Vision over a burger: What’s in a picture?

Munching on a burger amongst a plethora of remembrances from past ages in of all places a “Steak & Lube”, the enclosed poster stood out. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

At first, I thought a photo of obviously James Dean and Marilyn Monroe from some distant past film. But after some research found to be a painting. In fact, the two protagonists never met in life. Both attended the Actors’ Studio in New York but not at the same time. James Dean’s life was cut short before he ascended to the same film stature as Marilyn.

Both were moody, introspective, talented, troubled by the loss of their mothers and the absence of their fathers. Marilyn marked the 1950s standard of mercurial, mortally injured femininity that she nakedly portrayed in film with childish naiveté insuffused with wistful vulnerability. Rated the sixth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute. She died in 1962 at age 36 from an overdose of barbiturates.

James dean marked the 1950s standard of troubled masculinity under tenuous constraint not seen in film again until Steve McQueen. Like McQueen, Dean indulged in serious motorsports racing, (but not motorcycles, like McQueen) ultimately running out of road in 1955 at age 24. He became the first actor to have had two posthumous acting nominations (East of Eden-1955)(Giant-1956). The American Film Institute ranked him the 18th best male movie star after starring in only three films.

This poster embodies the imagination of artist Paul Gassenheimer who conjectured how these unique personalities might have reacted had they come in contact with each other in another life. In cool charcoal tone, he conjectures James with committed but controlled intensity. Two fingers insouciantly draped over the front brake lever (as all veteran riders do). He is the ascendant of Marlon Brando (The wild one-1953) and the pre-incarnation of Steve McQueen (Bullitt-1968) His journey is his spirit.

His incarnation of Marilyn, however, is awesomely intuitive. She is colorized for contrast, dressed in a man’s jacket but wears high heels on the pegs to insure certainty of her femininity. She wraps her arms around her pilot not for stability but for certainty. Eyes closed, her head on his shoulder, she feels the wind and vibration but interprets the experience as trusting invulnerability, possibly for the first time in her turbulent life. Her face accurately reflects her cocoon. Her journey is her deliverance. It matters not where or when, only that it never ends.

The existence of an afterlife has been debated for centuries. If there is such a thing, and if those entering it have any volition as to their participation in it, I think Marilyn and James are there exactly as they appear in Gassenheimer’s preternatural vision. Oblivious to all but their ride into eternity.



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