Marilyn will be the star attraction at a very special event in one of London’s most famous concert venues, the Royal Albert Hall, on Sunday, October 8. Aptly titled ‘The Many Sides of Marilyn,’ the movie double bill begins in the Elgar Room at 5pm, with a rare screening of Fritz Lang’s 1952 melodrama, Clash by Night, where a young Marilyn plays a feisty factory girl. There will be a post-film discussion with film producer Mia Bays, and Jacqueline Rose, who wrote about Marilyn in her 2015 book, Women in Dark Times. Then at 8:15 pm, the comedy classic Some Like It Hot follows. You can see both films for £25, or book separately if you wish. Seating is unreserved, at cabaret tables, and you can order dinner with a 20% discount.
‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?’ was the title of a panel discussion held at the BFI in June as part of their MM retrospective. Film programmer Jemma Desai chaired a wide-ranging debate that encompassed acting methods, body image and feminism. Film scholar Lucy Bolton, writer Jacqueline Rose (Women in Dark Times) and playwright/novelist/critic Bonnie Greer (Marilyn and Ella) share their perspectives on why Monroe’s life and work continue to fascinate – with Greer even suggesting that “Marilyn was a hundred times more radical than Arthur Miller could even begin to dream of being.” You can watch the discussion in full here.
The full programme for the BFI’s June season of MM films is now online, with tickets available now for members, or from May 12 for non-members. All of Marilyn’s films from 1952-62 are included (apart from O. Henry’s Full House), with multiple showings of The Misfits as part of its nationwide reissue, and a new print of Niagara. This retrospective includes two other events: ‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?‘ on June 3rd, featuring authors Jacqueline Rose and Bonnie Greer; and a Marilyn Monroe Study Day on June 27, with guests including Sarah Churchwell. You can view the digital guide for June here.
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.”
Author and critic Jacqueline Rose will publish a new book, Women In Dark Times, in September. It will include material on Marilyn, who was also the subject of a 2012 lecture by Rose, also published in the London Review of Books.
“Through compelling portraits of women as diverse as revolutionary socialist, Rosa Luxemburg, film icon Marilyn Monroe, and contemporary painter, Thérèse Oulton, Jacqueline Rose provides a new template for the struggles of women today. Descending into some of the bleakest realities of our time, such as honour killing, she argues that the work of feminism is far from done. Women in Dark Times is both a tribute and a challenge.
The women presented here are visionary, enraged by injustice while also in touch with what is most painful about being human. Returning to the terrain of her prize-winning study of Sylvia Plath, Jacqueline Rose shows us why all these women are vital to feminism in its ongoing project to transform the iniquities of the modern world.”
Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Britt Peterson looks at how feminist perspectives on Marilyn have developed over the years, from viewing her as a victim of men (Joan Mellen, Gloria Steinem), to hailing the power of her sexuality (Sarah Churchwell, Lois Banner, Jacqueline Rose.)
“Over the 1970s and 1980s, the new lens of feminist theory complicated but didn’t at first do much to improve this perception, critics treating Monroe as at best a victim and at worst a collaborator in her own destruction and the objectification of other women.
But soon the critical viewpoint on Monroe began to catch up to some of those complexities. In the 1980s and 1990s, as the academic mainstream became more welcoming to pop-culture scholarship, critics started paying more attention to the postmodern aspects of Monroe, the ways in which she represented a truly fragmented subject. Decades removed from Monroe-as-person, perhaps without even the connecting experience of having seen her movies while she was still living, these critics began to focus on the accumulation of imagery surrounding her, while also lamenting the lost human at the heart of it.
Around the same time, the very aspects of Monroe’s biography that had proved so alienating to second-wave feminists—her frank, often exhibitionist sexuality; the fact that she slept with producers and photographers early on in her career to get work—began to seem more of a piece with a third-wave, sexually empowered story about her.
The paradox of Banner’s book is that it’s a portrait of a third-wave feminist written for traditionally second-wave goals. Banner says that she has been laughed at by male colleagues who see Monroe as ‘a dumb blonde, a stupid woman, who only engaged in a kind of raunchy sex.’ Her book is meant as a corrective, a defense of Monroe as an intelligent, warm-hearted artist…Like the British critic Jacqueline Rose, who wrote a long paean to Monroe in the London Review of Booksthis April, Banner highlights Monroe’s radical leftist leanings, her racial sensitivities, her interest in psychoanalysis, and other ways in which she prefigured various social and political movements of the 1960s. She doesn’t gloss over the uglier aspects of Monroe’s character…
Banner’s version is more complete, more sensitive, more entrenched in archival data than any before, and yet the ‘real Marilyn’ remains elusive, as she always will. ‘I can be anything they want me to be,’ she told a friend. ‘There are a lot of cards in my deck, so to speak.'”
In February, ES Updates reported that Jacqueline Rose, the feminist and psychoanalytic critic, was planning a book about Marilyn. She has now spoken eloquently about Monroe’s talent, intelligence and courage in a lecture at the British Museum. You can read, or listen, at the London Review of Books.
“She was luminous – on that much everyone seems to agree…But the question of what – in the aura that surrounds her – she was lighting up or revealing, other than herself, is rarely asked. Luminousness can be a cover – in Hollywood, its own most perfect screen. Monroe’s beauty is dazzling, blinding (no other actress is defined in quite these terms). Of what, then, is she the decoy? What does she allow us to see and not to see? Monroe herself knew the difference between seeing and looking. ‘Men do not see me,’ she said, ‘they just lay their eyes on me.’”
Jacqueline Rose, a feminist and psychoanalytic critic, is perhaps best known for her 1991 book, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath. Interviewed in today’s Guardian, Rose talks about her work in progress, which will feature MM:
‘In her living room is something unexpected – a box of Marilyn Monroe DVDs. Rose has been boning up on Monroe for a lecture, which will eventually form part of a book provisionally entitled Women in Dark Times: From Rosa Luxembourg to Marilyn Monroe. It will be her return to feminist theorising. How do Rosa and Marilyn connect? “They both straddle the divide between political and inner life. I read Rosa’s letters and the relationship between her political concept of spontaneity and the unknownness of revolutionary life and the unknownness and intimacy of personal life. It seemed her notion of revolutionary and personal lives were inextricably linked.”
Why is Monroe interesting? “There’s been so much written about her as a screen on to which everybody projects their fantasies. I think that’s complicit with her victimisation. I think she knew exactly what was happening to her. I think she was casting herself as a sort of lead in the detritus of postwar American culture. Everything from the commodity to the sexualisation of women to the crass materialism to McCarthyism.” Classic Jacqueline Rose feminism: woman as more than victim, implicated in and maybe even conniving at her own oppression.’