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How Accurate Is the Marilyn Monroe Movie ‘Blonde’?

Her biographer rates the film’s scenes on the Marilyn fact-o-meter scale

spinner image Ana de Armas wearing a pink dress as she stars as Marilyn Monroe in the Netflix movie Blonde
Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in "Blonde."

“Please don’t make me a joke,” Marilyn Monroe pleaded to a journalist shortly before she died. All she wanted was for people to respect and love her. The new film Blonde reduces her to a lewd and unfunny punch line. It goes to fictitious extremes to degrade and humiliate her. In fairness, both director Andrew Dominik and Joyce Carol Oates, who wrote the novel he adapted, have been up front about Blonde being a complete fiction. The locations, clothes and hairdos look right. With skill, cinematographer Chayse Irvin visually re-creates iconic moments in her life. But there isn’t a line uttered in the film that Marilyn actually said.

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The film might make you think Marilyn was a bewildered nitwit too stupid to protest her vile violations, a chessboard piece moved around by loathsome, violent, perverted, lecherous men. She did have enormous problems and was a tragic figure. She grew up in an abusive foster care system and suffered from chronic depression and insomnia. But she was passionately determined to improve herself, to overcome her demons, to dare herself to climb higher, to be great. Blonde strips her of her well-known wit, charm and intelligence. She loved children and was one of the first celebrities to speak out about child abuse. Politically savvy, she challenged the House Un-American Activities Committee and had the guts to demand better scripts and director approval. The movie omits that she was one of the first women to defy the studio system and form her own production company.

She was sensitive and vulnerable, but could be determined and strong-willed. She was used, but she was also a master user, scoping out the people who could help her. From the start, photographers, journalists and acting coaches saw her special quality and did their best to promote her. In Blonde, Marilyn is viewed only as a sexual freak degraded by every man she meets, never looked at with a morsel of appreciation or admiration.

Let’s break down some of the scenes, separating fact from fiction, and score each one from 0 to 10 on our Marilyn fact-o-meter scale.

spinner image Julianne Nicholson stars as Gladys in the Netflix film Blonde
Julianne Nicholson as Gladys in "Blonde."
Matt Kennedy/Netflix

Marilyn’s mother, Gladys, attempts to drown her in the bathtub

What happens in the movie: Gladys holds the 8-year-old underwater, screaming that it’s Marilyn’s fault that her father left without marrying Gladys.

What happened in real life: Her maternal grandmother, Della Monroe, broke into the house and tried to smother the infant with a pillow, raving about the sin of being born out of wedlock. Later her mother, Gladys, went mad in front of her, brandishing a knife, then spent most of her life in a mental hospital. But there were no bathtub scenes, and Gladys did not blame Marilyn for her dad’s desertion.

Marilyn fact-o-meter score: 5 out of 10

spinner image Xavier Samuel, Ana de Armas and Evan Williams in the Netflix movie Blonde
(Left to right) Xavier Samuel as Cass Chaplin, Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe and Evan Williams as Eddy G. Robinson Jr.
Matt Kennedy/Netflix

Marilyn has a ménage à trois

What happens in the movie: During the making of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1952, Marilyn gets pregnant via a three-way affair with creepy, sinister, pretentious, vacuous Charles Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. She desperately wants to keep the baby, but does as she’s told and has an abortion.

What happened in real life: Marilyn had a brief romance with sad, struggling actor Charles Chaplin Jr. in 1948, and they remained friends for life. Years later she befriended another troubled soul in the shadow of his dad, Eddie Robinson Jr. They were never a sexual threesome, neither impregnated Marilyn, and there’s no reliable evidence that she ever had an abortion.

Marilyn fact-o-meter score: 0 out of 10

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Marilyn is raped by a film executive

What happens in the movie: A young Marilyn goes to a meeting, thinking it’s an interview that could land her a movie contract. Instead, the executive rapes her. As usual, she is weak, vacuous and complacent while the violation is taking place. Later she is surprised that she has been offered the contract.

What happened in real life: Marilyn was a victim of the casting couch, as were many women (and some men) then. But she dealt with it on her own terms and tried to maintain a semblance of dignity. After her first film, Ladies of the Chorus, studio head Harry Cohn came on to her in his office and demanded she spend the weekend on his yacht. “I’d love to spend some time with you on your yacht, Mr. Cohn,” Marilyn replied sweetly. “Especially since I’m so eager to meet your lovely wife. Won’t she be coming with us?” She did not get the contract. She said, “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you $1,000 for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” Milton Berle, who knew Marilyn, said, “Maybe she didn’t know exactly who she was, but she knew she was worth something. She had respect for herself. Marilyn was a lady.”

