VKN Badass Gals: Marilyn Monroe

Throughout history there have been exceptional women who’ve inspired us by the way they lead their lives and accomplish success. This is VK Nagrani’s Badass Gals.

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Born Norma Jean Mortenson, baptized Norma Jean Baker, one of Hollywood’s most beloved icons ever considered Mona Monroe and Jean Adair as potential stage names before deciding on a winner in 1946: Marilyn Monroe.

As synonymous with sex as black lace, Monroe appeared in 30 films in her 15-year career, which grossed 200 million, but most in the public eye never saw her as more than a blonde bombshell stumbling her way through fame and fortune.

How wrong they were. Here’s why Marilyn was a badass.

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1. She overcame a bleak upbringing

USC Professor Lois Banner wrote in her book “Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox,” that Monroe was a national institution as well-known as hot dogs, apple pie, or baseball.

Another major reason she was the perfect American icon is that she represented the classic rags-to-riches story that brought so many people to America in the first place.

Marilyn’s mother was institutionalized with paranoid schizophrenia when Marilyn was a child, and with no father in the picture, became an orphan. Like many orphans, she bounced around the system on and off for much of her childhood. She experienced instances of sexual assault and was raped at age 11. This tumultuous early life needed an escape, so she married her neighbor at the age of 16.

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2. She was anything but a dumb blonde

Monroe’s film roles rarely strayed from the dumb blonde persona, and her audience loved it. They loved it so much in fact, that they never realized Marilyn Monroe the actress—the hourglass figure and platinum curls, was different than Marilyn Monroe the person—full of wit and a keen sense of humor.

Consider her line as Lorelei Lee in 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:”

I can be smart when its important, but most men dont like it.

A lot of men still don’t like it, so you can imagine how 1950’s L.A. felt about it. But Monroe wasn’t content being Hollywood’s bubbly bimbo. She was always interested in improving her craft, and ultimately, wanted to be taken seriously as a dramatic actress. She did the former in 1955 when she joined Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio and took classes on method acting. The investment in her craft later materialized with a Golden Globe win for Best Actress in 1956’s “Bus Stop.”

Monroe was also an avid reader, with a 430-book library when she died. She even took a literature extension at UCLA. If you thought she was an idiot prior to reading this piece, do the honorable thing and check how much of her book collection you’ve read.

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3. One of first women to start own production company

Monroe battled the Hollywood image that made her a star her entire career, which finally culminated in 1954 when she co-founded Marilyn Monroe Productions (MMP) with photographer Milton Greene. On its own, the move demands respect, but it was actually influenced by some contractual issues she was having with Fox not agreeing to change her contract. Way to stick it to the man, Marilyn.

Unfortunately, MMP independently produced only one film, 1957’s “The Prince and the Showgirl,” while also sponsoring “Bus Stop,” which was produced by Fox. Monroe’s decision did pay off though; her and Fox came to a new seven-year contract, which allowed her to choose her own projects, directors, and cinematographers.

Marilyn never fulfilled that contract though, as a barbiturate overdose in 1962 ended her life at age 36.

To this day her legacy remains as firm as ever. So firm that a dress she wore in “The Seven Year Itch” sold for 4.6 million in 2011. Then that price was topped by the famous limestone encrusted dress she serenaded JFK in, which sold for 4.8 million in 2016.

Let’s revisit that moment, shall we?

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Read about other inspiring men, women, places, and moments in time, all a part of VK Nagrani’s Badass series.

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In memory of Marilyn Monroe:

The Women’s March may be over but the fight for equality isn’t. This coming Women’s Day, let us keep supporting women who inspire us to be better. At VK Nagrani, we are proudly supporting a small local woman-owned business called Tatas & Vag NYC.

Feel free to visit our store at 87H or at tatasnvagnyc.com to check out their tote bags!

VKN Badass Gals: Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, or the “Iron Lady”, as the Soviets of her time labelled her, was a very powerful woman during a time when women had very little power. She was Britain’s first and only woman prime minister. Her nickname stems from her uncompromising politics and overall leadership style. Regardless of how you feel about her politics, Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power is a notable story, worthy of retelling.

Keep reading to learn more about the “Iron Lady” herself, Margaret Thatcher, in this week’s edition of VK Nagrani’s Badass Gals!

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1. Humble Beginning

She was born Margaret Hilda Roberts, the daughter of a grocer and local alderman who later became the mayor of their countryside home in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Her mother gave birth to her and her older sister in the flat above the grocery their family owned and operated. The cramped apartment above the corner store lacked running water, central heating and didn’t even have any indoor plumbing.

Even though she came from a modest upbringing, she applied herself and wouldn’t let anything, even her gender, stop her from attaining her goals. She was accepted to Oxford University where she studied chemistry and Somerville College.

