Marilyn: The star whose legend never dies
This summer Marilyn Monroe would have celebrated her 80th birthday. Martin Hickes asks if the Hollywood legend will ever be left to rest in peace.
AMERICAN entrepreneur Mark Roesler is looking forward to summer 2006. Not only will it mark the 25th anniversary since he started out on the road of intellectual property management, but it will also mark the 80th anniversary of his favourite brand name – Marilyn Monroe.
Roesler, chairman of Indianapolis-based CMG Worldwide, set up a roofing company to put himself through college, gained an MBA and is now head of a multi-million dollar worldwide industry which promotes and protects the intellectual property rights of the world famous – keeping a metaphorical roof over the reputations and the rights of the living and the dead.
Monroe is just one of the dead celebrities Roesler promotes and while it may be more than 40 years since she died, he is in little doubt as to her cultural significance – or of her importance to business the world over – even in the 21st-century.
"I think in some form or another we will see a Monroe summer throughout the world in 2006," he says. "First, last and always Marilyn was uniquely beautiful, and vulnerable. As the songs say, and the documentaries continue to show, her voluptuous and yet innocent image established her as the blonde bombshell against which all others have and will be measured ... forever.
"She was unquestionably the sex goddess of the 20th-century. And Monroe wasn't the most photographed woman in the history of creation for nothing.
"Though she left us as a young woman decades ago, it's not likely that her story and her iconic image will even begin to fade from public consciousness for many generations to come, if ever. For the entire world she became a symbol of the eternal feminine.
"From a purely business point of view, when licensing Marilyn Monroe, one is not only licensing her name and likeness, but the vivid associations that go along with her image, those qualities of glamour, trendiness, mystique, and elegance."
CMG markets and protects the intellectual property right of famous personalities. And with the past few decades, seeing celebrities becoming some of the most valuable brands in the world, business is booming.
"The concept of the value or ownership of a brand disappearing at the death of a celebrity has absolutely no logic or fairness to it," adds Roesler.
"A celebrity has a portfolio of intellectual property rights associated with their name and their likeness. That portfolio is and should be protected, whether that celebrity is alive or deceased.
"When one combines the global recognition of Marilyn Monroe along with the diverse demographic groups that bear interest in this icon, the consumer market for products and services featuring Marilyn Monroe is well into the millions."
CMG allows more than 400 companies worldwide –including the UK – to produce merchandise emblazoned with Monroe's likeness and name, all of which generates more than $1m a year for her estate.
But just why won't we allow her to rest in peace?
"Marilyn's influence is not so much to do with the history of film but as an image icon," says Stephen Dorril, senior lecturer in media at Huddersfield University, who contributed research to Anthony Summers's book on Monroe, Goddess.
"She will be around in the centuries to come just as Helen of Troy is still around in our minds.
"Her image – the pout, her face, her figure, her walk – is so powerful that she transcends the purely human and takes on a statue-like form, so that she is always preserved in a state of perfection.
"As we now know from psychological studies, female beauty is not culture dependent but a constant – almost a mathematical formula – and Marilyn fulfils the criteria to be an eternal figure, whereas people like Madonna will wither away and become nothing more than dust."
It's perhaps a harsh view of Mrs Ritchie's long-term future, but there's no denying that by dying young Monroe's image became preserved in virtual formaldehyde, her features untouched by the inevitable passage of time.
"There will always be girls, like me, who are touched by her magic," says Sloan Freer, Radio Times film critic. "Who grow up beguiled by her on-screen perfection, effervescence and charm, and want to be just like her – while for guys, she remains the eternal pin-up.
"Image-wise she's still such a viable commodity, even people who've never seen her films want to buy into her legend. But ultimately she's a timeless
actress, whose mix of innocence and pure, drop-dead sex appeal makes her films an enduring delight.
"Nostalgia is a huge business, and good cinema is timeless.
As long as these facts remain true, Marilyn's star will never fade.
"Dying early she cut short a life of possibility, but it guaranteed her immortality. I'd like to think had she grown old, she would have been regarded like Garbo or Dietrich – remembered for her triumphs, not the physical cruelty of old age."
And while some may believe there is little left to say about Monroe, whose life has been raked over by hundreds of books and film biopics, for some this year's anniversary should prove something of a bumper summer.
"Every summer is a Monroe summer for me, but I think this one will be something special," says Suzie Kennedy, Monroe impersonator at Leeds-based
A-List Lookalikes. "I've received a record number of bookings this year and people certainly seem to be recognising its her 80th anniversary
"Of course no one can replace Marilyn – she died young and beautiful and people love that glamour. She's as popular now as she ever was and I'm honoured to be able to represent that allure.
"I think her style and dress sense was magical, and if it's a hot summer, I wouldn't be surprised if we see some classic Monroe fashions in the city – maybe even some blown up pleated skirts over a grating! Fashion houses should take their cue this spring."
In 1962, two months before her still-mysterious death, perhaps prophetically, Marilyn declined a party invitation to Mr and Mrs Bobby Kennedy with the famously cryptic telegram:
"Unfortunately, I am involved in a freedom ride protesting the loss of the minority rights belonging to the few remaining earthbound stars. All we demanded was our right to twinkle."
To some, this summer might mark her final great luminescence; many more will continue to celebrate an actress who could truly call herself a star, in every sense of the word.
A LIFE ON FILM
In her 16 years as an actress, Monroe made 29 films, 24 of them in the first eight years of her career.
While she may be considered the ultimate pin-up, Tony Curtis complained that kissing Monroe in Some Like it Hot was like kissing Hitler.
Her reported affair with John F Kennedy began in late 1961 and it was six months later that she sang her now famous Happy Birthday tribute at the President's gala birthday celebration in Madison Square Garden.
After illness and various problems with the studios, 20th Century Fox rehired Monroe on August 1, 1962 to complete Something's Got to Give, promising her a $250,000 salary. However, the film remained unfinished when Monroe died four days later.
The circumstances surrounding Monroe's apparent drug overdose at 36 at her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles have long prompted rumours that she was murdered, although the death remains listed as suicide.