Thursday, September 13, 2012

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, by Lois Banner.

Marilyn was a genius at self-creation and at posing in front of the camera. That may be the ultimate act of self-presentation for women in the twenty-first century, driven by technology, visuality, and the homogenization of world cultures. The innocence and sorrow in Marilyn's eyes, transmitted in her photographs and in movies like Bus Stop and The Misfits, makes us, like the audiences in her own day, want to comfort and protect her. She is the child in all of us, the child we want to forget but can't dismiss. We want to know what would have happened to her if she had lived longer. To construct any approximation of that future, we need to know as fully as possible about her past - who she was when she was alive.

As a film blogger, I have seen some of Marilyn's films but didn't know much about her until reading this biography. Lois Banner has written another book about Marilyn too, entitled MM - Personal, but this one - 515 pages including the index and footnotes - can be surmised as the most detailed of any of the Marilyn Monroe biographies written. Banner starts the novel before Marilyn was even born, detailing her home life and her mother and supposed father, and it ends with the aftermath of her death, on August 5, 1962. Even though it's been 50 years, many are still curious about Marilyn and all of the facets of her life - and death - and this biography aims to fulfill those curiosities.

From the publisher:
Marilyn Monroe is an icon whose life and legacy continues to be shrouded in contradictions and inaccuracies. As an academic who has been at the forefront of women's issues for the last half decade, Banner spent nine years researching the intimate details of Monroe's life, interviewing more than one hundred people in her inner circle and fan club, and examining confidential papers and ledgers in the final years of her life that previous biographers have failed to analyze.

I knew a little more about Monroe after watching the film My Week with Marilyn, which was in theaters late last year, but that only focused on one of the productions she was in. This book goes into detail about the issues that plagued her life, including depression, mood swings, and endometriosis, and we see what events may have transpired to make her behave the way she did.

A few little known facts - those in italics are from the publisher's notes:

  • Banner reveals the complex parenting of Marilyn, named Norma Jeane Mortenson on her birth certificate, when Gladys Baker, her mother, was actually married to Edmond Mortensen and Marilyn's father was probably Stanley Gifford, a supervisor at the Hollywood editing firm where Gladys worked. (*and that's not a typo: her birth certificate says "Mortenson" even though Gladys's husband's name was Mortensen)
  • Marilyn was sexually abused as a child, and this formed her adult life too - she had "dissociative disorder."
  • She was married three times: to Jim Dougherty, when she was sixteen; Joe DiMaggio, the baseball player; and Arthur Miller, the famed playwright. She wanted children but due to her endometriosis and other conditions, she was never able to have one, though she miscarried several times.
  • Marilyn was actually very religious, at least in her younger years - she was brought up as a Christian and then turned to Christian Science in her teens and twenties.
  • She may have been bisexual, though this is still not certain; Banner argues the evidence to show that it was, however.
  • The famous Seven Year Itch photo of the wind blowing Marilyn's white skirt over a subway grate was actually a well orchestrated publicity student - one of the greatest in film history - including barricades, police, Klieg lights, photographers, and 1,500 male spectators.
  • Marilyn was involved with the Kennedys for many years and she fought back when they decided to drop hers.
Marilyn may have seemed like a little girl at times, but she was actually very smart and "willing to take risks," and this is what ultimately made her succeed as a film star.

I'm not entirely sure what to give this for a star rating - I'm not a huge fan of biographies, and this book was very long for me to get through - but fans of Marilyn, the 1950s-1960s movie industry, or that time period (1930s-1960s) in general will most likely find this book fascinating.


  1. I think Marilyn has honestly one of the most interesting stories! Personally I don't think she is an idol or anything, or even an icon...I mean honestly, she committed suicide and was a seriously depressed person! But such an interesting person, and I've read quite a few biographies about her!
    I LOVE "Some Like It Hot" and "Monkey Business" with her! Such hilarious movies! "How to Marry a Millionaire" is pretty funny too! :)

    1. What's interesting is that this book proposes it was not suicide - that it was kind of a plot. Not sure if that's correct or not, though.

      And yes I like her in Some Like It Hot! :)


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