Ayn Rand On Marilyn Monroe (August 1962)
This commentary by Ayn Rand, excerpted from The Voice of Reason, was originally published in the Los Angeles Times, two weeks after Marilyn Monroe’s death on August 5, 1962.
At the time, Rand had begun writing a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times, and subsequently found her writing in national syndication. Despite the consistent notoriety the publication offered her, Rand abandoned the column after a year due to her lack of interest in current events.
The Monroe piece is perhaps the most significant from all of Rand’s columns at this time, as well as the most unforeseen. It seems out of character for a radically capitalistic novelist turned philosopher – who rarely seemed publicly compassionate – to not only pick Monroe as her topic, but to treat her life and death with the utmost respect and generosity.
In Nathaniel Branden’s memoir, Judgement Day: My Years With Ayn Rand, he writes, “Her abaility to remain surprising was always in evidence: for one column she wrote an unusally moving piece on the death of Marilyn Monroe; in it’s sensitive appreciation of what the actress stood for in the minds of a great many people, it revealed yet another aspect of Ayn’s complex personality” (Branden).
“The death of Marilyn Monroe shocked people with an impact different from their reaction to the death of any other movie star or public figure. All over the world, people felt a peculiar sense of personal involvement and of protest, like a universal cry of “Oh, no!”
They felt that her death had some special significance, almost like a warning which they could not decipher–and they felt a nameless apprehension, the sense that something terribly wrong was involved.
They were right to feel it.
Marilyn Monroe on the screen was an image of pure, innocent, childlike joy in living. She projected the sense of a person born and reared in some radiant utopia untouched by suffering, unable to conceive of ugliness or evil, facing life with the confidence, the benevolence, and the joyous self-flaunting of a child or a kitten who is happy to display its own attractiveness as the best gift it can offer the world, and who expects to be admired for it, not hurt.
In real life, Marilyn Monroe’s probable suicide–or worse: a death that might have been an accident, suggesting that, to her, the difference did not matter–was a declaration that we live in a world which made it impossible for her kind of spirit, and for the things she represented, to survive.
If there ever was a victim of society, Marilyn Monroe was that victim–of a society that professes dedication to the relief of the suffering, but kills the joyous.
None of the objects of the humanitarians’ tender solicitude, the juvenile delinquents, could have had so sordid and horrifying a childhood as did Marilyn Monroe.
To survive it and to preserve the kind of spirit she projected on the screen–the radiantly benevolent sense of life, which cannot be faked–was an almost inconceivable psychological achievement that required a heroism of the highest order. Whatever scars her past had left were insignificant by comparison.
She preserved her vision of life through a nightmare struggle, fighting her way to the top. What broke her was the discovery, at the top, of as sordid an evil as the one she had left behind–worse, perhaps, because incomprehensible. She had expected to reach the sunlight; she found, instead, a limitless swamp of malice.
It was a malice of a very special kind. If you want to see her groping struggle to understand it, read the magnificent article in the August 17, 1962, issue of Life magazine. It is not actually an article, it is a verbatim transcript of her own words–and the most tragically revealing document published in many years. It is a cry for help, which came too late to be answered.
“When you’re famous, you kind of run into human nature in a raw kind of way,” she said. “It stirs up envy, fame does. People you run into feel that, well, who is she–who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe? They feel fame gives them some kind of privilege to walk up to you and say anything to you, you know, of any kind of nature–and it won’t hurt your feelings–like it’s happening to your clothing. . . . I don’t understand why people aren’t a little more generous with each other. I don’t like to say this, but I’m afraid there is a lot of envy in this business.”
“Envy” is the only name she could find for the monstrous thing she faced, but it was much worse than envy: it was the profound hatred of life, of success and of all human values, felt by a certain kind of mediocrity–the kind who feels pleasure on hearing about a stranger’s misfortune. It was hatred of the good for being the good–hatred of ability, of beauty, of honesty, of earnestness, of achievement and, above all, of human joy.
Read the Life article to see how it worked and what it did to her:
An eager child, who was rebuked for her eagerness–“Sometimes the [foster] families used to worry because I used to laugh so loud and so gay; I guess they felt it was hysterical.”
A spectacularly successful star, whose employers kept repeating: “Remember you’re not a star,” in a determined effort, apparently, not to let her discover her own importance.
A brilliantly talented actress, who was told by the alleged authorities, by Hollywood, by the press, that she could not act.
