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Milton Greene, 1954

Milton Greene, 1954

On the 51st anniversary of Marilyn Monroe‘s passing, I explore her admiration for Abraham Lincoln. This article can also be read at Immortal Marilyn.

American Legends: Honest Abe and Norma Jeane

“My father is Abraham Lincoln – I mean I think of Lincoln as my father. He was wise and kind and good. He is my ideal, Lincoln. I love him.” - Marilyn Monroe, to author Maurice Zolotow

It’s 1954, and Marilyn Monroe stands in her shiny black Cadillac – given to her in lieu of payment for a television appearance. The car’s top is down, and palm trees in the background indicate she’s in her hometown, Los Angeles.

Monroe is 28, but her pale skin and blonde hair makes her look younger. She’s wearing a pink gingham shirt, tied above the waist, and dark blue jeans. She’s wearing Joe DiMaggio’s wedding ring. Sexy yet eternally gamine, she seems carefree and relaxed – a very modern movie star.

It’s the very image of American affluence, made doubly iconic by another picture within – the framed photograph of Abraham Lincoln that Marilyn’s holding up to her face. In one shot, she pouts impishly, while in the next, she breaks into a girlish smile.

The photo was taken by Milton Greene, who would soon become Marilyn’s business partner as she plotted her escape from Hollywood.  Little-known at the time, it was later published in Of Women and Their Elegance, a 1980 book of Greene’s portraits, with a rather fanciful text provided by novelist Norman Mailer.

In this imagined memoir, Mailer has Marilyn say, “The truth was that I was afraid everybody would laugh themselves to death at the thought of me having a crush on such a famous President. But I truly adored Abraham Lincoln. I used to have dreams that I was his illegitimate great-granddaughter. ‘Why not legitimate?’ asked Milton. Before it was over, I let him talk me into taking a picture with my great-grandfather in my Cadillac car.”

Greene 54

Children of the Frontier

Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 in a humble Kentucky log cabin. His mother, Nancy Hanks, had given birth to an illegitimate son – Abraham’s ‘cousin’, Dennis – before marrying Thomas Lincoln in 1806. Their daughter, Sarah, was born a year later. Nancy – said to be ‘mild, tender and intellectually inclined’ – died in 1818, when Abraham was nine.

‘All that I am and hope ever to be I get from my mother,’ Lincoln later told a friend. Nancy was born out of wedlock herself, and Lincoln often wondered (incorrectly, it seems) if he was really Tom’s son. ‘Did you ever notice that bastards are generally smarter – shrewder and more intellectual than others?’ he pondered. ‘Is it because it is stolen?’

The Lincoln family worshipped at an anti-slavery Baptist church, which took some courage as Kentucky was a pro-slavery state.  ‘Abraham and Sarah ingested Bible tales as narrated by Nancy,’ Thomas Keneally writes, ‘and the founding principles of their Calvinist view of the world, together with sundry peasant superstitions about phases of the moon, ghosts, and other matters.’

Abraham’s relationship with his father was not close, though he bonded with his stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston, who married Thomas in 1819. ‘Tom was in his way was an archetype of the Protestant subsistence farmer, who, according to Thomas Jefferson’s dream, was the stuff of American virtue and the fit occupier of the American frontier,’ writes Keneally, of Lincoln’s father. ‘Where Jefferson believed he saw forthright independence, Lincoln saw ignorance and brutalising labour.’

Though his education was brief, Abraham loved to read – and, like his mother, was a gifted storyteller. By the age of eleven, however, he was working full-time. Already tall for his age, he had a way with an axe – but shooting a turkey repelled him. His cousin thought him ‘lazy’ because of his thirst for knowledge.

Sarah Lincoln Grisby, Abraham’s sister, died in childbirth in 1828. This terrible loss further tested his faith in God’s divine will. At seventeen, he was working at ferrying travellers when, one day, two passengers each tossed a silver half-dollar into his boat. This was the first time Abraham had drawn a living wage: his father had grown his own vegetables, tanned his own leather, and made his own clothing. Other goods were purchased in barter, and labour was paid for in the same way.

‘You may think it a very little thing,’ he said later, ‘but it was the most important incident of my life…the world seemed wider and fairer before me.’

