“When she walked, it was as though she had a hundred body parts that moved separately in different directions. I mean, you didn’t know what body part to follow.”—Former New York Times managing editor Arthur Gelb, quoted in Maureen Dowd, “The Love Goddess Who Keeps Right on Seducing,” The New York Times, August 5, 2012
A half-century to the day that she died, Marilyn Monroe remains an object of fascination, in a way that others who have died younger (such as Jean Harlow, a full decade younger than Monroe at the time of her death) have not. Gelb (who cops to making, and following through on, a boorish, drunken bet that he could touch the star’s “flawless porcelain back” at Sardi’s) has put his finger on one element, her overpowering sexuality. (Billy Wilder also captured that walk in her memorable introduction in Some Like It Hot—a movement so astonishing it leads Jack Lemmon’s cross-dressing, mob-dodging musician to gasp that it’s “like jello on springs”).
She was the ultimate woman who makes guys act endlessly stupid just by her sheer presence.
But only part of the fascination owes to her raw physical appeal. Much of the continued interest relate to her vulnerability, the lingering questions of Kennedy involvement in her last desperate days, and her attempt to break out of the image that she herself had so adeptly created.
Goodbye, Norma Jean. It’ll be a long time—if ever—before we see your like again.
(Photograph of Monroe in her famous dress-with Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., , on the occasion of the President’s 45th birthday party celebration in New York’s Madison Square Garden, in 1962 —by Cecil W. Stoughton, official White House photographer.)