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Missing Marilyn Monroe in a time of Kardashians

Marilyn Monroe!

There she is, on Page C2 of this morning’s New York Times. I got to her late, after first finishing The Post and all the other news of the day –the Greek crisis and the Goldman Sachs crisis and the crisis in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel –turning the pages fast, skimming, cheating, trying real hard to remember it all, when suddenly there is this incandescent beauty and I stop. I look. I study the thumbnail photo. A book of her letters is being published. It will contain personal stuff –about how she was reading about Italian Renaissance art and also the letters she wrote when she was locked in the Payne Whitney psychiatric clinic in New York. She was terminally crazy.

I miss Monroe. I live in a world of Kardashians. I don’t even know who they are exactly or how many of them there are. I think there must be dozens –the same (or similar) woman over and over again on the cover of magazines I see in the doctor’s office or in the supermarket. I hear their name while sitting in airport lounges where the TV is always on, and on the morning shows where they are mentioned without explanation: just the Kardashians, as if am supposed to already know all about them.

A friend tells me that the Kardashians have a reality TV show. Who doesn’t? What do they do? Have I ever seen them in a movie? Did they once cut a record? Are they on Dancing With The Stars, one Karsdashian dancing with another? Have they singularly or in total lost an incredible amount of weight or overcome an addiction? Do they hoard -- obsessively, compulsively, filling the house and the garage and the backyard with junk and stuff? Did they put their kid in a balloon and call the local TV station? Did they go out to the movies and return to find their home had been demolished and they now had a new one? Are they Jersey housewives, real or synthetic? Are any of their boyfriends or husbands carpeted with tattoos and known to have a hankering for bondage ladies? I don’t know. I am merely rattling off things I have seen from the corner of my eye.

Monroe is of a different era, I know. We knew so little about her when she was alive –nothing, really, about her craziness. Her life was interesting, literary. She was always on a quest for self-improvement. She thirsted for knowledge. Her men did not sport tattoos. She married the great Joe DiMaggio. She married the greater Arthur Miller. They were both difficult men, but they both played at the top of their game, titans both. Marilyn had other men, lovers and friends and intellectual mentors, but I’d like to think they were all of the quality of Elia Kazan, the great stage and screen director who wrote tenderly about Monroe in his memoir, “A Life.” She came to see him one night and announced she was engaged to DiMaggio. “I’m not going to see you again,” she told him -- and then slept with him for the last time.

I look at the thumbnail photo in the newspaper. It pops beauty, a refreshing beauty, a clean beauty, a beauty divorced from ripped jeans or too much bodice or suggestive talk. Monroe, I know, is the past. The Kardashians are the present. This, too, is a crisis.

By Richard Cohen  | April 29, 2010; 10:22 AM ET
Categories:  Cohen  | Tags:  Richard Cohen  
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Uh, who are the Kardashians?

Posted by: scvaughan | April 29, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Don't know about anyone else, but

to see someone like Cohen
talking about Marilyn. His ruffeling through her life gets her so dirty.

She was so American, so much a part of our
better times.
So un Cohen. SO unneocon, so un MIdEast war. Why ruin the better times?

Posted by: whistling | April 29, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Cohen, you are so right, Ms. Monroe was beautiful, lovely, talented, a great comedic style and the camera loved her. I saw a small segment of her on TV the other day of "some Like It Hot," and stopped in my tracks to watch her. As for the Kardashians, talk about boring, I don't know why they are on TV or who watches them, people must be desperate to watch TV.

Posted by: Listening2 | April 29, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the Kardashians. Celebrities because they are celebrated, but for what, as Cohen so eloquently asks.

Manufactured personalities taking up space in the public's consciousness. Not just the K's but a whole host of other "famous" people whose names come and go with the changing of the season.

Why? Who appoints them to their 15 months of fame and for what reason? I can only think it's a matter of diversion of the public's attention from more important things, like death panels and the nattering tweets of a half-Governor, or maybe it's more sinister than that.

Toss some more Christians to the lions.

Posted by: can8tiv | April 29, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Poor old Cohen has sex on the brain 24/7. What do we know about Marilyn Monroe? As a teen she did a porno flick before she was discovered. She was one of the first stars to pose for Playboy and helped put Hugh Hefner on the map.

Marilyn Monroe was in a love triangle with JFK and his brother RFK and it probably got her killed. She was in love with the most famous baseball star and Arthur Miller - the most famous playwright.

Not bad for a blonde bimbo who oozed sex appeal. Old Cohen doesn't like tattoos - too bad.

Posted by: alance | April 29, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

No question. Marilyn was an icon for those of us who lived in the 50's and 60's.

It would seem now that she was the embodiment of male-ideolized beauty, sensuality and innocence in a female.

