Property, Power, Profession

Session 4.JPG
The Panel: Edgar Burns, Francine Rochford, Tansy Curtin

Session 4. The Cube, ACMI, 4pm – 5.30pm, November 12.

Join Bendigo Art Gallery’s curator of the recent blockbuster Marilyn Monroe exhibition, legal eagle, Francine Rochford, and professor (aspiring) of professions, Edgar Burns from La Trobe University as they consider questions of ownership, power and patriarchy in relation to Marilyn’s possessions and professions.

Tracing Marilyn/Who owns Marilyn? Tansy Curtin

When Marilyn Monroe died in 1962, she bequeathed most of her possessions to her close friends, confidants and acting coaches, Paula and Lee Strasberg, on the understanding that they would distribute her personal effects amongst her friends. Instead, they packed and dispatched everything contained in her recently purchased house in Brentwood, California, to their home in New York.

Marilyn’s effects were held in storage in New York for many decades, until, in 1999, Anna Strasberg – Lee Strasberg’s third wife – offered a large collection of items for sale through Christie’s in New York. The auction, ‘The personal property of Marilyn Monroe’, presented some 576 lots, ranging from glamorous film and publicity costumes, to saucepans and tableware from her kitchen.

These auctions mean that we have access to the incidental, everyday items rarely seen in museum exhibitions. Although they unfortunately don’t offer us a grand story about their owner, these objects provide insight into the private life of Marilyn – the books she had in her library, the way she decorated her house and even the makeup she kept on her dresser.

An authentic object that once belonged to an enigmatic star is sure to prompt a frisson of excitement in even the most detached viewer.

Property, power and the person: Marilyn managing Marilyn, Dr Francine Rochford

Marilyn Monroe forged a career based on her appearance, her talent, her work.  This career brought her income through a range of contractually guaranteed arrangements.  She was, if you like, using law’s transactional tools to trade her body, or at least aspects of it, for income.  This allows us to consider the parallels between the persona developed on screen in those early movies ‘Gentlemen prefer blondes’ and ‘How to marry a millionaire’.  Her early persona demonstrated a thoughtful and focussed development of a marketable ‘product.’  Norma-Jean was reworked and transformed into Marilyn Monroe.

However, Marilyn Monroe was not her own preferred stage name; it, and her subsequent development were facilitated and marketed by the studio.  Her new persona was partly her own product, and partly that of the studio.

This prompts the question – how does the law both facilitate the right to, and impose limitations on, a person being marketed as a commodity by on their own behalf, or by another?

Marilyn in a Man’s World, Dr. Edgar Burns

This chapter considers Marilyn in a man’s world. This world of traditional modernity existed in the decades before second-wave feminism. Marilyn’s world is cleverly depicted in the recent Mad Men television series. Her combination of physical beauty, sensuality, and such quips as ‘Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition,’ conjures up the magic her presence invoked. Her specialness eludes easy reduction to stereotypic gendered roles and norms dominated by men at mid-century. In this discussion the concept of trajectory is used to get gather up interesting aspects of Marilyn’s story and get beyond individualistic accounts of her as simply either tragic or magical. Viewing her as icon misses both her intelligence and the context in which she lived and spoke. A sociological account traces arcs of meaning linking Marilyn with her time—and ours. How are we connected to Marilyn in gendered terms across time?