***

Born in 1926, Norma Jeane Baker never knew her father (believed to be C. Stanley Gifford.) Her mother, Gladys Mortensen, added her soon to be ex-husband’s name to the birth certificate to conceal her daughter’s illegitimacy, but used her first husband’s name thereafter.

Gladys, who worked as a film cutter in Hollywood, was unable to support Norma Jeane, and so the child lived with family friends, the Bolenders, in Hawthorne, outside Los Angeles, until she was seven. Several months after taking Norma Jeane to live with her, Gladys suffered a nervous breakdown. She would spend most of her later life under psychiatric care, while her little girl grew up in a series of foster homes.

In her early years, Norma Jeane knew her mother only as ‘the woman with the red hair.’ And in adulthood, their relationship was strained – Gladys disapproved of her daughter’s career, and was sometimes too confused to know who Marilyn was. Monroe made provisions for her mother’s care as soon as she was able, but rarely visited her as it was too upsetting.

Marilyn would make many fruitless attempts to contact her father. As a child, she fantasised that actor Clark Gable was her father, because he resembled Gifford in her mother’s photo of him.

Nonetheless, Norma Jeane had a number of significant ‘mother figures’, including her first foster parent, Ida Bolender; Grace Goddard, a friend of Gladys, who later became Norma Jeane’s legal guardian; and her beloved ‘aunt’, Ana Lower.

Evangelical Christianity was a dominant influence in Norma Jeane’s life, imbuing the child with a sometimes overwhelming sense of sin. But her religious upbringing had a positive side: as biographer Lois Banner has noted, the Bolenders were anti-racist in a neighbourhood known as a hub for the Klu Klux Klan; and Ana Lower, a Christian Scientist, worked as a faith healer.

Norma Jeane was a quiet child, and an unremarkable student. Constantly changing schools made it hard for her to settle anywhere. However, she showed promise in essay-writing. At fifteen, in her final year at Emerson Junior High, Norma Jeane wrote a paper on Abraham Lincoln, which was judged the best in her class. ‘This seemingly small achievement was a great boost for Norma Jeane’s confidence,’ notes biographer Michelle Morgan, ‘and suddenly the child didn’t seem so dumb anymore.’

At sixteen, Norma Jeane married a neighbour, Jim Dougherty. It was an arranged marriage, although happy at first. Dougherty later recalled his young wife’s extreme sensitivity to the welfare of animals, describing how she once insisted on bringing a cow into their home when it was raining outside.

After Jim joined the Navy, their marriage drifted apart. World War II was raging, and Norma Jeane took a job in a munitions plant. The hours were long, and the work exhausting. When photographer David Conover offered her the chance of a modelling career, she gladly took it.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

The American System

In 1831, Abraham and his cousin, John Hanks, sailed to New Orleans on a flatboat of cargo. During his journey that he saw the appalling treatment of slaves at first-hand. ‘His heart bled,’ John remembered. ‘It was on this trip that he formed his opinions of slavery. It ran its irons through him then and there…’

Thomas Lincoln and his family moved west to Illinois, and Abraham took a job as a store clerk in the small town of New Salem. With his scruffy blue jeans and bookish tendencies, Abraham stood out. But most of the residents warmed to his innate humility, and whimsical sense of humour. He also took part in – and won – a wrestling match with a local gang.

Progressive in his attitudes towards Negro slaves, Lincoln had little sympathy with the plight of American Indians, ejected from their land by settlers – perhaps because his grandfather had been killed by Indian marauders. In 1832, Lincoln led the Illinois Militia to Rock River, in pursuit of the Indian chief, Black Hawk, and his followers.

Lincoln’s political ambitions were gaining ground. A supporter of the Whig Party, he was influenced by Henry Clay’s model of the ‘American System’, proposing the building of railroads, canals, and a national bank. A year later, he became postmaster of New Salem; and joined the state legislature in 1834.

That year, he wrote The Little Book of Infidelity, a swipe at organised religion which a friend (perhaps wisely) threw in the fire. ‘Lincoln did not belong to any church,’ Thomas Keneally observes, ‘but seemed to subscribe to the tradition of deism, the concept of something like a grand overriding cosmic intelligence…’

It is often said that Lincoln’s first love was Ann Rutledge, daughter of New Salem’s tavern-keeper. She died of a fever, probably typhoid, in 1835. From this time onward, his episodes of depression and melancholy – which he called ‘the hypo’ – became more severe.

