Misquoting Marilyn

By 9th June 2015IM Articles

Marilyn Monroe was known for her ‘Marilynisms’- witty little bon mots, usually an expertly blended mix of innocent and coquette, and her quotes remain popular still. But how many ‘quotes’ attributed to Monroe were actually said by her? With Marilyn quotes appearing on everything from t-shirts to wall decals to tattoos, how many of these oft-repeated words were never said by her in the first place? And how can you tell the difference?

An internet search of “Marilyn Monroe Quotes”, unfortunately, reveals countless misquotes, paraphrasings,  and flat out ridiculous things attributed to Marilyn, as well as quotes that were actually said by other people. Here’s some of the worst examples.


“Well behaved women rarely make history”–This is a great quote, and it’s reproduced everywhere, but the fact is: Marilyn didn’t say it. This quote was said by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Harvard University professor, in a paper about Puritan funeral rituals, of all things. She has since gone on to write a book with the same title.

“We are all stars and deserve the right to twinkle”– This badly mangled quote also shows up a lot, from bumper stickers to Lindsay Lohan’s wrist. It is not even remotely close to what Marilyn Monroe actually said. In a telegram dated June 13, 1962, Marilyn declined an invitation to a party,  writing: “Unfortunately, I am involved in a freedom ride protesting the loss of the minority rights belonging to the few remaining earthbound stars. All we demanded was our right to twinkle.” How that become “We are all stars and deserve the right to twinkle” is beyond me.

“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition”–Again, another strong feminist quote in the “Well behaved women…” vein, but just like that quote, Marilyn never said this one either. This time it was counterculture icon Timothy Leary. This quote resonates with a feminist slant that wasn’t evident until
years after Marilyn died.

“A sex symbol is a heavy load to carry when one is tired, hurt and bewildered.”– Marilyn didn’t say this…..sex symbol Clara Bow said this, supposedly ABOUT
Marilyn after she died.

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” Like so many of these quotes, it is uncertain how it got ascribed to Marilyn, but it’s another she didn’t say. It was originally said by French author and Nobel prize winner André Gide, who actually said “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.” The quote received a surge in popularity when it was paraphrased by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note, and is frequently
attributed as Cobain’s own. How it got assigned to Marilyn is a mystery.


One that has started making the rounds lately is this excessively long ”quote”: “This life is what you make it. Not matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, somg go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And babve, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up becuase if you give up, you’ll never find your soul mate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”

There are so many red flags screaming “Marilyn didn’t say this!”. First, the ‘girls will be your friends…” part. This sounds more like the profound musings of a teenager, not the mature Marilyn Monroe. It is also well known that Marilyn had few girlfriends, none that would be considered to have ”stayed with you through everything” to be considered ”your true best friends”. That is an extremely modern speech pattern and phrasing, and does not sound at all like something a woman in the 1950s/60s, who had difficulty making female friends, would ever say. ”Sisters make the best friends in the world’? Marilyn had a half sister that was she was fond of but only intermittently close with, and they could not have been described as ‘best friends’ even in the most generous of terms. Terms such as ‘soul mate’ and ‘babe’ were not popular during Monroe’s time and only found widespread usage years after her death. She is certainly never recorded using either phrase, and in interviews would not have used phrases such as ‘babe’ or ‘sweetie’. This quote is most assuredly completely made up.

Another that has starting showing up online with increasing frequency is “To all those girls who think they’re fat for not being size 0: its not you who’s ugly,its society.”  First of all, there was no such thing as a size zero in Marilyn’s time…the term was not even invented until 1966 and referred to ultra-skinny model Twiggy. It was years later before fashion designers actually made it a size.
She also would not have said something about being ”fat” or have spoken out for ”curvy empowerment” as people like to make her out to be. In Marilyn’s time her body shape WAS the ideal. (she also was not as ”curvy” as people like to think she was. Her measurements were 37-22-35 and she weighed 117 pounds)


There are five quotes assigned to Marilyn that are exceedingly popular, and can be found everywhere, particularly online socilal networking. However, not one of them has a discernible source. There are no records, (whether in interviews, writings, or press conferences) of Marilyn ever saying any of these, and when explored most of them seem highly unlikely.

“A wise girl kisses but doesn’t love, listens but doesn’t believe, and leaves before she is left.”  This quote is rather cynical for the romantic Monroe. When asked questions about romance or marriage, she usually  responded with a witty quip, or something optimistic. At the very least she would offer something poignant.  This quote is too glib, too neatly packaged, and too downright dour to have the ring of Marilyn’s voice in it.

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”–This one seems to be everybody’s favorite Marilyn quote….except no one can find where she actually ever said it. Does it sound like her? Somewhat, although I can not find other examples of Marilyn referring to herself as  selfish, insecure, out of control, or anything similar. While she did acknowledge issues such as her lateness, failure to show up on set, or rumored difficulty to work with, rather than being defiant she offered both plaintive and valid reasons for her flaws, in the hopes of garnering understanding. Until an interview transcript of Marilyn saying these words can be located,
it should be kept in the ‘questionable’ category.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go. Things go wrong so you can appreciate them when they’re right. You believe lies so eventually you trust no one but yourself. And sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together”—Of all the Questionable Quotes, this one sounds the most like her, but like the others, there is no source material for it. Unless one can find the origins of a Monroe quote, it’s better to take it with a grain of salt.

