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Marilyn Monroe Paperback – February 29, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

This extraordinarily thoughtful book by Barbara Leaming, a literary star among movie-star biographers, offers the last thing you'd expect in a book on Marilyn Monroe: new information from verifiable sources. Sure, lots of the tragedy is familiar: an abused, confused girl from an orphanage with a mother in a madhouse rises from sexual party favor for homely showbiz men to the movie superstar who pushes them around, until she crashes, a victim of self-loathing and drug addiction.

The thing about a tragedy is that its heroine isn't a victim--she's responsible for her fate. Leaming does scholarly spadework, digging up hard facts from sources like UCLA's 20th Century Fox collection and the diary-like first drafts of Arthur Miller's semiautobiographical work, and she makes sense of Monroe's motives. She even apparently solves Monroe's suicide with clues from the star's psychiatrist's letters in the Anna Freud collection. Her last overdose may have happened just because her shrink went to dinner with his wife and she felt abandoned.

But until pills killed her, Monroe wasn't a candle in the wind. She burned with ambition and knew how to craft a persona and play power games--with moguls and with the commie-busters hounding her husband Miller. Leaming plausibly analyzes the Miller-Monroe-Elia Kazan love/hate triangle, sizes up the Kennedy connection, busts her acting coach Lee Strasberg as "chillingly mercenary," and deftly shows just how her life entangled her art, film by film.

