Dailies: Marilyn Monroe and Skyler White (More Back Talk)

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Here’s another sort of “Back Talk” post, which responds to SteveB, who mentioned Marilyn’s white dress in Seven Year Itch (1954) as an iconic cinematic moment. Though I’m diverging a bit (as usual), I’ll say a little about that dress.

Marilyn Monroe and Skyler White. What do they have in common? Mainly, that they both sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” Marilyn, to an actual the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy; and Skyler, to the president of Beneke Fabricators (Breaking Bad, 2.11), Mr. Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins).

Skyler got a lot of hate. So did actress Anna Gunn (see my “Why We Love Breaking Bad, Reason #2). Marilyn was apparently adored by fans, by not by all the men in her life. All the same, she could dish it out pretty well, too. And we know Skyler can (and so is that why she got all the hater-gade?).

Skyler at one point plays a bimbo for strategic purposes—that is, in order to make it look like her incompetence (rather than willful corroboration) is responsible for Beneke’s tax fraud. Marilyn had the reputation of being a “dumb blonde,” but research into her biography (including the usual ransacking of diaries) suggests quite the opposite: she had, according to Antonia Quirke from The New Statesmen, a “sly energy.” I imagine both Marilyn and Skyler got a kick out of seeing men squirm a bit during their little bimbo ruse (apparently, all you need is a low-cut dress, a breathy voice, and some dopey fluttering of the eyelashes).

They each wore dresses: Marilyn, a white one made famous in The Seven Year Itch; Skyler, a black one, which, in Breaking Bad, Walt thought was nice (2.8).

But here, the striking similarities end. And that’s really all I have say on the matter, because they’re actually two very different women, from different times. And it’s silly to even try to compare them. In fact, as Sarah Churchwell notes, in her book The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe (2004), all lot of women tried to imitate her, though, as Marilyn herself said, usually “the studios put them up to it.” And, if you’ve seen the Breaking Bad episode where Skyler sings the Marilyn-esque “Happy Birthday” to Ted Beneke, you know that she, too, was “put up to it.” (Because, I suppose, Ted would prefer that to the other Skyler who, later, speaks in her own voice and tells him to pay his taxes… or else.)

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