Marilyn: A Readers’ Guide

Photo by Jock Carroll, 1952

Over at Book Riot today, Jeffrey Davies suggests six great reads about Marilyn. Among them are several titles I’ve reviewed in depth, including Lois Banner’s MM – Personal, Michelle Morgan’s The Girl, Charles Casillo’s Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon, and Marilyn’s own Fragments; plus old favourites like Gloria Steinem’s Marilyn: Norma Jeane, and Marilyn’s 1954 memoir, My Story.

Julien’s Adds Strasberg Estate to November Auction

If the recently-announced November sale of David Gainsborough-Roberts‘ Marilyn collection wasn’t spectacular enough, here comes news that Lee Strasberg’s Monroe archive will also be included. A limited edition, box-set catalogue is also on sale for $250. The list isn’t yet online, but collector Scott Fortner gives us a sneak preview on his blog today. Many items were previously featured in the books Fragments and MM – Personal, and have never been up for sale until now. “I’ve always thought that the 1999 Christie’s auction, ‘The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe’, would most certainly be the most important auction ever when it came to Marilyn,” Scott writes. “However, Julien’s Auctions is moving into this same category…”

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

‘Marilyn Redux’

Carl Rollyson, author of one of the best studies of MM as an artist, Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress (1986), has written a fascinating article, ‘Marilyn Redux’, for BiblioBuffet.

In the article, Rollyson argues that the publication of Fragments and MM: Personal have greatly enhanced our understanding of Marilyn, and he also mentions that he is writing a new book in the light of these new findings.

“What broke Monroe’s concentration, I thought, was related to her traumatic childhood and to the factory-like process of motion picture making, the rigid schedule of Hollywood productions that she detested. In this regard, my conclusions were not much different from those of other biographers. What I failed to realize is that it was not her background or her working conditions that did her in. On the contrary, as Fragments and MM-Personal show, it was her acute self-consciousness, her Virginia Woolf-like obsession with watching herself and scrutinizing her relations with others. She did not keep diaries as faithfully as Woolf did, and she did not have Woolf’s literary gifts, but Monroe had a sensibility like Woolf’s that ultimately pursued itself to the point of extinction. In short, it was not the traumatic childhood, not the movies, not the failed marriages—not her even her disappointed hopes—that led to her demise, but rather her unrelenting focus on herself. (This self-consciousness appeared very early, at least as early as her first marriage, which is to say years before she became a star, or even had an acting career.)”

Rollyson goes on to analyse the long narrative in Fragments, where Norma Jeane/MM discussed her first love:

“So imagine the life of a young woman who did anticipate trouble, who could not help but observe herself, and who chose a profession in which she was on display all the time. Her self-consciousness could be paralyzing and was relieved only by moments of acting when she could embody another being. What a relief it would be to act unconsciously and ultimately, to be unconscious, no longer obliged to carry the burden of self, a burden already shouldered by Norma Jeane when she was still three years away from her first appearance in a motion picture. To carry that same burden as Marilyn Monroe was all the more deadly.”

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

Liz Smith Reviews ‘MM: Personal’

“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.”

Read Liz Smith’s review in full at WowOwow

MM – Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe, by Lois Banner and Mark Anderson, is published on March 1st.