The glamour, heartbreak and inspiration of Hollywood's golden age
I have always had a fascination with the female celebrities of yesteryear: Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and the like. Long after their deaths, their tastes in fashion, their beauty, and iconic film roles and songs continue to exert a strong influence on society, their hairstyles, make-up and dresses being emulated again and again. But given their often sad or turbulent private lives, I wonder what it is about them that I admire so much.
For sure, the 1950s had stars that epitomised grace, charm, finesse and womanly elegance, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly are among my other favourites - ladies who presented themselves in such a respectable manner on and off screen.
Yet for all their onscreen perfection, they often made headlines with their private lives, some even having affairs with married men. The more scandalous they were, the more interested I was in reading about them. In fact, it was their personal life more than their flawless Hollywood persona that interested me the most. Women who were so glamorous, so perfect on screen, I imagined they would have perfect private lives as well. To my dismay I discovered many of the stars of this era were truly broken beneath it all.
Marilyn Monroe was probably the most controversial star of her time. Despite her gorgeous looks and appeal, she was unhappy and went from relationship to relationship. Her private life was unfolded to the world through the press and for me at least, the saddest thing about her was the fact that the public started to view her only as an image - a sex symbol admired by many on that basis alone. I've always believed Marilyn was more than that, that she was a real woman with feelings. And what I sympathise with a lot is the enormous pressure she was under to always appear sweet and perky when on the inside she was deeply unhappy.
Marilyn actually began her career wanting to be an actress, not a pin-up, but in the process, she became a sexualised image and she accepted that. As a Christian, it is perhaps controversial to admit that Marilyn Monroe is one of my idols, but I can't help but adore her childlike innocence and the desire she had simply to be loved. As a Christian, I can definitely relate to the pressure to project the perfect image of ourselves to the world when we know we have imperfections. Despite the image we project, we just want to be loved as we are. I could judge Marilyn but instead I choose to appreciate her.
Ava Gardner was argumentative, used risqué language and was certainly a free-spirit. She was described as having a striking beauty about her that would simply take your breath away – the media described her as a 'femme fatale'. She also spoke freely about her relationships to the media and her most famous relationship was with Frank Sinatra whom she later married. Sinatra even left his wife, Nancy, for her.
But the marriage was volatile and she later claimed this was the reason why she aborted their child. I find her ambition and will to succeed fascinating. She said years later: "MGM had all sorts of penalty clauses about their stars having babies." In a separate interview, she commented, "We couldn't even take care of ourselves. How were we going to take care of a baby?"
Reading about her life story only brought tears to my eyes. A woman who was described as one of the most beautiful female Hollywood stars of her generation and who embodied glamour lived what ultimately became a sad and lonely life full of pain and losing her greatest love. It makes me wonder what we all give up along the journey of life and whether it is worth it in the end. I would love to ask her if she would have done things differently if she had a second chance at life.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are other celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly who were classy, elegant, charming and attempted to keep their private lives private. Grace Kelly was a calm and collected actress who left her career behind to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. As Christians, we no doubt find it easier to relate to Audrey and Grace and look to them as role models, but maybe I'm drawn more to the flaws rather than the perfections because that's what makes them so human. At the end of the day, I may be Christian but I'm also human, and I have my flaws just as these stars did. I continue to find the sadness in the lives of Marilyn and Ava so intriguing and perhaps I would just like to learn from their mistakes in the hopes of not making the same mistakes they did, both in work and in love.