The Best Marilyn Monroe Books To Read After Watching ‘Blonde’


In life and in death, Marilyn Monroe commodified sex, sensuality and fame. Even today, she represents a visual shorthand for our idea of ​​ultimate stardom. Andy Warhol’s iconic serigraphs of Monroe perhaps captured that best: visual reminders of her marketable face, her femininity, and her undying fame. Now a new Netflix movie, Blond, adapts Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novelization of Monroe’s life story to give us an unvarnished depiction of the perils of her stardom. The film joins countless other creative efforts to understand and analyze born movie star Norma Jeane Mortensen, including biopics, TV series, biographies, photobooks, essays, and even plays. Some have had set agendas — like biographers claiming she was murdered by the FBI or had an affair with Robert F. Kennedy — while others have delved into the emotional depths of her short and tragic life to sketch the portrait of someone whose fame has completely eclipsed their humanity. For those looking to dig deeper, here are the best books that deconstruct, analyze, and even transmogrify the star known as Marilyn Monroe.

Very good deal

“The only voice of Blond is by Norma Jeane,” Oates says of her 2000 novel, Blond. The book is a fictionalized exploration of the life of Marilyn Monroe that strips away the veneer of Hollywood cinema and leaves Norma Jeane unrefined in search of security and certainty. At nearly 1,000 pages, it’s an epic work that uses the rough storyboards of Monroe’s life to create a richly humanistic and relatable narrative. But beware, it’s also a real sober read. It features Monroe’s traumatic childhood, her many abortions, her suicide attempts, her alcohol and drug problems, her lovers and abusers, and her precarious mental health. There is also endless sweat in Blond: the sweat of trying to be Marilyn Monroe, of seeking personal and professional autonomy, of simply needing to survive deep and nagging traumas. The book sets out to confront Oates, tasking us with reconciling this brutalized woman with the sanitized and glamorous femininity of star Marilyn Monroe. For those who love the new film adaptation, it’s worth engaging with Oates’ sustained novel about Monroe as it beautifully heightens her tragedy, her loneliness, and her never-ending search for stability.

Marilyn: a biography

Norman Mailer’s 1973 book on Monroe is not essential reading. But it’s an important cultural artifact for understanding how the star’s story was previously presented to the masses. In the book, Mailer makes outrageous and unsubstantiated claims and mostly steals biographical sources from other bios. It fleshes out Monroe’s life to build a crescendo of claims, such as that the FBI murdered Monroe to end her affair with Robert F. Kennedy. This claim and others proved bankable to Mailer in the 1970s, which saw the book sell for millions. There’s another notoriety around Marilyn: a biography, too, with some critics claiming it was an attempt by Mailer to applaud Arthur Miller, as Mailer had ambitions for wider stardom which Miller totally eclipsed in his marriage to Monroe. Rereading today, the book uses cheap, shorthand psychoanalysis to analyze the star and is punctuated with awkward sections that become lyrical about her erotic appeal. It’s a relic of its time, but key reading for those who want to reckon with how many Americans saw Monroe from the 1970s onwards — as a sex bomb, a slut, and a victim of an FBI cover-up. Mailer’s biography remains notable only for understanding the urgent work that other biographers had to do to dispel his many sensationalist claims.

Marilyn Monroe: biography

Donald Spato’s extensive and detailed biography of Monroe is hard to find today, but worth seeking out. It is often considered the best of Monroe’s bios and remains a must-have patch. At nearly 800 pages, it’s a comprehensive retelling of Monroe’s legendary life story, beginning with her difficult childhood – absent and unknown father and mentally ill mother – to her Hollywood debut. , until her immense fame finally engulfed her. The book is a fair and revisionist version that puts a lot of rumors to bed, including completely debunking stories of sexual affairs with the Kennedy brothers (thanks Mailer). Spato says Monroe only slept with JFK once: “The Kennedys had almost nothing to do with her.” All of this is backed up by extensive research, including 35,000 personal and professional documents (some unsealed for the first time) and rare interviews, including with people present at the autopsy (who emphasize that Monroe was not murdered by the FBI or the CIA). Instead, Spoto tries to let the straight facts speak alongside a heavily attributable supply, arguing that Monroe’s tragic endings had everything to do with her search for stability in life and nothing to do with wild conspiracies.

