By Elizabeth Gracen:
The Feed is a monthly series that takes a closer look at the unique, fascinating, and individually curated Instagram feeds from around the world. It is a fast, fun and easy platform where creators share personal stories, studies and passions through images and brief text. The content is varied and vast with eye-catching appeal, and I absolutely love finding out about the creative minds behind some of these feeds.
This week we focus on the Instagram feed of @gladysandnorma.
EG: Your @gladysandnorma Instagram feed is fabulous! Marilyn! Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and the description on the account: "Dwyer Tarantino here to share the inspiration behind my second novel based on a fictional adventure between Marilyn Monroe and her mother Gladys."
DT: Many thank yous, I never thought it would get more than a few followers when I first started on this journey. I didn't expect it at least, and I am enthralled to have gotten to this point. I had just finished the first book I wrote and, due to family obligations and moving, I wasn't able to find a publisher. Granted, I didn't look too long, for I had very little strength to summon. I knew I wanted to write about Marilyn, and diving into a new book seemed to bring me more comfort than the clinical world of trying to publish! I started the Instagram account hoping it would bring me inspiration, and it most certainly has, from the friends I've made to getting an unofficial degree in Marilyn Monroe studies—the information on her and the dedication of her fans on Instagram is amazing.
The book I'm writing (it's almost finished) focuses on Marilyn as Norma, a wide-eyed teenager, and her mother, Gladys. It's fictional. I have them meet and go on a small journey when Norma Jean is 15 years old. I guess it stems from the fact that my mother and I were displaced and homeless when I was 15. We were trying to survive. The only book I had saved was a fun novelty book on how to do your makeup like Marilyn Monroe's. It had some information about her life, and I clung to it, especially because, in my vulnerable state, I felt so connected to Marilyn, who had lived a hard childhood. Mine had just collapsed; she became my patron saint, so to speak. Over the years, I've wondered how much her mother might have played a part in who she became; perhaps there's a lot more to their relationship than people know. And so I started writing and researching and reading. As I'm trying to still get stability in life, my desire to write is constant, and given a little more time, I hope to publish either my first book or this one soon. After all, I went to school for many years (I'll be 34 next month), and I feel it's the right time to start a career, a new beginning. I'm comforted by the fact that so many authors—especially my favorites (Edna Ferber, James M. Cain, Edith Wharton), and authors in general—often don't start a career til their mid thirties or forties or beyond!
EG: The sheer number of images of Marilyn on your feed is stunning. Where do you find all of them? How and why do you choose the images that you curate? DT: I have seen so much of Marilyn's life in photos that I almost have a photographic memory of her life in chronological order. I can usually tell from a photo what event she's at, or where she was living, or what age she was. This is a lot, I suppose, given she is one of, if not the most, photographed woman to ever live. So ideas come to me about what would be nice to explore, such as her attendance at a premiere with Marlon Brando or maybe outtakes from a photo shoot by George Barris in 1962. The new images, you discover, are never ending! Also I often look up keywords, sometimes randomly, such as "Marilyn Monroe Christmas," to find images, and there are countless sites and articles that contain beautiful, rare photos. I love to post one that seems to speak something about her personality; oftentimes the thought just comes to me how much two photos from different years look alike, photos in which you can see Norma Jean in one and Marilyn in the other, and I might post a comparison. I feel she never lost Norma Jean, and it's beautiful to find traces of her in Marilyn.
EG: When I look at all the categories on your account, I’m blown away by how effective this type of curation must be to help get the creative juices flowing and to catalog your research. How did you approach and organize the categories? DT: Thank you! Well, for posts on Instagram, I try to mix it up a bit and post all types of different photos. Perhaps this sounds odd, but a lot of the way I categorize is in my head; I write notes, to a degree, and am always reading up on her, but when it comes down to the moment, I usually just "start" and then go back to the notes. But truly, it does get the creative juices going, and my head feels like a bank of Marilyn information by now! I can kind of pull out information on her mentally. But, to sound practical and not pretentious, I do certainly keep notes or tag posts I feel are important and keep folders of photos in my phone, some containing photos simply for inspiration, such as ones of her youth or ones I look at that might pertain to my book or contain a certain essence.
