Larry McMurtry is an American novelist and screenwriter. Many of his stories have been adapted for film, including Hud, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment and Lonesome Dove. In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, McMurtry reviews three of the latest Marilyn-related books: Fragments, Maf the Dog, and MM: Personal.
“She was almost always photographed smiling, her lips slightly parted, her skin aglow with an aura all its own, and yet there was usually a curl of sadness in her smile: sadness that just managed to fight through; sadness that was always considerable and sometimes intense…Of the three books under review, easily the most accessible is MM—Personal. Marilyn Monroe, particularly during the decades of the 1940s and 1950s, was arguably the most famous woman on earth…Read together, the three books remind one of what a lot went out of American life with the passing of Marilyn Monroe; the important thing about her was her spirit, not whether she went to bed with a president and his brother.”
“Unlike last year’s Fragments, which consisted solely of Marilyn’s notes, poems, jottings, recipes, etc., MM Personal — while it also has letters from the star — is mainly correspondence to Monroe. From friends and professional colleagues — including harried notes and telegrams from publicists frantic to put a stop to the unhappy publicity surrounding Marilyn’s behavior on the set of “Some Like It Hot.” These strategic plans are overshadowed by Monroe’s miscarriage, which is referred to. (There is even talk of suing Time magazine.)
Among the affectionate missives is this telegram from the great Broadway and movie choreographer Jack Cole: “The universe sparkles with miracles, but none among them shines like you. Remember that when you go to sleep.” The book, a luscious glossy thing, is studded with photos, many of them Monroe’s personal items — including artwork she purchased just before her death.
There’s a great deal of minutiae that only the most devoted MM fans will appreciate –check stubs and such. But the overall vibe of the book is wrenching, because it clarifies Monroe’s humanity, her working life, her normal day-to-day existence. She didn’t lurch around every single moment in a drug-induced coma. She had a vital — if troubled —existence. She wrote to her stepchildren by Arthur Miller (in the voice of the family dog, Hugo) and she wrote to Isadore Miller, even after she had divorced his son, Arthur.”
“Marilyn Monroe is the most famous, ubiquitous, and idolized woman of our modern age. An icon of physical beauty, sexuality, and the quintessentially American dream, Marilyn’s legend continues to grow four decades after her death. MM:Personal is a new and illuminating look behind the veil of that legend, reproducing artifacts and documents – thought to have been lost since 1962 and never before revealed to the public – to clarify, qualify, or reverse many common conceptions about the blond bombshell. Selected from more than 10,000 largely unseen and heretofore unpublished items that were stored in Marilyn’s two personal file cabinets – the ‘Rosetta Stones of Marilyn Monroe scholarship’ – the collection also draws from the important collections of Greg Schreiner and Scott Fortner. These documents, snapshots, letters, memorabilia, and ephemera are joined by the first account of Monroe’s life since Gloria Steinem’s Marilynto be written by a feminist historian, Dr Lois W. Banner, bringing a depth of understanding previously unavailable to her life. New answers come to light, such as what the dimensions were of Marilyn’s personal management of her public persona, Marilyn’s relationship to the photographers with whom she worked, how sensitive she was to her fans, and the tenor of her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. MM:Personal promises to completely refocus how we view Marilyn’s private life, personal relationships, and legacy.”
“The most important film representative of the 1950s voluptuous woman was Marilyn Monroe, who differed from the others by combining with sensuality strains of childishness reminiscent of the adolescent stars. She thereby created a powerful combination that encompassed the era. Technically unschooled and often intellectually vacuous in her film characterisations, she nevertheless possessed both the shrewdness of the classic chorus girl (a character she often portrayed in film roles) and the intuitive genius of a child, able to see more clearly to the heart of a matter than others more sophisticated around her. As a down-and-out member of a seedy female band in ‘Some Like it Hot’, she taught fleeing mobsters Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon the meaning of friendship and love; as a chorus girl in ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’, she taught the same lesson to Laurence Olivier, the head of a fictional kingdom. Most of the other voluptuous film stars had dark hair, but Monroe’s was peroxided a light blonde – a colour that invoked traditional images of angels and virtuous women, reflected the light locks of the era’s adolescent film stars, and both legitimised and heightened her sensuality.
Previous exemplars of female sensuality had also had blonde hair: one thinks of the British Blondes in the 1860s and Jean Harlow in the 1930s. But Monroe differed strikingly from the Lydia Thompson troupe and from Harlow. They were tough, wisecracking, even masculine in type. With a slight, lisping voice, a soft curvaceous body, and a seriousness about life, Monroe projected an intense femininity and an inner vulnerability. Her sensual posturings were reminiscent of Mae West, although with no hint of the parody that West intended. Monroe regarded her body with dead seriousness. Long before she was acclaimed as movie actress and sex queen, she had posed for the first nude centrefold in ‘Playboy’ magazine, destined to become a trendsetter in liberalised sexuality and a showcase for the bodies of beautiful women. [Actually, Monroe had posed for a trade calendar – the shots were acquired by Hugh Hefner four years later, after her rise to fame.]
Monroe’s popularity ensured the triumph of the vogue of dyed blonde hair, which cosmetics companies had been promoting. Sales of hair colouring soared; platinum blondes seemed everywhere. The widespread dying of hair to be light blonde indicated women’s acceptance of a model of looks and behaviour that had them be feminine, sensual, and unintellectual. Women were to seem like children, expressing their adulthood primarily through their sexuality. The ‘dumb blonde’ who ‘had more fun’ now became the dominant image of beauty for American women.”