The star power of Marilyn Monroe

The image of a star is not completely falsified because they base their persona on a quality that they do have, this is why the image of a star is believable. There has to be some assumable truth to what story is being told about a star for people to buy into it. The film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953) starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell is about the male gaze and how two women navigate their objectification. 

In the film, Monroe’s character Lorelei Lee uses her sexual appeal as a tool in social situations. Richard Dyer wrote in his book Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society “appearances are a kind of reality, just as manufacture and individual persons are” (Dyer, 2). To the public Monroe was a major star of her time defined by her sexual appeal.

The above frame shows Monroe with her lips not touching, painted in her signature red rouge. Her eyes open wide, showing much of the white of her eyes and that she’s attent to the man she is talking to, Both of these traits, her lips and her eyes,  are traits present in many photos of her, this expression is made by Monroe throughout the film. This is also an expression that is known to Monroe in other films she is in, she utilizes her sexuality. Monroe is a platinum blonde which is described by Dyer as the ultimate sign of whiteness, which is a defining trait of the typical playmate. Marilyn Monroe was considered the embodiment of the desirable woman because she had just about every quality you could use to define one in the fifties.   

In the film Lorelei is shown in some scenes as being less intelligent as her brunette counterpart Dorothy Shaw played by Jane Russell. In the above frame from the film Monroe’s character doesn’t know how to wear a tiara until Russell’s character teaches her. Monroe’s character is susceptible and vulnerable which opens her up to humiliation. When she is stuck climbing out of a window the gag is based on her proportions. Monroe’s vulnerability was a big aspect of what made her desirable in the characters she played and for her image as a star.  

Film critic Michael Koresky wrote in his column titled Queer & Now & Then that “Hawks was anything but a staunch literalist; his filmmaking was marked by a deep and rich thematic ambivalence toward gender and social constructs” (Koresky). The character Lorelei completely embraces the stereotypes which she represents. Like Monroe did in her career and in her journey to acquiring Stardom, Lorelei uses her physical attributes to ascend the social hierarchy. 

The sequence featuring Russell’s character Dorothy singing in the gym shows her objectifying the Olympic team. In this scene Dorothy appears to be annoyed by the fact that the men won’t objectify her. “‘Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?’ is unique in the way it homoeroticizes while simultaneously defusing hetero chemistry at every turn” (Koresky). This scene differs in flavor from the rest of the film because Lorelei and Dorothy are so used to being objectified, that it boggles Dorothy to not be. 

The star as an image “a complex configuration of visual, verbal and aural signs” (Dyer, 38). The star is the end product of many people’s choices on how to show them to make them desirable and marketable to the public. Marilyn Monroe is remembered as a prime example of the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype. Her style was influenced by many people to make her marketable as a star. Her blondness was a stylistic choice because of its popularity at the time and because of its inherent association to whiteness. “The processes of manufacturing an appearance are often thought to be more real than the appearance itself – appearance is mere illusion, is surface” (Dyer, 1). 

Monroe’s life after stardom was defined by her sexual appeal, Dyer wrote “The contemporary women’s movement has seen Monroe as, at worst, the ultimate example of woman as victim as sex object, and, at best, as in rebellion against her objectification” (Dyer, 57). Near the end of the film, Lorelei says, “I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.” This indicated that at least part of her characterizing fatuous is a facade. If in order to be liked she knows she has to present less intelligently this implies that the dumb blonde stereotype as a symbol is limiting and demeaning.


Dyer, Richard “Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society”

Koresky, Michael “Queer & Now & Then: 1953” Film Comment 2018

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