Mr. President: The Late Marilyn Monroe

Peter Lawford introduced Marilyn Monroe before her performance of her birthday song for President John F. Kennedy in 1962. Because she was a few seconds late onto the stage, and Lawford had to stall with a few lines, when she did run onstage and join Lawford, he put his arms around her and said, “Mr. President: The late Marilyn Monroe.”

I started this article as a vehicle to debunk a few rumors and do a little light teasing about the various quotes that have been attributed to her over the years, and even published in some “reputable” press as fact, proving without a doubt that the writers of those pieces had done only the lightest of search-engine based “research” in order to present listsicles or round ups of “legendary women” and what they can “tell us about ourselves.” Frankly, all those fake quotes can tell us is that the author is a lazy researcher, and a lazy thinker to allow unsourced trickles to feed into their pieces.

But on the anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, it became apparent that there is no way to tackle this issue in a light manner if we’re to be honest about it. The projections made onto Marilyn via these quotes, and “conventional wisdom” borne of false rumors about her, reflect the state of our problem with women both during Marilyn’s lifetime, and still today. We keep treading the same ground with our women legends. They’re difficult. They’re bad. They’re created around sex, and only exist for it. They’re tragic, but only after they’ve been wrung out and cast aside, slut-shamed and lied about. And even after they die, the tragic tales are only embraced insofar as it allows our society to treat them as some sort of morality tale – that women can only have a tragic end if they aren’t good, and pure – but not too good and pure, mind you – and that they definitely should have known it was coming and wised up.

These difficult women, these crazy ex-girlfriends, these grown women unable to cope with their overwhelming attachment to men who had to get on with their lives and away from them. We see them again and again. We see them still. We hear their stories every day, yet we fail to see the patterns of how the fuck we treat women in light of the abuse and/or hardships they endure.

In wading through these fake quotes, I found a very real one from Marilyn that addressed this very thing in regard to celebrities:

“This is wrong, because when I was a little girl I read signed stories in fan magazines and I believed every word of them. Then I tried to model my life after the lives of the stars I read about. If I’m going to have that kind of influence, I want to be sure it’s because of something I’ve actually said or written.”

In that spirit, we’ll dig into some quotes, but before we really begin the dismantling of outlandish rumors, let me start with something rather important, that goes to character assassination and that I want to make clear at the outset, as it’s among the more disturbing rumors:

“There were rumors that she had multiple abortions, but she never had one. She had two miscarriages, and an ectopic pregnancy requiring emergency termination, but no abortion.” -Dr. Leon Krohn, Marilyn Monroe’s gynecologist, speaking to biographer Donald Spoto

That should really be the last word on that.

So, what about these fake quotes?

1. “To all the girls that think you’re fat because you’re not a size zero, you’re the beautiful one. It’s society who’s ugly.”

Size zero didn’t exist during Marilyn’s lifetime. Additionally, the common myth that she was a size 14 (or even 16) is misguided. She wore an Italian 1960s size 14 top. It was a little large on her, as photos show. However, her measurements as shown on her modeling card were 36-24-34. She was her heaviest in 1959, and that year, she wore a dress that was made for her, tailored to her body, to an event honoring her then-husband Arthur Miller. This dress is in a collection and the waist measures at 28.5″. The following year, she shed the extra weight, and by 1962, after she’d had two surgeries (more about that below), she wore an acid green Emilio Pucci top that was later auctioned off at Christie’s. The size shows 14, but it’s a 1962 Italian size 14. Today, it’s displayed on a size 6-8 dress form.

Remember when Elizabeth Hurley said this in 2000?

“I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat. I went to see her clothes in the exhibition and I wanted to take a tape measure and measure what her hips were. (laughs) She was very big.”

First of all, gross. She decided to form her mouth around a disgusting attack one of the most beautiful women that ever lived, in addition to fat-shaming normal-sized women today, and saying she would kill herself if she was (that) fat – wow – but she was also wrong. Even giving this trash take the benefit of the doubt, if she saw one of the two garments below, she is too much of a simpleton to have considered how they fit Marilyn at the time. One is a maternity dress that was baggy on her, and the other was a wide-cut overcoat – with a belled bottom that clearly flared out like a swing coat.

(Big ups to The Marilyn Monroe Collection for this size info and videos.)

Anyway, had Marilyn been a size 14 as we see them today, society would have been very different in a lot of ways. But she wasn’t. This quote may speak some truth, but it wasn’t Marilyn’s truth.

