If you’re an actor, playing pretend is pretty much your everyday routine, so in order to stand out, you really have to do it big time.
Marilyn Monroe arguably is the sex symbol that overshadowed all others last century, so she really needn’t go into that kind of game, but she did it anyway.
The result of a shot with Richard Avedon in 1957, Marilyn impersonated 5 famous women, all of which left their mark in the sexiness hall of fame (and in a time sexy did not mean showing your crotch or insane amounts of skin).
Marilyn as Jean Harlow
Known as the Blonde Bomshell due to her platinum blonde hair, her own career and life trajectory sadly mirrored Marilyn’s, seen as her laughing vamp image hid a personal life strife with tragedy that led to her untimely death due to kidney failure at the age of 26.
Marilyn as Clara Bow
A sex symbol of the silent movies era, she defined the flapper roaring twenties image. Her bohemian lifestyle and energetic personality made her socially undesired in Hollywood (clearly an era without tabloids and paparazzi’s who would have loved someone this lively).
The pressures of fame, public scandals and overwork took their toll on Bow’s already fragile emotional health. She ended up in a sanatorium before eventually quitting Hollywood and dying from heart failure at the age of 60.
Marilyn as Lillian Russell
Lillian was of the most famous actresses and singers of the late 19th century and early 20th century, known for her beauty and style, as well as for her voice and stage presence. She tried her hand at a number of stage styles from operettas to burlesque and vaudeville, always with great success. She was also a very socially active woman using her image to advocate women’s suffrage and other causes.
Russell died on 1922, shortly after completing a fact-finding mission to Europe on behalf of the President. She suffered apparently minor injuries on the return trip, which led to complications and died shortly later. She was buried with full military honors.
Marilyn as Theda Bara in Cleopatra
Silent film actress Theda Bara was one of the most popular screen actresses of her era and was one of cinema’s earliest sex symbols. Her femme fatale roles and her skimpy Oriental-themed costumes earned her the nickname “The Vamp” (short for vampire).
The studios promoted Bara with a massive publicity campaign, billing her as the Egyptian-born daughter of a French actress and an Italian sculptor. They claimed she had spent her early years in the Sahara Desert under the shadow of the Sphinx, then moved to France to become a stage actress. (In fact, Bara had never even been to Egypt or France.) They called her the “Serpent of the Nile” and encouraged Bara to discuss mysticism and the occult in interviews.
Her career though eventually waned and she died of cancer in 1955.
Marilyn as Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel
Deemed by the AFI as the the ninth greatest female star of all time (Marilyn was number 6 on the list), Marlene started her career on the bigscreen in Germany, with a number of small roles until she achieved stardom with “The Blue Angel”, after which she moved to Hollywood. Following a period of great fame and recognition, her career staled and she abandoned the big screen completely and started performing exclusively in cabarets and on stage. Towards the end of her life though, she became notoriously reclusive and she eventually died in 1992 at the age of 90.