This article is first in a new, occasional series, Marilyn in Advertising.
On February 25, 1956, Marilyn Monroe returned to Hollywood after a long absence. In late 1954, she walked out on her lucrative contract with Twentieth Century Fox, demanding a better choice of roles, plus script and director approval. Commentators predicted Monroe’s imminent downfall, speculating that she had ideas beyond her station.
Over the next year Marilyn lived in New York, studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio. She also formed an independent production company with her photographer friend, Milton Greene. By early 1956 she had renegotiated her contract with Fox, granting her more creative freedom and an increased salary, befitting her status as America’s hottest female star.
After flying back to her hometown, Marilyn held a press conference at Los Angeles Airport, and discussed her next film project, Bus Stop. Wearing a smart suit and high-necked blouse, she looked surprisingly demure for a blonde sex symbol. Asked if this signified a ‘new’ Marilyn, she replied innocently, ‘No, I’m the same person – it’s just a different suit.’
Footage from this event has been used for a new Citroën DS3 commercial. A somewhat breathless female voice, a little like Marilyn’s, is dubbed over the original film. Instead of the original audio, the ‘soundalike’ says the following words…
“I don’t know why so many people live in the past. It wasn’t better to be young then. You should create your own icons and way of life, because nostalgia isn’t glamorous. If I had one thing to say it would be, live your life now.”
The camera then cuts to the slogan ‘ANTI RETRO’, with a guitar riff playing in the background, followed by a short film of the advertised car driving. A second commercial uses another name from the past, John Lennon, ending with the same words, “Live your life now.”
In this age of instant communication, it is almost inevitable that these sentiments, interposed by Citroën, will soon be attributed to Lennon and Monroe as if they had really uttered them. What was actually said will be lost, remembered only by hardcore fans and historians. As a work of art this is interesting, but as its primary purpose is to sell an unrelated product, it is also ambiguous.
A paradox is at work, in that Anti Retro (2010) flirts with the idea of iconoclasm and an end to nostalgia, while appropriating vintage glamour. What Citroën are really promoting is mass consumerism, which is certainly nothing new.
Newsreel footage of this kind is often in the public domain and, licensing aside, relatively inexpensive to use. But the star power of John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe, both long dead, is arguably more valuable today than when they were still alive.
By contrast, a screen capture from the same 1956 press conference was used by the artist, Mary Ann Lynch, in her 2008 exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: More Than You Know, a series of photographs depicting images of Marilyn found in public places. Lynch explores the power of Monroe’s beauty and charisma, her impact on everyday life and the popular consciousness.
In the picture, Monroe’s eyes are closed and her head rests on a gloved hand. Despite the public setting, it appears to capture the actress in a private, reflective moment. The monochrome film is tinted blue and framed in a black, widescreen strip.
Entitled ‘Blue Marilyn’, a duplicate shot previously graced the cover of Lynn Lifshin’s 1994 poetry collection, Marilyn Monroe.
I wonder how Monroe and Lennon would feel about being remembered in such diverse ways. Because although they never met, there are some parallels between them. Each found fame in the emerging mass media of the 1950s and 60s, and both eventually rebelled against their public personae, fighting for personal freedom.
At the end of her last interview, for Life magazine in 1962, Marilyn Monroe pleaded with journalist Richard Meryman, ‘Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one… I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity… If fame goes by, so long, I’ve had you, fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle.’