That’s the Trouble, a Sex Symbol Becomes a Thing. I Just Hate To Be a Thing

Marilyn Monroe? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Glamourous movie icon Marilyn Monroe apparently expressed misgivings about her sex symbol status because she did not wish to be viewed simply as a thing. Would you please help me to find a citation for her remarks on this topic?

Quote Investigator: “LIFE” magazine Associate Editor Richard Meryman and Marilyn Monroe engaged in a series of conversations, and the transcripts were edited into the form of a lengthy monologue which was published in “LIFE” in August 1962 shortly before the death of Monroe. The following passage includes a pun on cymbals versus symbols. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I never quite understood it — this sex symbol — I always thought symbols were those things you clash together! That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing. But if I’m going to be a symbol of something I’d rather have it sex than some other things they’ve got symbols of!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In the same section of the “LIFE” article Monroe depicted natural sexuality positively: 2

I think that sexuality is only attractive when it’s natural and spontaneous. This is where a lot of them miss the boat. And then something I’d just like to spout off on. We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift. Art, real art, comes from it — everything.

The target quotation was placed into a book in the same year it was uttered. Richard Schickel’s 1962 work “The Stars” contained a chapter about Monroe: 3

The week before she took an overdose of sleeping pills and died, a magazine printed an interview with Marilyn Monroe in which she said: “That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate being a thing.” But because symbols are so much easier to manipulate (and to comprehend) than individuals, the world insisted that she remain one.

The quotation has been placed into a variety of reference works. For example, in 1992 “The New York Public Library Book of Twentieth-Century American Quotations” printed a slightly altered version: 4

A sex symbol becomes a thing. I hate being a thing.
MARILYN MONROE, in Jeremy Pascall and Clive Jeavons, A Pictorial History of Sex in the Movies, 1975.

In conclusion, Marilyn Monroe should receive credit for the remark she made in the 1962 interview.

Image Notes: Picture of Marilyn Monroe from “Modern Screen” issue of November 1953; copyright was not renewed. Still image from trailer of the film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” starring Marilyn Monroe.

Notes:

  1. 1962 August 3, LIFE, Volume 53, Number 5, Marilyn Monroe lets her hair down about being famous: “Fame will go by and—so long, I’ve had you”, (Monroe spoke with LIFE Associate Editor Richard Meryman in a series of conversations), Start Page 31, Quote Page 36, Column 3, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1962 August 3, LIFE, Volume 53, Number 5, Marilyn Monroe lets her hair down about being famous: “Fame will go by and—so long, I’ve had you”, (Monroe spoke with LIFE Associate Editor Richard Meryman in a series of conversations), Start Page 31, Quote Page 36, Column 3, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1962 Copyright, The Stars by Richard Schickel, Chapter: Marilyn, Quote Page 265, Bonanza Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1992, The New York Public Library Book of Twentieth-Century American Quotations, Edited by Stephen Donadio, Joan Smith, Susan Mesner and Rebecca Davison, Topic: Fame, Quote Page 251, Column 1, Warner Books Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)