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.”
Icon: The Life, Times, and Films of Marilyn Monroe: Volume 2: 1956 to 1962 and Beyond, the second volume of Gary Vitacco Robles’ excellent 2014 biography, is now available via Kindle from Amazon stores worldwide. You can also purchase the first volume as an ebook here.
Gary Vitacco-Robles, author of this year’s outstanding, two-volume biography – Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – has been interviewed by Bill Biss for Edge Media Network. In the article, Gary reveals his starting point for this mammoth project:
“EDGE: It’s interesting that the very first chapter you wrote was on her film ‘Niagara.’ How did you happen to begin there?
Gary Vitacco-Robles: ‘Niagara’ was a film-noir done in color that had a lot of symbolism in it. Also, I thought it was a great depiction of post-war fear of sexuality and about women’s emerging sexuality. There was so much to deal with and that was kind of on the level that I wanted to explore Marilyn’s life. The movie was considered so scandalous at the time. I thought it gave me a lot of dimensions. Her films would be the anchor and I would just thread between the films what was going on in her personal life.”
Having worked as a psychotherapist for over 20 years, Gary used his professional expertise to build a nuanced portrait of MM:
“I’m really not aware of a mental health professional writing about Marilyn. Her story is just so right for that. There’s these armchair psychologists… mostly men are writing about Marilyn and they are very misogynistic. They will believe any speculation that maybe she was very sexually promiscuous, but then they’ll completely dismiss any information that she was an abuse survivor. That appalled me. You can’t really tell Marilyn’s story without talking about childhood abuse.
Now, we know so much about complex trauma and she was a survivor of complex trauma and that accounts for so much of her life. It just puts everything in place. People want to judge her or they don’t look at her life in the context of that. This is a woman who suffered from a mood disorder, horrible childhood abuse and still was able to make it, become successful and inspire people. The fact that she had a tragic ending does not dismiss the fact that she was incredibly resilient.”
Columnist Liz Smith gives the just-released second volume of Gary Vitacco-Robles’ epic biography, Icon, a rave review in her latest post for New York Social Diary.
“This massive book covers the years 1956 to ’62 and beyond — into Monroe’s mythology, deification and after-death debasement.
As with the first volume, this works reminds me so much of the sane and excellent 1968 Fred Lawrence Guiles bio, Norma Jean. This, along with Maurice Zolotow’s colorfully brilliant 1960 book, Marilyn Monroe, are starting points for all things MM.
Vitacco-Robles presents his many facts without sensation or much agenda. Nothing is hidden, but what is revealed is not made to seem extraordinarily lurid. Monroe had deep-seated emotional problems, issues with prescription drugs and she liked her champagne a bit too much. Get in line, Hollywood and much of the rest of the world!
The book covers so much of Monroe’s life and in such detail it would be pointless to zero in on any particular chapter/era. Suffice to say the author uses only the best, most reliable sources. I would note, however, that his chapters on the controversial filming of Some Like It Hot and the examination of her death are especially interesting.
The Icon volumes are invaluable for anybody who wants to know about Monroe in a real sense — what her name and fame was during her lifetime. Now, 52 years after her death, she is written up and idolized as if she was still with us. But the image has been turned into something quite different.
Younger fans confuse what they see celebrated by today’s self-exploitative stardom and tell-all mentality. They don’t realize it has nothing to do with the system within which Marilyn both cooperated and battled. Pat Newcomb,Marilyn’s last press rep, once said, ‘Marilyn never told everything to anybody.’ Although Marilyn would be delighted by her enduring fame, she would be appalled by the invasions of her privacy — because so many of those invasions are total fiction.”
Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe is the most comprehensive biography of Marilyn yet published. Gary Vitacco-Robles (also the author of fan favourite Cursum Perficio: Marilyn Monroe’s BrentwoodHacienda), released the first part of this mammoth project earlier this year. The second and final volume – tracing the last six years of Marilyn’s life as well as her posthumous legend, over 892 pages – is now available to pre-order via Bear Manor Media, Amazon.com, and Amazon UK. Both hardback and paperback are available, with a current US release date of November 5, and November 11 elsewhere.
“Goddess… Legend… Icon… You thought you knew her… but never like this. Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) survived a childhood marked by abuse, neglect, and chaos to become a psychological, cultural, and spiritual phenomenon of the Twentieth Century. Her remarkable life, brilliant film career, and posthumous legend have been deconstructed in over 600 biographies. Psychotherapist & author Gary Vitacco-Robles reframes and redefines the fascinating woman behind the iconic image through an analysis of her psyche and an appreciation of her film and stage performances in Volume 2 of this definitive biography. After a decade of meticulous research, Vitacco-Robles offers a treasure trove of facts comprehensively documenting each year of Monroe’s inspiring life within the context of her tumultuous times, and through her relationships with literary, entertainment, and political figures. Monroe is resurrected a half-century after her tragic death in this detailed and sensitive biography that intelligently explores her passionate desires: to be loved, become a serious actress, and have a family. Volume 2 examines the last six years of Marilyn’s life and her impact on our culture in the five decades following her early tragic death. Its pages provide a deeper understanding of this remarkable woman and the lasting impression she left behind. Based upon interviews, diaries, and personal files-void of sensationalism-Icon: The Life, Times, & Films of Marilyn Monroe Vol. 2 dispels many myths and reveals the ultimate truth about Hollywood’s most charismatic, beloved, and enduring star.”