2. Soft-Serve Science

Thatcher always had plans to enter the political realm and try to make her mark, but her degree was in chemistry and wanted to do that for a little bit while gaining life experiences. After a short stint at a plastics research facility, she worked as a food scientist for J. Lyons and Co. where she worked on a team that found a way to maximize the amount of air injected into ice cream so that it could be manufactured with less ingredients for a lower cost. This breakthrough led to the mass production of soft-serve ice cream that was shipped all across Great Britain, under the supremely British title “Mr. Whippy”.

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3. First Woman Prime Minister

Finally, ready to enter a career in politics, she was elected to the House of Commons in 1959, representing Finchley. She worked in the House for a few years, slowly climbing the ranks of the parliamentary elite. At the time of her election, only 4 percent of the total political body of the House of Commons were women. It was very frustrating for her to be one of only several women in the political system, there were many roadblocks along the way. She was even quoted saying:

There will not be a woman prime minister in my time. The male population is too prejudiced.

Just five years later, she supplanted former Prime Minister Edward Heath as the leader of the Conservative Party, and became the first woman to head a major British political party. A few years after that, she proved herself wrong and won the keys to 10 Downing Street.

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Margaret Thatcher had a long and illustrious career and was a major player on the world stage. She was the longest running British Prime Minister of the 20th century, elected for three consecutive terms.

For more stories of real Badass Gals, keep the VK Nagrani Blog book marked.

 

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Badass Gals: Princess Diana

Coming up on 17 years since her tragic early death, Princess Diana is remembered as a brave and tender, yet badass woman. Her compassionate work with AIDS patients in the ‘80s, and underprivileged the world over, has inspired and astounded an entire generation of people. Diana had many titles, Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Chester, Baroness of Renfrew, yet the most important title to her was Mother. She gave birth to the Princes William and Harry, who are now respectively third and fourth in line for the throne.

Keep reading to learn why VK Nagrani thinks Princess Diana is a badass gal.

1. Aristocratic Upbringing

She was born into British nobility and was one of the most adored members of the royal family. She became Lady Diana Spencer in 1975, after her father was given the title of Earl Spencer. She was a shy child as she grew yet always showed an interest in the arts and developed a strong bond with children – a feature of her personality that would come to be one of the most recognizable.

2. Marriage & Divorce

Diana married one of her childhood playmates, Prince Charles. Since he was the heir to the British throne, their entire courtship was publicized – similar to the way that Prince William and Kate Middleton’s was a few years back. But, Diana thrived in the limelight, even though she seemed pensive and shy in her personal life. Their televised wedding ceremony reached a total of 750 million global viewers.

Although, over the course of their marriage, they grew estranged and rumors of infidelity (on both sides) surfaced. They were officially divorced in 1992, spending only ten years together and raising two sons.

3. Charity Work

Even with her quiet demeanor, Princess Diana was something of a rebel. During the peak AIDS scare in the ‘80s, she never shied away from them, and comforted them as though they had any other disease. This was seen as a very courageous act at the time, because people were dumb and didn’t realize that that isn’t how AIDS works. All the same though, she was the first person to address the stigma that came along with contracting HIV and AIDS. As she so eloquently put it:

“HIV doesn’t not make people dangerous to know. You can shake their hands and give them a hug, heaven knows they need it.”

4. Death

After her divorce, she was still immensely popular, due to her work with the poor and disenfranchised. She would know the highs and lows of fame, and the lows would ultimately cost her her life, as she ended up in a fatal car accident with her then-lover Dodi Al-Fayed.

Her work towards getting rid of the use of landmines worldwide won her the Nobel Peace Prize, unfortunately it was a few short months after her death.

Princess Diana is remembered across the globe for her charity work, warm personality, and elegance that embodied what it truly meant to be a princess. Keep it bookmarked to the VK Nagrani Blog for more editions in our Badass Gals series.

 

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VKN Badass Gals: Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball was one of the first comedic leading ladies to hit the mainstream. Most famously known for her hit sitcom “I Love Lucy”, she was a walking contradiction to the image of what women were traditionally known for during her time. She was an enigmatic beauty, with a razor sharp wit and slapstick charm. Lucy pushed the boundaries on what a woman could be during a time where traditional gender roles reigned supreme.

Keep reading to see why we here at VK Nagrani think that Lucille Ball was a real Badass Gal!

1. Physical Acting

Lucy is known for her klutzy cute persona, but didn’t start off that way. When she first stepped onto the scene, she was a typical Hollywood beauty with no real niche to dig into. After a few fairly typical roles in some okay movies, she cemented her place as a physical comedienne. In an interview with People magazine, she retold the story of how she found her “in”:

“I guess after about six months out here in the ’30s I realized there was a place for me. Eddie Cantor and Sam Goldwyn found that a lot of the really beautiful girls didn’t want to do some of the things I did—put on mud packs and scream and run around and fall into pools. I said ‘I’d love to do the scene with the crocodile.’ He didn’t have teeth, but he could sure gum you to death. I didn’t mind getting messed up. That’s how I got into physical comedy.”

She wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty and get the laughs.

2. First Interracial Couple on TV

While that might not seem like a big deal in today’s mostly-tolerant world – in the 50s, people weren’t really used to seeing interracial couples anywhere. People were also bigger assholes back then. When I Love Lucy was being pitched, producers were averse to the idea of having Desi Arnaz on TV, saying he was “too ethnic”. Which is something only a real asshole would think, let alone say to another human being. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and took the show on the road, and Desi developed a huge fan base. Before long, people stopped being assholes for a little bit and demanded he be on the show.

3. The First Female Head of a Major Production Company

After nearly a decade of working on genre-defining work and a life of A-list success, Lucy became the first female head of a major production company when she took over Desilu Productions after her divorce. Over the entire course of the studio’s career, she helped bring classics like Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables and of course I Love Lucy to the silverscreen.

Keep the VK Nagrani Blog bookmarked to read more from our Badass Gals series.

 

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Badass Gals: Oprah Winfrey

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last thirty or so years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Oprah Winfrey. She went from a humble backwoods rural upbringing in Mississippi to one of the world’s richest women. Oprah is a media mogul, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. There’s not much of our media-based culture that Oprah hasn’t had a hand in shaping.

As a man, your intersections with Oprah may be via a wife or significant other, so you may not be fully aware of her story and how she rose to fame. Oprah’s story is, in essence, a realization of the American Dream itself.

Here are a couple more reasons why we here at VK Nagrani think Oprah Winfrey is a total badass.

1. Troubled Upbringing

Oprah was born well below the poverty line in the backwoods of Mississippi to a single mother. She has actively spoken out about the fact that she was molested her entire childhood, and at the delicate age of 14, became unwillingly pregnant. The child died during infancy. After the death of her son, she moved to Tennessee to live with the man that she called her father, and landed a job in radio while still in high school. Her warm personality and charming presence sealed the deal on a job reporting the local news on television, which later pushed her into the realm of day-time talk shows. The rest, as they say, is history.

Move over Drake, we all know you were a rich kid in Toronto. Oprah really started from the bottom.

2. Reinvigorated Readers

Let’s face it—your mom, grandma, aunts, girlfriend or wife have all probably read a book because it was on Oprah’s Book Club. During the 15 years of Oprah’s Book Club, her viewers have purchased millions of copies of the 70 selected reading titles. Al Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor estimates the total sales of these “Oprah editions” to be just over 55 million copies – just because her name was on it.

3. Weight Issues

If you’ve been an avid watcher of Oprah’s show, you might know that there are quite a few versions of Oprah, in all shapes and sizes. She’s publicly battled her weight and has had a very active role in developing the “fad diet craze” that has been so popular in our country since the ‘90s. Regardless of the positive or negative effects diet crazes may have had on our culture, she has changed many lives by inspiring viewers to live their best life, with lifestyle changes revolving around diet and exercise.

4. Opened Up Race Relations

Oprah has always credited the sacrifices of men and women like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and the other great figures of the civil rights movement in her ability to shed her poor, troubled youth to the powerhouse of culture she has become. In turn, her successes have inspired millions more.

Her candid discussions about race opened up dialogs across the country. Oprah once taped a show in Forsyth County, Georgia, where no black people lived for over 75 years. Simply by being there, she inspired growth and a movement of people of color to the area. Twenty-five years later, there are 7,000 African-Americans living in Forsyth County.

Say what you will about her effect on culture, love her or hate her, Oprah has vastly changed the way media is produced and viewed. Keep checking the VK Nagrani blog for more of our Badass Series.

 

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VKN Badass Gals: Mulan

One of the lesser known Disney princesses, many people might not realize that Mulan was actually a real person. While Disney did take historic license with the story, the foundation of her legend remains true: her family gets called to war and must send one man to fight in the army, so instead of sending her father, Mulan decides to disguise herself as a man and go instead.

While the Disney Mulan inspired a whole generation of little ass-kickers, the real story is even more badass. Here are just a couple of the reasons VK Nagrani thinks the real Mulan was a total badass.

1. Kung Fu Legend

Unlike the untrained chump from the movie, the real Mulan was a skilled martial artist and adept with many weapons. Mulan grew up as a tomboy, with her father teaching her to fight at a young age. At the time of her enlistment in the Chinese army, she was already competent throughout the entire training and didn’t need help on how to not die.

2. Foot-Binding

During Mulan’s time, it was culturally en vogue for women to bind their feet in a way that would prevent them from growing. It was pretty messed up, and is widely regarded as one of the worst things humanity has ever done to the fairer sex.

