It started with Marilyn, the postwar prototype of the perfect woman. Film Noir primed us for her, but Noir's world was black and white—Lana Turner the platinum virtue signaler; Veronica Lake the femme fatale; Rita Hayworth the firecracker. Suddenly there was Marilyn. She was blonde. She was perfect. She was alive. Marilyn Monroe was the American Public's reward for the Great Depression and the sacrifices of WWII.
Imitations were inevitable—Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Mansfield, Joey Heatherton—but none had what Marilyn had. Marilyn defined the Blonde, birthing the clichés: Gentlemen prefer blondes. Blondes have more fun. Blondes aren't very bright, but they go all night. And, of course, the jokes: Why does the blonde wear her hair up? To catch everything that goes over her head. How do you keep a blonde at home? Build a circular driveway.
Blondes were arm candy, accoutrements. Blondes were trophies to be displayed and discarded. Blondes were not to be taken seriously.
Netflix takes them seriously. Between premiering the film Blonde at Cannes in 2022 and now the new Anna Nicole Smith biopic. Critics got Blonde wrong: it's not about Marilyn (despite the eerily spot-on impersonation by Ana de Armas); but about us and our delusion about Marilyn. It's a fever dream about our obsession with Blondes, truer to Joyce Carol Oates than Page Six, Oates' prose perfectly interpreted for the screen by director Andrew Dominik. Netflix's new documentary Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me is a surprisingly tender look at a notorious figure, distance sharpening context. Anna Nicole was not merely the trainwreck the tabloids portrayed at the time. She was a woman, like Marilyn, turned into gold.
Similarities to Marilyn abound. MM was Norma Jean Baker, ANS was Vicki Lynn Hogan. Paparazzi plagued them both. Both knew who's their daddy. For Marilyn it was Joltin' Joe and Arthur Miller, at least age appropriate. For Anna Nicole, it was octogenarian billionaire J. Howard Marshall, her 89-year-old savior and sponsor. Where does a billionaire whose wife just died go to find love? A strip club, of course. Marshall found Anna Nicole there and nearly rose from his wheelchair. Their tit-for-tit courtship gave a new wrinkle to romance.
Draw a straight line from Marilyn to Anna Nicole and, as it turns out, it's the end of the line. Anna Nicole was game and zaftig, Macy's Parade Marilyn, made for the tabloids. She didn't have Marilyn's authenticity, her subtext, or her…well, talent. In her later years, devastated by tragedy, she assumed the leanness of a junkie.
Director Ursula Macfarlane sees the person behind the facade. She finds poignancy in Anna Nicole's story: wind whistling through bare trees flanking bare houses in hometown Mexia TX; Anna Nicole narrating the transport by limo of her wide-eyed brother and previously absent biological father, giddily showing them what success and Hef's mansion looked like (only to have her dad "try," off camera, to bed her); moody pans across tangled bedsheets; Marshall's plaintive voice messages, "her man" trying to track down the "love of his life."
Blondes should not be defined by their victimhood. Marilyn and Anna Nicole epitomized their eras, and now their eras are over. Another similarity: neither made it to forty. And another: they both died by overdose. Why did the blonde tiptoe past the medicine cabinet? So she didn't wake the sleeping pills.
They made myth by burning out. Better than that than it is to rust.
Blonde. Directed by Andrew Dominik. 2022. 167 minutes. Available on Netflix.
Anna Nicole Smith: You Don't Know Me. Directed by Ursula Macfarlane. 2023. 116 minutes. Available on Netflix.