2. “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.”

I mean, sure. But she didn’t say that. Dr. Timothy Leary did. Yes, that Timothy Leary.

3. “Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered.”

Wow. That sounds practically tailor-made for Marilyn. She really didn’t say it?

Nope. But it was tailor-made for her. Silent film star Clara Bow said it about Marilyn just after Marilyn’s death in 1962. (Clara herself didn’t die until 1965.)

4. “Give a girl the right shoes and she will conquer the world.”

This is a twist on this quote: “Give a girl the correct footwear and she can conquer the world,” which is actually attributed to Bette Midler in a newspaper article from 1985.

5. “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

This was actually a quote from a paper by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a historian writing about Puritan funeral practices in 1976. This was so misquoted so regularly that Ulrich wrote a book in 2008 with the entire quote as the title, which examines the stories of women who “challenged the way history was written.” But still, prints with this quote and attribution to Marilyn persist.

6. “I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.”

This one is a little harder to source, but the best info I could find was that it was said by Bessie Coleman. Now, this may seem a dubious quote from Bessie Coleman too, given that she was actually famous for being the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license, and the first American of any race or gender to be awarded pilot credentials from the Federation Aeronitique Internationale in France, which required a very high level of skill with maneuvers. (She’d only trained for ten months in total.) However, when she returned, she received a silver cup as a kind gift to recognize her achievement. It was from the cast of Shuffle Along, a musical which featured Josephine Baker in one of her earliest roles. From then on, the two spent time together frequently, reportedly living the high life in the flapper era. Josephine was so influenced by her that she went on to earn her pilot’s license in 1933, and Bessie absolutely embraced the feminine dress of her day. In fact, she was a licensed manicurist and beautician before she ever got to sit in a plane. Could she have said it? Maybe. But Marilyn definitely did not.

7. “We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle.”

This is when it starts getting gross. This is the vaseline lens take on what she actually said, which was in response to a party invitation that she was turning down: “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.”

Oh, you didn’t know she was physically involved in civil rights protests? Because some asshole turned that strong, clear message into a pithy meme and everybody ran with it.

8. “I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you can appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself. Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can be put together.”

During Marilyn’s lifetime, film, audio tape and print were well-employed to archive even the most arcane details of a celebrity’s life. Certainly we don’t have complaints of lost Marilyn interviews or footage like we do of stars of the silent film era. Archiving was in full swing. Yet there is no record of this being spoken or written by Marilyn anywhere. Also, this is out of character. She remained trusting, and optimistic, even as depression was taking her over. She had eternal hope for the possibility of love. Which leads us to the next fake quote.

9. “A wise girl kisses but doesn’t love. Listens but doesn’t believe, and leaves before she is left.”

Again, no source. It appears in no known interview. But it was out of character. She didn’t reduce herself to simply “wanting a man,” but she did not give up on love. She was simply not this cynical, even in her final year. Or month.

10. “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Holy shit. Even a cursory read of her earliest childhood would tell you that she never, ever fetishized “madness.” In fact, she was terrified of it in her mother, whose mental illness issues created a very difficult situation for Marilyn as a child, but also of it in herself. Though it’s public speculation that Marilyn’s “madness” was inevitable and possibly genetic, there is no evidence to support that. Her mental health issues can be directly traced to events in her life, more than genetic profiles. Regardless, this idea of the genius of madness wasn’t normalized for women. Men could be mad geniuses, but there was no way a woman would be seen in a positive light, and this quote is out of character AND career-damaging if she’d said it.

Furthermore, the idea of imperfection being beautiful to her is laughable. It’s well documented how careful and deliberate Marilyn was at applying makeup and dressing herself. She would agonize over details of her makeup until they were perfect. She was absolutely a perfectionist in terms of her appearance, and her acting. We may wish to read this quote as permission to be imperfect, and a little weird, and to let ourselves off the hook a little bit with our standards, but Marilyn would never have done this for herself. Never.

11. “Nothing lasts forever, so live it up, drink it down, laugh it off, avoid the drama, take chances and never have regrets because at one point everything you did was exactly what you wanted.”

You probably understand by now why this is out of character, far too cynical and YOLO for Marilyn, and no way she said this. But “avoid the drama” wasn’t even a phrase at any point in her life in this context. The only way she would have said “avoid the drama” is if she were speaking about taking a comedy script over a dramatic one (which is another thing she likely would not have done).

