Sunday, August 5, 2012

Where Are Today's Marilyn, Grace, and Katherine

Marilyn Monroe died 50 years ago today. Her legend is as strong in death as in life. Grace Kelly only spent 5 years actively making movies, and only 11 at that, but her legend continues. Katherine Hepburn was one of the greatest actresses in American history.

Every generation of Hollywood has seen great actors and actresses, highly successful performers, immensely talented thespians, with some able to thrive on both the small screen and the large screen. Only a few combine talent and success to become Hollywood legends. Too many, especially with the advent of TV, simply become the ‘Flavor of the Month.”

Marilyn, Grace, and Kate are legends decades after their passage.

So where are today’s Marilyn, Grace, and Kate?

All three were reining queens of the Silver Screen, and all three had distinctive personas. Marilyn was a serious actress, as well as a sex goddess. She had started her own production company before it became fashionable. Norma Jeane was much smarter than her image as a dumb blond. She remains the model even today for young women.

Grace Kelly was the beautiful, innocent, sweet girl next door, the girl who your mother and father hoped you married.

Katherine Hepburn was the strong woman, an independent spirit in Hollywood. A star for six decades, winner of four Oscars, she often ignored the conventions of Hollywood.

A few stars exude an aura through the lens of the camera. These three had it. Many wannabes simply don’t have the intangible “it.”

Image is important. Would Grace and Kate be as popular if today’s paparazzi and tabloids could cover their personal life? Perhaps not. Meg Ryan may have become a modern successor to Grace Kelly, but her fling with Russell Crowe effectively destroyed her career.

Grace Kelly is rumored to have led a more active sex life than Marilyn. She is said to have gotten it on with every male lead. A few commentators called her a nymphomaniac. These stories may be exaggerated, but one tale is that during the filming of Mogambo in Africa, she and Ava Gardner flew to Italy to “inspect” brothels at night.

Those stories can’t be hushed up these days.

Beautiful actresses populate Hollywood. Beautiful blond actresses are cloned in Hollywood, but none capture the essence of Grace. January Jones, sometimes on Mad Men, has the facial look of Grace Kelly, but none of the screen presence, much less off-screen image.

Many actors and actresses with a scintilla of success become legends in their own mind. Others become wasted on drugs and alcohol.

Not Grace Kelly. She became at 26 a real life princess, marrying Prince Rainer of Monaco, the fairy tale dream of many young girls. She was the true princess of the Disney movies, in which she never acted.

Other Hollywood legends, Doris Day, Rita Hayward, Ava Gardner, Hedy Lamarr, Audrey Hepburn, Lana Turner, Natalie Wood, Kim Novak, et al, enjoyed their time in the sun, but only Marilyn’s estate, 50 years after her death, earned $27 million in royalties last year.

And how many actresses have had a song written for them by Elton John?

Other sex symbols, old and young, included Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigita, Claudia Cardinale, Brigitte Bardot, Ursula Andress, Jayne Mansfield, Catherine Deneure, Jacquelin Bisset, Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret. Young men could look lustily on these actresses, but none rivaled Marilyn.

A score of actresses have portrayed Marilyn in various movies and shows, but none carry it off. 

Let’s start with the physical. Marilyn had a great figure, certainly not a rarity in Hollywood, but we forget that she had a real figure. She was 5’5” tall, and weighed up to 140 lbs. In short, she wasn’t a waif, a toothpick with silicon implants. She carried herself well. She says she first discovered her sexuality when she wore a tight sweater to school one day, and the male students ogled her.

She knew and used her sexuality to advance herself, but she also took acting classes. She left her estate to her acting teacher, the famous Lee Strasberg. Marilyn was no bimbo.

A score of actresses have played her, but none capture her.  Most men couldn’t have her, and no actress has yet seceded to her crown. They keep trying.

Perhaps one reason for the ongoing legacy of Marilyn and Grace is that they departed in their prime.  Grace Kelly became princess Grace of Monaco at 26, never to film again. The Prince forbade it.

Marilyn Monroe died of an “acute barbituate overdose” at 36. The coroner ruled it a “probable suicide,” but speculation begun almost immediately that she was murdered, perhaps even by the Kennedys because she had been sleeping with JFK and Bobby. Such was the conspiracy theory even before Dallas, adding to her mystique.

Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy on his 45th birthday in May 1962.

How many of today’s actresses have sung Happy Birthday to a President? One starlet, who may or may not have bedded President Clinton, did not receive a career boost from the rumors.

Katherine Hepburn probably does not belong in this post. She was attractive, but not as beautiful as Marilyn and Grace. She also lasted 60 years in the entertainment industry, doing movies, stage, and TV. More significantly, she has a worthy successor who also lives in Connecticut, Meryl Streep with three Oscars.

So who are today's Marilyn and Grace?

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