Blonde has officially hit Netflix — and Marilyn Monroe fans are confused. The edgy flick, directed by Andrew Dominik, presents Monroe’s life as a fractured series of gut-wrenching abuses, from attempted murder to rape to forced abortion. Though star Ana de Armas is lauded for her tortured portrayal, the film as a whole is being derided by critics as “trauma porn.” It’s also left viewers with a slew of questions…
Mainly: Was Monroe really part of a throuple?
‘Blonde’ — the Book
The movie Blonde is based on the novel of the same name, written by legendary author Joyce Carol Oates. Published in 2000, Blonde quickly became one of Oates’ most celebrated works.
Coming in at over 700 pages, its sheer scale reaches beyond the confines of Marilyn Monroe’s life to offer a grander, darker analysis of fame in America. The book takes place from three perspectives: the wholesome Norma Jeane Baker, the celebrity Marilyn Monroe, and finally, the symbolic and disembodied Blonde: a trope, a specter that’s both Madonna and whore.
In Blonde, Oates takes creative liberties in order to chronicle the inner life of a flailing icon, inventing scenes, characters, and, yes, even entire affairs. And Andrew Dominik’s (mostly) faithful adaptation follows suit.
Just as the book is not a biography, Blonde, the movie, is not technically a biopic.
The Transformation of Norma Jean
Born Norma Jean Mortenson (also called Norma Jean Baker) in 1926, Marylin Monroe suffered through a tormented childhood, full of foster homes and family abuse. And her own mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, was the first perpetrator.
Blonde explores the elder Baker’s violence against her daughter as a prelude to the rest of Monroe’s short life. Played by Julianne Nicholson, Baker appears helpless against her own mental illness, which is eventually identified as paranoid schizophrenia. She begins driving young Norma Jean into the flames of the 1933 Griffith Park Fire — before attempting to drown the girl in a boiling bathtub.
Since Blonde is a fictionalized version of Monroe’s life, we cannot take the scenes at face value. However, Baker was institutionalized around that time and lost custody of her daughter. And while it’s unknown, exactly, how Baker hurt Norma Jean, the star’s future husband Arthur Miller told BBC in 1968: “Her mother tried to kill her three times.”
In Blonde, Norma Jean’s adolescent years are passed over. We see nothing of Monroe’s foster families or her first husband, James Dougherty, whom she married when she was 16. Instead, the movie cuts straight from Baker’s abuse to Monroe’s young adult life as an up-and-coming starlet when, on the cusp of fame, she gets involved with two fellow celebrities: Eddy Robinson, Jr. and Charlie Chaplin, Jr.
The only time Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas) appears truly happy in Blonde is when she’s with her early boyfriends: Charlie Chaplain, Jr, called “Cass,” and Edward G. Robinson, Jr., called “Eddy.” They are played by Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams, respectively, oozing twin boyish charm.
Though the sexual triangle between the three characters is not explained outright, they enjoy threesomes and appear to function as something of a throuple. On screen, Cass and Eddy are clearly friends before Monroe enters their orbit, and it’s implied that they are bisexual. As their involvement with Monroe ramps up, Cass appears especially taken by the actress — and vice versa. Monroe becomes pregnant with his child, though she sacrifices her dreams of motherhood in favor of her burgeoning career.
As she distances herself from the pair, they reappear as quasi-villains, blackmailing Joe DiMaggio and falsifying letters from Monroe’s estranged father.
But who were the real men?
Charlie Chaplain, Jr.
Charlie Chaplain, Jr. was the oldest son of early film star Charlie Chaplin and his first wife Lita Grey. But when the elder Chaplin left Grey, for the teenaged Oona O’Neil, Charlie, Jr. and his younger brother Sydney were caught in the crosshairs of a messy, and highly public, divorce battle.
The boys were raised primarily by their mother and maternal grandmother but, as he grew older, Charlie, Jr. saw his father more. He began acting in movies and appeared in 13 of them altogether.
Charlie, jr. married Susan Magness in 1958, and they had one daughter together, Susan Maree. In 1962, he married Marta Brown, which also ended in divorce.
His most famous girlfriend, though, was Marilyn Monroe. They became acquainted around 1947 and according to his own biography, My Father, Charlie Chaplin, the relationship was romantic. Charlie, Jr. says Monroe even spent time at his family home, meeting not only Sydney but their father who appreciated of Monroe’s famous figure. “What a figure! I admire your taste, son, very much,” Charlie Chaplin reportedly said.
Following the break up, Monroe and the younger Chaplin remained friends. He also was friends with Edward G. Robinson, Jr., — a fellow nepotism baby — though it seems group sex was never part of the deal. While Robinson, possibly, embarked on his own affair with Monroe, it would not have overlapped with Charlie, Jr.’s.
There is also absolutely no evidence that Charlie, Jr. wrote Monroe fake letters from her mysterious father.
Charlie, Jr. died of a pulmonary embolism in 1968 — six years after the death of Monroe. (In Blonde, he dies first, of alcoholism.) He was just 42 years old.
Edward G. Robinson, Jr.
Like Charlie Chaplin, Jr., Edward G. Robinson, Jr. — called “Manny” — was born into Hollywood royalty. He was son of the popular Romanian-American stage actor Edward G. Robinson and his wife Gladys Lloyd. And though Manny dabbled in a career in cinema, he was, foremost, a Los Angeles party boy.
Naturally, his path crossed with Monroe’s.
In 1959, he appeared in a small role in Some Like It Hot. But the sole account of their affair places it years earlier, while Monroe was filming Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. At that point, Monroe would have been 27 years old and Manny, was 19. But Anthony Summers’ biography of Monroe, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe states that the two became involved after an introduction by, you guessed it, Charlie Chaplin, Jr.
It didn’t last long and Robinson went on to marry three times: to Nan Elizabeth Morris, Ruth Elaine Menold Conte, and Frances Chisholm. With Morris, he had one daughter, Francesca. Following years of alcoholism and run-ins with the law, he died in 1974 from a heart attack. He was 41 years old.
Both he and Chaplin are buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
So… No Throuple?
According to all historic accounts, there was no three-way romance between these Hollywood hotshots. But in a new interview with the Financial Times, Joyce Carol Oates was asked about the creative choice to entwine their stories.
Speaking to the paper, Oates said she wanted to show a “kind of… touching relationship” for Monroe. As anyone who has seen the movie knows— she needed it.
“[Cass and Eddy] respected her but they also excluded her . . . she was their mascot… She is always questing, trying to find an ideal relationship, maybe looking for this father who never acknowledged her,” Oates explained.
So, in this context, both young men were a metaphorical pit stop for a metaphorical Blonde.
Blonde is streaming now on Netflix. In addition to Armas, Nicholson, Samuel, and Williams, it features Adrien Brody as the playwright, Bobby Cannavale as the baseball player, and Caspar Phillipson as the president (John F. Kennedy).
Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Tracey Landon, and Scott Robertson also serve as producers.