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Updated 24 April 2014

Marilyn vs. designer skeletons

Marilyn Monroe would have been 78 now. How has her beauty remained intact in an era of designer skeletons?

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Marilyn Monroe would have been 78 now. Forty years after her death, she still shares the pantheon of the forever young with James Dean. How has her beauty remained intact in an era of über-waifs and designer skeletons?

By today’s standards Marilyn is big. Of all the celebrities, perhaps only Kate Winslet and Sophie Dahl have similar dimensions. Yet she remains an icon of femininity. In an era of instant celebrities and 15 minutes of fame, she’s instantly recognizable. Her aura is undimmed and greater than celebs at the other end of the scale, such as Kate Moss and Calista Flockhart.

A 1998 poll conducted by Playboy magazine voted Monroe "the steamiest siren in the world," ahead of other late stars such as Jane Mansfielfd, Rita Hayworth and Jean Harlow and others who are still alive, such as Pamela Anderson and Cindy Crawford. The evergreen Sophie Loren was sixth.

What makes her sexy and captivating enough to be imitated – perhaps parodied - by Madonna, Debbie Harry, Kylie Minogue, and countless drag queens?

It’s been called the X-factor: a combination of sexuality almost child-like vulnerability that makes men perspire and evokes either wistful envy or white-knuckled jealousy in many women.

She is perhaps the ultimate mascot of Hollywood: She represents artifice and allure that millions willingly buy into, year after year.

And buy into it they do. There are thousands of Marilyn fan sites on the internet, with varying levels of lust and idolatry. For the more well-heeled, there’s memorabilia: a 1999 auction at Christie’s auction house in London flogged some of the contents of Marilyn’s wardrobe, fetching R84 million – eight times more than expected.

Would she have grown more lovely with age, like Catherine Deneuve, or would she have turned into Barbara Cartland? That’s part of the allure: we’ll never know. In death, Marilyn has become inviolate. Her dewy eyes are undimmed, her smile forever radiant. (William Smook)

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