Lois Banner’s ‘Revelations’

Dr Lois Banner‘s highly anticipated, scholarly biography, Revelations: The Passion and Paradox of Marilyn Monroe, will be published by Bloomsbury in July 2012. It is now available for pre-order from online stores, including The Book Depository.

‘Last year J. Randy Taraborrelli wrote a bestselling book entitled The Secret Life of Marilyn. His is the most recent of dozens written since Marilyn’s death in August of 1962 and yet the appetite for information about Marilyn is insatiable. No matter whether sensational or flawed, as most of these biographies have been, the fans always come out, in best-selling numbers.

This time, with Lois Banner’s Revelations, Marilyn’s fans won’t be disappointed. This is no re-tread of recycled material. As one of the founders of the field of women’s history, Lois Banner reveals Marilyn Monroe in the way that only a top-notch historian and biographer could. Banner appreciates the complexities of Monroe’s personal life in the context of her achievements as an actor, singer, dancer, comedian, model and courtesan. And the new information she unearths is revelatory. Banner’s credentials opened doors and she has access to material no one else has seen, from the so called ‘Rosetta stones’ of Monroe research (two large file cabinets filled with a trove of personal papers), to an interview with a member of the Kennedy secret service detail who shared what he witnessed for the first time, to facts and anecdotes about her childhood and her death and every stage of her life in between that were either missed or ignored or misinterpreted.

Like her art, Marilyn’s self was rooted in paradox: she was a powerful star and a child-like waif, a joyful, irreverent party girl with a deeply spiritual side; a superb friend and a narcisist; a dumb blonde and an intellectual. No biographer before has attempted to analyze–much less realized–most of these aspects of her personality. Lois Banner has.’

Marilyn Mania in New York

Marilyn Monroe may have been born and raised in Hollywood, but in later life she became a proud New Yorker. After the recent premiere of My Week With Marilyn at the Lincoln Center, the New York Post has paid tribute with an article headlined, ‘Marilyn Lives!‘, featuring interviews with authors Susan Bernard and Lois Banner, and collector Scott Fortner:

‘ “She’s our modern-day Cleopatra — but she was also someone who struggled through life with many personal problems,” he says, citing her troubled childhood, traumatic romances and battles with drugs and addiction. “People can relate to that.” ‘

Meanwhile, UK fan Aylon Ewing offers his own perspective:

“What remains is pure inspiration.  Whether that inspires people to be actors and actresses, or whether it gives hope that odds can be overcome in life.  Personal unhappiness, depression and loneliness can be overcome.  Marilyn showed that with generosity of heart, in giving to needy causes, in producing works of art that have uplifted millions, and most of all, by being an open and honest human being who showed her every emotion to a world that never stopped watching.”


No Sale for Disputed MM ‘Sex Tape’

A 1940s porn film, said by current owner Mikel Barsa to feature an ‘underage’ Marilyn Monroe, failed to sell at auction in Buenos Aires yesterday, after MM’s estate denounced it as ‘fraudulent’.

‘Whoever the woman in the film may have been, even alleging that it shows Monroe violates her intellectual property rights and will cost Barsa dearly if he goes ahead with the sale,’ said Nancy Carlson, a spokeswoman for Authentic Brands Group (ABG.)

Collector Scott Fortner pointed out the many differences between the young Marilyn and the girl in the clip in a recent blog post. Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, told ABC News, ‘Marilyn at the time of this tape had a very slim figure, a widow’s peak and perfect teeth.’

To the San Jose Mercury, Morgan added, ‘Marilyn had no motivation at all to make a porn movie…Her friends all agree that she never, ever showed any signs of having earned money in any other way than modeling or working as a real actress.’

While conceding that Monroe ‘wasn’t a prude’, Dr Lois Banner (author of MM – Personal) advised, ‘There have been numerous tapes alleging to have caught Marilyn at a particular moment in a particular sexual indiscretion, but I would not accept any such tape without a documented provenance…No one would buy a Miro or a Picasso without such documentation, my understanding is that the person selling the tape has brought none of this forward.’

Mr Barsa – who was previously threatened with legal action when he first revealed his discovery in 1997 –  commented, ‘It always is the same story when it comes to Marilyn – to deny, deny, deny and to threaten.’

‘The Feminist Betrayal of Norma Jeane’

The Secret Knowledge: The Dismantling of American Culture is a new collection of essays by the dramatist David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Wag the Dog.)

The central theme of this book is Mamet’s disillusionment with the liberal left. One of his essays concerns the feminist author Gloria Steinem‘s 1986 book, Marilyn: Norma Jeane.

While I have reservations of my own about Steinem’s book – though sympathetic to Marilyn, at times she seemed to see her as a passive victim – I do think Mamet is being unduly harsh (and, dare I say, ungentlemanly.)

I was pleased to see how highly Mamet rates MM as an actress. But I also felt that his ‘defence’ of her was something of a ruse to attack Steinem and others who don’t concur with his recent swing to the political right.

While Steinem’s book is not perfect, it has led to other, more up-to-date feminist studies of Marilyn from Sarah Churchwell and Lois Banner.

Here is an extract from Mamet’s essay – you can read it in full at National Review Online:

‘Marilyn Monroe, then, though her work brought and brings delight to literally hundreds of millions of people, although she created for herself one of the most revered icons in show business, had an impossibly successful career, though she did this through persistence, talent, hard work, and guts, must be dismissed by the wiser, non-working Left, which finds her neither a serious actress nor a comedienne. She did not, sadly, fulfil the vision which Gloria Steinem had for her, because she was not an intellectual — she was an actual worker.

