Pictorial Palette – Marilyn Monroe

There is a moment in the 1956 film Bus Stop that is a striking testament to the worth of Marilyn Monroe as a serious actress. It doesn’t last long–a few seconds at most–but like all great screen moments, it seeds itself into your subconscious, rendering it impossible to forget.

Having been relentlessly chased down and very literally kidnapped by an eye-rollingly over-the-top chest-thumping cowboy, the beautiful nightclub singer Cherie (that’s sher-ee, not cherry, and don’t you forget it!) has a quiet moment of respite at a bus stop diner. She’s tired. She’s confused. She’s fragile and, at any moment, could break completely. And as she rests her head on the counter, the director Joshua Logan pulls in for a close-up. Monroe’s face is ash-white and fills the frame completely. Her suitor appears, having (apparently) learned his lesson, and employs a change of tactic. We can hear his voice in the background, but all we can see is the haunting vacancy of Monroe’s beautiful face, filling every inch of the frame. He’s apologizing… he’s telling her that he’s in love…that he wants to marry her… that he needs her.

And the viewer is absolutely heartbroken. For it is all too obvious that those tears aren’t play-tears. This is Marilyn bearing her soul absolutely one-hundred-percent in a fashion that even so called ‘better actresses’ could never dream to duplicate.  We might be able to see the pain of another actresses performances… but with Marilyn, it is felt. Deeply.

I’ve always loved Marilyn– that lost, lonely soul whose divine beauty was both her making and her breaking. The quote about her in the brilliant new TCM documentary Moguls and Movie Stars summed it up succinctly: ‘We revere [celebrities]. Then we destroy them. Then we recreate them as saints.’

And it was easy for the press to pick on Marilyn. For the public to write her off as ‘nothing more’ than a pretty face. But moments like the finale of Bus Stop are a direct “F-You” to any such accusations.

You’ll notice, however, that the Pictorial palette for the week is NOT a still from Bus Stop, but rather 1959‘s The Prince and the Showgirl. Hardly a Bus Stop, but this particular frame (photographed by the inimitable Jack Cardiff) captures that emotional purity Marilyn so harrowingly displayed in the Bus Stop finale. (If anyone has a high quality image from Bus Stop, I’d love to see it!)

So here it is, the Pictorial Palette for the week. And a loving salute to one of the best: Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn in The Prince and the Showgirl

and here’s the palette:


Previous Pictorial Palette’s include:

Grace Kelly


Judy Garland

Rita Hayworth


Posted by

Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

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