A Tale of Two Marilyns

In one scene from recent film My Week With Marilyn, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) asks a question to her love interest, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), as they are about to greet a gaggle of photographers.

“Should I be her?” she asks.

“Who?” Clark responds, confused.

“Marilyn,” she replies, like it’s not immediately obvious. Her choice is clear by the corresponding series of shushes, shimmies, and smiles.

This scene describes the new societal idea surrounding Monroe’s life. That she was torn between two personas, her actual self, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, and the character she made up to make it big in Hollywood, Marilyn.

New TV series Smash plays off of this idea as well. The show chronicles the challenges a group of Broadway artists encounter as they attempt to produce a musical about Monroe’s life. One of the most important aspects of the production is casting the right actress to play Monroe. At the beginning of the season they were torn between newcomer Karen Cartwright, and seasoned chorus girl Ivy Lyn. Karen resembled the more innocent Mortenson, while Ivy fits the more conventional curvaceous version of Monroe.

All of this is played out in the show’s costumes. Life imitates art as the two actresses try to get into the role of Marilyn. Karen, while still dressing to look the part of Monroe, usually looks more conservative, and not as overtly sexy as Ivy. Monroe has always been a style icon for women, but it’s interesting to see how the show is interpreting her look in two very different ways. Here’s a look at some of costumes the characters wear in the show—both those designed for the stage production, and their own personal Marilyn-influenced wardrobes.

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