Film Studies Professor Discusses Marilyn Monroe and New Book in Faculty Lecture

Monroe in the 1952 film “Don’t Bother to Knock” | Photo by 20th Century Fox.

By: Madison Watkins, A&E Editor

arts.inkwell@gmail.com

The title “Marilyn Monroe, Murderess: How a Femme Fatale Role Shaped Monroe’s Star Persona” contains words that most people would not associate with the legendary actress. And yet, Dr. Amanda Konkle, PhD changed that with her lecture on how Monroe’s earlier femme fatale roles shaped the following years of her career.

On Sept. 14 in the Ogeechee Theater, Konkle, an Assistant Professor in the department of Literature, gave the first lecture of this year’s Robert I. Strozier Faculty Lecture Series.  

Konkle had been a fan of Marilyn Monroe since college and realized, while she was doing research for her dissertation, that not a lot of material had been written about Monroe’s film works compared to the numerous biographies written about her. This discovery, as Konkle put it, gave her an opening to explore why few had explored her films despite how popular they were during her lifetime.

Konkle began her lecture on Monroe by discussing the topic of 20th Century Fox’s formation of Monroe’s early star persona and how Monroe challenged that persona in her work.

In her first few film roles, Monroe’s characters were nothing more than sexy secretaries or pageant queens.  

However, in the 1950 film “The Asphalt Jungle,” she gave a brief but complex performance in her role as “Angela Phinlay.” In a scene where her character realizes that she may not be able to stay at her “uncle”/lover’s place anymore, she gives a look of consternation to herself before turning over and putting on a smile. By giving that one look, Monroe gives more depth to her role as a naive love interest.

In the 1952 film “Clash by Night,” she starred in a role uncommon for the time, a tough independent woman. Not a femme fatale. She played the minor role of a character named “Peggy.” While the character was frequently the subject of violence, she would immediately  return the violence by duking it out.

Monroe also used her publicity to consistently challenge the role the studio executives pushed on her.  

In 1952, some nude photos of her were taken and published in “Playboy” magazine, resulting in public controversy. Monroe however, was not ashamed and openly admitted to posing for money.

Many of her fans supported her despite the controversy, because of how open she was to the press about the issue.

The incident earned some people’s respect of Monroe as an individual but many however could not respect her as an actress because of the sexpot roles she consistently played in films.

Konkle went on to discuss how Monroe continued to go against her persona in films like “Don’t Bother to Knock” and “Niagara.”

However, after these films were released, studio executives were pressured to shift her star persona to a “non-threatening” role because of the roles she had been playing. Her role in “Niagara” in particular, had her as a “dangerous manipulative woman” which challenged the post-war ideals of men and women at the time.

Her films following “Niagara” were the more well-known “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “The Seven Year Itch,” and “Some Like It Hot” which had her fulfilling the “non-threatening” dumb blonde roles until her death.

Konkle and an audience member discussed at the end of the lecture that even though Monroe was pushed into more of the dumb blonde roles towards the end of her career, she was still able to subtly come across as smart in some of her roles.

One of those characters was quoted as saying, “I can be smart when I need to be but men don’t usually like that.”

The material Konkle discussed was pulled from her upcoming book that will be released on Feb. 4 called “Some Kind of Mirror: Creating Marilyn Monroe.” It is what Konkle described as a “very-changed version” of her dissertation.

The next lecture in the Ogeechee Theater will be a guest lecturer from UNC-Chapel Hill on “Frida Kahlo and the Never-Ending Torments of a Mexican Icon in the 21st Century” on Sept. 20 from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.