Norma Jeane’s childhood heroes were the ones she saw on the screen at Saturday matinees: Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable. Of these, Marilyn felt a lifelong attachment to Harlow and Garbo, actresses who, like herself, were as lonely and unhappy in their personal lives as they were celebrated on-screen. As for Gable, ever since she was a little girl Norma Jeane had dreamed that the handsome actor with the dashing mustache was her real father. Norma Jeane gave first husband James Dougherty a statue of General MacArthur, leading some biographers to speculate that he was an early hero of hers.
In 1954 she listed the men she thought were the most outstanding of the time: Marlon Brando, Michael Chekhov, John Huston, Jerry Lewis, Arthur Miller and Jawaharlal Nehru.
By the mid-fifties, when she was studying the art of acting with Lee Strasberg, a man she admired for the last decade of her life, Marilyn’s acting heroes were classic Italian stage actress Eleanora Duse, and character actors Will Rogers and Marie Dressler, people who, as she said, “As soon as you looked at them, you paid attention because you know: They’ve lived; they’ve learned.”
Outside the entertainment world, Marilyn greatly admired men of genius integrity: Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandburg, and Lincoln Steffens. Before his fall from grace, Arthur Miller was also in this category.
- The Marilyn Encyclopedia