Friday, August 3, 2012

Rant #784: The End of the 1950s

On Sunday, Aug. 5, an anniversary will be celebrated that I think a lot of people would like to forget.

More than anything else, I think they want to forget it because it signaled the end of an era, the real end of the 1950s for most of us who were around then.

On Aug. 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe died.

Her death has been under focus for the past 50 years. Did she kill herself? Was she murdered because she knew intimate details of the Kennedy family? Was she a pawn in a power struggle between the White House and others?

No one knows, and probably no one will ever know the real truth about her passing.

And maybe that's the way it should be. It makes her aura even brighter.

She was the sex symbol to end all sex symbols. Sure, there were pinup girls before her and after her, but Marilyn Monroe set the standard.

Even today, she is looked to as the ultimate sex symbol.

She had the looks, the body, the demeanor, and she knew how to carry this thing off.

It isn't as easy as it looks, but she played it to the hilt, both professionally and in her very public private life.

She married one of America's greatest sports heroes and later one of its top playwrights.

Neither marriage lasted, but she went from one extreme to the other with a magnitude not seen before or since.

Yes, she had numerous personal problems, which were played out in the press of the 1950s and early 1960s to the hilt.

But she signified a different time. When you think of the 1950s, she comes to the fore like not even Elvis or Eisenhower does.

And the questions about her life--and death--continue to be spoken about, all these years after her demise.

On this day in 1962, I was barely three months removed from my fifth birthday. My family and I lived in a small apartment in Kew Gardens Hills, New York, and I shared my room with my little sister, who was just two years old at the time.

The morning of that day in August, I was playing with my Kenner Give-A-Show Projector, which was a pretty high-tech toy for its time. All that it was was a set of film strips that you pushed with your finger through a projector, which was more like a flashlight than a real projector. You pushed the film strips through the projector, and you could put the images anywhere.

I was projecting whatever the images were on the wall of my room, which was dark. I am sure my mom was feeding my sister at the time in the kitchen.

The radio was on as it always was back then. I don't know what New York station it was on, but it was on, and I heard it pretty well, even though I was in my room. It was a small apartment and the sound reverberated from one end of the apartment to the other.

Suddenly, the radio announcer came on the air and said something like, "We have reports out of California that movie star Marilyn Monroe has been found dead in her apartment. We don't have much more on this right now, but I repeat, movie star Marilyn Monroe has been found dead ... ."

I heard this news, and I shivered and shook. I stopped playing with my Kenner Give-A-Show Projector. I turned on the light, and I was sad, sad all over.

What did this five year old know about Marilyn Monroe?

My dad was a great fan of Monroe. He thought she was the greatest thing to happen to humanity since sliced bread. He often spoke about her in glowing terms.

So I knew the name. I probably hadn't seen any of her movies at the time, probably really didn't know who she was, but my father often spoke about her so positively that I knew that this was a negative.

And it scared me.

Since then, I've seen probably all her movies, and I understand why my dad--and so many other men, and lots of women--really loved this woman during her heyday.

She was blond, busty, beautiful and brassy, and she was the exact opposite of the 1950s, or what we thought the 1950s were--bleak, bland and boring.

When she sashayed across the screen--with her breasts the first things we saw when she entered every scene, done purposely by Monroe--we were seeing both a vixen and a wounded bird at the same time. She knew it and we knew it.

She posed in Playboy in the magazine's very first centerfold. Certainly, she set a standard that all those who have followed her have tried to reach.

Sure, there were other manufactured sex symbols at that time that wowed us--certainly Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren had their way with us--but Marilyn was the best of the bunch. Like the other ladies, she knew what she was doing, and she did it well.

Unlike the others, she did it with a panache that few sex symbols could only approach.

So on the 50th anniversary of her death, I would rather look at her life--confused and confident at the very same time.

Her death was really the end of the 1950s, even though it happened in 1962.

That innocence was gone for good, and JFK's untimely death a year later really closed the book on the innocence of a different time in our history.

Marilyn Monroe was more than a sex symbol; she was the 1950s encapsulated from the bleach blond hair on her head to her toes.

Little did we know what the 1960s would bring, and how sad is it that she only dipped her toe in the water of the tumultuous decade?

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