An actress, dedicated to her art with passionate earnestness–“When I was 5–I think that’s when I started wanting to be an actress–I loved to play. I didn’t like the world around me because it was kind of grim–but I loved to play house and it was like you could make your own boundaries”–who went through hell to make her own boundaries, to offer people the sunlit universe of her own vision–“It’s almost having certain kinds of secrets for yourself that you’ll let the whole world in on only for a moment, when you’re acting”–but who was ridiculed for her desire to play serious parts.
A woman, the only one, who was able to project the glowingly innocent sexuality of a being from some planet uncorrupted by guilt–who found herself regarded and ballyhooed as a vulgar symbol of obscenity–and who still had the courage to declare: “We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift.”
A happy child who was offering her achievement to the world, with the pride of an authentic greatness and of a kitten depositing a hunting trophy at your feet–who found herself answered by concerted efforts to negate, to degrade, to ridicule, to insult, to destroy her achievement–who was unable to conceive that it was her best she was punished for, not her worst–who could only sense, in helpless terror, that she was facing some unspeakable kind of evil.
How long do you think a human being could stand it?
That hatred of values has always existed in some people, in any age or culture. But a hundred years ago, they would have been expected to hide it. Today, it is all around us; it is the style and fashion of our century.
Where would a sinking spirit find relief from it?
The evil of a cultural atmosphere is made by all those who share it. Anyone who has ever felt resentment against the good for being the good and has given voice to it, is the murderer of Marilyn Monroe” (Rand 1962).
Ayn Rand’s infatuation with aesthetic’s and personal appearance is well documented throughout her life. She was naturally attracted to those who physically represented her ideal vision of masculinity and femininity: square jaw line, high-raised cheekbones, broad forehead, sharp eyes, and angular features; individuals who look heroic and larger than life in a timeless sense. On first impression, she would often favor those who resembled a heroic character from one of her novels, often dubbed “The Randian Character,” before even digging into their character and personality.
Besides whole heartedly embracing the pillars of American politics and society, Rand also embraced the stereotypical American aesthetic: blonde hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion. This is ironic due to Rand’s own physical appearance, which was undoubtably dark, Russian, and frumpy. Perhaps Rand’s gentle treatment of Monroe rest purely on Monroe’s definitive aesthetic, which was in some regards iconic of America and “the American dream” that Rand loved so much.
While Rand does praise Monroe’s “benevolent sense of life,” she ignores how Monroe conducted her benevolent life, which contradicts much of what Objectivism stands for and what Rand found redeemable in a human being. An example of this is Monroe’s emotional instability, which lead to scandelous affairs, unadulterated drug use, and inevitable self destruction. Monroe was also at the mercy of her own emotions, which an Objectivist would refer to as a “whim-worshiper” – that being a person who is driven by an irrational desire or feeling without considering what it’s cause is and where it might lead them to. To lead by emotional drive contradicts one of the pillars of Objectivism, that being that reality is what it is, that things are what they are, independent of anyone’s beliefs, feelings, judgements or opinions – that that which is, is – that exsistence exsists – that A is A. Or in Rand’s words: “What does it mean, to act on whim? It means that a man acts like a zombie, without any knowledge of what he deals with, what he wants to accomplish, or what motivates him. It means that a man acts in a state of temporary insanity. Is this what you call juicy or colorful? I think the only juice that can come out of such a situation is blood. To act against the facts of reality can result only in destruction” (Playboy, 1964).
Why did Rand choose to write this article? Even more so, why did she choose to write about such a tragically groundless celebrity who contrasted her own beliefs so favorably? I believe it was because Rand felt that Monroe’s public figure captured her sense of life – or what she believed her sense of life was. The sexy, elated Monroe that intrigued Rand and fulfilled her own sense of life qualifications was a surface level defense mechanism to disguise Monroe’s internal struggles. Monroe’s suppression of isolation, dejection, and despression caused by her childhood and career somehow manifested itself into an extrovertive, cheerful exterior that produced feelings of euphoria from those who admired her, Rand included. Rand did not write about the actual Marilyn Monroe, but the Marilyn Monroe that most accurately reflected her own values, which is why it was easy to omit the less flattering parts. I also believe she admired Monroe’s beauty, and perhaps saw her own fictional heroines such as Dagney Taggert reflected in Monroe’s aesthetic – the blonde hair, blue eyes, and angular features.
Despite the reasons for writing the article, it is one of the most interesting articles of Rand’s career, and also an insightful look inside her psyche.