Marilyn Monroe has been the subject of countless books, ranging from lavish pictorials to bonafide oddities including a biography, published earlier in the decade, penned by a quartet of psychics who interviewed the spirits of the deceased Monroe, the Kennedys, and others. But don't think the Monroe saga has been played out in print. The scholarly biography, Marilyn Monroe, looks as the indelible '50s icon through a distinctly different lens, providing a vivid portrait of an enigmatic woman who could be both strong and self-willed, as well as fragile. For this fresh depiction, Barbara Leaming author of respected biographies of Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, and Katharine Hepburn has focused on a tangled love triangle set against the era's tumultuous political atmosphere. Monroe was a struggling 24-year-old hopeful a party girl who was passed from man to man, as she sought to further her career when she became involved with the acclaimed theater and film director Elia Kazan. At the same time she met and was attracted to his colleague, the distinguished playwright Arthur Miller. After going on to dazzle audiences with her undeniable charisma and her talent the lush-bodied, luminous Monroe achieved superstardom. She also married baseball great Joe DiMaggio, who dearly loved the woman but not her career. All the while, Monroe's life continued to intersect those of Kazan and Miller. When marriage to DiMaggio crashed, Monroe found solace in New York, where she hobnobbed in the heady theater world and came under the spell of acting guru Lee Strasberg and his Actor's Studio. She also married Miller, who like Kazan had come under the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was conducting witchhunt-like investigations into the ties between show business and the Communist Party. The hearings would impact the careers of both men who each reacted differently before HUAC. (Kazan ratted out fellow artists who had had Communist ties; Miller refused.) Throughout Miller's ordeal, Monroe showed surprising resolve never wavering in her support of her husband. But she disintegrated in other ways, as she unsuccessfully battled her demons with the use of pills and alcohol. The former Norma Jeane Baker used to relate how, at the age of three months, she was nearly smothered in her crib by her mentally ill mother. When she died at age 36 a suicide, per Leaming she may have been finishing what her mother had started.
The ultimate suicide blonde? Another death theory is explored in another book out this month, The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe, by Donald H. Wolfe and D.W. Wolfe (William Morrow).
Biographer Pat H. Broeske's latest book is about that other enduring '50s icon, Elvis Presley.