops in Korea, much to DiMaggio’s consternation. DiMaggio was also controlling when it came to Monroe’s career: he wanted her to stop taking “dumb blonde” roles and avoid the sexualized public persona that had made her famous, and eventually become a full-time stay-at-home wife. His wife was a star in her own right and it was obvious that DiMaggio did not like being overshadowed. There were numerous allegations made against Monroe, even by his son. Their marriage ended with the filming. Itch for Seven Years; according to photographer George S. Zimbel, who was on set photographing the scene, DiMaggio stormed off the New York City set in a fury after watching the crowd go wild for Marilyn’s skirt billowing up above the subway grate. A violent fight was reported at their hotel that night and Monroe filed for divorce when she returned to California after the shoot, citing “mental cruelty.”
Arthur Miller, her marriage.
Blonde. L to R: Adrien Brody as The Playwright & Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe.
2022 © Netflix—2022 © Netflix
Blonde, one of the happiest and most idyllic periods of Marilyn’s life is during her romance and eventual marriage to “The Playwright,” a character based on Arthur Miller. In the film, they meet in 1955 when she auditions to perform in one of his plays, while living in New York and attending the Actors’ Studio; the duo bond over a shared love of Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters, with Miller being surprised and impressed by Marilyn’s intelligence and insight. A whirlwind courtship, marriage, and a relocation to the suburbs bring both wedded bliss, especially after Marilyn discovers she’s pregnant, but after a devastating miscarriage and the discovery that he’s been using her as inspiration for her material, Marilyn turns to drinking and drugs to dull her pain, causing a strain on the marriage.
This period in her life in the film is fairly accurate to Monroe’s actual time married to Miller. On the film set, they met. As Young As You Feel in 1951, while Monroe was casually dating Miller’s friend, Elia Kazan. For a time, the two corresponded through letters. After Monroe arrived in New York to study at Actors Studio in 1954, their relationship exploded. Miller established residency in Nevada for Monroe to allow him to divorce his first wife. Although their relationship was regarded as unusual by some, they were deeply committed. Miller requested a passport for London to travel with Monroe. This triggered an investigation into his connections to communism. Monroe supported Monroe publicly in spite of the potential consequences for her career. Monroe converted to Judaism after the couple married in 1956. Their five years of marriage started out with immense happiness, with Monroe even declaring “this is the first time I’ve been really in love,” but she later felt betrayed after reading some of Miller’s less than flattering observations of her in one of his notebooks. Monroe was a frequent miscarriage victim, and he began to abuse alcohol and prescriptions. This led to Monroe ending their marriage.
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She allegedly miscarried and pregnancies.
Blonde. Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe.
2022 © Netflix—2022 © Netflix
Marilyn’s unborn children haunt her. Blonde, with the film suggesting that she had an abortion out of fear that her mother’s mental illness was hereditary, while two other pregnancies resulted in miscarriages. There’s no evidence that Monroe ever had an abortion; she had three miscarriages during her marriage to Arthur Miller, which was devastating to her as she wanted to become a mother.
John F. Kennedy’s alleged affair
This is one of the most horrifying scenes ever. Blonde occurs when Marilyn is flown out to visit “The President,” who’s recuperating from back surgery. After being unceremoniously dragged through the halls of a hotel by Secret Service agents, she’s shown to the politician in a manner that she likens to “meat to be delivered.” She asks The President, who’s on a phone call while watching a rocket launch, how she can help, and he coerces her into giving him a hand job and oral sex, before the scene ends with him raping her. While this highly stylized and fictional scenario is meant to highlight how Marilyn was exploited, it draws on longtime real speculation over Monroe’s relationship with President John F. Kennedy.
Rumors began after Monroe sang a sultry rendition of “Happy Birthday” to JFK at Madison Square Garden in 1962, just months before her death, while wearing the notorious sparkling and skintight nude gown that Kim Kardashian would controversially sport on the Met Gala carpet fifty years later. James Spada, a biographer who wrote the article says that Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to JFK in 1962 at Madison Square Garden. She was wearing the same sparkling and skin-tight nude gown Kim Kardashian wore on her Met Gala carpet fifty years later. Marilyn, it’s likely that the actor was involved with both JFK and his brother Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. Interview with People, Spada said “it was pretty clear that Marilyn had had sexual relations with both Bobby and Jack.” Conspiracy theories abound suggesting that Monroe’s probable suicide was actually a cover-up for a more nefarious cause of death to prevent the affairs with the Kennedys from coming to light. There’s, of course, no way to prove them, but the mystery surrounding Monroe’s death has long been a point of fascination, spawning books, and even a documentary.
Whitey or Mr. Shinn, who are you?
Blonde, two of the more consistent characters in Marilyn’s life are her makeup artist Whitey and her talent agent, Mr. Shinn. Whitey is present for many of Marilyn’s most vulnerable moments in the film, constantly helping her transform from Norma Jeane to her glamorous Marilyn Monroe persona. Unlike many of the other men depicted in the film, he’s one of the few people in her life who’s not using her or seeking to take something from her. In reality, Allan “Whitey” Snyder was a consistent presence in Marilyn’s life; he worked with her from her first screen test at Twentieth Century Fox until her final days. Monroe asked him to make Marilyn’s funeral makeup, and he obliged.
On the other hand, the fictional Mr. Shinn in the film, is a pivotal figure in Marilyn’s early career, sending her on casting calls and carefully managing her public persona and press. Marilyn appreciates his help, but he sees him as more of a father figure than she does. He makes advances at Marilyn at the movie premiere, and tries to take control of her private life. The character is most likely based on Monroe’s real-life talent agent, William Morris Agency vice president, Johnny Hyde. Hyde met Marilyn at the Palm Springs Racquet Club in 1949 while she was on a photo shoot. He quickly signed Marilyn up as a client, helping her land roles in Hollywood. Donald Spoto, a biographer. Marilyn Monroe’s BiographyHyde fell in love deeply with his client and even left his wife to propose marriage several times.
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