Arguably the most famous fake quote attributed to Marilyn Monroe?

12. “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at time hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.”

This has been traced back to someone’s OK Cupid bio from 2009, but no attribution before that, and no interview with or written piece by Marilyn Monroe exists with this quotation. This might sound great, but it’s more Carrie Bradshaw than Marilyn Monroe. It also deals with the projection of Marilyn that we’re dealing with in popular culture rather than the real woman.

Marilyn was not selfish. Not ever. Not even the men that hated her for whatever reasons would assert that she was. She had a huge capacity for compassion, and she demonstrated care for others above herself throughout her entire life. She didn’t consistently let people take advantage of her, but she absolutely picked others over herself when she could “afford” to do so, emotionally and financially. This is borne out in her devotion to her stepchildren from her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller both – all children would consistently talk about how wonderful she was to them.

It’s also evident in the way that she used her position to call attention to injustice, to champion individuals in asserting their rights, or opening opportunities for them, and also in the fact that she took financial care of everyone connected with her past that had helped her, or that was related to her by blood or family bond. She also, in her will, left 25% of her estate to former psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris, “to be used for the furtherance of the work of such psychiatric institutions or groups as she shall elect.” Knowing Marilyn’s enormous love for children, Kris chose the Anna Freud Children’s Clinic of London. (Big ups again to The Marilyn Monroe Collection for the direct quote from her will.)

A detail often omitted from her famous trip to entertain and visit with the troops in Korea was that she visited wounded soldiers in hospital, and when she came across a soldier who had been suspended facing the floor in order to alleviate his pain and allow for healing, she laid herself down in her fur coat and spoke to him from her position flat on the floor.

But still, she had this… reputation.

A difficult woman.

Despite her best efforts to be a professional at the top of her game, her endless, lifelong quest to improve her craft (including intense acting training from four acting coaches, even up to her last year of life), she could not fully overcome physical ailments that took their toll on her mental health. She was chronically ill and was particularly susceptible to ENT issues – sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, cold and flu – and suffered with insomnia that prolonged these illnesses and zapped her immune system, leaving her exhausted. She was prescribed barbiturates to sleep, and amphetamines to wake up – a familiar cocktail in those days, and one that claimed Judy Garland among countless others, before the effects of this rollercoaster of chemicals were fully understood and, even when they were, exceptions were made for the rich and famous.

Among her personal effects, collected and catalogued, were a prescription bottle for phenergan, used to treat allergy symptoms (also, motion sickness, nausea, vomiting or pain, and as a sleep aid – think diphenhydramine plus), and prescription eye drops, and not one, but two custom tissue box covers. She consistently had the sniffles, and it wasn’t for the usual “Hollywood reasons.”

Her visit to the troops in Korea, which she later described as “the highlight” of her life, resulted in pneumonia, which took her down for days after her return home. During the filming of A Ticket to Tomahawk, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bus Stop, she got walloped with bronchitis or the flu, depending on the year, and had to take time off of filming. After the famous updraft skirt scene in The Seven Year Itch (which took three hours standing barelegged being blown with cold air to film) she caught a chill. Her final film, Something’s Got To Give, started filming a week late because of an acute sinus infection and a fever. She was able to turn up for one day on the set when her doctor advised her that she needed to be in bed for at least a week. (In fact, she would be seriously ill for the following six weeks.)

Marilyn in the famous updraft shot publicity event for The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn in Korea, with American soldiers

In most instances, studio execs and some colleagues cast doubt on her illnesses, suggesting that she was just drunk, or high, and lazy, and unprofessional. She was famously fired from the production of Something’s Got To Give, and shooting was shut down, and in that case, the studio went further, stating outright what was only buzzed about before. In fact, she actually gave a quote at the time: “Executives can get a cold and stay home and phone in, but the actor? How dare you get a cold or a virus! I wish they had to act a comedy with a temperature and a virus infection!”

By the time Marilyn’s dependency on barbiturates really took hold, she already had a reputation for being difficult because of her chronic illnesses. Further, director Billy Wilder’s exasperation with her during the shooting of Some Like It Hot did indeed stem from her frequent late starts (noon) and her early departures from the set. What he didn’t know at the time was that she was pregnant, and her then-husband Arthur Miller didn’t want her to work at all – he gave her “permission” to work a few hours, after which she would become exhausted. This was an already precarious pregnancy – one which she very much wanted to succeed – and when she miscarried three months in, it was devastating and she was racked with guilt because, as she told friends, she thought she caused it by taking her prescribed pills “on an empty stomach”. Her physicians knew she was pregnant. She would have had no clear way to learn the real risks of barbiturates in pregnancy, nor alcohol. (She said she took sherry during her pregnancy.)