***

By 1946, Norma Jeane was newly divorced, and embarking on an acting career under the stage name of Marilyn Monroe. Without formal training or contacts in the film industry, success would not come overnight. In her early years in Hollywood, she experienced crushing rejection, exploitation and loneliness.

‘I became a friend of Bill Cox and his wife,’ Marilyn wrote in her 1954 memoir, My Story. ‘He talked chiefly about the Spanish-American War in which he had been a soldier, and Abraham Lincoln…he told me the life of Abraham Lincoln from his birth onward.’

Cox and his wife later returned to Texas, and Marilyn was saddened to hear of his death in an army veterans’ home.

Monroe became an avid reader, and according to her columnist friend, Sidney Skolsky, collected books about Lincoln. She also bought a lithograph of him, which she hung above her bed. This is the same image we see in Milton Greene’s photo. A smaller, framed picture was reportedly kept on her bedside table, alongside her mother’s portrait.

From her days as a student at the Actor’s Lab in Hollywood, Marilyn became aware of liberal ideals. Though not politically active herself, she was eager to learn more. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, her director in All About Eve (1950), rebuked her for reading the autobiography of muck-raking journalist Lincoln Steffens.

The post-war ‘red-baiting’ era was now in full swing, and Marilyn saw many of her colleagues being blacklisted for their supposed Communist affiliations. In 1951, while filming As Young As You Feel, Marilyn was introduced to playwright Arthur Miller (author of the Pulitzer-winning Death of a Salesman) by theatre director Elia Kazan.

Miller and Kazan were in Hollywood to present Red Hook, a screenplay about corruption on the Brooklyn waterfront (which eventually became the 1956 play, A View From the Bridge.) Harry Cohn, head of Columbia, rejected it as too left-wing. Cohn, who had recently sacked Marilyn after she declined his amorous advances, was also incensed by her presence at the meeting.

At the time, Marilyn was involved with Kazan. It was clear to him, though, that she also had strong feelings for Miller.

‘Most people can admire their fathers, but I never had one. I need someone to admire,’ Marilyn wrote to Miller, after his return to New York. He wrote back, ‘If you want someone to admire, why not Abraham Lincoln?’ On his recommendation, she acquired Carl Sandburg’s esteemed biography of Lincoln.

Eve Arnold, Bement, 1955

Eve Arnold, Bement, 1955

‘I Used to Be a Slave’

Mary Owens came from a slave-owning family in Kentucky. She had first met Lincoln while visiting an aunt in New Salem, several years before. After Ann Rutledge’s death, she assumed Abraham would propose. But he was unable to decide – partly because during his time in the army, Lincoln had slept with a prostitute, and feared he had contracted syphilis.

In 1839, Mary moved to Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln was practising law. Their courtship resumed, though she also enjoyed the attentions of his Democratic rival, Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln and Mary were finally married in 1842.

Their first son, Robert, was born a year later, followed by Eddie in 1846. Intelligent and opinionated, Mary had a short temper and, at times, found her domestic role overwhelming. She was heartbroken by Eddie’s death, from tuberculosis in 1850.

‘I used to be a slave,’ Lincoln said in an early speech, ‘and now I am so free that they let me practise law.’ Occasionally, he would even defend slave-owners; at this stage, he still believed that former slaves would eventually be recolonised.

While Democrats saw wage labour as a pernicious form of servitude – pointing out that working conditions in non-slave states were often much worse – Lincoln thought of it as a stepping stone towards independence.

‘Like many a man who had remade himself,’ writes Thomas Keneally, ‘he falsely considered that any labourer had the same gift to thus transform himself, to become a merchant or a lawyer or at least an employer of other labour.’

Lincoln’s term in Congress ended in 1849. He returned to law, defending the Rock Island Railroad and a host of patent cases, promoting innovations in agricultural machinery. A third son, Willie, was born in 1850, followed by Thomas (or ‘Tad’) in 1853.

His fierce opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 – putting slavery to a popular vote – re-ignited Lincoln’s political instincts. ‘Slave states are places for poor white people to remove from; not to move to,’ he remarked.

