Say the name Marilyn Monroe pretty much anywhere in the world, and you will most likely be sure to see a look of recognition. Many images and words come to mind when you say her name: glamorous, blonde, sensuous, tragic. Personally, I never paid much attention to Marilyn. Sure, I thought she was beautiful and dynamic, but I didn’t see her as a great actress. Often, I would even be annoyed at all the hype that surrounded her (“another book/article about Marilyn Monroe?”). Recently, however, I began reading The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe after watching “How to Marry a Millionaire” and wanted to learn more about Marilyn as a person. As often happens when I delve into the lives of others, I became slightly obsessed–I must now find every book, magazine article, and movie made about this immortal goddess. I am halfway through The Secret Life of MM and can’t put it down. Author J. Randy Taraborrelli takes his reader through every inch of Monroe’s life starting from the day she was born. The biography reads like a novel, which makes it more intimate. The book is revealing to me a whole other side of Marilyn that I didn’t know existed, and making me question what Hollywood and society expects from actors.
Contrary to the way Marilyn is portrayed, she was not just another dumb blonde. In fact, later in her career she often resisted roles which only stereotyped her as an airy, sex symbol. She was well-read (some of her favorite authors included James Joyce, Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald) and even took some classes at UCLA when her acting schedule wasn’t so busy. She was also very witty often having a creative comeback to reporters questions. One story in particular tells how on the set for one of her movies, Marilyn was all set to get a massage in her room. Some people on the production team wanted to play a practical joke on her and told a young assistant to give a message to Marilyn. They told him to “just go right in, don’t even knock. She likes it that way.” The young assistant did as he was told and when he opened the door was surprised to see Marilyn lying naked on her stomach waiting for her massage. Marilyn calmly asked “Did they put you up to this?” and he replied “Yes ma’am.” She said, “Well close the door, sit down and wait twenty minutes and then the jokes on them!”
Something else I was unaware of was the psychiatric disorders that both her grandmother and mother dealt with. Her mother, Gladys, was diagnosed with schizophrenia disorder. Because Gladys wasn’t married when she had Marilyn and because of her psychiatric issues, she gave Marilyn up for adoption. Thus started a series of transitions from various foster homes and orphanages for most of Marilyn’s young life. On several occasions she was a witness to her mothers disturbing behavior and outbursts. Later, she said she feared that she would end up “crazy” like them. Indeed, she sometimes had troubling thoughts that didn’t seem to go away, and several occasions where she thought she was being followed.
Ultimately, Hollywood constructed Marilyn Monroe–changing her name and creating her image through the movies that they cast her in. But at the same time, Marilyn accepted and welcomed her role as superstar. The people around her noticed how she could essentially turn on her “Marilyness” when she needed to. She lived two lives: the on-screen glamor queen with the angelic voice, and the off-screen natural beauty who was vulnerable and fragile.
There will always be mysteries surrounding Marilyn’s life, and perhaps for someone who was so famous in life, those mysteries should remain with her in death. I may never look at her as an actress of the same caliber as say Elizabeth Taylor, but I look at Marilyn as a woman who shared the same feelings, insecurities and downfalls that we all have at times.
Marilyn Monroe by Barbara Leaming is an in-depth look at Monroe’s public and private life. The book has many rare photographs of the actress, including one of her and then-husband Arthur Miller at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.
“I never thought I was interested in Marilyn Monroe…[She] was dumb, twittering, helpless. And somehow so exposed” author Sarah Churchwell writes in her introduction to her biography The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. I thought this was an interesting confession, seeing as how I was never really interested in Monroe, but found myself intrigued to learn about her life as Churchwell was when doing a study on Sylvia Plath and Marilyn’s name repeatedly came up. The book doesn’t try to dispel the mysteries and acclaimations that still surround Marilyn Monroe, but uses them to further investigate and try to understand her life.
The Last Take: Marilyn by Peter Harry Brown and Pate B. Barharm is dedicated to uncovering the truth behind Marilyn Monroe’s final days. In the prologue, the authors’ claim that the book is “the true and full story of those fourteen weeks…it’s a story which has never been told.” Personally, I’m not sure we could ever know the complete truth or the whole story, but the book does provide much evidence and exploration into her death.
The newly released Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes and Letters reveals the private writings and musings of Marilyn Monroe for the first time. What a great resource to be able to see “inside” her life from her own words. The November 2010 issue of Vanity Fair includes a cover story article on the new release! This new “evidence,” released forty-eight years after her death just goes to show how the story of Marilyn Monroe’s life may never be completed.
Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? by Pamela Keogh is a fun read. Keogh reveals fun facts about each woman’s life like what they read and the music they listened to, and then helps you discover your inner Jackie or Marilyn. I also learned how generous and compassionate Marilyn was with her friends. Keogh sums it up best when she says ” There is something about Marilyn (her vulnerability? her beauty? her tragic Hollywood story?) that causes people to connect with her on a deeply personal level even today.” Poor yourself a fancy beverage, put your heels up, and find out if you are a Marilyn or Jackie!
Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends is written by Susan Strasberg who is the daughter of Lee Strasberg, an acting coach who worked with Marilyn in the mid-fifties. Marilyn became like one of the family relying on the Strasberg’s for more than just acting advice. Susan takes her readers inside life with Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn is so popular there have also been some fictional stories written about her. Check out Joyce Carol Oates novel Blonde, where Norma Jean herself tells us the story of her life. The book tells about “the elusive magic of a woman, the lasting legacy of a star, and the heartbreak behind the creation of the most evocative icon of the twentieth century.”
The Secret Letters of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy by Wendy Leigh is a novel that imagines the correspondence between these two big-name ladies. Although the book is fictional, it is well researched and includes footnotes and facts that Leigh drew from to create each letter.
Some Like it Hot is probably my favorite movie with her. It’s just so funny! And with Tony Curtis and John Lemmon dressed up as two gals, you are really in for a treat.
Niagra is a mystery starring Marilyn Monroe as Rose and Joseph Cotton as George. Rose makes a plan with her lover to kill George–an interesting role for the typically comedic, sexy Monroe.
Let’s Make it Legal is an early Monroe film staring Claudette Colbert, Macdonald Carey, Barbara Bates and Zachary Scott. Monroe plays a woman who tries to lure away a grandmother’s ex-lover!
The Seven Year Itch is another great Monroe film with her co-star Tom Ewell who plays Richard. When his wife goes away on vacation, his seductive next door neighbor, played by Monroe, comes over to his apartment to cool off with his a/c. Find out if Richard is able to fend off temptation in this classic.
The Misfits starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift is the last role that both Gable and Monroe would play. Monroe plays a divorced woman who befriends a cowboy and a rodeo rider learning about life and experiencing freedom for the first time.
How to Marry a Millionaire is the movie that piqued my interest in Marilyn. Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe play three women who desire to marry a rich man and live a grande life. Marilyn is especially funny when she is stumbling around without her glasses, not wanting to be seen with them on. In their hunt for millionaires, they discover what true love really is.
Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library Assistant and is humming Elton John’s tribute Candle in the Wind while channeling her inner-Marilyn