By Rev. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
January 29, 2021
Recently I came across a fascinating story about Norma Jean Mortenson, as told by Father John Powell, a Jesuit priest, and author.
“Norma Jean Mortenson. Remember that name? Norma Jean’s mother, Mrs. Gladys Baker, was periodically committed to a mental institution, and Norma Jean spent much of her childhood in foster homes. In one of those foster homes, when she was eight years old, one of the boarders raped her and gave her a nickel. He said, ‘Here, Honey. Take this and don’t ever tell anyone what I did to you.’ When little Norma Jean went to her foster mother to tell her what had happened, she was beaten badly. She was told, ‘Our boarder pays good rent. Don’t ever say anything bad about him!’ Norma Jean, at the age of eight, had learned what it was to be used and given a nickel and beaten for trying to express the hurt that was in her.
“Norma Jean turned into a very pretty young girl, and people began to notice. Boys whistled at her, and she began to enjoy that, but she always wished they would see she was a person too – not just a body – or a pretty face – but a person.
“Then Norma Jean went to Hollywood and took a new name – Marilyn Monroe, and the publicity people told her, ‘We are going to create a modern sex symbol out of you.’ And this was her reaction, ‘A symbol? Aren’t symbols things people hit together?’ They said, ‘Honey, it doesn’t matter because we are going to make you the most smoldering sex symbol that ever hit the celluloid.’
“She was an overnight smash success, but she kept asking, ‘Did you also notice I am a person? Would you please notice?’ Then she was cast in the dumb blonde roles.
“Everyone hated Marilyn Monroe. Everyone did. She would keep her crews waiting two hours on the set. She was regarded as a selfish prima donna. What they didn’t know was that she was in her dressing room vomiting because she was so terrified.
“She kept saying, ‘Will someone, please notice I am a person. Please.’ They didn’t notice. They wouldn’t take her seriously.
“She went through three marriages – always pleading, ‘Take me seriously as a person.’ Everyone kept saying, ‘But, you are a sex symbol. You can’t be other than that.’
“Marilyn kept saying, ‘I want to be a person. I want to be a serious actress.’
“And so on that Saturday night, at the age of 35 when all beautiful women are supposed to be on the arm of a handsome escort, Marilyn took her own life. She killed herself.
“When her maid found her body the next morning, she noticed the telephone was off the hook. It was dangling there beside her.
“Later investigation revealed that in the last moments of her life, she had called a Hollywood actor and told him she had taken enough sleeping pills to kill herself. He answered her with the famous line of Rhett Butler, which I now edit for the church, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t care!’ That was the last word she heard. She dropped the phone – left it dangling.
“Claire Booth Luce, in a very sensitive article, asked, ‘What really killed Marilyn Monroe, love goddess who never found any love?’ She said she thought the dangling telephone was the symbol of Marilyn Monroe’s whole life. She died because she never got through to anyone who understood.'”
It could be argued that the tragic life of Norma Jean is a perfect illustration of the consequences of objectifying women as sex objects. Whether it’s porn, prostitution, or something as seemingly harmless as seductive popular fashion, a woman’s dignity and personhood are significantly diminished when her sexuality is elevated as paramount or equal to her worth. What’s unfortunate is that although Marilyn was a victim of the same, she also became a willing participant and, therefore, in a sense, was killing herself all along.
However, something more important than a statement against treating women as mere sex objects is what God would like to do for all the Norma Jeans of the world – for all the people who have gotten caught up in a cycle of abuse, who lost their way, and thereby act out in all sorts of negative and self-destructive ways.
God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to seek out and save the lost. The love of God demonstrated on the Cross of Christ proves our value to him.
Jesus once taught about one’s worth to God in a parable about a man who found a priceless treasure in a field and sold everything he had to buy that field so he could possess that treasure (Matthew 13:44-46). The apostle John wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (I John 4:12).
To all the Norma Jeans, God says you are priceless to him. He wants to redeem your life and satisfy that insatiable hunger of the soul to belong – to be loved – to be valued.
I’ll add this for my Christian brethren. If our Christian activism doesn’t convey this love, we’re doing it the wrong way. Whether we are advocating for or against some policy initiative, whether we admonish or rebuke, if this redeeming love is not detected in our tone or demeanor, we are to an unregenerate world but a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1).