Arts & Culture News

Another Starlet as Marilyn, and 11 Other Magazine Cover Tropes We're Tired Of

Oh, no, not that again. But there she is, actress Michelle Williams on the cover of the October Vogue, trussed into a white gown and done up as Marilyn Monroe for an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot.

Williams, from Dawson's Creek to now, is a good little actress. But dressing her up as Marilyn and slapping her on a photo layout in poses like a pouty Marilyn manqué? It's been done, and better, a thousand times. And by actresses and models with much better bodies ... of work.

Madonna did it for the 1985 "Material Girl" video, Vanity Fair and too many photo spreads to count. Britney Spears did it for Esquire. Anna Nicole Smith, Scarlett Johannson, Paris Hilton, Portia DiRossi, Catherine Hicks, Poppy Montgomery, Amanda Holden, Amanda Lepore, Ashley Judd, Lisa Marie Presley, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Kim Basinger, Pamela Anderson, Kim Kardashian, RuPaul, Rudi Giuliani (!), every woman who ever lived in the Playboy Mansion -- they've all succumbed to the white-dress-white-hair-red-lipstick pose as Marilyn. (If you want to do it, here's a step-by-step guide.)

Barbara Walters and Katie Couric both went as MM for Halloween jokes on their TV talk shows. Barbara was particularly terrifying as she is 107 years old, shaped like a dried shrimp and stayed "in character" for the whole hour. Shiver.

Michael Musto, our brother pop culturalist at our sister The Village Voice, mocked Lindsay Lohan's attempt at Marilyn for a New York Magazine cover by doing his own shoot posing as Lindsay doing Marilyn. Naked.

Of all the fake Marilyns, it's creepy that Lohan probably has the most in common with the real thing, what with the shitty childhood, drug addictions and bad romances. All Lohan lacks is the talent and great work on film. That the odds are good that she'll be dead of an overdose by age 36 gives her even more checks in the "most like Marilyn" column. If only she could marry playwright Sam Shepard before that to complete the category.

Making any young actress or old drag queen do Marilyn is just cruel. She's been dead since 1962, but being made up to masquerade as Marilyn has become a rite of passage for every young blond actress on her way up in the business -- like dating David Spade or presenting at the Golden Globes. Countdown to the Elle-Fanning-as-young-Marilyn layout in 3, 2, 1 ....

The obsession is odd, considering that no actress shaped like the real Marilyn could make it onto the cover of Vogue now. The woman's measurements were 37-23-37. She wore a size 12 dress. (Williams, after a heavy meal, is probably a zero or 2.) Marilyn peroxided her pubes (remember those?) and her breasts were real.

The Marilyn pose is nothing but a lazy fallback idea for fashion editors and celebrity photographers (we're talking to you, Leibovitz). Forcing an actress like Michelle Williams to do it only reminds us of her shortcomings as an actress and sex symbol. Williams, more pretty elf than bombshell, has done some good work in films such as Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine. But could she ever manage a role as iconic as Marilyn's sexy Sugar Kane in Some Like It Hot? Unlikely. She'll never have a director for comedy as great as Billy Wilder, for one thing. Or co-stars on the level of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.

Instead, Williams is attempting to play Marilyn Monroe as she was in a much worse film for the upcoming My Week with Marilyn. It's a movie about the making of the 1957 comedy dud The Prince and the Showgirl, and the clash between Marilyn and actor Sir Laurence Olivier as they filmed it. (The original is notable for one thing: Marilyn wears the same tight beaded costume in almost every scene.)

As Williams tells Vogue in the puff-piece cover story, she "became" Marilyn thusly: "I'd fall asleep to movies of her. It was like when you were a kid and you'd put a book under your pillow hoping you'd get it by osmosis."

(If this really works, I shall soon wake up as John Cleese. I sleep to episodes of Fawlty Towers.)

Michelle Williams will never be the next Marilyn Monroe. Even Marilyn, whose real name was Norma Jeane Baker, had to work at it. "She comes out of the dressing room Norma Jeane," said author and director Lawrence Schiller, who co-wrote a biography about her with Norman Mailer. "When she stepped in front of the camera, she was Marilyn."

So enough with the magazine Marilyns. And let's retire these tired cover and photo spread clichés while we're at it: • Hitchcock blondes and any visual plagiarism of the Grace Kelly/Tippi Hedren look. • Alice in Wonderland, done at least twice in recent years by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue. • The hands-over-bare-boobs pose. Janet Jackson did it best on Rolling Stone, shot by Patrick Demarchelier. Let her have the trophy and move on. • Young comic actors, male or female, in Charlie Chaplin drag. • The 1950s housewife-plays-house poses. It's felt icky ever since Brangelina did it for W, shot by Steven Klein. • Naked starlets wrapped in rumpled white bedsheets. Jennifer Aniston's version of the Marilyn. • Abbey Road. No more barefoot bands on a zebra crossing. • Ballgown at the circus. Went out with Jean Shrimpton in the 1960s. • Models fluffed out like Jean Shrimpton in the 1960s. • Saucy librarian poses and any other porn-inspired fantasy. • Grant Wood's "American Gothic." The most overused and abused image copied from the art world. When anyone from the art department suggests this as a cover idea, get the pitchfork.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner