Photos: The many faces of Marilyn Monroe

See the impersonators that perpetuate an All-American woman.

  • Emily Berl
  • "It's almost like art, where people see what they want to see with it. Sometimes they'll be like, 'Oh you're the spitting image, you look so much like Marilyn.' And I'm thinking in my head, 'Okay I know I'm not.' ... You put on the white dress and they really, truly see what they want to see." Jane, Taylor, Texas.

    Emily Berl
  • "The thing that was hardest for me was trying to figure out: what did she sound like? What was her voice like? Her real voice, her personality when she wasn't on. You can find interviews of her on the radio not in character, and it's fascinating. It's different than her characters, very soft-spoken. But I've met people who knew her who said she wasn't like that behind closed doors. And she didn't have a soft, airy voice. What was she like when no cameras were rolling? In her bedroom? With her husband? Or when she was in a fight? I have to use my imagination because no one really knows." Jodi, Los Angeles, California.

    Emily Berl
  • "Every day I see the RKO Water tower that Marilyn stared at when she was was in the Hollygrove Orphanage as a child. ... So I always call it my wishing well." Holly, Los Angeles, California.

    Emily Berl
  • "You go into an event and everybody wants to be in a picture with you. Everybody wants to hold your hand. Everybody wants to have a piece of Marilyn. Everybody in the world wants their piece of Marilyn." Emily, San Diego, California.

    Emily Berl
  • "I think people just feel she was never fully 100% happy. And it's like you just want to protect her. Everyone says now, 'If I had been there in her life, I could have saved her.' Everyone wants to save Marilyn." Jami, Las Vegas, Nevada.

    Emily Berl
  • "My proudest moments are when I get a laugh saying something that she said. It makes me feel like I'm reminding people why they liked her so much." Ashley, Los Angeles, California.

    Emily Berl

 

When Emily Berl moved to Los Angeles in 2012, she saw Marilyn Monroe everywhere. “Her image was so ubiquitous that it blended into everyday life,” as she writes in her 2018 book, Marilyn. Berl’s portraits study Monroe’s image as reflected by impersonators in the U.S. and beyond, particularly in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the Netherlands. They reveal Monroe as both a tragic Hollywood icon and something closer to a mood, both vague and variable. Some women sport their blond wigs and red lips in front of mirrors, while others appear in gardens. The most striking images show women posing outside stucco houses in Nevada, bringing costumed glamour to bland suburban sprawl — creating replicas within replicas. Marilyn gives the impersonators the last word. “Everyone says now, ‘If I had been there in her life, I could have saved her,’ ” a model named Jami says. “Everyone wants to save Marilyn.”

Marilyn, By Emily Berl
96 pages, hardcover: $49.
Sturm & Drang Publishers, 2018