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Classic Sex Symbols: Marilyn Monroe

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Claim to Fame: Being all things to all men for a decade. And defining beauty for that decade–and beyond. In such films as Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot, she was the bombshell dependent on the kindness of strangers, a goddess who might very well give her attentions–at least for an evening–to any unworthy Joe. What better American male fantasy?

Why She Matters: Feminist critic Molly Haskell said that if Marilyn hadn’t existed, we would have had to invent her. She could make hearts pound, even while wearing overalls. Laurence Olivier called her “a professional amateur,” and that’s what we loved: the sense that for all her pouting and dimpling, for all her calculation (she sawed a quarter-inch off the right heel of all her shoes to create that swivel-hipped walk), she didn’t fully understand her own power.

in The Seven Year Itch.

Postscript: Even her brief unhappy marriages (to Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio) and her most famous liaison (to President John F. Kennedy) nurtured male fantasies. Hey, what other woman could hold her own in postcoital conversation by discussing literature, politics and baseball? She died of barbiturates at 36.

In Her Own Words: “Ever notice that ‘What the hell’ is always the right decision?”

Born Norma Jean Baker; 1926-1962.

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