“I was embarrassed by her,” the feminist icon says in an exclusive clip from In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive, which spotlights previously unreleased interviews originally filmed for the American Masters documentary series. “Because she was a joke, she was vulnerable, she was so eager for approval. She was all the things that I feared most being as a teenage girl. And ultimately, I walked out.”
Monroe went on to star in multiple other films like 1955’s The Seven Year Itch and 1959’s Some Like It Hot before dying of an overdose in 1962. Steinem says it wasn’t until after the actress’ death that she started to question why she felt the way she did when watching Monroe play a bubbly blonde on the big screen.
“If the artificiality, the role, the stereotype, the sex goddess, is what you are mostly rewarded for, it’s extremely difficult to let it go,” Steinem says. “You have very little assurance that you’re going to be loved and salaried as your real self, as your unique, underneath self … What the women’s movement has done is to allow women to become each others’ mothers and to support and model and hope and praise and love each other enough so that we can begin to repair the early damage. We wonder, all of us, if we could not have saved Marilyn’s life.”
See the full clip below, and see more from the In Their Own Words American Masters digital archive here.