Credit: Wikimedia Commons; illustration by Nuestro Stories
By Roberto Leal
Of the countless books and films about Marilyn Monroe almost all without exception have dealt with the well-known established Hollywood datapoints of her life and career: Her phenomenal rise to stardom, her two failed marriages, her miscarriages, her affairs with JFK and Bobby Kennedy, her addictions and the controversy surrounding her death in 1962 at the age of 36. But the facts about Marilyn’s Mexican heritage were also well-documented and well-known but kept secret from the public when Hollywood transformed Norma Jean Mortensen into Marilyn Monroe.
A Mexican by Any Other Name
Hollywood put Marilyn’s ancestral family roots in the Great White American Midwest. That was partly true, but they left out the fact that Marilyn’s maternal grandparents left the Midwest in the 1890s for Mexico due to financial hardships. They relocated in what is now Piedras Negras just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. they quickly assimilated in the norteño ranching and farming lifestyle and became completely “Mexicanized.”
Marilyn’s mother, Gladys Pearl, was born in Mexico in 1902, therefore by birthright, Marilyn Monroe was a Latina. Unlike some famous celebrities of that time, like Hall of Fame slugger, Ted Williams, whose mother was a Mexican and who denied his Latino heritage all his life, Marilyn never disavowed her Mexican origins. But due to the pressures and demands put on her by Hollywood to maintain an All-American girl image, she kept them to herself to sustain her career.
Marilyn Reclaims Her Mexican Connection
At the height of her fabulous movie career, Marilyn formed her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions (MMP) and at this point no longer felt constrained by Hollywood to hide her Latina pride.
She spent a lot of time in Mexico; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico City, Acapulco and Baja California. There to the horror of Hollywood press agents and publicists Marilyn could be openly and publicly seen being serenaded by mariachi bands, eating tacos, climbing to the top of ancient Mayan pyramids, speaking Spanish in public and even becoming romantically involved with Mexican writer/producer, José Bolaños.
Marilyn bought and decorated her house with Mexican mahogany furniture. She even had her picture taken wearing a China Poblana traditional Mexican outfit.
She was also fond of Mexican sweaters. One of the last photos of Marilyn is of her walking on the beach wearing her Mexican sweater. That sweater was found draped over her Mexican furniture the day of her death.
Her Safe Harbor?
There is no question the camera adored Marilyn Monroe. She was uniquely photogenic, sensual, vulnerable, fragile and beautiful. It was those qualities Hollywood packaged and branded into a myth; a product, a persona called Marilyn Monroe they could market to a White majority movie audience. The demands and expectations put on her to maintain this public façade proved painful to her already damaged psyche resulting from a troubled childhood and going from one foster home to another. Clinging to and embracing her Mexican heritage must have been like a safe harbor for Marilyn Monroe. It was a place where she could be a free spirit Latina and bask in the warmth and comfort of her Mexican culture and birthright.
In what must have been an unintentional ironic twist of fate, last year’s Netflix biopic of Monroe entitled, Blonde, starred Latina actress Ana de Armas (Knives Out, No Time to Die) in the lead role as the legendary blonde bombshell. The movie is based on the highly fictionalized and sensationalized account of Marilyn’s life in a novel by Joyce Carol Oates.
Were the producers of Blonde sending a subliminal message to the audience of Marilyn’s Hispanic heritage by casting Armas, in the role of Marilyn Monroe? Or could it possibly be a guilt-driven casting Freudian slip in an attempt to subconsciously atone for suppressing the Mexican side of Marilyn she always honored but was not allowed to celebrate by the Hollywood establishment?
Regardless, somewhere in her eternal safe harbor, Norma Jean Mortensen must be smiling knowing at long last a Latina star is giving life to the truth of “La Mexicana”, Marilyn Monroe.
This opinion piece first appeared on Latin Heat, under Roberto Leal’s “Fideo Loco” commentary section, and edited by the Nuestro Stories editorial team.
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