“I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, ‘There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me dreaming of being a movie star.’ But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.”
In many biographies, interviews and her own writings, Marilyn Monroe expressed a wide range of feelings and insights on being an actor that can still be meaningful for performers and other artists.
[Photo: Portrait of Actress Marilyn Monroe on Patio of Her Home, by Alfred Eisenstaedt.]
That first quote, about ‘Marilyn’ being a ‘veil’ she wore over her earlier identity, comes from a Vanity Fair article: The Lost Marilyn Monroe Nudes: Outtakes from Her Last On-Set Shoot Revealed in June’s V.F. (May 1 2012), which includes excerpts from Lawrence Schiller’s memoir Marilyn & Me: A Photographer’s Memories.
Acclaimed for her portrayal of Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn,” based on extensive research, Michelle Williams commented: “The biggest discovery I made was that Marilyn Monroe was a character she played.”
[From my post Michelle Williams on Interpreting Marilyn Monroe.]
Also see quotes by other actors in my related post Actors on building identity.
During a photography session, Marilyn Monroe told writer Schiller, “I always have a full-length mirror next to the camera when I’m doing publicity stills. That way, I know how I look.”
Schiller asked, “So, do you pose for the photographer or for the mirror?” “The mirror,” she replied without hesitating. “I can always find Marilyn in the mirror.”
But, the article continues, “Marilyn’s attitude about her sex-symbol status fluctuated wildly. While she was at times boastful of her looks and what they procured for her, she was also by turns insecure and angry.
“It’s still about nudity. Is that all I’m good for?” she demanded of Schiller. “I’d like to show that I can get publicity without using my ass or getting fired from a picture,” she continued.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
[Photo from webpage: Norma Jean Dougherty before Marilyn Monroe [has quotes with multiple photos - some nudes].
An earlier article, Marilyn and Her Monsters, by Sam Kashner (Vanity Fair, Nov 2010) includes many quotes from the book Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters – by Marilyn Monroe, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment.
Kashner writes about her shyness or insecurity as an acting student.
“She was always late for class, usually arriving just before they closed the doors. The teacher was strict about not entering in the middle of an exercise or, God forbid, in the middle of a scene. Slipping in without makeup, her luminous hair hidden under a scarf, she tried to make herself inconspicuous.
“She usually took a seat in the back of one of the dingy rooms in the Malin Studios, on 46th Street, smack in the middle of the theater district. When she raised her hand to speak, it was in a tiny wisp of a voice. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself, but it was hard for the other students not to know that the most famous movie star in the world was in their acting class.
“A few blocks away, above Loew’s State Theater, at 45th and Broadway, there was the other Marilyn—the one everyone knew—52 feet tall, in that infamous billboard advertising Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch, a hot blast from the subway grating causing her white dress to billow up around her thighs, her face an explosion of joy.”
Monroe “began working with Lee Strasberg and embarked upon the psychoanalysis that was de rigueur for taking classes at the Actors Studio.”
Mental health and challenging relationships
Her mother, Gladys Monroe Baker, “was a schizophrenic who spent years in and out of psychiatric hospitals… Marilyn was virtually abandoned, raised by various foster families and by Grace Goddard, a close friend of her mother’s.”
When she was just 16, the article notes, she married James Dougherty.
“My relationship with him was basically insecure from the first night I spent alone with him,” she wrote in a long, undated, somewhat rambling memoir of that marriage, probably written by hand after undergoing analysis…”
She wrote, “I was greatly attracted to him as one of the [“only” is crossed out] few young men I had no sexual repulsion for besides which it gave me a false sense of security to feel that he was endowed with more overwelming qualities which I did not possess—on paper it all begins to sound terribly logical but the secret midnight meetings the fugetive glance stolen in others company the sharing of the ocean, moon & stars and air aloneness made it a romantic adventure which a young, rather shy girl who didn’t always give that impression because of her desire to belong & develope can thrive on—I had always felt a need to live up to that expectation of my elders.”
