My Weekend With Marilyn
The Sex Symbol's Sonic Secret
by Madison Love
It was the weekend after Valentine's Day, it was the weekend I took a breather from writing music, and it was my weekend with Marilyn. This much-needed movie marathon began with a clip of "I Wanna Be Loved by You," a 1928 copyright written by Herbert Stothart and Harry Ruby with lyrics by Bert Kalmar from the 1959 motion picture Some Like It Hot. The platinum blonde knockout bouncing up and down ever so slightly in a seductive yet poised fashion was the one, the only Ms. Marilyn Monroe. In this scene, her gown had a see-through top with silver diamonds hiding her nipples and then continued down to a sparkly full-length skirt. Her earrings dangled rhythmically to the beat of the song. Her radiance intensified as specks of white light rotated across her body from what we would now call a disco ball. Little scat adlibs like "booboopedoo" are designed to hypnotize audiences with her sex appeal. But since sex appeal is Ms. Monroe's claim to fame, I don't want to smother the reader with more descriptions of her physical appearance. I'm more interested in the extent to which her voice was the true source of her allure. Of course the whole package is what made her an icon, but when she opens her mouth is when I felt the heat.
Not many are aware that the glamorous celebrity once known as Norma Jeane Baker suffered from low self-esteem, which caused her to develop a stammer when she was in junior high. So with her acting career already begun, she pursued singing lessons. Vocal coach Phil Moore shaped her distinctive voice when she starred in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953. In order to ease her stammer, she was told to "lower her tone," which would enable her to execute lines calmly and take them at a slower pace. Moore is quoted in Adam Victor's The Marilyn Encyclopedia as saying, "She always sounds as if she was waking up, you'd be surprised what kind of effect that has on male listeners." Her drama coach Natasha Lytess was also a contributor to her tone, training her to cultivate an "exaggerated clarity and staccato stressing of 'd' and 't'." And ultimately, the solution to her self-esteem problem became an element of her star power.
Psychologist David Huron, a professor of music and head of Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory at Ohio State University, describes Monroe's voice as "wet." Motivational speaker Sally Hogshead went into depth on Huron's theory in a 2009 article. She quotes him as saying, "When we see something we want to eat, when we receive praise, and even when we hug our children, our mouths literally water. In any type of pleasure state, our mouths produce more saliva. Our tongues move more fluidly within the mucous membranes of our mouth, creating 'oral wetness cues.'" This cue is considered a reflex, but it changes the sound of one's voice: "oral wetness offers an unspoken invitation to move closer." Using "Happy Birthday Mr. President" on Marilyn Monroe's album The Essential Recordings as an example, one can hear how this reflex made her increase her air intake, so that there was more air hitting her vocal cords and her singing became breathier. Huron called this performance an "aurally pornographic masterpiece" and this technique continued as part of her brand image.
In 1957 Marilyn wrote the following meditation:"In every spring the green [of the ancient maples] is too sharp—though the delicacy in their form is sweet and uncertain—it puts up a good struggle in the wind—trembling all the while… I think I am very lonely—my mind jumps. I see myself in the mirror now, brow furrowed—if I lean close I'll see—what I don't want to know—tension, sadness, disappointment, my ["blue" is crossed out] eyes dulled, cheeks flushed with capillaries that look like rivers on maps—hair lying like snakes. The mouth makes me the sadd[est], next to my dead eyes…"Monroe was a tortured soul who killed herself with a drug overdose. I believe she spent her whole life trying to suppress her childhood as an orphan, and craved adoration from anyone who was close to her. She was a goddess musically, physically, and on the big screen, but that was all an act. Even her voice was manufactured for Hollywood.
Marilyn Monroe's effortless bedroom eyes blinked with genuine seductiveness for the cameras but smeared into black raccoon circles in private. Her beauty and her voice will forever be immortalized on screen and in her songs, but as for her actual personality, we will never know. I wonder what would have became of Marilyn without that voice, or how famous she would've been on film or on recordings if she opened her mouth and spoke like Fran Drescher.
My father has spent his career teaching singers, motivational speakers, and successful entrepreneurs how important your voice is. He says and I quote,"Your voice reveals your true identity to the outside world. It tells people, both directly and indirectly if you are confident, dependable, and intelligent. Or just as powerfully, your voice can make you seem shy, insecure, dumb, drab, and boring. Your voice not only makes you who you are, but also who other people think you are. Those people deal with you every day. They're the ones who will decide what role you will play in their lives. They will base their decisions on who they perceive you to be, a perception based heavily on your voice."So, I conclude that Ms. Monroe's voice is the key to what made her an icon.
Monroe, Marilyn, and Stanley F. Buchthal. Marilyn Monroe: Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters. London: Harper Collins, 2010.
Sally, Hogshead. "Marilyn Monroe's Wet Voice." Sally Hogshead RSS. December 4, 2009. Accessed March 1, 2015. http://sallyhogshead.com/hogblog/marilyn-monroes-wet-voice.
Victor, Adam. The Marilyn Encyclopedia. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1999.
"Watch TV Shows & Movies Anytime, Anywhere Plans from $7.99 a Month." Netflix. Accessed March 1, 2015. https://www.netflix.com/?locale=en-US.
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