“My eye roved her face, searching. I couldn’t find the secret of her beauty in any one feature. She didn’t have a great nose like Liz Taylor, or perfect lips like Brigitte Bardot. She didn’t have gorgeous almond-shaped eyes like Sophia Loren. And yet she was more to me than all of them put together”.
These words, said by Bert Stern, the photographer who took the 1962 photography collection that has come to be known as ‘The Last Sitting’ — the final photo shoot before Marilyn Monroe’s premature death at only 36 years of age — encapsulate what many of us know today: Few women have been able to hold the world’s attention quite like Marilyn Monroe.
After more than a half-century since her untimely death, Monroe continues to mystify and intrigue, perhaps due to the incongruent space that appears to exist between her boisterous public persona and the misunderstood, deep, and often-troubled inner workings of her mind. Attempting to explain this chasm, movies have been made and books continue to be written about her life. Her personal items – most recently, her medical X-ray of her and her grave maker – are still sold for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps all in a reconciliatory attempt to understand and conceivably ultimately love a terribly misunderstood woman for whom, it seemed, there was no true care. Though she led a troubled life born fatherless to a mentally-ill mother, raised by foster parents, uprooted from home to home, marrying at 16 years old to escape her life’s instability Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortensen, baptized Norma Jeane Baker, believed that her beauty was her only escape.
While we know the image of Marilyn Monroe to be the definition of a sex symbol, the newly emerged never-before-seen photographs, released by Astrid Franse and Michelle Morgan in the book Before Marilyn: The Blue Book Modeling Years in June of 2015, reveal a “wholesome and respectable” girl with dirty-blonde hair:
In her very first foray into Hollywood, Emmeline Snively, head of the Blue Book Modeling Agency which was first to sign Monroe, noted that she came “in a simple white dress and armed with her portfolio, which offered no more than a few snaps. You wouldn’t necessarily wear a white dress on a modeling job, and it was as clean and white and ironed and shining as she was… It accentuated her bust and called attention to her figure. It was extremely tight across the front.” Marilyn would maintain her penchant for choosing shades, namely white, gray, or black. In fact, her legend remains in the image of the flowing white accordion-pleated halter dress worn in The Seven Year Itch.
Her original “girl next door” look, however, combined with her curvaceous body gave way to crop tops and high-waisted pants, with high heels to accent her figure. The then-nineteen year old was recorded to be a size 12, with the height 5’ 5”, and measurements of 36-24-34, denoting her bust, waist, and hips, respectively. On her figure, Monroe herself noted: “Frankly, I’ve never considered my own figure so exceptional; until quite recently, I seldom gave it any thought at all. My biggest single concern used to be getting enough to eat. Now I have to worry about eating too much.” She maintained her figure by exercising “at least 10 minutes each morning working out with small weights. I have evolved my own exercises, for the muscles I wish to keep firm, and I know they are right for me because I can feel them putting the proper muscles into play as I exercise.”
Though her style of tight-fitting clothing never changed throughout her life, it seems her career became golden only after she went platinum: “[Her hair] was so curly, so frizzy…She was a believer in naturalness [and] any suggestions about lightening her hair or even styling it met with defeat,’ Snively recalls. Only after a photographer working with Monroe on a modeling shoot offered to pay for her hair, did she concede.
Ironically, years later, in the now-defunct Pageant Magazine, Marilyn penned a column titled “How to Feel Blond All Over”, capitalizing on the power of her platinum hair as extending past her physical hair to her life philosophy: “ I have never cared especially for outdoor sports and have no desire to excel at tennis, swimming or golf. I’ll leave those things to the men. Despite its great vogue in California, I don’t think sun-tanned skin is any more attractive than white skin, or any healthier, for that matter. I’m personally opposed to a deep tan because I like to feel blond all over. By nature, I suppose I have a languorous disposition. I hate to do things in a hurried, tense atmosphere, and it is virtually impossible for me to spring out of bed in the morning. On Sunday, which is my one day of total leisure, I sometimes take two hours to wake up, luxuriating in every last moment of drowsiness. Depending upon my activities, I sleep between five and ten hours every night. I sleep in an extra-wide single bed, and I use only one heavy down comforter over me, summer or winter. I have never been able to wear pajamas or creepy nightgowns; they disturb my sleep.”
To keep her famous figure slim, Monroe, who went on to star in thirty-two films, kept strange eating habits recalling, “I’ve been told that my eating habits are absolutely bizarre, but I don’t think so. Before I take my morning shower, I start warming a cup of milk on the hot plate I keep in my hotel room. When it’s hot, I break two raw eggs into the milk, whip them up with a fork and drink them while I’m dressing…I doubt if any doctor would recommend a more nourishing breakfast for a working girl in a hurry.” Skipping lunch and going straight to a “startlingly simple” dinner, Marilyn would stop at a market near her hotel for steak, lamb chops or liver, which she would eat broiled with four or five raw carrots: “I must be part rabbit; I never get bored with raw carrots.” She noted, however, that her “eating simple” allowed for the indulgence of a daily hot fudge sundae.
Though most of her fame was focused on her beautiful physique and timeless physical appeal, there was more to Monroe than what meets the eye. Perhaps this is what accounts for why she has continued to capture the attention of millions over the years. An exemplary passage of this is in the last interview before her death, where Monroe explained:
“What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship…We are all brothers. Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe.”
Marilyn Makeover: Top Five Tips
Dress for your Body Shape!
With paying special highlight to her tiny waist, Monroe accentuated her curvaceous body by wearing slinky dresses tight around the waist. She loved high-waisted pencil skirts with casual cashmere sweaters. For a more casual look, pair high-waisted jeans with a striped sweater or button-down collared shirt, just like Monroe.
Kitten Your Heels!
As Monroe said, “I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot!” Monroe adored a strappy stiletto or a pair of patent-leather peep-toes or pumps.
Rouge Your Lips!
According to her personal make-up artist Allan “Whitey” Snyder, Monroe used up to five different shades of red to give her the perfect pout. To achieve Monroe’s lips, draw above the curve of your upper lip with a white eyeliner for a highlighted effect, then using a darker-shaded lip liner, from your top lip, extend past the corner of your mouth to exaggerate the width of your lips. To plump your lips, draw below the lower line and above your upper lip. For full ‘Marilyn’ lips, dab white eye shadow in the centre of them to emphasize the pout.
Monroe used Erno Laszlo Active Phelityl Intensive Cream at night and is said to have used petroleum jelly (Vaseline) throughout the day as a make-up primer. For a similar look, opt for a silicone-based primer.
Signature Your Scent!
One of Monroe’s most well known quotes is her answer to the question of what she slept in, in which she answered: “Five drops of Chanel No. 5.” It is said that she put drops of the perfume in her ice-cold baths, which helped keep her skin dewy and fresh.
By Mariana Bockarova