When Mulan’s father was initially conscripted for war, Mulan gathered the supplies she would need to pass as a man, along with the items that she would use as a lady. This included the materials necessary for binding her feet, so she could get a husband when she returned from war.

She went through twelve years of war while her feet continuously broke over and over again. Brutal.

3. Fooled Everybody for Twelve Years

Because of her skills with archery, riding, and sword fighting, Mulan was keenly welcomed into the fold of the Chinese army. Somehow she managed to go 12 whole years without letting on that she actually in fact had lady bits. When the war was over, she voluntarily told them that she was actually a woman, and instead of losing their collective shit over it, everybody just kind of accepted it.

After returning from war, the only thing she asked for was a swift horse to take her home so she could get to resume pre-war times.

4. Different Family Dynamic

In the movie, part of the reason she goes to war is because she feels she needs to redeem herself to her dishonored family for not being marriage material. She leaves to protect her family, because if she cannot make it as a woman, maybe she can make it as a man.

In reality, she was very open and honest with her family about wanting to go to war and had no need of a dramatic escape in the middle of the night. Instead, she just packs up and leaves. While her parents were pretty bummed that she was going, it was the most logical choice since she was the oldest child and her little brother was too young.

Check back often for more additions of the VKN Badass Series.

 

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VKN Badass Gals: Cleopatra

Throughout history there have been exceptional people who’ve inspired us by the way they lead their lives and accomplish success. This is VK Nagrani’s Badass Series.

There isn’t a woman throughout history as revered and mythologized as Cleopatra. She was the last active pharaoh of ancient Egypt (who was actually Greek in heritage and not Egyptian) and has been immortalized in culture through literature, plays and films. Her name is still known throughout the world nearly two millennia after her death. She has become an icon of feminine power as her life was fraught with political intrigue, perilous familial strain, and a doomed relationship that entranced the world at a time when global communication wasn’t possible. Hers is a classic story of Shakespearean tragedy so bold, that we still remember her to this day.

Here are the reasons why we here at VK Nagrani think that Cleopatra was a total badass and deserves her place in history as one of the toughest, most interesting rulers of all time.

1. Her Looks Did Not Lead

Throughout history, Cleopatra has typically been painted as a conniving temptress who would use the power of seduction as a political weapon. This is not the case. There is little evidence that she was as beautiful as once believed (coins with her face on it picture her with masculine features and a hooked nose) instead of the goddess-like beauty widely believed. Roman propaganda was responsible for this, as she was blamed for the tabloid-level love affair with a married Julius Caesar.

It is believed that she was, in reality, renowned for her intellect and personal charm instead of physical looks. She spoke up to as many as a dozen languages and was educated in astronomy, math and the philosophy of the time. During her rule, she was said to have elevated scholars because she enjoyed their company. The ancient scholar and writer Plutarch said that her beauty was “not altogether incomparable,” and that it was actually her pleasant speaking voice and charming personality that would win the masses over.

2. Legendary Swagger

Since she lived in antiquity, there are a lot of stories of an unverifiable nature surrounding her. One of the best known was during one of her lavish dinners with paramour Mark Antony. She playfully made a wager with him that she could spend ten million sestertii (the currency of their time) on a single dinner. The next night she had a regular, conventional meal prepared for the two of them. Just when Mark was starting to laugh and make fun of her, she called for the second course – a single cup of strong vinegar. He grew more curious, until Cleopatra removed one of her pearl earrings and submerged it into the vinegar, waited for it to dissolve, and then drank the mixture.

This story has been disputed throughout history, as pearls do dissolve in vinegar, but it would have taken quite a while to do so without being crushed first. Whether or not there is truth in the tale, there are a million similar stories that help paint the picture of what was a bold woman.

3. Ruthless Leader

As a female ruler, she was often contested by her contemporaries and other rulers. She was forced to marry her younger brother, even though she hated him. Their feud put the country at odds, and the pair later faced off in a civil war. Cleopatra regained the upper hand when she gained the help of Julius Caesar, which is how the image of a plotting temptress originated. The sibling rivalry ended when her brother was found drowned in the Nile after fleeing battle.

4. Lived and Died on Her Own Terms

After Cleopatra’s whirlwind love affair with Mark Antony, she again brought her country to war; this time with Rome. After losing a naval battle against the Roman Empire, Antony and Cleopatra were forced back to Egypt, with Roman forces hot on their heels. When they knew they were going to be captured, they quickly ended their own lives – Mark Antony took a sword to his belly, and Cleopatra provoked a cobra into biting her.

Even after all this time, her story still resonates because of what she represented in a society that was so completely male-dominated. In an era of turmoil for her country, she did whatever she had to do to keep her people safe. She held the country together and was as powerful, if not more, than any of her male counterparts.

Stay tuned to the VK Nagrani Blog for more additions of the VKN Badass Series.

 

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