Marilyn: beyond the myth
As a new feature film about Marilyn Monroe’s 1956 London sojourn premieres at the Dubai International Film Festival this week, Helena Frith Powell examines her legacy
When I was 10, The Sunday Times magazine serialised Norman Mailer’s biography of Marilyn Monroe. I don’t know how or why I had heard of her but I collected all the articles and stuck them in a scrapbook, on the cover of which I wrote Marilyn. Unfortunately, my stepfather thought it was unsuitable reading for a little girl and confiscated it.
The point of the story is not how strict my stepfather was, but rather how Marilyn grabbed the attention of a child, and how she still captures the imagination of millions, almost 50 years after her death.
I can gaze happily at photographs of Marilyn for hours on end. There is something so captivating about her beauty, and also something intangible that draws you back again and again. She seems so much more special than countless other actresses.
Although Marilyn cultivated the “dumb blonde” image, it was inaccurate. Jane Russell, her co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, called her “very shy and very sweet and far more intelligent than people gave her credit for”.
For her acting, there can be no higher accolade than that of Lee Strasberg from the legendary Actors Studio: “I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of actors and actresses,” he said, “and there are only two that stand out way above the rest. Number one is Marlon Brando, and the second is Marilyn Monroe.”
And let’s not forget she could sing and dance as well. Has anyone ever heard a more seductive interpretation of Happy Birthday than the one she sang for JFK in 1962?
But if we’re honest, we don’t remember Marilyn because of her films or even her songs. Rather, there is something about Marilyn the woman that is endlessly fascinating. Her self-doubt, her disastrous relationships, her humour (famously late for everything, she once quipped: “I’ve been on a calendar, but I’ve never been on time”) and of course, that endearing vulnerability.
Marilyn didn’t take her sex symbol status lightly. “Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry,” she once said. “Especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered.”
My Week With Marilyn will receive its UAE premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival on Tuesday. The film goes on general release in the UAE on December 22.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog www.beautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as contributing regularly for newspapers and magazines, writing short stories and studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, Helena is also working on a thriller called Welcome to Smullö that will be published in spring 2020.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and came out in paperback in April 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives between there and London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019