Inside Marilyn’s Beautiful Mind

Marilyn by Philippe Halsman (1952)

The publication of Fragments has revived the age-old (and to me, baffling) debate on Marilyn Monroe’s intellect. In Canada’s Globe and Mail, Lynn Crosbie ponders…

“But why are we so determined to make her an intellectual as well? Most riveting in film because of her unparalleled charisma, Monroe was not a brilliant actress, but a perfect spectacle.

While attracted to dour, cruel artistic men, she was not an artist herself, or an intellectual — all of these attributions derive from the bad company — Svengalis like Strasberg, Arthur Miller and photographer Milton Greene who groomed her to play classical roles — she was keeping, late in life.

Is it easier to howl at Monroe’s beauty when one dignifies such lust, even love, by affecting an admiration — again, like a coroner — of what lay beneath?

I asked the living legend, Monroe’s colleague, Mamie Van Doren — who is alive and well and gorgeous — what she thought of Marilyn-the-Genius.

‘I’m not sure you would call her an intellectual,’ she said. ‘What I do know about Marilyn is that she was a hard worker in a difficult profession, one where your peers often take greater delight in tearing you down than building you up, especially if your stock in trade was glamour.'”

In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd comments:

“The false choice between intellectualism and sexuality in women has persisted through the ages. There was no more poignant victim of it than Marilyn Monroe.

She was smart enough to become the most famous Dumb Blonde in history. Photographers loved to get her to pose in tight shorts, a silk robe or a swimsuit with a come-hither look and a weighty book — a history of Goya or James Joyce’s Ulysses or Heinrich Heine’s poems. A high-brow bunny picture, a variation on the sexy librarian trope. Men who were nervous about her erotic intensity could feel superior by making fun of her intellectually.

At least, unlike Paris Hilton and her ilk, the Dumb Blonde of ’50s cinema had a firm grasp on one thing: It was cool to be smart. She aspired to read good books and be friends with intellectuals, even going so far as to marry one. But now another famous beauty with glowing skin and a powerful current, Sarah Palin, has made ignorance fashionable.”

‘Monkey Business’ in Huntsville, Texas

“The Political Science Junior Fellows will host its second annual Legends of Hollywood Film Festival at the Wynne Home Arts Center in Huntsville, Texas, on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 6. This year’s festival will feature two Marilyn Monroe films: Monkey Business and Some Like it Hot. The festival will feature international cuisine and a presentation by Dr. Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress.  Tickets are $20, and includes one movie, dinner, and Dr. Rollyson’s presentation. Monkey Business begins at 5:30.   Dinner will be served – along with Dr. Rollyson’s presentation – between 7-8 p.m. Some Like it Hot begins at 8:15. For more information, contact Mike Yawn at (936) 294-1456. Seating is limited.”

The Huntsville Item

The Yin and Yang of Marilyn

Marilyn by Ed Feingersh, 1955

“The dark side of Marilyn is not exactly a revelation. What does come as more of a surprise is the joyous, functioning Monroe that also leaps out of these pages. She is an avid student with a keen intellectual appetite, taking diligent notes on Renaissance art. She is an excellent reader of scripts, with an intuitive feel for where the focus of a narrative should be. Regarding The Misfits, she writes: ‘I feel the camera has got/ to look though Gay’s/ eyes whenever he is in a/scene and even when is/ not there still has to be a sense of/ him.’ And, contrary to all the rumors of her ditzy sloppiness, she turns out to be quite the occasional Hausfrau, taking down recipes in great detail and organizing a dinner party down to the guest towels.”

Daphne Merkin reviews Fragments at the Daily Beast

Marilyn the Poet

Fragments is reviewed in today’s Independent. While critic Arifa Akbar finds the publication of Marilyn’s private notes ‘voyeuristic’, she speaks admiringly of the Monroe poems:

“Her poems are, by far, the heart of the book. She describes the human spirit as a ‘cobweb in the wind’; a sleeping lover’s vulnerability is tenderly captured; a suicide fantasy turns on itself to celebrate the beauty of a world that Monroe is not ready to leave. Her depression, her romantic spirit, her impenetrable loneliness is all there, and these poems could have been published on their own, albeit, in a slimmer volume.”

Writing on his blog today, pop star Moby raves about Marilyn’s poetic gifts. ‘Do 25 year old movie stars in 2010 read James Joyce or Leaves of Grass?’ he ponders.

Perhaps Moby could set Marilyn’s words to music. I loved his 1999 album Play, which combined electronica with vintage blues, gospel and folk.

A Poem for Marilyn, by Edwin Morgan

A 1968 work by the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan, who died earlier this year.

The Death of Marilyn Monroe

What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?

Crumpled orphan, nembutal bed,

white hearse, Los Angeles,

DiMaggio! Los Angeles! Miller! Los Angeles! America!

That Death should seem the only protector –

That all arms should have faded, and the great cameras and lights

become an inquisition and a torment –

That the many acquaintances, the autograph-hunters, the

inflexible directors, the drive-in admirers should become

a blur of incomprehension and pain –

That lonely Uncertainty should limp up, grinning, with

bewildering barbiturates, and watch her undress and lie

down and in her anguish

call for him! call for him to strengthen her with what could

only dissolve her! A method

of dying, we are shaken, we see it. Strasberg!

Los Angeles! Olivier! Los Angeles! Others die

and yet by this death we are a little shaken, we feel it,

America.

Let no one say communication is a cantword.

They had to lift her hand from the bedside telephone.

But what she had not been able to say

perhaps she had said. ‘All I had was my life.

I have no regrets, because if I made

any mistakes, I was responsible.

There is now – and there is the future.

What has happened is behind. So

it follows you around? So what?’ – This

to a friend, ten days before.

And so she was responsible.

And if she was not responsible, not wholly responsible, Los Angeles?

Los Angeles? Will it follow you around? Will the slow

white hearse of the child of America follow you around?

The Soulful Marilyn

Marilyn by Alfred Eisenstadt, 1953

“Although the material is new the editors in their foreword slightly exaggerate its meaning. They claim that in the 1950s Marilyn’s image had to be flawless. But I believe on the contrary, following Richard Dyer, that Marilyn’s star charisma was based from the beginning on the fact that she was able to reconcile huge contradictions. One of them was that she was known as the girl who read Rilke and Joyce on the sets of her dumb blonde vehicles. Even intelligent directors such as Joseph L. Mankiewicz were bluffed. They believed Marilyn actually to be the dumb blonde she played. Those who read her interviews at the time always knew otherwise. She was at her most perceptive in the ones she gave in 1962. These private notes collected from desk drawers provide more evidence of the soulful Marilyn.”

Antii Alanen, programmer at the Cinema Orion, Helsinski, reviews Fragments

The Goddess in the Library

Marilyn at home in 1952, by Andre de Dienes

The publication of Fragments has renewed interest in Marilyn’s literary side – and as one blogger noted this week, MM owned more than 400 books.

“The magic castle of Hollywood and her image had become a prison and she did what many of the incarcerated do to keep from going insane. She retreated into the private world of books  and explored her thoughts and feelings as a diarist and journal-keeper.” Book Tryst