She was apparently unable to make the transition into the 60's for reasons that make our history and our culture so interesting.

WP's competitor, Time, on another subject, this week posited "Maybe it's the nature of icons to be both worshipped and stoned..".

I think this aptly applies to MM and her detractors.

She was truly an icon for an era.

Posted by: Spectator | April 29, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Cohen is longing for a time when celebrities were simpler, cleaner. I think he really longs for a time when people let celebrities be simple and clean. There was a child-like innocence about our celebrities in the sixties. We wanted them to be better then we were - to have no faults, or at least to be seen as overcoming them. They were morality tales, and we glossed over their flaws.

Now, we crave the flaws. We want our celebrities to be failable - indeed, to be failures! Who doesn't want to know that a great actor has a failed marriage, or that a sports figure used steriods, or about the drug addiction of some personality? (Aside from me, of course; personally, I agree with Cohen). If we didn't love these things, the media (and the celebrities themselves) wouldn't sell them to us.

If we want a cleaner celebrity culture, then stop demanding that they be such enormous screw-ups. Let them be people, with the dignity and expectation of privacy to their personal issues that we, the rest of America, expect and enjoy. I'd be just as happy never to hear about the latest trauma of the Kardashians (whoever the hell they are).

Posted by: haldon12 | April 29, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

It's all the parents fault. Mama K has pimped out all of her daughters, gleefully foisting them on Hugh as if they were getting college scholarships. Stepdaddy Bruce mopes in the corner, one thumb in his mouth, the other up his butt. When the bell rings, he exchanges them.

This is how celebs raise their kids. Goodby, Norma Jean.....

Posted by: Don_from_I-270 | April 29, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

What I object to is the pure hypocrisy of Cohen's story on Marilyn. The WaPo columnists are some of the worst offenders in the media in attacking public figures today for weeks on end. The governor of NY, Edwards of SC, Bill Clinton, etc. One moral breach and they get raked over the coals with moralistic condemnation and no expectation of privacy.

JFK had Adkins Disease and the White House physician kept him loaded with methamphetamines and downers. He was the worst womanizer in history and had dozens of affairs while in the White House - including Marilyn Monroe and a girl friend of Sam Giancana - the crime boss of Chicago. The media kept all of this out of the newspapers. Nothing is sacred today.

The media are jackals. I am sure Cohen knows all about Marilyn Monroe and his story today of past innocence of a 1950s icon is pure garbage.

Posted by: alance | April 29, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Kardashians? Oh yesh,they were the alien bad guys on Deep Space Nine

Posted by: rmcbain | April 29, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Please, both are famous for their bodies. The Kardashian sisters just skipped the "acting" stuff.

Posted by: toiletminded | April 29, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse


Mr.Cohen claims ignorance of many aspects of modern culture. It is one thing to know and object but to pretend that one is never sullied or cognizant sounds like a lie.

Of course popular culture is messy, stupid and insipid. And manufactured, massaged and treated. But more real than disavowing all knowledge.

As for the question of Monroe- either James or Marilyn being more interesting than a reality star. Of course.

What is his point?

Posted by: barbarafriedland | April 29, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Trailer Trash vs. Class ...

.. TV show?


Posted by: highkey11 | April 29, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

No really. Could someone tell me who the Kardashians are and why they are talked about? I haven't a clue. I hear the name but I have no context. There is a family down the street from us named Kardashian, but there are not that many of them, and they seem too normal to have a TV show. Their daughter goes to kindergarten with mine and I never see any TV cameras in tow.

Posted by: gwollberg | April 29, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Another thing to wax nostalgic about: op-ed columnists who would actually research what they intended to write about instead of just admitting they know nothing about their targets and proceeding to criticize them anyway.

Posted by: jamesmartinthompson | April 29, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm frankly not sure why Richard Cohen chose to write about Marilyn Monroe and the Kardashians. At least Marilyn Monroe accomplished somethng in life, even if she made some pretty bad choices in the process.

As for the Kardashian sisters, I've yet to hear of anything worthwhile they've accomplished. The same holds true for Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Meghan McCain, and other so-called "celebutantes."

Posted by: austinrl | April 29, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Mr Cohen; all,

MM was a REAL woman, who all these years later, STILL shimmers with sexuality, talent, ability & CLASS.

also she had a body that looks like a "grown woman" SHOULD.
(to those of you who don't know, MM was a "modern-size" 14 - a size 16 then.)

the "cheap, little, over-exposed, no talent tarts", of today's "HOLLYWEIRD", cannot even "play on the same field with" Marilyn.

i miss her still.

just my opinion.

yours, TN46

Posted by: texasnative46 | April 30, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

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