The literary world’s interest in Marilyn shows no sign of abating, with several major books due to be published in the coming months.
1) Michelle Vogel’s Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Lifeis now available via Kindle. Print copies can be ordered from McFarland Publishing, and will soon be stocked by Amazon and other bookstores. It is ‘essentially a filmography interlaced with a complex biographical account of Marilyn Monroe’s life and loves throughout her career.’
2) Novelist Anna Godbersen is the author of the bestselling The Luxe and Bright Young Things series for teenagers. Her first adult novel, The Blonde, will be published on May 13. It reimagines Marilyn’s relationships with the Kennedy brothers, and while it’s sure to cause a stir, some may feel this work of fiction takes too many liberties with the facts. Here’s a synopsis:
“In Anna Godbersen’s imaginative novel, set at the height of the Cold War, a young, unknown Norma Jean meets a man in Los Angeles—a Soviet agent? A Russian spy?—who transforms her into Marilyn the star. And when she reaches the pinnacle of success, he comes back for his repayment. He shows her a photo of her estranged father and promises to reunite them in exchange for information: Find out something about presidential candidate John F. Kennedy that no one else knows. At first, Marilyn is bored by the prospect of, once again, using a man’s attraction to get what she needs. But when she meets the magnetic Jack Kennedy, she realizes that this isn’t going to be a simple game. What started with the earnest desire to meet her father has grave consequences for her, for the bright young Kennedy, and for the entire nation. The Blonde is a vivid tableau of American celebrity, sex, love, violence, power, and paranoia.”
3) Jay Margolis, author of MM: A Case for Murder (2011), has penned a new book on the subject with Richard Buskin, author of Blonde Heat: The Sizzling Screen Career of MM (2001.) The Murder of Marilyn Monroe: Case Closedis currently slated for release in June (US) and August (UK.)
“Implicating Bobby Kennedy in the commission of Marilyn’s murder, this is the first book to name the LAPD officers who accompanied the US Attorney General to her home, provide details about how the Kennedys used bribes to silence one of the ambulance drivers, and specify how the subsequent cover-up was aided by a noted pathologist’s outrageous lies. This blockbuster volume blows the lid off the world’s most notorious and talked-about celebrity death, and in the process exposes not only the truth about an iconic star’s tragic final hours, but also how a legendary American politician used powerful resources to protect what many still perceive as his untarnished reputation.”
“Through extensive interviews with many of Monroe’s colleagues, close friends, and other biographers, and a careful rethinking of the literature written about her, Rollyson is able to describe her use of Method acting and her studies with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg, head of the Actors’ Studio in New York. The author also analyzes several of Monroe’s own drawings, diary notes, and letters that have recently become available. With over thirty black and white photographs (some published for the first time), a new foreword, and a new afterword, this volume brings Rollyson’s 1986 book up to date. “
5) Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe, edited by Marcelline Block, is part of a series on fandom, and is also headed for an early summer release. You may spot some familiar names in there!
” Marilyn Monroe was an actress, singer, and sex symbol whose influence far outlasted her short life. Contributors to Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe situate the platinum blonde starlet’s omnipresent cultural relevance within the zeitgeist of current popular culture and explore the influence she has had on numerous elements of it…The essays here explore representations of Monroe in visual culture by looking at the ways she is reimagined in visual art while also considering how her posthumous appearance and image are appropriated in current advertisements. With an inside look at the universe of Marilyn Monroe impersonators and look-alike contests for both males and females, the book also explores numerous homages to Monroe in music…The definitive guide to one of the most famous women who ever lived, the book will be essential reading for any scholar of twentieth-century American popular culture.”
7) C. David Heymann’s Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Lovewas originally due to be published in 2013, but was postponed (perhaps because the author passed away in 2012.) It is now set for release in July. High hopes are riding on a definitive account of Marilyn’s most enduring relationship. However, as previously noted here, many of Heymann’s celebrity biographies have proved controversial.
According to the blurb, Joe and Marilyn is ‘based on extensive archival research and personal interviews with family and friends….Sixteen pages of striking photos accompany this unforgettable and quintessentially American story.’
8) As previously mentioned on this blog, Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times will be published in September.
