She was a blonde bombshell, with as much sexual verve as '50s and '60s Hollywood would allow. With her girlish voice, airy demeanor and curves that tantalized on screen, Marilyn Monroe's dichotomous heat-meets-vulnerability persona captivated a nation, and continues to do so, 54 years after her death.
Among those paying attention was Ayn Rand.
While the two could be viewed as different as night and day, at least physically, it was Rand who seemingly "got" Monroe, not only her cinematic charms but also how she was a bright soul battered by the world. A takedown, it seems in hindsight, that contributed to her death.
Rand penned an essay about Monroe that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1962, and it reads as if she had a window to the screen legend's wounded psyche. In it, she argues that the world cannibalized Monroe — an observation that rings true in today's reckless social media arena where other well-knowns have been similarly trounced in rabid public judgment.
Rand, in her column, noted Monroe's ugly childhood in foster homes and her rise, amid her tenuous background, to fame. In spite of her achievement, the world, in its envy, stomped on her tenacity, Rand concluded, mirroring themes that came across in her own writing over the years.
"If there ever was a victim of society, Marilyn Monroe was that victim — of a society that professes dedication to the relief of the suffering, but kills the joyous. None of the objects of the humanitarians' tender solicitude, the juvenile delinquents, could have had so sordid and horrifying a childhood as did Marilyn Monroe. To survive it and to preserve the kind of spirit she projected on the screen — the radiantly benevolent sense of life, which cannot be faked--was an almost inconceivable psychological achievement that required a heroism of the highest order. Whatever scars her past had left were insignificant by comparison," Rand wrote.
In spite of Marilyn's achievement, the world, in its envy, stomped on her tenacity.
"She preserved her vision of life through a nightmare struggle, fighting her way to the top.
What broke her was the discovery, at the top, of as sordid an evil as the one she had left behind — worse, perhaps, because incomprehensible. She had expected to reach the sunlight; she found, instead, a limitless swamp of malice," Rand added, noting, "A woman, the only one, who was able to project the glowingly innocent sexuality of a being from some planet uncorrupted by guilt — who found herself regarded and ballyhooed as a vulgar symbol of obscenity — and who still had the courage to declare: 'We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it's a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift.'"
Mimi Reisel Gladstein, a professor of English and theater arts at the University of Texas El Paso, has written about Rand extensively. Rand admired Monroe, who died on Aug. 5, 1962 of what authorities claimed was an overdose of barbiturates. Some, of course, still wonder if this was the case, continuing her tragic legend.
Rand, Gladstein noted, came to the U.S. because she wanted to write for the movies.
"Those were her first jobs — in Hollywood. For her, I think she was always very interested in the projection of the silver screen," Gladstein said. "I make the case about Ayn Rand's cinematic eye. When she wrote, it was like she was writing with a sense of how it would be filmed. She definitely had that interest and attention to Hollywood."
But Gladstein said that perhaps Rand saw things in Monroe that she wanted to see, rather than what might have been the actual truth about her as a person — larger than life on screen but flawed, as most are, off of it.
"For Rand, she projected upon Monroe," Gladstein said."We don't know that (Marilyn) was all of those things that Rand saw her as but she certainly projected that childlike wonder. She was absolutely delightful on screen. It may have been that very thing that so appealed to Rand. This is something that Rand wrote about often — how many of the mediocrities in the world find ways of destroying or putting down the capable, the able."
Gladstein notes that Rand made comparisons in her writing to Monroe being like a kitten. Enjoying being alive and adorable, but also vulnerable.
With that, Rand makes a spirited defense of Monroe against her detractors. She wrote that in the screen siren's sad fame trajectory, her innate glee was stolen by the world.
"A happy child who was offering her achievement to the world, with the pride of an authentic greatness and of a kitten depositing a hunting trophy at your feet — who found herself answered by concerted efforts to negate, to degrade, to ridicule, to insult, to destroy her achievement — who was unable to conceive that it was her best she was punished for, not her worst — who could only sense, in helpless terror, that she was facing some unspeakable kind of evil. How long do you think a human being could stand it?," Rand defended.
"That hatred of values has always existed in some people, in any age or culture. But a hundred years ago, they would have been expected to hide it. Today, it is all around us; it is the style and fashion of our century. Where would a sinking spirit find relief from it?" Rand wrote."The evil of a cultural atmosphere is made by all those who share it. Anyone who has ever felt resentment against the good for being the good and has given voice to it, is the murderer of Marilyn Monroe."
As passionate was Rand in standing up for Marilyn, Gladstein chooses to take a step back in assessing Rand's take as perhaps overstated.
"Monroe was not everything that Rand characterizes her as. If you read some of Arthur Miller's stuff about his difficulties during the marriage . . . How did she treat him? I'm not so sure she was the angel Rand depicted."
But Gladstein does acknowledge that Rand's writings on Monroe mark an important window into her thinking.
"I liked the piece that Rand wrote. It's a significant piece because it gets you to think about how this kind of talent is treated by the world."
“Whether or not you agree with Rand about Marilyn Monroe,” says David Kelley, “and I do agree, her remembrance is a testament to her gifts as a philosopher. The essential point of her article is ‘the hatred of the good for being good,’ which she regarded it as the essence of evil. That’s the deep insight she embodied in her novels and other writings. And because that hatred is a fundamental vice, she was able to see it not only as hostility to industrialists (as in Atlas Shrugged) or to iconoclastic architects (as in The Fountainhead), but to Monroe’s innocent and radiant sexuality.”
There is the ongoing misunderstanding, even in this era, that blonde hair and curves, abetted by a quick wit and personality, signal froth and not substance, something this author has experienced across her long professional career.
My own takedown went something like this. “You probably want to write features,” my bosses would allow. “No,” I had to assert and boldly. “I’m interested in the important stuff — and not being relegated to ‘women’s news’ because I scan more ‘Legally Blonde’ and less Beltway bland.”
And with that, having experienced a sort of judging, tacit takedown personally, there is a strong appreciation of Rand’s call out of Monroe, who surely was deeper, wiser and smarter than her fans could know.
It seems that Rand and her unlikely connection to Monroe, shines a light on something that endures today. In hindsight, I think, her insight was prescient.
Marilyn Monroe performing for troops pic.twitter.com/yS5FS1vwY2
— History In Pictures (@historyepics) August 3, 2016
Marilyn Monroe and James Dean smoking in New York City pic.twitter.com/G1BTscDcp9
— History In Pictures (@EpicHistoryPics) July 30, 2016