Sunday August 5

The Truth About Marilyn Monroe: How Much Do We Really Know?

Hers was a life lived fully and ambitiously, and cut short tragically; this much we all know is true. But beyond the public persona that Norma Jeane Mortenson put forth, do we really know all that much about the reality behind Marilyn Monroe’s storied thirty-six years on this earth? Upon the fiftieth anniversary of Monroe’s death, feminist and historian Lois W. Banner presents us with a new, all-encompassing study of the star’s tumultuous life and mystery-sodden death, Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox.

Marilyn Monroe has inspired countless tell-alls, novels, biopics, songs. She is a muse to many and a mystery to most. But exactly how did a girl with questionable origins (no one knows – still – who her real father is) rise up through the ranks to become a legend? And more important, what shaped Marilyn into the woman she was at her core? This latter question is that which Banner explores most heavily in her biography.

Banner’s expertise serves her well in her writing. As she walks us through Monroe’s humble beginnings, she focuses on the foster family experiences that quite deeply affected Marilyn. Her relationships with her mother, Gladys; her mother’s best friend, Grace, who became young Marilyn's guardian after Gladys was institutionalized; and her foster mothers and fathers all affected Marilyn’s maturation profoundly, and Banner reports in intricate detail exactly how. Banner turns a close eye, also, to Marilyn’s sexual self – her self-image, her love of women, her search for the adoration of the men in her life – and the effect of Christian Science on this aspect of her psychology. This particular study of the star is a meticulously researched look into the psyche of a young, stability-deprived  woman. Suddenly, we're left thinking less about the what – and more about the why.

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox guides us through Marilyn’s early life to her start in Hollywood and her eventual rise to notoriety-nearing fame. No rumor is left unturned in Banner’s book as the author accompanies us through Marilyn’s marriage to and divorce from Jim Dougherty, her intimate relationship with drama coach Natasha Lytess, her introduction to Arthur Miller, marriage to Joe DiMaggio – and every lover, friend, and enemy in between and since, finally bringing us to her involvement with the Kennedys. We all know the basics of how this story ultimately ends, with Marilyn perishing from a drug overdose. But here, too, Banner presents a fresh foundation to the framework.

Banner’s writing covers the legend of Marilyn Monroe in a brand-new way, with a sympathetic yet deconstructive grip on the story. Fifty years later, Marilyn is part of American history, Hollywood history, women’s history. What better time than now to get all of the details in one comprehensive and well-written read?

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