In 1855, he was elected to the US Senate. However, the Whig Party was now deeply divided over slavery, and within a year, Lincoln had joined the fledgling Republican Party. The conflict continued, and in 1857, Lincoln memorably stated that ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’

In 1860, Lincoln made another impressive speech in New York, which convinced delegates to nominate him for the presidential campaign (despite his rough-hewn appearance, which some had described as ape-like.) His long-term opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, was chosen as the Democratic candidate. On November 6th, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.

***

In 1954, Marilyn embarked on a USO tour of Korea. She felt deep gratitude to the American soldiers who had made her their pin-up, and her performances were rapturously received. Away from the Hollywood brass, Marilyn was having the time of her life. She later admitted, ‘I never felt like a star until I came to Korea.’

‘She gave us the feeling that she wanted to be there,’ said army photographer Ted Cieszynski. ‘She took her time, speaking with each of us about our lives and our hometowns and our civilian jobs.’

Later that year, Marilyn arranged for singer Ella Fitzgerald to appear at the Mocambo Club in Los Angeles, promising the managers that she would be there every night. Fitzgerald would always appreciate Marilyn’s courage in standing against the unofficial practise of barring non-white performers.

Monroe’s second marriage, to Joe DiMaggio, soon collapsed under the spotlight. Unhappy with her low-paying studio contract – signed years before she was a star – and more importantly, with the poor material she was given, Marilyn moved to New York and established her own production company.

In 1955, while on suspension from her studio, Marilyn made one of her most unlikely public appearances. ‘She called me at four in the morning out to Bement, Illinois, a town where Lincoln and Douglas had debated,’ photographer Eve Arnold wrote. ‘In the crook of her arm was a large hardback book of Carl Sandburg’s about Abraham Lincoln.’

‘On the plane Marilyn was asked to write a speech about Lincoln to deliver in Bement,’ Arnold explained. ‘As she whispered the words of the talk about “our late, beloved President,” it sounded as though Eisenhower, not Lincoln, had just died.’

Later that year, Marilyn resumed her love affair with Arthur Miller, who was now being investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Miller admitted his own youthful dalliance with communism, but refused to name others – which led to him being charged with contempt of court.

Outside the courthouse, Arthur announced his engagement to Marilyn. This took her by surprise, but she remained loyal throughout his legal battle, which undoubtedly helped him to win over the public. He was finally acquitted in 1958.

Marilyn returned, triumphantly, to acting in 1956. Her acclaimed ‘comeback’ role, in Bus Stop, had her play a downtrodden showgirl pursued by a rough cowboy. In one scene, he breaks into a room and tries to woo her by reciting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Marilyn Monroe, 'Bus Stop'

Marilyn Monroe, ‘Bus Stop’

‘We Are All Brothers’

After Lincoln’s electoral victory, six Southern states seceded from the Union, forming a Confederacy. In April 1861, Confederate forces fired on Union troops at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and the American Civil War began.

It has been said that Lincoln fatally under-estimated the strength of his opponents’ convictions. He believed that this was a war against slave-owners, and not ordinary Southerners, who he thought were Unionists at heart.

In 1862, Lincoln’s 12 year-old son, Willie, died (probably of typhoid, caused by drinking Washington’s polluted water.) Mary was utterly bereft – but with so many young men dying in battle, there was little public sympathy for her.

In June, Congress passed an act banning slavery in all federal states. A month later, Lincoln published his Emancipation Proclamation, stating that the ban would be extended to ten rebel states by 1863.

‘In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God,’ he reflected. ‘Both may be, but one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.’

Addressing Congress in December, Lincoln asked, ‘Is it true, then, that coloured persons can displace any more white labour, by being free, than by remaining slaves?’ His answer was that this was not so: ‘In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free …we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.’

A photograph taken that year showed that Lincoln had aged greatly. He was thin and haggard; his stooped gait was ever more pronounced, and the haunted expression in his eyes was unmistakable. He likened his bouts of depression to ‘the sufferings of hell.’

In 1863, a Legal Tender Act and a National Banking Act were passed, and Lincoln predicted that ‘finance will rule the country for the next fifty years.’ The Pacific Railroad Act was also passed, and the Land Grant College Act ensured, in Lincoln’s words, ‘cutting up the wild lands into parcels, so that every poor man may have a home.’