Marilyn fact-o-meter score: 0 out of 10

spinner image Bobby Cannavale and Ana de Armas in Blonde
Bobby Cannavale (left) as The Ex-Athlete and Ana de Armas.

Marilyn is beaten up by Joe DiMaggio

What happens in the movie: Husband Joe DiMaggio beats Marilyn when her ménage à trois lovers blackmail him with pornographic photos, and again after she films the skirt-blowing scene from The Seven Year Itch.

What happened in real life: The blackmail is pure invention. Some say DiMaggio beat her because several witnesses saw bruises on her the day after the skirt scene. She said they were from an argument when he grabbed her passionately. We can’t know whether he beat her. But he loved her and was one of the few who remained loyal to her. Long after they divorced, Marilyn turned to him whenever she was in trouble or in need. When her psychiatrist locked her away in a mental institution, DiMaggio flew to New York from Florida and demanded her release or he’d take the building apart “brick by brick.” Marilyn blew her fortune. When she bought her first house toward the end of her life, DiMaggio lent her the down payment. And when Marilyn’s corpse lay unclaimed at the morgue, DiMaggio claimed her body and arranged and paid for her funeral and entombment. On his deathbed he said, “At least I’ll get to see Marilyn again.”

Marilyn fact-o-meter score: 5 out of 10

spinner image Ana de Armas and Adrien Brody in Blonde
(Left to right) Ana de Armas and Adrien Brody as The Playwright.

Marilyn miscarries

What happens in the movie: Pregnant by her third husband, Arthur Miller, Marilyn has a heartfelt chat with the embryo, then miscarries after tripping on the beach while carrying a food tray to guests. Miller is the only male the film portrays somewhat sympathetically.

How it was in real life: Miller was condescending to Marilyn — he intentionally left his diary open for her to read derogatory remarks about her. The 1957 pregnancy portrayed in the movie didn’t end in a fall and a miscarriage — it was ectopic, and she was rushed to the hospital in great pain, with no guests present. The termination saved Marilyn’s life, but despite surgeries, she couldn’t have a child and suffered a 1958 miscarriage.

spinner image Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in the famous skirt blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch while production staff observes and films the scene
Matt Kennedy/Netflix

Marilyn fact-o-meter score: 4 out of 10

Marilyn hated her work

What happens in the movie: Marilyn loathes her career and herself and is ashamed of her movies. She’s a deranged and frightening basket case while making Some Like It Hot, runs off the set in a hysterical tantrum during her “I Wanna Be Loved by You” number, and rails against the director and crew, shrieking that the role is demeaning. Only a gigantic needle jabbed into her neck sedates her enough so that she can shoot a scene.

How it was in real life: Marilyn loved the script for Some Like It Hot and was proud of her work. But she was pregnant and ill, difficult to work with, often late or absent, and some claim she had trouble remembering her lines. Her insecurities and desire to be perfect made it difficult for her to face the cameras. However, except for Tony Curtis, most on the film agreed she was worth the wait, and she is a huge part of the comedy’s success. Marilyn worked excruciatingly hard on every scene she was ever in. Jane Russell said Marilyn would stay at the studio late into the night, perfecting every movement and dance step in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In interview after interview, Marilyn said the only time she was truly happy was when she was working.

spinner image Ana de Armas sitting on a couch in Blonde

Marilyn fact-o-meter score: 1 out of 10

Marilyn’s relationship with John F. Kennedy

What happens in the movie: Marilyn gets flown from Los Angeles to New York, passes out from pills and drink, and in a state of confusion, is rushed by Secret Service men to JFK’s room, murmuring, “Am I meat to be delivered?” She sexually services JFK while he talks on the phone as the phallic Friendship 7 rocket launches, seen on TV. He kisses her and, with his face smeared with her red lipstick, roughly has his way with her on the bed.

How it was in real life: JFK and Marilyn’s only witnessed tryst took place at Bing Crosby’s Rancho Mirage estate. “They were having a good time,” said L.A. assessor Philip Watson, another guest. At a formal dinner and a casual reception, said JFK strategist Peter Summers, “Marilyn was delightful, a little bit nervous perhaps, but I think her nervousness was because she was in a new territory with people who were political animals. ... But she was totally able to hold her own conversationally; she was very bright.” Months later, in a highly fragile state of mind, she looked to JFK to save her. She had put a lot more importance on the relationship than he did, which left her hurt and angry, and played into her final despair.

Marilyn fact-o-meter score: 0 out of 10

Charles Casillo is the author of Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon (St. Martin’s Press).

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