She’s celebrated as the most iconic sex symbol of the past century, (and perhaps, of all time). What’s not as well known about her is that she was also a humanitarian, style icon, intellectual, and artist (at least that’s what the official Marilyn Monroe website states about her). As we studied her, we wondered, “What was it about her?” Was she the most beautiful woman to grace the planet? There have been many before and after her, who possessed all the conventional traits of beauty. It was not purely external physical beauty that gave her a permanent platform of iconry. Marilyn possessed a kind of personality and charisma that set her apart from all others. In this month’s issue of the Keirsey Magazine, we celebrate Marilyn Monroe, a stellar example of the Artisan Performer ESFP. She was a one-of-a-kind gal, who led the way in her field. Marilyn was larger than life, possessing extraordinary charisma. We’d call her a Charismatic Leader.
Charismatic leaders express themselves with a kind of allure that is unmatchable. They are provocative, speaking with more than just words. It’s in their smile, and their glance. They make statements through their displays of boldness. Such was the case with Marilyn Monroe who became the most iconic sex symbol of modern times. Whether it was a film scene where she was barely covered by a towel or sheet, or seen from behind with her hips swaying, or posing nude in notable publications such as Playboy, Cosmopolitan or Vogue, Marilyn broke all the rules. No one was ever as daring, audacious or original before her time. She was the cover girl on the very first edition of the Playboy Magazine (1953), which set off the Sexual Revolution. Marilyn drew attention, whether it was an awards dinner, a media interview, a public parade, or a movie, she wore something, or nothing, and it invited a response. Skin-tight dresses in glittering gold, with necklines cut to the navel, or a potato sack. What she did just didn’t fit in with her times. But, that’s what Charismatic Leaders do. It’s not that they need to be sexual all of the time (maybe more times than others). But, sexual display for her was motivated by her desire to “stand out” rather than “fit in.” She was cricitized for her “vulgarity” and was seen as “unbecoming an actress and a lady.” When comments like these are made, the response from a Charismatic Leader is a smirk, and a display of even greater audacity. Once Marilyn was castigated by the media for wearing a low-cut red dress to the Beverly Hills Hotel. The writer called her “cheap and vulgar” and suggested that Monroe would look better in a potato sack. Shortly after that, photos of Marilyn in a form-fitting, burlap potato sack were published in newspapers throughout the country. She is most famous for her sexuality, but her fearlessness reached far beyond, extending to political and humanitarian issues. Her boldness knew no barriers. She was not afraid to be openly associated with those who were ostracized, marginalized, or even acursed as communists. It was said of Monroe, that she was, “passionate about equal rights, rights for blacks, rights for the poor. She identified strongly with the workers.”
According to legendary modeling agency, Miss Snively’s Blue Book Agency, “Monroe was one of the agency’s most ambitious and hard-working models.” By the mid 1940s, Marilyn had appeared on 33 magazine covers. She dedicated herself to classes to develop as an actor, singer, and dancer. She spent countless hours at the studio amongst those in the film industry to just learn how the industry worked. Monroe sought mentoring and developed key relationships wherever she could, working with esteemed industry leaders, Natasha Lytess, Michael Chekhov, Lee Strasberg, and Cheryl Crawford. Lytess who was known for her serious, strict, and demanding personality was the first to recognize that Marilyn had true acting talent. She was impressed by her determination to develop, as well as her do-whatever-it-takes attitude. Marilyn walked in front of mirrors for countless hours to perfect her sexy walk, which landed her many significant roles. She studied every photo of herself, and solicited advice on how she could improve on the photos she thought were subpar. She took advice seriously, and did her best to never repeat mistakes. At the advice of Strasberg, Marilyn underwent psychoanalysis to leverage her emotional traumas to improve in her performances. She also made efforts to excel in Method acting, (where an actor attempts to personally experience or live out the emotional content of his/her role). Marilyn always sought to develop in whatever ways she could. She attended UCLA to engage in courses in literature and art appreciation to enrich her perspectives. She was said to be “bright and intellectually ambitious.”
