Marilyn’s Tale of Two Biographers

Marilyn by Earl Leaf (1950)

Film historian Antti Alanen has reviewed Gary Vitacco-Robles’ comprehensive 2014 biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, on his Film Diary blog.

“Where others read detective fiction I read Marilyn Monroe books. Because of their wildly incompatible approaches they have to be taken with a Rashomon attitude. But I have not been diligent recently and thus have missed the best, Gary Vitacco-Robles’s Icon, in two volumes and almost 1600 pages. It is by far the best Marilyn Monroe biography ever …

I should be familiar with the material as my interest now dates back 40 years, but Vitacco-Robles manages to surprise me on each page. There is a lot of new detail, and from his meaningful interpretation a new portrait emerges. Vitacco-Robles’s approach is sober, but his achievement is ‘A Passion of Marilyn Monroe’. He has a sense of the epic in this story, and psychologically he seems to get deeper than anyone else. This book is a hard act to follow.”

Meanwhile, Charles Casillo’s Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon has been favourably reviewed by Kevin Howell at Shelf Awareness.

“Billy Wilder said Marilyn Monroe was ‘a puzzle without any solution,’ but biographer and novelist Charles Casillo has dug deep …  [he] does an outstanding job of sifting through conflicting testimonies … Monroe’s sad but fascinating life has been told many times before, but Casillo’s sympathetic and psychologically nuanced Marilyn Monroe bio is compulsively readable.”

Marilyn, Marilyn: New Fiction From Finland

Finland is a country with great appreciation for Marilyn, as this new fiction anthology reveals. Edited by Salla Simukka and Marika Riikonen, Marilyn, Marilyn includes twelve short stories, imagining MM both in her own time and the present day, and exploring her enduring appeal. It comes recommended by film historian Antti Alanen, himself the author of a book about Marilyn. (And just in case you’re wondering, the cover image comes from an original publicity shot for Let’s Make Love.)

‘The Fireball’ in Finland

Finnish critic Antti Alanen has reviewed The Fireball, a 1950 Mickey Rooney film featuring a brief appearance by MM.

‘Not a masterpiece like The Lusty Men, but there is something of the same gritty sense of reality in The Fireball. The documentary sequences from the roller derbies and Johnny’s ride down Temple Street are exciting.

Not an important Marilyn Monroe movie, but there is a Monroe connection in the orphanage in which the movie starts. “I don’t even know if Casar is my real name”, Johnny tells the tv reporter. “I’m just a kid left on the doorstep of somebody’s home.”

From IMDb I learn that The Fireball was constantly seen on U.S. tv in the 1950s. In Finland it hasn’t been seen since the premiere 62 years ago.’

Marilyn in the Blogosphere

Marilyn: The Last Sessions, which aired on More4 this week, was not well-received by fans. Among the errors was the inclusion of a stag film starring Arline Hunter, wrongly identified as Marilyn. Antii Alanen, film programmer at Finland’s National Audiovisual Archive, comments: ‘There is a lot of rare authentic footage in this film [eg from Mexico in 1962], as well as fabrications and simulations.’

The Savvy Reader rates Fragments, last year’s collection of Marilyn’s personal writings, third on its Top 10 Coffee Table Books:

“The beautiful photographs can stand on their own, but the book also sheds some light on the woman behind the fame with her handwritten letters, notes and poems. This is one we keep going back to, glimpsing at a photo and reading a fragment every time.”

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