Nonetheless, Lincoln’s war was increasingly unpopular, in the North as well as the South. That summer, anti-draft riots erupted in New York. Adding to the controversy was Mary’s desperate insistence that her eldest son, Robert, be exempted from service.

In July, Unionist troops secured an important victory at Gettsyburg, prompting Lincoln’s most famous speech. While most of his peers drew on ancient Greek rhetoric, Lincoln pioneered the usage of Biblical and vernacular oratory. Historian Gary Wills argues that ‘all modern political prose descends from the Gettysburg address.’

From 1863, former slaves were admitted into the US army. The great black activist, Frederick Douglass, came to the White House to argue that black soldiers should be given equal pay and the same living conditions as their white counterparts. Douglass later described Lincoln as ‘the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely.’

Nonetheless, by 1864 Lincoln’s chances of re-election were far from certain. He was now suffering from chronic fatigue. Nonetheless, he refused to curtail the war by making concessions on slavery, explaining, ‘I should be damned in time and eternity for so doing.’

Many of Lincoln’s cabinet feared he would be assassinated, but he refused to take the threat seriously. He was re-elected, having gained majority support from his soldiers, and shortly afterwards, he finally passed a Thirteenth Amendment to the American Constitution, abolishing slavery throughout the United States.

Lincoln would not live to see the fruits of his great struggle. On April 14th – Good Friday – he was shot dead by actor John Wilkes Booth while watching a play at Washington’s Ford Theatre. ‘Now he belongs to the ages,’ said his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. In retrospect, writes Thomas Keneally, ‘he had become the bloodied nation incarnate.’

***

During her four-year marriage to Arthur Miller, Marilyn suffered at least two miscarriages. She had endometriosis, which made menstruation excruciatingly painful, and prevented her from carrying pregnancies to term.

Marilyn was devoted to her step-daughter and sons, and those who knew her well remarked on her love of children. It is sometimes said that her inability to have a child of her own contributed to her periods of acute depression.

She studied Method Acting with Lee Strasberg, and gave some of her finest performances in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), Some Like it Hot (1959) and The Misfits (1961.) Behind the scenes, though, Marilyn was increasingly volatile. Her chronic lateness, and intense perfectionism – often demanding scores of takes for a single line – alienated directors and co-stars.

Even more worrying was her growing addiction to painkillers and sedatives. In her final years, Marilyn consulted with doctors daily, but many of her close friends came to feel that psychoanalysis only added to her insecurities.

In 1960, Marilyn and Arthur Miller parted, each feeling bitterly disillusioned. Although she had been happier living in New York, Marilyn decided to return to Hollywood to fulfil her studio obligations – and, she hoped, to finally be free of her restrictive contract.

During the late 1950s, Marilyn had befriended Lincoln’s biographer, Carl Sandburg. Photographer Len Steckler chronicled a meeting between them at his New York apartment in late 1961: ‘Marilyn was three hours late, but had an excuse. She had been at the hairdresser, trying to get her hair color to match Carl’s…’

Sandburg, by then in his 80s, spoke warmly of Marilyn. ‘She was not the usual movie idol,’ he remembered. ‘There was something democratic about her. She was the type who would join in and wash the dishes even if you didn’t ask her…There were realms of science, politics and economics in which she wasn’t at home, but she spoke well on the national scene, the Hollywood scene and on people who are good to know and people who ain’t…there were no pretenses about Marilyn Monroe.’

By 1962, Marilyn was a fervent admirer of President John F. Kennedy. ‘I think he’s going to be another Lincoln,’ she told journalist W.J. Weatherby, who worried that ‘It was the Arthur Miller story all over again. She built people up too high and in time was bound to be disappointed.’

Monroe famously sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at Kennedy’s 45th birthday gala. She also met his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, at the home of actor Peter Lawford. They discussed, among other things, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights movement.

When Marilyn was fired from her last movie, however, her famous friends were unable – or unwilling – to help her. She gave her final, eloquent interview to Life magazine’s Richard Meryman that summer.

