Forever Marilyn: The Real Meaning of the Walking Dead- by Gregorie Marshall

Marilyn Monroe has been my favorite icon for all of my life.  Until her death in 1962, Marilyn was known as the “blonde bombshell” and became one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and early 1960s and an emblem of the era’s sexual revolution. ​(Wikipedia 2023)​.   A present-day online encyclopedia’s explanation is most disturbing to me in that it underscores why I have chosen Forever Marilyn to compare the disparaging of women in art that began in the 18th century.  The late artist, Steward Johnson, created this giant Marilyn Monroe statue in 2011. It is manufactured from stainless steel and aluminum weighing 34,000 pounds. This statue is representation of one of Monroe’s famous images from Billy Wilder’s 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch”, a comedy about infidelity, in which the famous scene shoots a blast of air from a NYC subway grate that raises the familiar and elegant white halter dress she is wearing.  A sex symbol – that is what we know her to be.  She died having her Hollywood-given attribute as the legacy she would leave to the world when there was a more valuable legacy, she might have chosen had she been given the opportunity to do so.  But Marilyn was a unreckonable force, like many women who came before her but left to be objectified and downgraded by misogynistic men and the submissive women who agree with them.   

Forever Marilyn can be placed in the category of “pop art.”  The statue was based on a scene from a movie that aired in 1955, with emphasis on the physical form of Marilyn Monroe and an image that had become a popular part of the culture at that time.  The power of the statue and the controversy that accompanies it suggests “agency.”  A blast of air from a subway grate below lifting the skirt of the dress gives Forever Marilyn the strongest element of the art piece.  Without it, it is simply other women in a pretty dress.  The lifted skirt brings to the mind of every voyeur the age-old argument of the modesty of women, the female body and its existence only for the pleasure of men, and the sexual freedom women are able to embrace in its place.  Finally, “intensity” bolsters Johnson’s genius in creating the statue.  The entire piece has a dull, matte finish and is mostly white – from the pale skin to the blonde hair to the dress and shoes it dons.  He then chooses small areas of the statue to add some gloss and color.  The red lipstick and red polish on the toenails seem to suggest that there is more to explore by taking a closer look.  Such is true of woman.  The shiny flat pearl earrings add depth and complexity to the statue.  Depth and complexity is woman.  The statue has been erected during many seasons of the year, one in the snowy winter while in Connecticut. ​(MARCA 2023)​.  How fitting for Marilyn to let us know that, as did Elsa in the modern day Frozen,  “the cold never bothered me anyway.”  

The statue was displayed at Pioneer Court, part of the Magnificent Mile section of Chicago Illinois, before it was moved  to the corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way in Palm Springs, California in 2021. ​(Wikipedia 2023)​.  It was given a farewell send-off during the Palm Springs Village Festival on March 27, 2014 and relocated to the 42-acre Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey as part of the retrospective honoring Seward Johnson. Then, in 2018, the statue went on to be displayed at Latham Park in Stamford, Connecticut as a part of a large public art exhibition honoring the works of Seward Johnson. Thirty-six statues were placed throughout streets and parks, with Forever Marilyn being the highlight of the exhibit, although not without sparking controversy.  When placed in Stamford, complaints from the First Congregational Church rang loudly due to raised skirt that exposed her undergarment. ​(Wikipedia 2023)​. 

Announced on September 25, 2019, Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon announced the statue would be returning to Palm Springs as a permanent fixture.  As of June 2021, there was litigation seeking to block the erection of Forever Marilyn in California courts.  However, the statue was “unveiled” albeit two months behind schedule- in June 2021 with Riverside dismissing four of Committee to Relocate Marilyn’s purported cause of action on July 18, 2021 with two committee’s remaining two purported causes being dismissed by the Riverside County Superior court on September 9, 2021. A full-size counterfeit is used in Chinese drama film, Angels Wear White. ​(Wikipedia 2023)​ 

This controversy on the installation of Marilyn Monroe’s twenty-six-foot statue created the art worlds the perfect storm. Lessons hard learnt on infidelity portrayed this angel as the cause for all things “femme fatale.”  When all angles of woman as an instrument for the pleasure of man are put to test, the combustive reaction illuminates centuries old faux pas in the film industry’s fabrication of women as cooperative and dispensable objects, will scream out – question becomes again – will it be heard.  This is further confirmed in the 18th century painting of The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli.  The painting, oil on canvas, was first displayed at the annual Royal Academy exhibition in London in 1782, where it shocked, titillated, and frightened exhibition visitors and critics. Unlike many of the paintings that were then popular and successful at the Royal Academy exhibitions, Fuseli’s The Nightmare has no moralizing subject. ​(Paulson 2015)​.  It depicts an incubus, a demon, sitting upon the chest of a sleeping woman.  The look on the demon’s face is a sinister and provocative one, created in the mind of the artist.  Like Forever Marilyn, controversy surrounds it.   

However, unlike Marilyn, The Nightmare underscores the disparaging disrespect given to women in art throughout history.  The figure that sits upon the woman’s chest is a type of spirit said to lie atop people in their sleep or even to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women. ​(Paulson 2015)​  “Shades” in the painting give the piece its dark hue and blended colors to create deep reds and greys, causing The Nightmare to live up to its name.  The treatment and presentation of woman in society has been a shameful part of art history as well as world history.  What could be more demoralizing than unempowering a woman’s right to consent to relations than painting her in helpless sleep being taken advantage of by something inhumane, whether imagined as said to be by Fuseli, or real as in the continued misogyny of the present day.  

