GOOD that it's settled -- Marilyn Monroe is the sexiest woman of the 20th century.
Sorry, Madonna, you tried hard and played fair, but the editors of Playboy ranked you a middling 35. Demi Moore, who tried even harder, came in at 66. Farrah Fawcett, 51 and frantic about it, should be reassured at placing 16th. Though it must sting that twitty Jenny McCarthy came in a spot ahead at 15.
But few would argue Playboy is wrong in naming Monroe sex star of the century. It's just too bad she's dead.
Actually a few formerly alive babes made the list -- Gene Tierney, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, etc. -- but they all seem more dead than Monroe. For example, first runner-up Jayne Mansfield seems way more dead. Doesn't she?
Monroe is, of course, not eternal. Some time into the new millennium, we'll get over her. Probably.
But should we? After all, she died so we could sin. Now before you reject this interpretation of her suicide at 36, think it through with me. And, no, the Kennedy brothers didn't have her killed. Move on, will you.
Monroe, more than anybody, kept sex alive in the '50s. In a decade when the collective libido was so stymied that Doris Day was viewed as desirable, Monroe was a dirty girl. God bless her.
She was a freedom fighter, of sorts. While Mansfield and Kim Novak saw rear guard action, it was Monroe on the front line, pure pulchritude in sequins and a suggestion of fabric. All to remind us that behind the conformity, the upstanding behavior, we lusted.
Do you think it was easy? No wonder she spent hours in her bedroom agonizing in front of the mirror before making even a cameo appearance in real life. Many days she just gave up and went back to bed. Who could blame her? In a culture waiting to embrace Laura Petrie, she had no reason to believe that others would take up her work, that one day women everywhere would show cleavage with impunity.
It's a miracle she even survived the '50s and probably a blessing she didn't live to see Jessica Lange cover her God-given charms just to be taken seriously as an actress.
Monroe probably feared she was the last of her kind, that the practice of exuding sex would die with her. And it could have, but Monroe had done her job, and done it well. The swell of her stomach stitched into a dress, the curve of her rear as she minced away from the camera, and, of course, her breasts, almost always close to unleashed for important occasions.
We just couldn't get her out of our minds.
Monroe didn't make the world safe for all who came after, but she made it better. Every actress today who shows up at a major awards ceremony not wearing underwear, and dressed so that we know it, has much to thank Monroe for.
The '50s was about cleansing the culture of Monroes. It didn't work. Yes, Monroe did kill herself on Aug. 4, 1962. But she lives on in every woman who can be sometimes loose, somewhat lascivious, even outright lusty.
And all three on a Saturday night.
L Sherryl Connelly is a columnist for the New York Daily News.
Pub Date: 12/11/98