The Difference Between Marilyn Monroe’s Public and Private Personas

Watch a video essay that explores Monroe’s private writings and what she really thought.
Marilyn Monroe
United Artists
By  · Published on February 22nd, 2018

I’m sitting in the dining hall at school and decide to conduct an experiment, one that that, as a film major, I am only somewhat qualified to conduct. I ask two questions. The first: Who was Marilyn Monroe? The answers vary. Most identify her as an actress. Some say she is a model. One person calls her an “icon” and a few others say, “JFK’s mistress.” I ask a follow-up question: Have you ever seen one of her movies? All but one of them say no.

It is true that Monroe is an icon, yet almost no one I know can articulate why. We know about her beauty, her marriages to Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, and that she was “an actress.” But do we really know her? How many of us have seen her movies? I must admit, I fall into this camp. I did not see my first Monroe film until a few months ago, a screening of The Prince and the Showgirl. Monroe’s performance in the film is brilliant. We know the onscreen persona, the glamorous woman we see in photographs, but how much do we really know about the true Marilyn Monroe? It seems as though this is not a problem exclusive to our time.

Lara Mubaydeen and Luke Jamieson’s “Actress Must Have No Mouth” is a stunning video essay that examines, as its description says, “the contradictions between Marilyn Monroe’s public persona and her personal life.” The video juxtaposes archival footage of Monroe with excerpts from her personal diary. The footage shows the public persona, the diaries show the real Marilyn.

In one of the essay’s more striking moments, a reporter asks Monroe if she is excited for an upcoming picture. She tells the reporter, “I’m very much looking forward to [it].” As she says this, an entry from her diary pops up on screen: “I am tired. I am restless and nervous, and scattered and jumpy. I once almost threw a silver plate onto a dark area on the set. But I knew I couldn’t afford to let anything out I really felt. I wouldn’t dare.”

Mubaydeen’s and Jamieson’s video essay is full of those kinds of juxtapositions, and they paint a more accurate portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Check it out below.

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Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist, who has been a contributor at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.