Monday, August 6, 2012

Goodbye, Norma Jeane

As a child, Norma Jeane Baker had a rough life. Passed between foster homes and relatives, abused and lonely, she looked at the movie screen and imagined how nice it would be to escape and have it made like Jean Harlow. Modeling herself somewhat after Harlow, Norma Jeane hoped to rise above her circumstances as she transformed into the unforgettable persona of Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe in 1957 © Sam Shaw Inc.Although she is best known for her stereotypical role on film as the quintessential "dumb blonde", in reality, Marilyn was neither dumb nor a natural blonde. While her popularity was largely based on her looks, she was business-savvy, demanding contracts that gave her the right to approve her directors. And when she didn't like the direction of her career under 20th Century Fox, she broke her contract and began her own production company. She used everything at her disposal in effort to get what she wanted out of life.

Unfortunately, what we want is not always what makes us happy, and it's often not even what's best for us. We may think we want fame, but as Marilyn found out, fame comes at a price. Every aspect of her life was constantly criticized, and she was expected to always be the Marilyn character she had created. She was typecast, making it difficult to change her public image when she wanted to be taken more seriously. Marilyn's fame and wealth were also unable to secure a happy marriage. Her husbands struggled with her sex symbol status, and her divorces only added fuel to her depression, making it more and more difficult to keep up the act. All of this is well-represented in the recent biopic, My Week with Marilyn, starring Michelle Williams.

It was truthful, then, in the movie There's No Business Like Show Business, when Marilyn sang the words, "After you get what you want, you don't want what you wanted at all."

While there is nothing wrong with working hard and trying to improve our conditions (in fact, a good work ethic is Biblical - see Ecclesiastes 9:10; Colossians 3:23-24), we understand that fame and fortune should not be the end goal of our lives. Everyone remembers the scene in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when Marilyn sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", but we would do better to remember the old saying, "Money can't buy happiness." Marilyn's example sadly reminds us that the pursuit of earthly comforts can lead us down a disappointing and painful road.

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, 
and in their eagerness to be rich 
some have wandered away from the faith 
and pierced themselves with many pains."
- 1 Timothy 6:10

Instead of following this path, it is much wiser to focus on serving the Lord, who will not only provide for us here, but also offers us an eternal reward (Matthew 6:19-33).

Marilyn's story also reminds us of the importance of caring for our young girls and women today. So many of Norma Jeane's problems later in life take their root in her childhood. Between a mentally ill mother, an absentee father, and repeated instances of abuse, she felt very unloved and undervalued. Children need to have a safe home and to know they are loved. Because God created and loves us all, we need to care for each other and protect one another. Our girls especially need to be shown that they can be valued for more than just their bodies. While God created us as sexual beings, we are not merely that. We are also intellectual beings. We are also loving beings. We are also spiritual beings. We are created in the image of God and meant for fellowship with him (Genesis 1:27; Colossians 1:16). And to look at someone and see only sex robs them of their humanity.

Norma Jeane was more than Marilyn Monroe, then: she was more than just the image on the screen. She was an intelligent person who worked hard for her career. She wanted nothing more than to have a loving husband and raise a family. She was well-noted for her charity work. But she lost her way, and she chose the wrong role model. She modeled herself after Jean Harlow, and history repeated itself. Like Harlow, Marilyn reached Hollywood stardom, but both women grew to hate the stereotypes they had created, both were married and divorced three times, and both died tragically at a young age after so much heartache. If only someone could have warned her! If only someone could have shown her that there's more to life!

We need to focus today on giving others a good example to follow. Rather than encouraging girls to model themselves after Marilyn's hyper-sexual image and teaching boys to use others to get what they want, we need to show them a better way. People need to see in us what it looks like when someone leads a godly life so they will see the benefits and how to do it for themselves. And where do we learn godliness? From the Scriptures, and from the examples of other great men and women of faith - especially from the example of Jesus.

"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."
- Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)

How I wish Marilyn had found a better role model! And how I wish she had listened to the words of another song from There's No Business Like Show Business, when co-star Johnnie Ray crooned, "If you believe the Lord can help you, the Lord will help you, if you believe!" For I know that even in her darkest hour, the Lord could have helped Marilyn if she would have put her faith in him and decided to follow him. That same promise is available to anyone (Psalm 91:1-2; Romans 10:9-11).

When Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962 - 50 years ago yesterday - it was a tragic end for a life filled with disappointment, turmoil, and grief; but we don't have to live and die the same way. With the Lord's help, we can face life's disappointments without losing joy, we can replace the turmoil in our hearts with peace, and our grief can give way to hope.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, 
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
- Romans 15:13 (NIV)

May we turn to the Lord in our times of need, in full assurance that he will help us. May we live as godly examples for others as we follow in the footsteps of our Lord. And may we seek to serve our Lord first and foremost, trusting him for the outcome.

So much beauty. So many great performances. But such a heart-breaking story.

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