“Jacqueline Rose’s heroines could not appear more different from each other: revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg; German-Jewish painter Charlotte Salomon, persecuted by family tragedy and Nazism; film icon and consummate performer Marilyn Monroe.
Yet historically these women have a shared story to tell, as they blaze a trail across some of the most dramatic events of the last century – revolution, totalitarianism, the American dream. Enraged by injustice, they are each in touch with what is most painful about being human, bound together by their willingness to bring the unspeakable to light.”
9) The recent Life magazine special, The Loves of Marilyn, will be published in hardback in September. Although lavishly illustrated, the text is rather gossipy and speculative.
“Carl Rollyson provides a documentary approach to the life and legend of this singular personality. With details of her childhood, her young adult years, her ascent to superstardom, and the hour by hour moments leading to her tragic early death, this volume supplements—and, in some cases, corrects—the accounts of previous biographies. In addition to restoring what is left out in other narratives about Marilyn’s life, this book also illuminates the gaps and discrepancies that still exist in our knowledge of her. Drawing on excerpts from her diaries, journals, letters, and even checks and receipts—as well as reports of others—Rollyson recreates the day-to-day world of a woman who still fascinates us more than fifty years after her death.”
“American Icon: The Legacy and Death of Marilyn Monroe is a blockbuster book that delves deep into her life and death, and separates it from the myth, rumors and Hollywood chatter. Was Monroe’s death a suicide or were dark sinister forces at work? Based on strong research, interviews, investigations, news clippings and files, American Icon takes the reader along on a unique journey that looks at Marilyn from a fresh perspective, neither sensationalizing nor sugar-coating the truth. Her life ran the gamut from happy, bored, funny, loving and loved to shocking and scandalous. She did whatever she had to do to reach her childhood dream goal to be a famous movie star. American Icon: The Legacy and Death of Marilyn Monroe delivers a fast-paced, fact-filled page turner of a book about one of the great cultural legends of the 20th century.”
And as Gary revealed on his Facebook page today, the photo above – taken by Glenn Embree during filming of the unfinished Something’s Got to Give – will grace the cover of Volume II, coming this summer.
“No great secrets are unearthed — at this point are there any? — but using most of the reputable material out there, the author presents Monroe’s life in a refreshingly straight-forward manner. This work reminds me of 1968’s sensible, sensitive Norma Jean by Fred Lawrence Guiles (Don’t blame Fred for misspelling her name — blame Elton John.)
Not a lot of over-analysis in Icon but Vitacco-Robles’ points about Marilyn’s bleak childhood and how she could not escape it, are valuable in connecting the dots of her adult actions. She went through life as an open wound, and analysis never helped her.
The author also takes the time to unravel some of the more absurd tales about MM — she was a call girl, she had 12 abortions, she gave up a baby for adoption, etc. Although, 51 years after her death, many of those tales fuel the legend — for better or worse.
This book concludes at the pinnacle of Monroe’s life and career, in the wake of Bus Stop, The Prince and The Showgirl — the latter produced by her own company — and the early months of her marriage to Arthur Miller. It was the point at which it seemed she could indeed have it all. She could not. So it will be interesting to peruse the second volume, especially as it relates to Monroe’s final years.”
Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe is a new, two-part biography by Gary Vitacco-Robles, author of the much-admired Cursum Perficio. Volume I (covering 1926-56) is now available, with its companion to follow by summer. With the first volume alone clocking in at a massive 788pp (no pictures, all text), Icon is a very ambitious project. Elvis Presley and more recently Barbara Stanwyck are among the few entertainers to merit such extensive study. With so much published material on MM, and yet still so many mysteries, it could be the answer to this bibliophile’s prayers.
Here’s the synopsis:
“Goddess…Legend…Icon… You thought you knew her…but never before like this. Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) survived a childhood marked by abuse, neglect, & chaos to become a psychological, cultural, & spiritual phenomenon of the Twentieth Century. Her remarkable life, brilliant film career, & posthumous legend have been deconstructed in over 600 biographies. Psychotherapist & author Gary Vitacco-Robles reframes & redefines the fascinating woman behind the iconic image through an analysis of her psyche and an appreciation of her film & stage performances. After a decade of meticulous research, Vitacco-Robles offers a treasure trove of facts comprehensively documenting each year of Monroe’s inspiring life within the context of her tumultuous times & through her relationships with literary, entertainment, & political figures. Monroe is resurrected a half-century after her tragic death in this detailed & sensitive biography which intelligently explores her passionate desires: to be loved, become a serious actress, & have a family. Based upon interviews, diaries, & personal files–and void of sensationalism–Icon: The Life, Times, & Films of Marilyn Monroe dispels many myths & reveals the ultimate truth about Hollywood’s most charismatic, beloved, & enduring star.”
Icon is available directly from publisher BearManor Media; and in hardback or paperback from all good online bookstores.