Saturday, February 11, 2012

11. Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder


A week has passed and I can’t help noticing that the questions in the previous two posts have been left unanswered. Surely it can’t be because there are few good dictionaries around?

The questions were meant to open a new topic, since we all know and comment on the obsession with physical beauty. Marilyn was far from being obsessed with it in the same sense as we use the term today, for she was endowed naturally with beauty by even the most rigorous standards. 
What was a case in point in the previous post had to do with language. Use late in the structure I’m sorry (no comma, no pause!) I’m late and everybody will understand that you apologize for not being punctual, or for not arriving on time.  People who are latecomers arrive late for their appointments, and it seems they can’t help it – that is, latecomers suffer from lateness by definition.
 
But use the same word (as an adjective) before a noun – or a name (as in the case of Marilyn to refer to the actress’s renowned lateness) and the only meaning you will get is that the person has passed away. Needless to say, we could do better than to associate the presenter’s cruel joke with the fact that Marilyn had at the time some eighty days left to live; we might assume instead that he insisted on being “witty” in front of the 15,000 people in the hall, at the same time doing his best to cheer up the president (his brother-in-law) celebrated on the occasion.

Which sends us back in time to where we left the “thread”: dictionary work. Without this invaluable tool, I’m afraid the next two posts will seem a bit obscure. In fact, they are the facets of one of the most highly topical subjects these days: physical perfection.

So, what is your idea of physical beauty?
Is it true that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ as a former post was trying to prompt you to answer, and has now become the title of the present post?
Do we have a uniform concept of physical perfection?

Few people are born with a ‘perfect’ body. But what does ‘perfect’ mean? Should we take it to mean the Golden Myth of Perfect Proportions in Leonardo da Vinci’s  sketch of the Vitruvian Man?

What happens when people are dissatisfied with their physiques?
You will find out in the article below.

Monday, February 06, 2012

10. Power, Glamour, and Language Traps (II)

It was May 19th, 1962 (that’s almost fifty years ago), and more than 15,000 people were gathered at the old Madison Square Garden to attend a birthday gala – well, not an ordinary one, for we are speaking of none other than the celebration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s birthday. Organized ten days before the actual day of his 45th birthday (Tuesday, May 29), it was based on a script – nothing out of the ordinary here, as this has been part of show biz since the beginning of 20th Century entertainment.
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Several show presenters were scheduled to enact the script. Monroe was to be introduced by English-American actor Peter Lawford – himself a member of a group of actors originally centred on Humphrey Bogart; whether his artistic career is now remembered is of little importance; what really matters, though, is his relation to the protagonist of the gala: brother-in-law to US President JFK, he was perhaps more noted in later years for his off-screen activities as a celebrity than for his acting.

Marilyn sang the traditional "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics, with "Mr. President" inserted as Kennedy's name, and continued the song with a snippet from the classic song, "Thanks for the Memory", for which she had written new lyrics specifically aimed at Kennedy.
 
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Thanks, Mr. President
For all the things you've done
The battles that you've won
The way you deal with U.S. Steel
And our problems by the ton
We thank you so much
 
Sung in a sultry voice, the song cued President Kennedy’s own stage intervention: it enabled him to joke and to allude to Monroe's delivery, her racy dress, and her general image as a sex symbol saying, "I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way."

But all this happened after Marilyn’s <sweet, wholesome> delivery. What happened before her performance was a number of introductions throughout the night; each time the hall echoed with murmurs of expectation – but she did not appear in the limelight waiting to spot her. Why wouldn’t she?
video
 
Apart from having difficulty in remembering lines during production, Marilyn was known to suffer from stage fright, and be late at rehearsals. The actress’s very “flaws” provided Lawford with the momentum of his performance, for they enabled him to make a play on the actress's lateness: as she finally came on stage several hours into the show, he introduced her as the "late Marilyn Monroe".
 
Needless to say, you’ll have to look words up in a dictionary in order to answer the questions below:
 
What kind of language play is this?
How do you take the joke?
Do you think that Marilyn knew about it, and accepted it, or – on the contrary – that it was perhaps Lawford’s cherished trump?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

9. Power, Glamour, and Language Traps (I)

First things first:

Who could the woman in the restaurant be?
How would you describe her character?

At the time Harry Patterson (as Jack Higgins) wrote the novel, Marilyn's short, intense life "wasn't exactly news any more," or at least this is what the male character says. What do you think about it?
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Let's listen to the two guests at Antoine's:


There's a second conversation the man and the woman had - this time on the phone. We are not told what happened after all, but we do have the privilege of hindsight, albeit because we were born after the events recounted in the novel:

You must have already noticed there's a gapped text for Use of English inserted in between the two conversations in the previous post; here's the full version:
<<'You had better decide quickly whether you want the letters or not,' she said. I took another sip/drink of my champagne, and said nothing.
'$100,000 is nothing to pay for them. They're Marilyn's letters! Marilyn Monroe's letters! I can prove that she wrote them!' Her voice was getting/becoming louder and louder. She seemed to have forgotten her fear/suspicion/anxiety that someone might be listening to us. I thought about what/everything she had said. If the letters really were Monroe's, they could be worth that much money or even more. It all depended on what was in them, of course.
   I told her I would have to see the letters first and that I wanted a handwriting expert to examine them as well.
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  'All right,' she answered. I waited for her to continue. She did. 'But only on one condition.'
'  'What's that?' I asked.
   'I want $10,000 in cash, before anyone sees the letters!'
'I'll have to think about that,' I said.
She got up to go. She had taken only a few bites of the salmon she had ordered.
'All right. I'll get in touch/contact with you tomorrow at your hotel. If you haven't made up your mind by then, the letters go to someone else!'

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After/When she had left, I asked the waiter if he knew her name.
'Didn't she tell you?' he asked.
'I wouldn't be asking if she had,' I answered.
'Really? Then obviously she didn't want you to know, did she?' he said, casually waving/holding/dropping the bill in front of me.>>

Had it not been for the implications the canons of beauty have in our daily lives, this "old" topic would have stopped right here; but it seems that beauty and the desire to be forever young deserve some more attention as topics of the 21st century. At least that's what turns out from Norma Jean's intense existence, and that's why the title of this blog entry tries to suggest more: that the Marilyn myth is still past forgetting.

Looking forward to your comments from the perspective of the generation gap.