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The Metamorphosis of Norma Jean Mortenson, a beige diamond shaped painting. In the center is a topless image of Monroe in front of a yellow star in a rose colored circle. Two rings of text surround this central image. The inner ring contains the actress' name, Marilyn Monroe, and the year "62." The outer ring contains the actress' birth name, Norma Jean Mortenson, and the year "26." Each letter and number in both rings is in a circle of a different color.

The Metamorphosis of Norma Jean Mortenson, 1967. Photo: Courtesy of the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; Artwork: © Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The rise and fall of the Flesh Cult in Hollywood, the birth and demise of one more celluloid goddess only pall in an enormous way, having gone through the gamut in the ‘30’s when going to the movies was substitute for a baby sitter, but Marilyn Monroe was a cut above the ordinary and made the tired old money-making ritual worthwhile again—almost. It was probably her pathetically human, incredibly vulnerable image she exposed on the consciousness of America and the Americanized world. Jean Harlow might have received similar homage in her day if certain artists had been born a generation earlier. Or the Hoosier Carol Lombard whose tragic death during the Second World War—setting off from Indianapolis after a bond rally—affected me more personally, but her death didn’t really become Americana, the Dream. The little California orphan girl whose every dream was fulfilled did win her legend and became the terminal symbol of the Lotus Land the world grew weary of. An irony indeed that her role in “Misfits” was not only her final appearance on the screen, but the vehicle of farewell for her costars Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift as well. The last film for all three. Six divided by two. ’26 the year of her birth; ’62 the year of her death. At two baby Norma Jean was almost suffocated by a hysterical neighbor; at six a member of one of her 12 (6 x 2) foster families tried to rape her. In ’52 (26 + 26) when she was 26, her most cherished ambition of all was realized when she starred in a dramatic role and, in the first week at the Manhattan box office, the film grossed $26,000. Death came by her hand on the sixth day of August, the eighth month (6 + 2 for the last time.) This odd run of numerical coincidences only buttressed my fascination with the subject once I had become intrigued by the metamorphosis of her name itself.

From the letters of her original name someone drew—almost anagrammatically—those of her fame. Three were added; three were subtracted. Six again. In gray. Encircled by the telephone dial-like ring of her destiny and death (it was this instrument she was clutching) Marilyn is posed—in the cosmetic colors of her much vaunted femininity—against the golden star of her dreams though its tips, however, point to the letters I MOON. Her stylized image comes, of course, from the famous nude calendar “Golden Dreams,” which, upon finding by chance in a Greenwich Village shop called “The Tunnel of Love,” I turned over and discovered that our last Goddess of Love had been printed in Indiana.


First published in McCoubrey, John W., and Robert Indiana. Robert Indiana. Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art and Falcon Press, 1968