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

While some Marilyn books have had political agendas, J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography is more invested in his family ties and focuses on Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker. We learn how generations of Monroe’s family were stricken with serious mental health issues, including her mother, Gladys, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and spent much of her life in institutions. Monroe was terrified of falling into the same line of inherited madness that undid both her mother and her grandmother (who, by the way, committed suicide). Taraborrelli’s approach is to point out Monroe’s “secret life” and argue that her psychic problems were due to this inevitable hereditary fate. Much of mental illness was misunderstood in the 1950s and, in Monroe’s case, mistreated by the studios’ operating system and a team of sycophants close to her. Monroe’s worries about her mental stability only increased her reliance on prescription pills and alcohol to ease her immense anguish later. (It’s grim reading to learn that she died with 15 bottles of prescription pills on her bedside table.) Just know that this biography is more gossipy than others, so don’t look for a lot of thoughtful commentary and expect more exposes (like interviews with Secret Service agents and copies of Gladys Baker’s medical records).

My story

Believe it or not, Monroe actually wrote parts of her own autobiography while she was alive. My story (first published in 1974) is an anomaly, however, as it has been largely forgotten and was only published in response to renewed interest in her in the mid-1970s (thanks again, Mailer). The book collects several interviews with screenwriter Ben Hecht, chronicling his life up to 1954. Some startling information is shared here, including that Monroe was sexually abused at the age of 8 by a man who was boarding with his children. adoptive parents. (There’s also a crazy story of being scolded by Joan Crawford for her outfits.) Monroe says with foresight in My story, “Yes, there was something special about me… I was the kind of girl who was found dead in a bedroom with an empty bottle of sleeping pills in her hand.” Be aware that this isn’t the complete picture – more like a small window into Monroe’s mind. Collecting personal thoughts, anecdotes and memories, the book asks fans to fill in the blanks about Monroe’s brief life by listening to her own voice and musings rather than subscribing to the outrageous myths projected onto her.

Marilyn Monroe: the private life of a public icon

While Monroe biographies are often published every few years, Charles Casillo’s mediation of Monroe is one of his most redeeming treatments in recent memory. Unlike others who have sought complete and unbiased accuracy, or speculated on wild conspiracy theories, Casillo draws on human stories for a more sensitive portrait that explores the emotional contours of his life. In particular, how Monroe was plagued by gnawing insecurities — about her mental stability, broken family ties, her own self-preservation — and defeated by addictions to seemingly stay alive and work, using everything from alcohol to barbiturates. The central contention of the book is that Monroe’s fractured and dissatisfied relationship with her unknown father caused a lifetime of problematic relationships and trauma with men. This included her husbands, the demanding Joe DiMaggio and the belittling Arthur Miller. Monroe’s search for her father is emblematic of her broader search for certainty elsewhere in her life which, sadly, is never realized, eventually seeing her commit suicide – whether intentionally or accidentally. This is a new biography that synthesizes many parts of his life story into one digestible and compelling psychological study.

Marilyn Monroe

Barbara Leaming strives to devalue the usual scandalous parts of Monroe’s life (like the Kennedys and her suicide) to invest heavily in a study of her identity as a woman struggling against the studio system, society, and herself. . At the center of this conflict is her marriage to Arthur Miller. Leaming argues that this union remains representative of Monroe’s desire for dignity and artistic respect, far removed from the emptiness of Hollywood exploits and the facade of Marilyn the mute Blonde. A bit pessimistic, however, Leaming says Monroe ultimately succumbed to the same cycle she sought to avoid, even despite being married. She spent her final years posing for nude pictures and getting into drinking and partying, returning to the degrading routines she so desperately sought to escape from by becoming a major movie star in the first place. Of all the biographies available, this one is sure to appeal to readers interested in the relationship between fame and Monroe’s femininity, as Leaming makes important corrections to many of the great traditional tales. Marilyn Monroe restores Monroe’s maligned femininity, intellect, and depth that still figure today in popular understanding of her as a symbolic shorthand for sex and stardom.


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