Marilyn Monroe and Activism
“…[what] the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship.
Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs.
We are all brothers. Please don’t make me a joke.”
Marilyn Monroe had asked a reporter at her final interview to end her article saying those words, however due to her Hollywood status at that time, it was discouraged. Unfortunately, it was decided that Marilyn should be known more for her sex appeal than political activism. This was at a time when there were many barriers faced by women in Hollywood.
Marilyn Monroe believed in racial equality despite living during a difficult time of racial segregation. She nurtured her friendship with the legendary jazz singer. Ella Fitzgerald recounts how Marilyn had helped her career:
“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt… it was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the club, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn Monroe was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”
Bonnie Greer in her play ‘Marilyn and Ella’ (2008) explored the similarities and contrasts between the two performers:
“Beauty is central to the play…
For me, at the most profound level,
it’s about beauty: beauty as a curse,
beauty as a desire. It’s about inner beauty.
It’s about the beauty of real work,
of a gift, they both were gifted.”
In a time of socio-political struggles and tensions Marilyn used her mass appeal as a bridge for political activism to help those closest to her and advocate for a better ideal.
“On the set of 1950’s All About Eve, she was once warned not to be seen by studio executives reading radical books (the book that prompted the warning: the autobiography of muckraker Lincoln Steffens).” – Time Magazine
Marilyn became more political once married to the playwright Arthur Miller. She supported the Fidel Castro revolution and opposed US foreign policy regarding Cuba and President Kennedy. Marilyn Monroe was also a supporter of the SANE Nuclear Policy.
She identified strongly with the working classes and described herself as a ‘working girl’. As a child during the Great Depression in America she was no stranger to scarcity and poverty. Lois Banner the author of Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox biography describes this as a ‘populist vision of equality for all classes.’ “What really made her really openly political was the marriage to Arthur Miller,” she describes him as the ‘great love of her life.’
“She knew who her audience were: people who parked cars and flipped hamburgers, housewives and guys who worked in the factories – she called them workers and she was a worker,” – Bonnie Greer
Far from being a glamorous show-piece, Marilyn Monroe was an influencer, a civil rights and political advocate for human rights.
Writer: Nancy Sikah