Anytime a new actress comes on the scene, she’s divided into one of two categories: the Audrey or the Marilyn. Is she a doll-like brunette with a winning, innocent smile, or is she a voluptuous blonde with a breathy whisper and red lips? Celeb headlines were quick to dub Zooey Deschanel or Carey Mulligan or Rooney Mara or whoever the latest brown-haired it girl was “the new Audrey Hepburn.” Lindsay Lohan is quick to insist over and over that she’s the reincarnation of Monroe. Magazines tout Kate Upton’s full figure and “dumb blonde” nature as Marilyn-esque. Who could forget Anna Nicole Smith?
It’s tempting to look at, let’s say, female celebrities in this narrow way. It’s familiar. It simplifies everything and it deifies the past, the classics, and the old generation without knowing the complexities of these women’s lives. There are the Audreys and there are the Marilyns and that’s it.
Can we just forget this idea already? It’s silly and restrictive and too simple. It’s like a new Madonna/Whore complex. It doesn’t account for the fact that Monroe was more than a bombshell sex symbol, she was actually a kind of brilliant comedic actress or that Hepburn was unlucky in love and only spent nine years with her soul mate before he died (after she had many other failed relationships).
And on another note, there never ever will be a “new” Audrey Hepburn no matter how many magazine articles title their puff pieces this way because there already was THE Audrey Hepburn. Every time I see someone touted as the new Hepburn or Monroe, I want to start a bonfire with Vanity Fairs. It’s like we need context for everything. Like, we’re so obsessed with labeling shit that we want to make things easy and compare new art to old art. It’s why Hollywood is full of sequels and prequels, like security blankets for our stupid brains. We don’t need a new Marilyn. We already had the old Marilyn and that ended tragically. Why are we romanticizing it?
But actresses do it to themselves too. It’s like they only know about two classic actresses: Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. Those, as far as anyone today is concerned, were the only two women acting in the 1950s and 60s: The sex pot and the quirky girl. You have to be one. You can not be a real, complex human being.
A celebrity wants to seem demure or cutesy, so why not dress them as Audrey Hepburn for a photo shoot? How many Marilyn-copying photo shoots is La Lohan gonna do? We get it, girl. You think you’re her ghost or something. And it shows no sign of stopping. Clint Eastwood called Beyonce “the next Ella Fitzgerald.” Jay-Z constantly refers to himself as the new Sinatra.
When Heath Ledger died, I was in college. My friends speculated that in twenty or so years, our children would be lining their walls with Ledger posters the way college kids today might put up a James Dean picture to seem hip. Our kids will romanticize Ledger’s death, quoting from his movies, playing cool by saying they’ve seen 10 Things I Hate About You fifteen times. He’ll be the “new” James Dean.
So maybe it’s inevitable. Maybe each generation has to have its own icons, born and extinguished in that generation, to be beloved and adored by the next. But let’s drop the labels of “the new” and appreciate the originals for what they were: the originals. There’s never going to be a new Marilyn Monroe or a new Audrey Hepburn or a new James Dean (sorry James Franco). These homage photo shoots are tired and cliche. These magazine narratives could never hope to expand on the complexities of the real people, both old and new.
If that aesthetic appeals to you, like really appeals to you, then go watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s or The Seven Year Itch and appreciate them and love them and stop looking for these women’s replacements. Because they’ll never be replaced.