Marilyn Monroe: Sultry or Drug-Addled?

There’s a fine line between sultry and drug-addled–and no one pioneered this concept better than the original blonde bombshell, Marilyn Monroe. Her love of sedatives like Nembutal and Seconal gave her that sexy doped up look only she seemed capable of conveying on screen and in magazines. Unlike other high profile celebrities of the 1950s, like Audrey Hepburn, Betty Grable or Doris Day, Monroe did not look in any way alert or plucky, but rather detached and completely out of it–which is probably part of the reason she seemed so sexy to men: the whole helpless, easy to rape angle.

Barely awake to read the script for Niagara
Barely awake to read the script for Niagara
Considering Monroe got her start as a pin-up girl, it’s no surprise that her sex appeal would later translate to the screen. Though it took her a number of small, sexless parts in films like Dangerous Years (1947) and All About Eve (1950), Monroe’s place as a pop culture icon was secured by 1953 with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Before suffering from what I like to call Judy Garland Syndrome, Monroe still had a tendency to run late to the set, spending hours in front of the mirror to transform into “Marilyn Monroe.” But around the time of Some Like It Hot (1959), Monroe’s dependency on drugs had taken a turn for the worse.
Languidly putting on makeup
Languidly putting on makeup
The director of the film, Billy Wilder, had already vowed never to work with Monroe again after filming The Seven Year Itch with her in 1955, and was especially impatient with Monroe, who was chronically late to the set. Still, Wilder couldn’t deny that Monroe on screen possessed a magic almost worth all the headaches and panic attacks. While shooting the feature Let’s Make Love the year before, Monroe began to see her long-time psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson, who immediately took note of her reliance on drugs–concerned over her inability to function without them. The failure of Let’s Make Love paired with the failure and shame of her affair with the co-star of the film, Yves Montand, served only to make Monroe sink deeper into an insecurity-laden depression.
The drug-addled Dior girl
The drug-addled Dior girl
For all of her psychological damage (manifested most overtly toward the end of her life), Monroe was still undeniably alluring to the male masses, perhaps indicating that sexiness and a lack of mental presence go hand in hand. Monroe was the first of her kind, and the first to show us that every Hollywood bombshell’s fate has a tendency to end the same way: in a drug-induced haze that may help the cause of one’s physical magnetism, but certainly not their mental state or road to recovery.