Marilyn was a no-nonsense gal. Personally or professionally, she liked to keep it simple. Charismatic Leaders don’t want things to be overly complicated. When her husband, James Dougherty didn’t approve of her modeling career, it was simple—get a divorce (in September 1946, the divorce was finalized), which allowed her to focus on her acting career. On the professional front, Marilyn negotiated terms which were easy. She could work for any studio, and she had the right to reject any script, cinematographer or director she didn’t like, it was simple—she had the final say. When anyone went against her, or attempted to discredit her in anyway, she simply fought back to counter any negative press. She used charm and tactics to strengthen her position in any conflict. She cut through the clutter, and found the easy path. When proposals were made, whether they be financial, sexual, marital, or any other situation, she simply went with what she felt in the moment. Johnny Hyde repeatedly proposed marriage, promising a fortune upon his death, but, she didn’t reciprocate the same feelings he felt, so it was simple—the answer was, “No.” She didn’t want to marry for financial advantage. When she posed nude, she was asked for an explanation. She kept it simple, and told the truth, stating, “I was broke and needed the money.” Though many were shocked, most enjoyed her bluntness and wittiness about the incident. In that same interview, when asked, if she “really had nothing on” in her infamous calendar photos, Marilyn responded, “I had the radio on.” When asked about what she wore to bed, she replied, “Chanel No. 5.”
Charismatic Leaders ooze charm, and it not only draws attention, it creates followers. People line up, wanting to be close, to be associated, to support, and to join in on the fun. For Marilyn, this was accentuated because of her celebrity status and stunning sex appeal. Men and women lined up to win her affections. As stated earlier, she was offered everything from surgeries, to financial security, to parts in films, and even marriage proposals. Audiences lined up for her shows, smitten admirers sent in more than 5,000 letters per week, and huge crowds gathered to just catch a glimpse of her from afar. In 1954, more than 2,000 spectators (and many notable photographers) stood by for several hours to watch the infamous shoot of Marilyn standing on the subway gate where air blew up the skirt of her white dress. When faced with the possibility of a scandal for nude photos taken prior to her celebrity status, her openness about her inability to pay rent garnered sympathy for the struggles she faced as a starving artist. Marilyn got to know studio reporters on a first name basis. She won their hearts by courting them and by doing personal favors. Her smile won her the friendship of studio executives. When undergoing surgery to have her appendix removed, she left a handwritten note on her stomach for the doctors, which stated, “Please take only what you have to. And please, please, no major scars.” American soldiers voted her “the girl most likely to thaw out Alaska,” and a whole battalion of U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea volunteered to marry her. She influenced fellow performers, directors, executives, coaches, fans, aspiring actors, soldiers, athletes, and political leaders. The world adored her.
Charismatic Leaders know how to use the spotlight effectively. They recognize that too much direct light can burn them. They instinctively know how to remain the center of attention in a smooth way. They know how to showcase someone else, yet, they somehow draw attention without hogging the limelight. When Marilyn sang, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” at a party for President Kennedy in New York, she said, “I was honored when they asked me to appear at the president’s birthday rally in Madison Square Garden. There was like a hush over the whole place when I came on to sing Happy Birthday, like if I had been wearing a slip, I would have thought it was showing or something. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what if no sound comes out!’” In another instance, she called the owner of the famous nightclub, the Mocambo and convinced him that her friend, Ella Fitzgerald would provide a great performance. She told him that she would be there at the front table every night if Ella was on stage. As anticipated, the press went all wild because of Marilyn’s presence as she upstaged all the other Hollywood stars that attended that evening. Ella never had to play at another small jazz club after that. She posed for many photographers, making them famous, speaking of their talents, all the while, every photo made her that much more iconic. She was photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt, regarded as the “The father of photojournalism.” It didn’t matter where, or when—whether in person, on screen, or in a photo, Marilyn was always noticed. She never needed to look for the spotlight, it always seemed to find her. A reporter once said of her: “Amid a slowly gathering hush, she stood there, a blond apparition in a strapless cocktail gown, a little breathless as if she were Cinderella, just stepped from the pumpkin coach.”