This book has a woman's touch: it's a work of sharp intellect and emotional insight unclouded by lust or star worship. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Thirty-six years after Marilyn Monroe's death (at the age of 36), Leaming, prolific celebrity biographer, picks through the bones and neuroses of the ultimate Hollywood icon. More than 200 books have been written on the subject; only a few biographies (namely, Donald Spoto's revisionist Marilyn Monroe: The Biography) have managed to humanize the fragile actress, who has long since been subsumed by her own mystique. Leaming's relentlessly morose and stand-offish portrait, by contrast, places Monroe on a downward spiral from birth. Beginning in 1951, the book backtracks briefly, skimming over her childhood, early marriage, status on the party-girl circuit and early screen debut. Relying on letters, memos, other biographies and a paper trail from Twentieth Century-Fox, Leaming relays the precise dates when Monroe signed contracts, called in sick, filmed for half a day, etc. It's an approach that does little to explain Monroe's dynamc screen presence, her warmth and charm. The absence of new interviews here is most noticeable in passages detailing Monroe's marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Both husbands remain enigmas on the page. However, secondary characters (such as Lee and Paula Strasberg and longtime agent Charles Feldman) are often vividly etched. If Monroe enjoyed any good friendships or happy experiences making films, they're not presented here. Leaming's real contribution is the coverage of the HUAC blacklisting trials and its effects on the men in Monroe's life. As interesting as these details may be, however, they overwhelm the book and, even worse, shove Marilyn from the spotlight. 32 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition (February 29, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609805533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609805534
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #452,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Barbara Leaming is a NY Times bestselling author. Three of her books have been NY Times Notable Books of the Year. Her most recent book, "Churchill Defiant: Fighting On 1945-1955," received The Emery Reves Award from the International Churchill Centre. Her groundbreaking biography of America's 35th President, "Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman," was the first to detail the lifelong influence of British history and culture and especially of Winston Churchill on JFK. Leaming's articles have appeared in the NY Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, the Times of London and other magazines.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel on July 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
Don't buy this biography of Marilyn Monroe if you are at all curious about her thoughts and feelings, details of her personal life, or her mysterious death. However, if you want to read hundreds of pages all about Marilyn's battles with 20th Century Fox studios, her dissolved partnership with Milton Greene, and how she spent her money, then this is the book for you. Leaming's primary source was Marilyn's extensive file at Fox, which leads to an extremely disappointing and impersonal look at a dynamic icon. I recommend _Legend_ by Fred Lawrence Guiles instead, though non-conspiracy fans tend to prefer the Donald Spoto biography. Either is preferable to this one.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By V. VanCamp on July 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
least of all Marilyn! Here was a sad and tragic woman who just wanted to be loved, but even when she was loved, she was unable to believe it or accept it. This book is so sad and heartbreaking. It left me wanting to comfort the little girl inside Marilyn Monroe. She longed for respect, but also did not believe she deserved it. Marilyn should have had therapy when she was a young girl. By the time she was in therapy, it was too little, to late.
This book is fascinating. I loved that Barbara Leaming gave us a lot of details, because it helped me to really get a feeling for Marilyn and her life. I also enjoyed reading about other people such as Arthur Miller, Joe DiMaggio, Elia Kazan and Lee & Paula Strasberg. (To name just a few!)This book gives you a very clear picture of Hollywood and all of its selfish, greedy and self-oriented people.
This book makes me feel that Marilyn did not get a fair shake in this world. It is also apparent, though that Marilyn made some big mistakes that hurt her badly. She was a lost girl and she needed help and guidance that she never really got. Most of the people she received 'help' from had their own agendas and so their 'help' focused more on them than it did Marilyn. There was a huge part of Marilyn that never grew up. She was fragile and was unable to stand the harshness of this world, and so, she self-destructed.
Excellent book - sad book - intriguing book - absolutely worth reading!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jo Manning on January 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Neither sensational, nor scandalous, nor trashy, Leaming's extremely well-documented tome concentrates on Marilyn Monroe's struggles with her studio, 20th Century Fox, and her relationship with the various men and women in her professional life (agents, producers, directors, partners, etc.) and in her personal life (boyfriends, husbands, ex-husbands, mentors, psychiatrists, acting teachers, etc.) Monroe wanted to be in charge of her own career, but was perceived by many (notably Daryl Zanuck)to be talentless and empty-headed. She was anything but talentless and empty-headed, but it was an uphill battle trying to convince those in the positions of helping or hindering her career. Her growing paranoia (there was mental illness in her family and Leaming says she feared she was next in line)and her increasing performance anxieties finally did her in, and she was fired by the studio. Her reputation as someone who was difficult to work with and undependable made producers leery of hiring her. Growing ever more dependent on her acting teachers (the Strasbergs) and her psychiatrists (Marianne Kris and Ralph Greenson) and drinking and doping to excess most probably led to her suicide. She'd attempted to kill herself several times before. Her relationship with her husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller is explored in a fascinating new way. All you ever thought you knew -- from the tabloids and the gossip columns -- may have just skimmed the surface of the complex reality. A must-read for anyone interested in the Marilyn Monroe phenomenon, the big Hollywood studios, and the movie biz in general. Leaming's research and documentation are truly impressive.Essential for any library/personal movie collection.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By KATHRYN A WEISNER on June 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
Marilyn Monroe had a life made to be written about. From birth to death she was abused, taken advantage of, and underestimated, yet her will and determination brought her to the top of Hollywood glitter and gloss. Unfortunately, this book does a very bad job of showing that. Leaming concentrate so much on showing how almost everyone in Monroe's life misunderstood or underestimated that she turns Monroe into a brainless idiot. Monroe is again and again portrayed as a confused, insecure girl who just needs someone to think for her and tell her what to do.
While the book is historically accurate, a strong picture of Monroe is not given. In order to survive all that Monroe went through to get to the top, a girl had to be strong-willed, intelligent, and devious. Yet again and again Leaming emphasises the weak points of Monroe's character and life, glossing over moments when Monroe's strength and determination and intelligence win her victories of her own.
I suggest renting this book from your local library first, along with other Monroe biographies, then decided if it is worth spending the money on. Personally, I don't think it is.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By CarmenJones on January 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
i am a huge fan of barbara leaming, she is the one the best writers and she has managaed to humanize marilyn as no one has before, the book was fluid and wasn't over-whelming as most marilyn books are, hurrah! barbara! if there is a chance that you are reading this, i would love if you wrote about dorothy dandridge, i think she'd make a great subject for you!
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