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.
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.
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.
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 it’s important, but most men don’t 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.
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?
Read about other inspiring men, women, places, and moments in time, all a part of VK Nagrani’s Badass series.
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.