Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Revised and Updated
I discovered Marilyn Monroe in the late 1970s while working on Norman Mailer. His biography of Marilyn Monroe excited my admiration. Mailer shrewdly drew on previous work by Maurice Zolotow and Fred Lawrence Guiles, Monroe’s first two important biographers, to portray a proactive person he deemed Napoleonic. To this day, no one seems to have recognized how his insight into this ambitious actress catapulted Monroe biography to a different level.
To explain, I need to summon the dark days of Monroe biography, the pre-Norman Mailer period, when she was viewed as a rather pathetic figure—a victim of Hollywood, a vulgar popular cultural figure, generally a messed up human being. Of course, there were exceptions to this view. Diana Trilling wrote a sensitive piece about Monroe’s artistry, and other writers and artists who met Monroe were impressed with her wit. Maurice Zolotow had the advantage of actually knowing the actress and reporting vividly on her movie set behavior. Then Fred Lawrence Guiles, author of the first comprehensive Monroe biography, probed deeply into her early years, especially her experiences with foster families. But Zolotow and Guiles treated Monroe mainly as a woman who all too often succumbed to the pressures of her career and rarely seemed in control of what was happening to her. Embedded in their narratives, however, was another Monroe, one far more canny and cunning. But this side of the actress was still overwhelmed by stories of how many takes it took for her to say “It’s me, Sugar,” in Some Like It Hot.
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