This summer, I have been reflecting on the biopics that are hot topics in 2022. Two legends come to mind which are Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. The new Elvis movie and the upcoming movie called Blonde is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ book Blonde. I recently read and reviewed the book. Both of their lives were tortuous in some ways, which happens too often with our great artists.
Like the oyster creating that precious and sought-after pearl, the irritations, aggravations and agitations churn together to develop something extraordinary and timeless. The fascination with these two lives never dies and the beauty of technology allows us to revisit them over and over again. Our lives today are much richer because they lived and endured as long as they could withstand the onslaughts.
Nikki Giovanni wrote a Poem for Aretha many years ago. She penned, “We eat up our artists like there is going to be a famine in the end.” She added, “She (Aretha) has to pass out before anyone recognizes she needs a little rest.” Her words spoke volumes then and continue to ring true today as we watch our artists burn out and expire right before our eyes. The list is endless.
Our gifted ones are too often pushed beyond the brink and their bodies give out from exhaustion. Janis Joplin pleaded for some time off but they are seen as cash cows for the big marketeers. Few are protecting their physical and mental heath so that they can rest and rejuvenate like ordinary human beings.
Those in their close inner circles who are now known as their handlers, as if they are livestock, both revere and revile them. Some, harboring hidden envy of their magic, are complicit in their demises by working them like mules. Many may not know that they have private traveling doctors on hand to constantly inject them like inflatable balloons. Then they push them on stage whether they are clothed in their right minds or not. They drown them with pills, indulge them in alcohol, or surround them with their drug of choice, just to keep the dollars flowing.
The Elvis movie exposed some of this but it did not tell all of the story. After researching, I discovered that while he was technically in Las Vegas, they were still having him perform nightly in cities around the country. Back then, travel alone was an exploitative piece of the puzzle. So, by the time he got to the next city, he may have been gorged out of his mind. And yes, he may have forgotten the lyrics to some of the 450 songs in his repertoire. But, thank goodness, he had Graceland to retreat to where it all ended.
Judy Garland, who started as a child actor has homeless at the end of her journey, according to the movie, Judy. And Marilyn was basically homeless being moved from house to house that the studio provided until she finally had her own house for a few months before she passed on. Both women made millions for the movie industry for which they could never be adequately compensated. In Marilyn’s last days, her make-up artist would paint her white for up to five hours like a porcelain doll to try to conceal the evidence of her ravaged body before she finally made it to rehearsal or onstage because ‘the show must go on!‘
The beauty of it all? The art remains and their work remains. Both obviously had the inner stuff and could put it together like no other. They are simply unmatchable. Young people are Googling them and eyes are still oggling them. This year, a young Hollywood star even wore Marilyn’s iconic dress. Elvis has sold over a billion records, more than anyone else in record industry history. I am certain they enjoyed wearing those high fashions and specially designed pieces on their good days . Elvis and Marilyn are now smiling down from heaven and sighing, “Oh well. It worked out!”
August 13, 2022