In a more equal world, a top-down world, a world of equality (as envisioned and enforced by the Left) Ms. Monroe might have been taken in hand (by whom?) early on, and cured of her unreal escapist self (her talent), and still be alive playing Mother Courage in some Resident Theatre somewhere.

Can this be feminism? A dismissal of the greatest comedienne in the history of the screen because her work did not meet the high standards of Gloria Steinem?Is it possible that the wise Ms. Steinem mistakes the performances of Marilyn with the person? She does conflate, and seems to connect causally, Marilyn’s screen persona with her use of sleeping pills, suggesting that she killed herself (an open point) because she was “denied the full range of possibility” and, so, was forced to disappoint Gloria Steinem.

Would Ms. Steinem be happier if Marilyn had lived to play Medea and Queen Elizabeth? Is she ignorant of the working lifespan of an actress? Did she never laugh or smile at one of Marilyn’s performances? Of course she did, but now she wants to throw it in reverse and, having derived enjoyment from her work, derive further enjoyment from her superior sad understanding of Marilyn’s essential “slavery.” Marilyn, though vastly wealthy, though widely accomplished, though revered worldwide (and to this day), was somehow a “slave to men.” Why? Because she was a woman, and acting, thus, was somehow not “an expression of her real self.”

What balderdash. Shame on you, Ms. Steinem, for promoting hypocrisy. For anyone who might be foolish enough to nod along with your sanctimony will, along with you, the next time they watch one of Marilyn’s films, laugh and smile; you, then, are promoting a dual-consciousness, an indictment of that which one enjoys, of a legitimate pleasure brought about through the work and the talent of an actual human being, who, in your sad lament, you belittle and patronize. Were or are you smarter or more talented than Marilyn Monroe? Make me laugh.

[And note, Ms. Steinem, that it is not the job of an actor to “express her real self.” (Which of us knows what his real self is?) It was her job to entertain the audience. That was her job. And she did it as well as anyone who ever acted. What entertainment has ever come from your beloved solipsism? Would you go to see such a performance — an evening of someone “expressing her true self”?]’

‘Mad About Marilyn’ Spring Issue

My reviews of Cindy De La Hoz’s Marilyn Monroe: The Personal Archive and MM – Personal by Lois Banner are featured in the latest issue of the Mad About Marilyn fanzine, which also includes a vintage article, ‘…and the Lord Taketh Away’, from Modern Screen in 1957; a piece on Marilyn’s 1955 visit to USS Bennington; and a profile of photographer Douglas Kirkland.

If you would like to join the Mad About Marilyn Fan Club, please email Emma: emmadowning@blueyonder.co.uk


Lois Banner on ‘MM – Personal’

Lois Banner with MM’s favourite photo, by Cecil Beaton, and a painting she owned, ‘The Bull’, by French artist La Poucette

Dr Lois Banner, author of MM – Personal: The Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe, has been interviewed by Susan Andrews of USC Dornsife:

“To understand the highly complex Monroe, Banner said that you have to understand her complexities. ‘She had many personas, not just one, and she moved in and out of them.’

There are three main takeaways that Banner hopes to leave with the reader: Marilyn could cook, clean, get along with children, and wrote very well; she had every woman’s dilemma balancing work and home; and she was not the loner the tabloids would have you believe.

Through the receipts and letters, Banner reveals glimpses of Monroe’s personality and life. ‘She wrote notes to herself at night that gave her an opportunity to think through thoughts to herself.’

Banner did not publish all the letters that she came across. ‘Marilyn fought patriarchal men in Hollywood and these letters were difficult to decipher — an intricate maze of dealings with heads of studios, chess games with lawyers, and producers who blocked a creative artist’s ability to put herself in good films.’

Banner will discuss her book at the upcoming Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC. She is an invited speaker at the Friends of the USC Libraries Literary Luncheon.”

Read the interview in full here

David Marshall Reviews ‘MM – Personal’

David Marshall, author of The DD Group and Life Among the Cannibals, has reviewed Lois Banner and Mark Anderson’s MM – Personal: The Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe:

‘The feeling is quite a lot like one feels after the death of a loved one and after having put it off for far too long, you finally get around to going through the things they’ve left behind. The mundane, the sad, and the funny are all right there…These are not stories that can be embellished or exploited, these are not the “memories” of those who after the fact present themselves as “best friend” or “Marilyn’s secret husband”. These are letters, legal forms, bills, personal photographs– all the personal debris we leave behind…They may not tell us how it felt to be famous or heartbroken but they remind us that people who are now known only in a mythical sense truly did pay bills, buy books and clothes, and saved old Christmas cards.’

‘In an age where celebrity is honored, where all you need to do is appear on a reality show to be “famous”, it does us good to see the mundane pieces of paper of one who truly was famous, who really did have an incredible talent, and really did hold an entire planet in awe. These books also serve a purpose in reminding us that people like Marilyn Monroe were human beings, did actually live.’

You can read David’s review in full at Goodreads

‘MM – Personal’: What the Critics Said

Marilyn photographed by John Bryson on the set of ‘Let’s Make Love’, 1960

MM – Personal, the new book by Lois Banner and Mark Anderson, has been widely covered in the media this week.

“Anderson and Banner’s selection of material presents Monroe in a positive light. She is a woman fighting to control her image in a man’s world; a talented comic actress compared by directors to Garbo and Chaplin; a caring stepmother; a clever correspondent; a trustworthy friend.”

Daily Telegraph

New York Times