Randall Collins writes:

Marilyn Monroe had a famous career: famously good, famously bad, pretty much simultaneously. Once launched, everything she did made her famous; and everything she did caused her grief.

Why? Look at it from the point of view of her networks.

[1] Hollywood film industry. She grew up on the periphery of Hollywood, and from an early age her ambition was to be a star. She went along with the casting-couch system, and as a result got looked down upon as just a studio whore. But she kept coming back, from other angles…

[2] Glamour photographers. This network provided her early livelihood, and caused the first big scandal that propelled her to the center of attention. Photographers were her comfort zone. They kept her in the public eye (for better or worse, including the second scandal that broke up her celebrity marriage). And photographers and their spouses were her strongest friends, the fallback whenever everything else went bust.

[3] A celebrity among celebrities. She hung around with big names like Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio, her second (but first famous) husband. The result was a home vs. career conflict, and even worse, a spotlight contest that she was bound to win, and lose a husband.

[4] Theatre intellectuals. These became allies in her battle versus Hollywood studio scorn, low pay, and stereotyped roles. She got in tight with the New York elite of acting coaches and directors, and married the most famous playwright of the day. But from now on, her acting coaches would be in tension with whatever film directors she worked with.

[5] The star/politician nexus. Already during third husband-to-be Arthur Miller’s fight with the House Un-American Activities Committee, Marilyn was becoming connected with the liberal intellectuals. With the coming of Camelot, the media-beloved Kennedy White House was glamorized by its overlap with the Hollywood “rat pack” of Sinatra, Kennedy in-laws, and other party animals. Marilyn is linked sexually with JFK and his brother Robert, until it becomes a little too openly scandalous and she is dropped. Later, Joe DiMaggio would blame Sinatra and the rat pack for the drugs and drinking that led to her death.

[6] Her psychiatrists. By this time, she is dependent on psychiatrists, if not to sort things out, at least to give her drugs and a semblance of allies. One of them betrays her—worried over suicide—by having her locked up an mental hospital. Who gets her out? Her most heavyweight lover, Joe D. Not long after, her alcohol-and-drugs diet kills her anyway.

Her networks offset each other, providing a succession of reliefs, which turn into new strains. [1] clashes with [2]; [1-2] clashes with [3]; [1-2-3] clashes with [4] and with [5]. [6] claims to deal with the clashes but just extends the damage.

Her networks canceled each other out—as support networks. But their overall effect was to make her as big a star as could be: the center of maximal attention whatever she did. Whatever you can say about Marilyn, there was no dead air.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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