EG: The story of her wonderful and tragic life holds so many people captive. In your opinion, why are we all so enthralled with Marilyn Monroe? DT: That's a wonderful question that I'm not sure could be answered quickly. So many people are followers on her Instagram pages to see the lovely photos, and I started off years ago much the same. She holds an otherworldly beauty that is practically unmatched. But there are fans that are captivated by her life and personality as well. That's the most interesting thing about her, I should say: that she wasn't just one person. "Marilyn" was a shield that she wore over Norma Jean, she admitted herself. She created Marilyn much like an artist creates a painting and kept adding to her movie-star persona and alter ego. In truth, she was amazingly intelligent, if not completely articulate due to her short education. But not one person that engaged in a serious conversation with her could deny she was a complex person who impressed them and over-analyzed life in general. She was depressed by the tragedies of not just her own life, but the state of the world and people in general. And then I think you've hit the nail on the head: no matter her experience, she remained innocent, naive to a point, and trusting. You see this innocence reflected in her photos, and it shines through her eyes. Many people think she overcame her harsh beginnings, but you can see in her face the hope she still has; and then in other photos, most unfortunately, you can tell when this hope is shattered. Although she is a bit of an enigma—the angel and the bombshell—I really think most people love her for how unyieldingly human she remained, even as one of the biggest stars of her time.
EG: You mention that this is the second novel you’ve written. Tell us about you first book, The Butcher’s Girl. DT: I worked The Butcher's Girl in my late twenties, after college and a bit of a failed attempt at trying to be an actress myself! I felt writing was my calling, so one day I finally found the voice of my grandmother to speak through. The book is based on her life, as a girl of sixteen (I seem to have the need to write about teens coming of age). She was an immigrant from Sicily who was made responsible for taking care of her family during the Great Depression. The story of just one year of her life reflects the memories of her early tragedies, both in Europe and America, such as contracting malaria, living in crowded, infested places in New York, and how she overcame immigrating to a new country. As she has these memories, she's a dreamer, wading through life in Buffalo, until at last she is the victim of a terrible assault that reshapes her life. Aside from some fictional characters, it is true to my grandmother's life. She told me these stories every afternoon when I was a kid, as my mother and I lived with her. It's my tribute to her, and one of the most dramatic lives I've heard of. There are so many little anecdotes about her life and Sicilian people in general, too—I love to think of it as a footnote to The Godfather as told by a teenage daughter! I had a person interested in publishing it a while back; but for some reason their response went to my spam folder, and by the time I saw it, it was too late. I'm considering editing it again to refine it, though. But it is done! Fully written out, many chapters, come to life.
EG: That sounds amazing. Good luck with both books. They both sound really interesting! Thanks for being part of the series. Would you please share a handful of your favorite Instagram posts and tell us why you like them?
I love to include information about Marilyn's character, the real person that she was off screen, as well as highlight her humbleness and humanity. I think this post got a lot of likes because it talks about Marilyn's kindness, and because of the photo of course. There was no shortage of love for Marilyn at the 1953 premiere of How to Marry a Millionaire. I personally think it's the most glamorous she ever looked, which is saying a lot!
In this post, I compare 1962 Marilyn with Norma Jean as a child, recognizing what stayed the same and what changed. In this particular one, I believe she looks somewhat more adult as a 10–11 year old, whereas she almost became younger in a sense toward the end of her life.
This is a beautiful photo from 1953 when Marilyn did a commercial for Coca-Cola. There isn't pertinent information, sometimes I am simply in awe of her beauty and like to share it. This one was very popular.
In this post, I compare Marilyn and Gladys; the comparison photo shows the differences and similarities in their appearance, but more than anything, I quote Jimmy Doughtery, Marilyn's first husband, from his memoir and what he remembers about seeing mother and daughter together. Every personal insight into their relationship sheds more light on the fact that they knew each other better than most people might believe. Marilyn saw Gladys on and off her whole life; Gladys wasn't simply out of her daughter's life from the beginning, never to be seen again. That's my main thesis of the book: Did Gladys shape the woman that turned out to be Marilyn Monroe more than we know?
This last post is from my review of Arthur Miller's play "After the Fall." I guess as a writer, I like to dissect works, and I needed to read the play to try to understand why many were saying that it painted Marilyn in a bad light. Written years after her death, many people come at Miller, her third husband, for it, as it's semi-autobiographical and has a "Marilyn character." I actually ended up coming to a conclusion that seems to differ from most. But alas, Instagram has a word limit, or I would have put a bit more in, but not much.
Make sure to check out this fantastic feed and follow Dwyer Tarantino's work through her Instagram account: @gladysandnorma
Check back next month for another curated exploration of THE FEED!