Dead Blondes: A Hollywood Phenomenon


Throughout contemporary pop culture history, the  blonde has remained a pillar of visual language but a paradoxical one. Blondes represent both hyper-sexuality, sexual purity, wealth and glamor as well as rural rawness, and both a symbol of blinding white afterlife and eternal life simultaneously. 

There is an innate association between Blondness,  youth and beauty: to be blonde is to defy the drag of time. To be blonde is to be an impossibility. And no institution of cultural hegemony enforced this understanding better than Hollywood.  

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In Hollywood, blondes were like white canvases onto which viewers would project their desires. For women maybe that desire was to be that blonde. For men it was to have that blonde.  To go down the lineage of Hollywood Blondes is to trace one of the main veins of movie history and the culture disseminated by the pictures created there.

There was Peg Entwistle: remembered almost exclusively for her suicide.

She ironically, infamously threw herself from the Hollywood Sign on September 16, 1932 at the age of 24. Effectively turning what was once only a real estate gimmick into a haunted symbol of the cutthroat world of fame and film. 

Thelma Todd: died in a cloud of mystery at the wheel of her own

parked car. The Ice Cream Blonde, as she was known, paved the way for the persona that future sexpot Blondes would make famous.

thelma todd
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It is still not known for sure if Thelma’s death on December 16, 1935, when she was only 29, was the result of a tragic carbon monoxide accident or if there was foul play afoot. 

The path that Thelma forged was made famous by Jean Harlow-who was perhaps the first sex symbol of the talkie era.  Jean’s death, unlike Thelma’s or pegs, was the result of a seed planted in her childhood: an illness. Which caused  lifelong complications that she ignored into her adulthood in order to maintain her status as the Platinum Blonde. 

When Baby – her nickname from childhood – died at the age of 26 on June 7, 1973; it felt like an inevitability as its tragedy had been built into the very fiber of her being, and her demise was unavoidable. 

jean harlow
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Her premature death solidified the Blonde as an archetype that never aged, and as fate would have it, many of them would never get the chance to. 

One of these most well known tragedies is the death of Marilyn Monroe, perhaps THE dead blonde, if there ever was one. Marilyn saw herself as the second coming of Jean Harlow. And the twisted hand of fate made sure that those parallels wouldn’t just be the way in which they shined on the screen. 

Celebrity mythology is rife in the story of Marilyn’s life, some biographers depicting her as the sex-crazed slut that she was Famous for playing on the silver screen, while other accounts paint her as a girl who was just playing the game she had to play in order to make it as a star. 

On May 19, 1962, hopped up on champagne and the same pills that would kill her a couple months later, Marilyn in a  shimmering dress, slipped off her ermine coat and sang the infamous “Happy Birthday Mr President”  in front of a crowd of laughing gala-goers.  Marilyn died from some combination of those pills , which were readily supplied to her by her doctor, on August 4 that same year.  She was 36.  

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Monroe departed this world, leaving behind a legacy that transcends mere stardom, embodying both the allure of the silver screen and the tragic fragility of human existence. Serving as a somber reminder of the price exacted by the relentless pressures of fame and the darker undercurrents of the entertainment industry.

Then there was the post-marylyn blonde: Jayne Mansfield .

Jayne was originally picked up by a studio as a response to Marilyn, taking the iconic persona and putting a funhouse mirror to it. Jayne was Marilyn dialed up: bigger tits, more exaggerated curves, dumber, blonder and somehow, eventually, deader. But Jayne was a skilled comedienne, and her on-screen (bimbofication) was intentional, until stardom got the best of Jayne and there was a slippage between the floozies that Jayne played and the train wreck that Jayne was. 

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Jayne once remarked that she found Marilyn’s death to be a great tragedy, even said that she wouldn’t wish to die young like her rival. Ironically, Jayne would die even younger. 

When Jaynes Buick slid under a semi on a swampy highway outside New-Orleans , and her head was (allegedly) cut off on June 29, 1967 when she was only 34, It wasn’t just her who died that night; it was the entire notion of the Blonde Bimbo as the ultra-star.

It was just a few months later that the most notable contemporary Dead Blonde was born: Anna Nicole Smith, born Vickie Lynn Hogan on November 28 of the same year as Jayne´s fatal crash. Maybe Anna Nicole was Jayne reincarnated, literally: there have been very few celebrities who are as unapologetically blonde as both Jayne and Anna Nicole.  

The first time she ever worked under the name “Anna Nicole” was for Guess- and American clothing company -as a model, where the photographers took notice of her resemblance to Jayne. This spurred a number of Jayne Mansfield-themed photoshoots for her. 

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Image Courtesy of Business Insider.

Anna Nicole would tie herself though to Marilyn Monroe, and she would be touted as the 90’s very own blonde bombshell. But, unbeknownst to Anna Nicole, they would also have their untimely deaths in common as well. Anna Nicole – just like Marilyn, just like Jayne, and just like so many other dead blondes-realized their oath to salvation, out of poverty or domestic servitude or post-war malaise, was their bodies. 

Marilyn started pinup modeling while her first husband was away at sea. Jayne went to Hollywood to do publicity stunts that drew attention to her curvaceous figure that landed her an acting career.And Anna Nicole married an octogenarian oil billionaire who found her dancing at a strip club. She always maintained that she married him for love, not money. 

Of course, your body being your salvation will always be the sharpest of double-edged swords. Anna Nicole spent her pre-fame years saving up for a boob job , or several, which resulted in a lifelong dependence on prescription painkillers.

After the billionaire died, she would end up a public laughing stock, embroiled in a legal battle over her inheritance, then one of the first victims of reality TV  before dying of a lethal combination of pills that were being supplied to her by lawyer-turned-boyfriend at the age of 39 on February 8, 2007.

The great tragedy of the blonde is that they are forbidden to age. The fantasy body of a blonde is never supposed to crack or wrinkle or warp or go through addiction or expose that the person inside of that body is real and in pain and even dying. That’s why the image of Haynes corpse being pulled from wreckage is so salient, it is the ultimate collision of fantasy and reality. It’s so tragic it becomes ludicrous. But even after it all the blonde machine keeps turning. The words you are reading are from the middle of the story, not the end, and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the long list of dead blondes. 

Marilyn Monroe initially bleached her naturally auburn hair blonde when an executive at a modeling agency told her that a brunette could only be photographed a few ways, but a blonde could be anything.

Dead blondes will be forever. Dead blondes will be for always.

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