I’ve always been a book worm, in and out of the library, hanging out in bookstores (for fun!), juggling two different reads at a time. That is, until I’d hear about something else that would catch my attention where I would then unceremoniously drop whatever I was reading altogether to focus on a completely new novel. Essentially, this consistently left me with a ton of never finished books. I’m happy to report that 2012 turned out differently and this was largely due to joining a book club late last year (making me accountable to actually finish), but also because I found reads that really captivated me enough to not want to put them down. I’m dedicating a few posts to reflect on the best stories that filled my time this year, the best in books across many genres – starting with my favorite non-fiction read this year about a lady you might have heard of…
Barbara Leaming (2000)
I’ve always wondered why the lasting fascination with Marilyn Monroe? After seeing “My Week with Marilyn” last year, I was lured into wanting to watch the original 1957 film that inspired its events, “The Prince and the Showgirl.” Instantly, I understood it. You’re drawn to her whenever she’s on camera, no matter who else is in the scene – your eyes follow her. There’s a charm to her, a beauty to her, a mystery to her, that pulls you in and doesn’t let go.
Subsequently, I picked up this book and was instantaneously sucked into another world, another time. Hollywood during a very tumultuous, yet booming period. When the movie-making business was very much male-dominated but in a very different way than it is today; and the origins of movie stars as a brand, true sex symbols, no longer simply a person. I have to say reading this novel really made me question: is it simply the brand that Marilyn Monroe created that resonates with us? Is it what she represented or was it in fact “her?”
Marilyn Monroe was admittedly flawed and tragic, insecure and incessantly seeking approval and respect. Perhaps it’s because of these characteristics – despite the sex symbol – she resonates with us, it makes her human. Perhaps even more it’s because she’ll always be that “brand” frozen in time. We’ll never see her age. She’ll always be and represent glamour to us. Either way, the last act of her short-lived life was anything but glamorous behind closed doors: a third failed marriage, a third miscarriage, high profile sexual affairs, drug and alcohol abuse, and several suicide attempts.
Throughout the entire story there’s an air of depression and desperation on each page. There’s a side to her that is explored that I didn’t know much about: her troubled childhood, her temper, her fear of being in front of the camera, her dependency on people that were just using her, and her consistent tardiness or lack of appearance on set which always complicated production on many of her films.
I firmly believe that Marilyn Monroe might not have stood have a chance from the moment she became this “brand.” How do you maintain that? How do you live with that type of constant pressure? Furthermore, it was never enough for her, it seemed. No amount of money, love, fame, or success seemed to satisfy her. It begs to question the idea and realism of destiny and the complexity of the human condition.
Marilyn Monroe would have been 86 years old in 2012 but she is very much alive. Film festivals and museum exhibitions are still orchestrated in her honor. I wondered, as I finished the last pages of this biography, that as she swallows the contents of several bottles of pills, if she would’ve known then that her legacy 50 years later still exists in a way that no other movie star has managed to have, would THAT have finally been enough to persuade her? An excellent, detailed, well-written biographical account of one of the most highly coveted enigmas in American film history, with a tragic and very unhappy ending.
*Book cover image courtesy: goodreads.com