New titles from others and research in progress

Marilyn 50 Years later

August 6, 2012

Tags: Marilyn Monroe, Lois Banner, Michelle Morgan, Fragments

The first edition cover of my biography
It has been fifty years since Marilyn Monroe died and interest in her continues to increase. Why? Of course, many reasons can be offered. As a biographer, I want to repeat what Matthew Bruccoli said when he was asked why he was publishing another biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald: more facts. And it is true. We continue to learn more about Marilyn Monroe, about the books she read, the meals she prepared, the letters and poems she wrote, and so on. In other words, we are learning more about the person. I just read a piece about the photographer Lawrence Schiller, who pointed out that in the 1970s there was great interest in nude Marilyn Monroe photographs, but that now there seems more interest in pictures that show her as a real person. We are still learning just how complex she was. Let me just mention three books that show how much more there is to know about Marilyn Monroe: Lois Banner's new biography, which has fascinating pages on Monroe's affinity for Christian Science (just to mention one of many revelations); Fragments, a fascinating collections of her letters, notes, and other writings; and Michelle Morgan's biography, which contains testimony from many people whom the other Marilyn Monroe biographers did not interview. I'd love to hear about your own reading of books about Marilyn Monroe and why she remains such a cynosure.


  1. August 6, 2012 3:18 PM EDT
    I haven't read anything about her other than books in which she figures only from the sidelines. But your writings about her and the books you refer to in this post tell me I am missing an enormously interesting woman. I plan to change that beginning with your recommendations.

    I wonder if Monroe in the last several years of her life gave any thought to returning to her pre-Hollywood self, that is, to stop dying her hair, to lose the big hair, to ignoring any sexy fashions, etc. In other words, to drop whatever made her a "sex bomb" and allow her the freedom to just be herself. Because I think she was a well-rounded human being who read well and widely and wrote and had a lot of talents that were submerged under the *sex* label. I would have liked to have been her friend and encouraged her that way.
    - Lauren
  2. August 6, 2012 3:58 PM EDT
    Like Susan Sontag, who could not give up her black hair and streak (both were dyed regularly as she aged) Monroe could not give up the image of Marilyn Monroe. So she was inherently conflicted. She did not want to give up the Marilyn Monroe who had attracted the love of millions, but there were certainly many other Marilyn Monroes she wanted to express. So, Lauren, the answer is no, she would never have repudiiated "Marilyn Monroe." Just being herself included the Marilyn Monroe she had created.
    - Carl Rollyson
  3. August 8, 2012 1:39 PM EDT
    I understand that but it makes me feel sad. What might she have found or become if she had been willing to give up "Marilyn Monroe"? I suspect a lot, and become a deeper, more thoughtful, more fulfilled woman.

    Oh, those "what if's"!
    - Lauren
  4. August 8, 2012 3:54 PM EDT
    I don't think she had to give up Marilyn Monroe. And I don't think she should have.
    - Carl Rollyson
  5. August 10, 2012 9:54 PM EDT
    I think Marilyn's conflincting identities reflect the very splitted image of America, especially in the 50's. One writer commented immediately after her death: "she was a comedienne impersonating America's idea of a sex-symbol." And as Robert Mitchum said: "She never believed it, she thought it was a joke." If she felt trapped in this sex-symbol image, she was symbolizing America's pshychological trappings, too.
    - Anonymous
  6. August 11, 2012 7:10 AM EDT
    Yes, many of Marilyn Monroe's problems have to do with the culture she was part of. Mailer wrote that she was a kind of mirror, and I think he's right. What continues to make her so intriguing is that she was living in the 1950s on the cusp of the 1960s. Who knows how she might have reacted if she had been able to live even to the end of the decade? Think of the transformation of women like Jane Fonda--from Barberarella to Klute.
    - Carl Rollyson
  7. August 11, 2012 2:51 PM EDT
    that question was mine, I forgot to sign up, thanks for your reply, Carl!
    - -Elena