This central family icon, the 25¢ photo booth picture, marks a confluence of currents in mid-century American life: the rise of automation; the golden age of the Hollywood studio system; and the advent of a postwar middle class, availing of leisure and distraction at a theme park. To my impressionable mind, it was central to the accumulated mythos of my maternal clan. Their operatic melodrama, Grandma Helen’s sequined gowns, her dimpled beauty queen past, her late-life shift to nightclub hostess, the Sicilian passion, the call of the sea — all presided over by the spectral smile of the tragic platinum starlet.
This piece is cited in the upcoming (2016) documentary What Ever Happened to Norma Jeane? directed by Ian Ayres.