Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m.Blonde

“Women are all female impersonators to some degree.”
― Susan Brownmiller

On a recent trip I enjoyed my chosen airplane book so much that I found myself without a distraction for my next flight. As soon as I was on solid ground once more, I hurried to the closest airport newsstand, hoping to find something more than Stephen King or the latest chick-flick-to-be. There, hitting the perfect note between “completely escapist nonsense” and “way too heavy” was Sam Wasson’s Fifth Avenue, 5:00 AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Dawn of the Modern Woman. The prose was a little too clever for its own good, I thought at first, but it was addictive. Like too-salty popcorn, I inhaled it greedily, discovering just how little I knew about Audrey Hepburn, Truman Capote and that movie that is considered a classic (except for that whole Mickey Rooney as a Japanese man, we’ll just grimace and forget about that part, ok?). The thing that really caught my attention was Audrey Hepburn’s relationship with Mel Ferrer, which, to all accounts was downright emotionally abusive. As I read about the ways he would humiliate her in public, and repeatedly broadcast his discomfort with his wife’s success, I looked back at pictures of Audrey Hepburn in a very different light. All these years later, I, too, had fallen prey to the Hollywood machine: I had seen awe-inspiring beauty but not the (beautiful, fallible, insecure) person within.

When I went to Netflix to see if Breakfast at Tiffany’s might be available for instant viewing (it’s not, by the way) I discovered Some Like It Hot there waiting to be watched. Knowing that Marilyn Monroe was Truman Capote’s first choice for Holly Golightly, I gave it a try, and had two simultaneous reactions:

1) This is a terrible, silly movie in which men (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) get first-hand experience about how hard it is for women to be objectified, but still go ahead and deceive, objectify and manipulate the object of their desire (Marilyn Monroe);

2) My god, Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Baker) was a beautiful woman. Seriously.

After that, I decided to read Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates, which had been recommended by a friend several weeks ago. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of Marilyn Monroe, and it’s amazingly written and painful and glorious and makes my heart ache for all the beautiful, smart, wonderful women who were broken down and used by a system that sees their only value in their beauty.

I’ve had Elton John in my head all week.

Some last words by Ani DiFranco seem fitting:

“and god help you if you are an ugly girl
course too pretty is also your doom
cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
for the prettiest girl in the room
and god help you if you are a phoenix
and you dare to rise up from the ash
a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy
while you are just flying there”

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