‘I am not an actress who appears at a studio just for the purpose of discipline,’ she said defiantly. ‘This doesn’t have anything at all to do with art. I myself would like to become more disciplined within my work. But I’m there to give a performance and not to be disciplined by a studio! After all, I’m not in a military school. This is supposed to be an art form, not just a manufacturing establishment.’

‘What the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship,’ she added. ‘Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers.’

Marilyn Monroe died, aged 36, on August 4th. She was discovered in bed by her housekeeper, having apparently taken a massive overdose of barbiturates.

‘In her own lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain,’ Lee Strasberg said in his eulogy. ‘But I have no words to describe the myth and the legend. I did not know this Marilyn Monroe. We gathered here today, knew only Marilyn – a warm human being, impulsive and shy, sensitive and in fear of rejection, yet ever avid for life and reaching out for fulfillment.’

With Carl Sandburg, by Arnold Newman, 1962

With Carl Sandburg, by Arnold Newman, 1962

‘Who Paid the Price?’

Mary Todd Lincoln, who was with her husband on the night of his murder, never truly recovered. In 1871, she suffered another crushing blow when her son, Tad, died aged 18. Her only surviving son, Robert, was so alarmed by her emotional state that he had her committed to an asylum in 1875.

She was released into her sister’s care a year later, and after a harrowing legal battle, was declared fit to manage her own affairs. She reconciled with her son shortly before her death in 1882.

Almost 150 years after his death, Abraham Lincoln is remembered as perhaps the most beloved of American presidents. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington was unveiled in 1922, and his face is chiselled in granite at Mount Rushmore, near Keystone, South Dakota.

Carl Sandburg’s biography, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, was once hailed as definitive. Thomas Keneally praises Sandburg’s ‘rich and rhapsodic prose,’ but acknowledges that it is ‘regarded by professional historians as uncritical in relation to the sources.’

Lincoln’s life has been recreated many times on the screen. Henry Fonda played him in John Ford’s Young Mr Lincoln (1939), which may have been seen by young moviegoer Norma Jeane. In 1947, the starlet Marilyn would be photographed with Fonda at a Hollywood golf tournament.

Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his performance in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), which focused on the final months of Lincoln’s life. Day-Lewis is married to Rebecca Miller, Arthur’s daughter from his third marriage.

Adam Braver, author of the historical novel, Mr Lincoln’s Wars, has also written a highly-regarded fictional account of Monroe’s life (Misfit.) And in the first volume of a science fiction series, Norma Jeane’s Wishes in Time, Stuart P. Coates places Marilyn back in 1865, faced with the dilemma of whether or not to save Lincoln’s life.

***

As there were no close relatives able to do so, Marilyn Monroe’s funeral was arranged by her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio. He never remarried, and arranged for a dozen red roses to be left at her crypt every week for twenty years.

The bulk of Marilyn’s estate was willed to Lee Strasberg. When he died in 1983, the Monroe inheritance was passed to his second wife, Anna Strasberg – a woman Marilyn had never known. Though Monroe had wanted her possessions to be distributed among friends, they were auctioned at Christie’s in 1999.

While there is no official museum or monument to Marilyn, her memory lives on in popular culture. She has inspired countless biographies. Andy Warhol’s ‘Marilyn Diptych’, completed weeks after her death, is now considered one of the most influential works of art. Her 1959 film, Some Like it Hot, was named as the greatest comedy of the last century by the American Film Institute.

‘Being attached to Lincoln is a way of reminding America of one of its saving moments, of a strong but permanently threatened liberal version of itself,’ the historian and critic Jacqueline Rose writes, examining Lincoln’s appeal to Marilyn – and Monroe’s own iconic status. ‘In the 1950s, such admiration was not typical. At Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration ball, a musical portrait of Lincoln by Aaron Copland – a full orchestral piece with excerpts from his speeches – was dropped at the last minute as ‘un-American’. But Lincoln was crucial to Monroe.’

‘If Monroe offers an image of American perfectibility,’ Rose continues, ‘we shouldn’t be surprised to find behind that image, as its hidden companion, a host of other images through which that same – perfectible – America indicts itself… It is as if the woman whose sexuality is meant to redeem the horrors of history – the woman who is being asked to repair a nation emerging from a war it already wants to forget – owes her nation a death. America was denying its own pain. Who paid the price?’

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