The perfect recipe to bake the perfect cake: cut a slice and smash it in your face! This rendition of Marilyn in my opinion, strategically orchestrated by Hollywood moguls, once again is a depiction of the disparaging of women in art since the 18th century. It is so poignantly telling.  It repeats the story that women in our society, then and now, are mere objects of desire – nothing more than something to be handled instead of something to be cherished and revered.  Moreover, the consistent passing over her as one with a brain and not just one with a vagina perpetuates this injustice. This is wrong! They got it wrong about Marilyn! Her vagina was the least important part of her.  If anything, this woman should have been depicted in a rendition of the higher power of the gods. She – and all women – are created in the realm of the gods. My outrage is undeniable.  Blonde bombshell. Femme fatale. Hollywood deciption. Gracious soul.  Seeker of justice. Her reality.  It saddens me that we were unable to see more of the latter.  

Marilyn’s story began before the entertainment industry would have its way with her. Her life was riddled with the most heartbreaking stories and obstacles to overcome. Yet this beautiful woman went on to be Forever Marilyn – the woman that the artist would form with his heart and sentiments, and then with his hands, as mentioned in the article from CBS News.  ​(KCAL News/CBS Los Angeles 2021)​.  Quoting Johnson, “Marilyn has come to represent beauty, and the white dress blowing up around her is a type of teasing sensuality. There is something about her pose, the exuberance for life without inhibition, it expresses an uninhibited sense of our own vibrancy.” ​(MARCA 2023)​. 

This pop art resurrected by Johnson from the 1960’s is right on point. Johnson in genius form created a controversy, a perfect storm. In a statement given by City Manager Justin Clifton, “ It is the city hope that the committee will end what remains of its lawsuit, so that we as a community can move on and focus our energy on more productive issues, such as homelessness, affordable housing, economic development and the environment.”  ​(Cassady 2023)​  Forever Marilyn has created a pause to insist that the population refocus our effort towards our humanity. Marilyn was bigger than life in life, and this enormous statue not only represents the way she navigated the world, but the size of the impact she made in the earth. Once more, Marilyn Monroe, and Forever Marilyn, brings together what has fallen apart.  In her own life, she put the pieces back together to become an icon and a survivor, that right up to the present day, gives a message to the world. That message is simply just to be – and when we are not allowed to be because of what an industry tells us to be – this is death, even though the many watching think we are alive.  

Marylin created a persona in her own genius. Under the persona of the soft spoke blonde bombshell, the “ditsy blonde” some may even say, there existed a brilliant woman. She had the business savvy of the most misogynist man that overpopulated the Hollywood industry. Working her way up to owning her own studio so she could have roles created of her own choosing, she also possessed political intrigue, deep insight on the racial and social issues of her day, making her the most sought-after woman of her time. Marilyn  insisted that black performance artist females of course to be treated fairly. The buffoons, that discriminated against the black woman performers, would bend at the promise that Marylin would sit front row cheering her sisters on, as well as being a financial draw to the Cabaret Pimp. Marilyn was not self-centered or self-absorbed. She was a woman who knew how it felt to be discarded and seemingly, Forever Marilyn met with a similar fate. ​(Seward Johnson Atelier 2022)​.   

This was a woman that stuck up for and stood together with other woman in the face of disparage.  And yet we relegate her to the interferring with the age-old institution of marriage and fight about whether or not we want her lifted skirt displayed in our communities, to a tragic end of ambiguity of – suicide or murder – Unsolved, or is it?  Marilyn was beyond art in performance in legacy and she will never let us down. She spent her life looking for love, looking to be loved in return, and looking for a place to rest.  Marilyn wanted a place where she could just be. Not finding it could have been suicide or murder, and most likely both.  She was the epitome of the real walking dead. Suicide? Murder?  If its for us to decide, lets us remember a disparaged woman looking for love never ends well. If we learn to love without assaults and to appreciate without objectifying,  we would accomplish being better human beings. 

So, Bravo for Johnson! Bravo to the haters! Bravo to the supporters, but most of all bravo to Marylin Monroe to be the icon of love and for leaving a legacy that will live on forever in our hearts. So, this fabrication of a woman disparaged, lusted for, and disrespected is really honored, revered, and gone before she experienced the justice she fought so hard for others to have. Just know boys, she will survive!  We are left with the question: was it worth it boys?  Or are you going to deny and default to It has a Mind of its own,” you decide. 




​​Cassady, Daniel. 2023. 26-Foot Marilyn Monroe Statue Still Causing A Stir Among the Palms Springs Elite. February 28. Accessed March 20, 2023. 

KCAL News/CBS Los Angeles. 2021. Opponents of 17-Ton Marilyn Monroe Statue In Palm Springs Dealt Blow by Judge. July 29. Accessed March 20, 2023. 

MARCA. 2023. Controversial 26-Foot Marilyn Statue Haunts Palm Springs. January 3 . Accessed March 17, 2023. 

Paulson, Dr. Noelle. 2015. August 9. Accessed March 24, 2023. 

Seward Johnson Atelier. 2022. Icons Revisited. Accessed March 20, 2023. 

Wikipedia. 2023. Forever Marilyn. March 1. Accessed March 17, 2023. 

. 2023. Marilyn Monroe. March 20. Accessed March 20, 2023. 


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