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If Marilyn Had Lived...

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On the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death (which was back in August), Playboy's December cover features its original cover girl. This cover shows us the sexy, come-hither Marilyn, the only one that she had time to show most people. Though she was sadly mortal, she was like a goddess in at least one respect: she never got old. Had she survived, she would now be 86 years-old and... and what?

Everyone likes to dream. In his novel Idlewild (1995), U.S. journalist Mark Lawson showed a world where Monroe survived her "suicide attempt," JFK survived his assassination attempt, and they continue their famous (if technically unproven) affair for another 30 years. Playwright Douglas Mendin, in a 1992 story for Entertainment Weekly, imagined that Monroe would survive, dedicate herself to serious acting, and win an Oscar in 1965, with her hair dyed brown. She would then record a hit song with Sinatra, make bad films, and give up acting in 1980 to look after her drug-addicted twin sons.

Then there was the U.S. supermarket tabloid The Sun. In a 1990 story, it "revealed" that Monroe was actually still alive. After threatening to confess her affair with Robert Kennedy, she was drugged, brainwashed and taken to Australia, where she lived the "simple life of a sheep rancher's wife."

A nice idea, but not proven. In fact, the best way to track where Monroe's life would have gone would be to use other blonde icons -- those who survived beyond 36 -- as a guide.

Losing her looks
This usually happens, even with plastic surgery. Many blonde honeys -- like Shelley Winters, Simone Signoret and Britain's Marilyn clone, Diana Dors -- became noticeably overweight. This actually worked well for them, allowing them to prove their mettle as serious actors. Winters, in her chubby state, even won two Oscars.

Losing her hair
Monroe used peroxide for so long that she was in danger of going bald -- like Blondie's lead singer (and occasional film actress) Deborah Harry, whose super-bleached hair fell out in the late '80s, giving her the Sinead O'Connor look. (Since then, either it grew back, or she has some excellent wigs.)

Serious acting
After she was fired from her last film, Hollywood gossip suggested that Monroe's career was over. Still, she had long aspired to be a "serious" actor. She mingled with New York's intellectual crowd, and took classes at the Actors' Studio. As Grace Kelly proved, celluloid honeys can win Oscars simply by playing plain-Jane roles without makeup.

Television
How's this for a '60s sitcom idea: The Marilyn Monroe Show, about a widowed secretary with two cute kids. Sitcoms helped the careers of movie blondes ranging from Doris Day to Candace Bergen, and someone with Monroe's comic talent could probably have done the same. Otherwise, she could have done something more serious, like...

The Media business
Like Monroe, 1920s star Marion Davies was a blonde movie comedienne (and occasional producer), smarter than she looked, with powerful friends. After her film career, she became a successful executive in the Hearst media empire (ruled by her lover). French siren Catherine Deneuve was preparing to launch a fashion magazine in 2002, named after herself, and only ditched the project after the post-9/11 advertising slump. Marilyn, whose face has sold a lot of magazines, could have done something similar. She signed some of the most lucrative movie deals of the time, and even started her own production company. We're talking serious business sense!

Activism
Had she survived the madness of Hollywood, a sensitive soul like Marilyn would have probably joined a cause. Melina Mercouri, Greece's biggest film star, was exiled for campaigning against the military junta. "Sex kitten" Brigitte Bardot, France's answer to Marilyn, became an outspoken animal rights campaigner.

Obscurity
For the record, this is what eventually happens to most superstars, blonde or otherwise. Seen Kim Novak lately? What about Sabrina? Bo Derek? Even if Marilyn had survived, she wouldn't have lasted forever. At least, not to the same extent she has now...