Lindsey Lohan, curled on the red drapes in the classic Marilyn Monroe pose that launched Playboy magazine, has a bit of it. Also, the ever-amazing Michelle Williams, who depicted the deceased actress in the recent movie My Week with Marilyn, caught a big part of it, too. The it is Marilyn Monroe's it. The it is stardom.
As I was looking at a rare red lunar eclipse of the moon (online, I must confess -- I slept right through the actual event after another long week), I thought about stars, long looked up to, even idolized...and what Marilyn had, and what others have not got, and what it means to be a star in the first place. It speaks to a New Yorker, because, it was here that Marilyn Monroe, like so many, came to study acting. In Marilyn's case, to work with the legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
And besides just selling magazines, a star is a media phenomenon, and reflects on what the public considers important at that moment in time. And New York is still, arguably, the news capital of the world.
New York is the filter, still, just barely, that sifts out what makes a person famous. It was also here that Michelle Williams lived with Heath Ledger, and she has touched on the insecurites of an actor, something that makes her, too, so like Marilyn. She is still, at least an honorary, New Yorker; she lives just a few hours out of town, in a countryside that once was the Borscht Belt, and if that ain't star territory, what is?
And even Lindsey Lohan, whose main residence is in Los Angeles, where she has a much easier commute to her day job at the Los Angeles county morgue, claimed in November during a lawsuit against rapper PitBull, that her official residence is with her mother in Nassau country--close enough. The L.A. county morgue, just by the way, smells vaguely of rotting chicken, and there is a corner locked off with some chain-link fence to keep the bodies of the famous out of reach of ghoulish souvenir-seekers. A velvet rope even in death. And please don't ask me how I know, but I do. Lohan, certainly embodies the insecurities that drove the woman she imitated in the pages of Playboy.
A brief aside: Monroe was a star, of course, as are Lohan and Williams, but technically, I'm aware that, of course, the moon is not a star, but rather a satellite, the fifth largest in our Solar System. Just a bit of poetic exaggeration with no intention to connect these three stars and one satellite together, any more than metaphorically.
I think that New York has a real claim on Monroe, Williams and Lohan, as it does on any actor, because this is a main focal point for acting and for studying the craft of acting. Monroe came here, already a star, and took class at the legendary studio. The bottom line, for me at least, about studying in New York (and I mean this without any intention of dissing fine and dedicated acting teachers everywhere else, is summed up pretty much by the old song lyiric, If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.)
New York is a hard place to live, noisy and crowded and full of stress. For struggling actors it has mean streets and can be chocked full of harsh rebuffs. But it also provides a community of like-minded, also struggling, actors, directors, film makers, and the like. And that community is a rich source of creative inspiration and a deep well of learning for all who tolerate the troubles with New York, in acting or any other career, and practice their arts and crafts here.
But there is something else that binds all these actresses together in New York. In a big city, you are forced to look at things, to test your comfortable assumptions about people and basic ideas in a way that you can avoid in the quiet solitude of country living. Or when living solely among like-minded people in more homogeneous communities. And there is one thing these three women have in common, as actors, and perhaps as stars. They look at things deep inside themselves that other people do not look at. There is nowhere better than a big city to force you to do that.
To look into their eyes, not always but sometimes, is to see that they are connecting with emotions and memories that we, not of that craft, conveniently block off and hide away. The loss of a loved one, the momentary gasp, when staring at the Moon, of being so existentially alone. This unblinking vision, this staring at the actuality of life, in a profoundly personal way, is the thing that makes all the rest of us relate to these people, these stars. It is that they represent out there, apart from us, some feeling or thought we are rarely brave enough to look at ourselves.
So often, personal tragedy is a lever into these places for actors. Just as it is a lever we each use to forget our suffering, to block away terrible things that have happened. And to minimize wonderful things, too, in order to minimize the feeling that we might ever lose such happiness. But all things come and go. What each of these actresses could do is to tap into that current. To hold it for long enough a moment to reveal it, first to themselves, and then to the world.
When I look at Monroe, Williams and Lohan, I see the industrious, unblinking hard work it takes to make that commitment. Sad as the vagaries of their lives and for two of them their careers, may be, it's best to remember that these people are not part of the side-show, they are the artists in the center ring. And it is and was a combinations of gifts and grit that got them there.