Norma Jean goes Vanity Fair

Scintillating scandal, bow tie brilliance, political prowess—Vanity Fair is the friend you’ve always wanted, but never had the guts to talk to.

Known for its poignant, though lengthy, features from world conflicts to celebrity tell-alls, Vanity Fair is not only a magazine you can read and read (and read and read), but one you can count on to give you the goods. No exceptions.

This month, your friend from afar celebrates two of America’s most sought-after icons—itself (naturally) and Marilyn Monroe.

Though V.F. is turning a sprightly 25, one could easily argue for 70 more candles atop its assuredly haute couture cake. Despite its 47-year hiatus, the magazine formally known as Dress & Vanity Fair has rocked an indisputably larger-than-life persona since 1913—proof reincarnation does exist!

With all the fanfare of Vanity, who better to wish the mag a sultry “Happy Birthday,” than the original bombshell herself?

The life of the party, even in death, Ms. Monroe remains “one of the most obsessively studied public figures of the last half-century,” says Editor, Graydon Carter. Which is why the October 2008 Special Collectors’ Edition cover is so fitting: it promises to unlock “the 45-year-old Marilyn Monroe mystery,” one that has captivated audiences since the day she died.

Wrapped in a pretty package the long-awaited article may be, its contents are admittedly less intriguing.

With such an enticing intro, I was expecting scathing, new evidence about her death—that she was murdered, somehow involved in the mafia or, at the very least, hanging out with Elvis and 2Pac in the Virgin Islands. Instead, my reward for crossing the 19-page finish line was an anticlimactic: T.S. Eliot may or may not have written Monroe love letters.

Although the information provided wasn’t the earth-shattering, mystery-solving, piece to the puzzle I had been hoping for, it did succeed in  “unlocking” a door, a leprechaun sized one albeit, but a door nonetheless. 

Among the newly discovered effects were personal photographs, financial records, clothing items, and a note found in her room, declaring to former (and future, if you believe the rumors) husband Joe DiMaggio, “your happiness means my happiness.”

Lois Banner, a collaborator on the article, praised the significance of the collection, saying, “This shows us Marilyn Monroe living her life, one day at a time. It shows us different sides to Marilyn that are not in the biographies. It adds depth and understanding of who she was as a private person.”

I agree the collection gives us insight to her life, but we were led to believe we’d be receiving crucial confirmation about her death. 

Lack of anticipated factual fireworks, and long-time contributor Sam Kashner’s uncharacteristically choppy writing aside, Monroe’s presence in the piece was enough to leave me, as I’m sure it did most readers, with a bizarre sense of nostalgia for a woman I never knew. Monroe, though deserving, doesn’t need eloquence to demand attention. People will follow her face anywhere.

And as for Vanity Fair? I think it did exactly what it set out to do: throw the biggest, most well attended print-themed party the world’s seen for 25 years (with the help of guest of honor MM’s bread crumbs, of course). 

Happy Birthday V.F., however old you are!

-Erin Williams

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