Marilyn miscarried twice and lost one pregnancy (ectopic – the pregnancy was outside of the fallopian tube and therefore not viable, and lethal to continue) three years in a row from 1956, 1957 and 1958. The films she completed in the following two years, Let’s Make Love and The Misfits didn’t do well at the box office, and during the filming of The Misfits, she was in the hospital for a week. This was her last completed film, written by Arthur Miller – from whom she divorced in January of 1961 – and the film is not her usual lighthearted fare. It’s a bleak, tense film with the most genuine acting of her career, and perhaps one of the best lines she’s ever embodied in its delivery. Addressing the men in the room: “You are only happy when you can see something die. Why don’t you kill yourselves, and be happy?”

Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits

1961 was a terrible year for Marilyn, not just because of depression one would think of as normal when one’s career is suffering the fickleness of the public and the media who preferred the dumb blonde they could wolf-whistle over without all these emotions and shit, and not just because of signing her marriage’s death warrant. She suffered immensely from endometriosis – a condition still not fully understood for what it is – a condition which presents with excruciating pain and usually the loss of fertility among those who suffer it. It was, perhaps, a previously undiagnosed contributor to her miscarriages, and likely caused her to suffer elevated menstrual pain every month. She finally had surgery to address it in this year, and then also had her gall bladder removed. She spent weeks in the hospital, and checked herself in for psychiatric care to address her depression. When she got out, she left Manhattan and returned to LA. This is when she was to begin shooting Something’s Got To Give, and when she caught the sinusitis which felled her for six weeks. Multiple doctors confirmed the illness, but she was publicly mocked for faking it by her studio and the press ate it up.

She returned to work (after a quick stop to sing Happy Birthday to JFK at Madison Square Garden) and resumed filming when she had a relapse and couldn’t shoot. Fox fired her, then sued her for breach of contract. (Dean Martin refused to reshoot the film with Lee Remick, who’d been called in to replace Marilyn, and the studio sued him too and then folded the production entirely.)

The studio went into full on defamation mode, claiming that Marilyn’s drug addiction and “lack of professionalism” and – they really said this – “mental disturbance” were to blame for their failure to heed the advice of physicians to postpone the start of filming. Despite this, she made several attempts to drag herself onto the set, and keep up with public appearances, and unsurprisingly, relapsed. After this relentless mudslinging by Fox, Marilyn did a series of interviews in the magazines with the highest profiles of their day – Life, Cosmo and Vogue. She made enough headway to renegotiate her contract with Fox, and planned to return to shoot Something’s Got To Give in September of 1962. She also had plans for a new film, and a Jean Harlow biopic.

Unfortunately, she died in the first week of August of 1962, before any of these plans were realized.

But despite Fox giving her a new contract and agreeing to resume shooting the very film she was fired from for allegedly never showing up except when she was high or drunk, only to leave abruptly, their ugly, and very public accusations were accepted as fact. It was only finally debunked by the unreleased footage she had shot being made public in 1990. It proved that she had been on set, she was far from incoherent, and had shot several scenes. Interestingly, it was Henry (not Harvey) Weinstein that made the truth known: the head executive of Fox, Peter Levathes, was inexperienced and the studio had severe financial troubles they could not surmount, and had used Monroe’s illnesses as an excuse to first cut costs by replacing her big paycheck with a smaller one for Lee Remick, and then killing the film altogether.

Will you look at this? There she is, on the set, acting, and also visibly ill.

Marilyn Monroe on the Set of Something’s Got To Give

Marilyn Monroe on the Set of Something’s Got To Give. Her actual illness is clearly visible, but was chalked up to her being “high” and “drunk” despite the film footage showing her lucid and performing her scenes normally.

So, we know Fox Studios was a trashfire and that she fought to regain her position and reputation from them. Still, rumors assuming the worst of her never really went away, even as she’s turned into a tragic figure. Part two of this article gets deep into tinfoil country. Get your hats ready.

This amazing photos is by Jeff Hall

Part Two –>