“Why,” Marilyn Monroe asked half a century ago, “do they print things about me that aren’t true?”
“Because,” I answered, “pictures of you sell magazines and newspapers and, when there’s no excuse, they’ll use rumors and gossip, anything they can get.”
I was interviewing her at a crucial point in her life, March 1955, between her marriages to two cultural icons, Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, when she had moved to New York to study at the Actor’s Studio.
Marilyn died in 1962 at the age of 36. Thirty years later, a blonde model, Anna Nicole Smith, posed nude for Playboy Magazine, which Hugh Hefner had started in 1953 by buying nude calendar photos of Marilyn.
Ms. Smith was, of course, tagged the “new Marilyn Monroe” and launched on a celebrity career, hampered by a lack of any discernible talent.
Performing at a Houston club, the 26-year-old stripper met 89-year-old billionaire, J. Howard Marshall, who married her and died thirteen months later.
Why am I telling you all this, when Anna Nicole Smith’s own death is now a flood of 24/7 media sewage about conflict over the cause, the paternity of her daughter (and the child’s inheritance) and custody of Ms. Smith’s cadaver?
This is not to harrumph about the good old days, when fame required something more than being well-known for well-knownness, in Daniel Boorstin’s phrase, but to get back to the subject of authenticity in public life I wrote about in “The X Factor for ’08.”
Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy, whose lives intersected, were, for better or worse, substantial people, unlike today’s mostly cardboard Presidential candidates and the shameless reality-show Paris Hilton-Donald Trump fame whores who pollute our consciousness today.
“Don’t make me into a joke,” Marilyn had pleaded in her last interview. With Anna Nicole Smith, is there any other choice?