In one of her notebooks, the article notes, Monroe wrote about being punished by her great-aunt Ida Martin, a strict, evangelical Christian paid by Grace Goddard to look after Norma Jeane for several months from 1937 to 1938.
Ida—I have still
been obeying her—
it’s not only harmful
for me to do so
but unrealality because
life starts from Now
working (doing my tasks that I
have set for myself)
On the stage—I will
not be punished for it
or be whipped
or be threatened
or not be loved
or sent to hell to burn with bad people
feeling that I am also bad.
or be afraid of my [genitals] being
exposed known and seen—?so what
or ashamed of my
Do you relate to some of Marilyn Monroe’s struggles with identity and esteem?
I certainly do. One of the challenges many of us share is in developing healthy self concept and esteem.
I am not a clinical psychologist or analyst, and am not attempting here to “explain” her complex inner life.
The majority of actors and other artists may not have had a schizophrenic parent and the level of abusive, traumatic childhood Monroe had, but many of the talented actors and other artists I have researched (over the past 15 years and more) talk about at least some of the same kinds of feelings, personality traits and mental health challenges.
Even highly talented and accomplished people have insecurities around self esteem issues, and sometimes difficult experiences dealing with parents, caregivers and other authority figures – like movie directors.
Here are a couple of my related posts:
‘I’m a Fraud’: Gifted and talented with insecurity
Artistic confidence – Insecurity and acting
Most of us have felt insecure to some degree, and have developed beliefs about our worth based on our early lives.
Many psychologists and others provide at least some helpful explanations for how these self perceptions and feelings develop, and what to do about changing them.
George Pratt, PhD and Peter Lambrou, PhD developed an approach called Emotional Self-Management for overcoming limiting feelings and beliefs. In their book “Code to Joy” they provide insights on their contributions to the new field of energy psychology, and provide strategies.
The book notes: “There’s hardly a child alive who hasn’t been told that he or she has been ‘bad’ by someone he or she trusts and respects. For a young child, still struggling to carve a sense of identity out of the welter of everyday experiences, simply being told ‘No!’ or ‘Don’t do that!’ can be received as the message, ‘You are wrong!’ ‘You are bad!’ That’s normal; it happens to all of us. For some, though, the accusation sticks.”
[Photo: Emily Browning, Jim Carrey, Liam Aiken in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004) - from article Why Does The World Suffer From An Epidemic Of Low Self-Esteem? by Morty Lefkoe.]
In another article of his, How To Change “Human Nature, Lefkoe describes some of the common sources of negative self-esteem beliefs of the kind Marilyn Monroe expressed, that grow out of relationships with parents or caregivers.
Maybe you can relate to some of these ideas on how we can develop self esteem issues:
If I trust my parents and they must know what they are doing, and if they are angry with me, it must be my fault. I’m not good enough.
If I can’t get them to spend the time with me that I want or if they are physically around but not paying attention to me, it must be my fault. I’m not important.
If I can’t get them to give me what I want most of the time, it must be my fault. I’m not worthy or deserving.
Morty Lefkoe is president and founder of the Lefkoe Institute, which teaches and publishes methods to “help people free themselves from their self-imposed limitations” and self-limiting beliefs.
You can try the Lefkoe Method free at ReCreateYourLife.
At her death at age 36, acting teacher Lee Strasberg noted in his eloquent eulogy:
“In her eyes and mine, her career was just beginning. The dream of her talent, which she had nurtured as a child, was not a mirage.”
A Wikipedia page states: “In 1999, Monroe was ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute. In the years and decades following her death, Monroe has often been cited as both a pop and a cultural icon as well as the quintessential American sex symbol.”
The Wikipedia article also says: “The circumstances of her death, from an overdose of barbiturates, have been the subject of conjecture. Though officially classified as a “probable suicide”, the possibility of an accidental overdose, as well as of homicide, have not been ruled out.”
Article continued: Marilyn Monroe: Her complex Inner Life – Part 2