“I am good, but I am no angel. I sin, but I am not the Devil. I am pretty, but I am not beautiful. I have friends but I am not the peacemaker. I am just a small girl in a big world, trying to find someone to love.”—This is another popular one without a source. It sounds like it’s intentionally trying to be poetic, and does not have the ring of Marilyn’s words and syntax to it. Marilyn tended to be very free-form in what she said, letting words and ideas tumble over one another in interviews, or contrarily, had short witty bon mots for press questions. This quote is a little too intentional, a little too planned out, and simply does not sound like her manner of speaking.

“Imperfection is beauty. Madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring”.—Another very popular quote, once it’s parsed it does not sound like Marilyn at all. “Imperfection is beauty”? Marilyn was well known as being an absolute perfectionist, asking for take after take on the movie set until she felt she got her scene just right. She refused to give moviegoers anything less than what she felt was her absolute best.  She would apply her makeup only to wash it all off and do it over again, taking hours to prepare so that she presented herself to the public as nothing short of absolutely perfect.
After a photo shoot she would pore over contact sheets, destroying any images that she didn’t approve of. In a 1960 interview, she did say: “My one desire is to do my best, the best that I can from the moment the camera starts until it stops. That moment I want to be perfect, as perfect as I can make it.”  Hardly seems that someone so hard wired to perfectionism would say ‘Imperfection is beauty.’. As to the second part, “Madness is genius”, this seems even more unlikely.
Marilyn’s mother suffered from severe mental illness that traumatized the actress when she was a child. As an adult, Marilyn’s biggest fear was inherited madness like her mother’s. Considering her first hand account with what madness truly was, and her deep rooted fear of it, how likely is it that she would
declare it ‘genius’? Not very.


So how can you be certain that a Marilyn Monroe quote is authentic? Find the source and make sure it’s really originating from her. Old footage of press conferences, interviews in vintage magazines, and books by trusted and reputable people. Be cautious- there are a lot of books authored by people who can’t verify that they ever even met Marilyn, let alone quote her verbatim.

My Story: Many famous Marilyn quotes are found in this slim  autobiography. While there has been heated discourse on just how much Marilyn contributed to it and how much was ghostwriter Ben Hecht, Marilyn did sit for interviews for the book, and did approve the final writing before abandoning the project over printing issues. Also giving it some credibility is that the anecdotes presented in My Story are echoed in Marilyn’s own voice in her 1960 interview with Georges Belmont.  These are some quotes found in My Story that we can safely attribute to Marilyn:

“I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, ‘There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me dreaming of being a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.”

“In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo.”

“Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”

“I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn! To change, to improve! I didn’t want anything else. Not men, not money, not love, but the ability to act.”

“The real lover is the man who can thrill you just by touching your head or smiling into your eyes- or just by staring into space.”

“The truth is, I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let men sometimes fool themselves.”

“I knew I belonged to the Public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but beause I had never belonged to anyone or anything else.”

Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe?–This excellent little book by journalist Pete Martin is based on actual interviews with Marilyn and was printed in 1956. It spends  time examining “Monroeisms’, those off-the-cuff but incredibly witty classic Monroe comebacks, as well as several of her well known quotes:

(on being asked if she wore falsies) “Those who know me better….know better.”

(on sex) “It’s a part of nature. I go along with nature.”

(on posing nude) “I did too have something on. I had the radio on.”

(on being asked what she sleeps in) “I sleep in Chanel Number Five.”

“I like to feel blonde all over.”

“I don’t care about money. I just want to be wonderful.”

“The Johnston Office spends a lot of time worrying about whether a girl has cleavage or not. It seems to me they ought to worry if she doesn’t have any.”

“I’ve been asked, ‘Do you mind living in a man’s world?’ I always answer, ‘Not as long as I can be a woman in it.”

“I learned to walk when I was ten months old and I’ve been walking this way ever since.”

Marilyn, Her Life In Her Own Words: This oft-overlooked interview conducted by George Barris just a few weeks before Marilyn died was supposed to have been a book collaboration between the photographer and the actress. Quotes included here are:

“Respect is one of life’s greatest treasures. I mean, what does it all add up to if you don’t have that? If there is only one thing in my life that I am proud of, it’s that I’ve never been a kept woman.”

“It was my fans who made me a star.”

“I’m thirty-six years old. I’m just getting started!”

Richard Merymen Life Interview—This last interview with Marilyn appeared in the August 3, 1962 edition of Life Magazine and can be found in audio form as well. In this candid and direct interview, Marilyn said such things as:

“The least I can give them is the best they can get from me. What’s the good of drawing in the next breath if all you do is let it out and draw in another?”

“It’s nice to be included in people’s fantasies but you also like to be accepted for your own sake. I don’t look at myself as a commodity, but I’m sure a lot of people have.”

“You can read about yourself but what’s important is how you feel about yourself.”

“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!”

“What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers.”

“Who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe?”

“Fame will go by and , so long, I’ve had you fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experience, but it’s not where I live.”

““Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one … I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity.”

This just scratches the surface  of the fabricated Marilyn quotes as well as the genuine ones. If you can’t find a source, Marilyn was clever, introspective, and relatable enough that there are plenty more quotes out there that you can be certain originated from her. Check and see if Marilyn actually said what you
think she did before you make it your status update or yearbook quote. And for Heaven’s sake, double check it before you get a tattoo.

By Marijane Gray