The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe

The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe

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by Sarah Churchwell
     
 

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A brilliant investigation into the debates surrounding Marilyn Monroe's life and the cultural attitudes that her legend reveals

There are many Marilyns: sex goddess and innocent child, crafty manipulator and dumb blonde, liberated woman and tragic loner. Indeed, the writing and rewriting of this endlessly intriguing icon's life has produced more than

Overview

A brilliant investigation into the debates surrounding Marilyn Monroe's life and the cultural attitudes that her legend reveals

There are many Marilyns: sex goddess and innocent child, crafty manipulator and dumb blonde, liberated woman and tragic loner. Indeed, the writing and rewriting of this endlessly intriguing icon's life has produced more than six hundred books, from the long procession of "authoritative" biographies to the memoirs and plays by ex-husband Arthur Miller and the works by Norman Mailer and Joyce Carol Oates. But even as the books have multiplied, myth, reality, fact, fiction, and gossip have become only more intertwined; there is still no agreement about such fundamental questions as Marilyn's given name, the identity of her father, whether she was molested as a child, and how and why she died.

The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe reviews the unreliable and unverifiable-but highly significant-stories that have framed the greatest Hollywood legend. All the while, cultural critic Sarah Churchwell reveals us to ourselves: our conflicted views on women, our tormented sexual attitudes, our ambivalence about success, our fascination with self-destruction.

In incisive and passionate prose, Churchwell uncovers the shame, belittlement, and anxiety that we bring to the story of a woman we supposedly adore. In the process, she rescues a Marilyn Monroe who is far more complicated and credible than the one we think we know.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rather than add to the canon of morbid Monroe speculation, Times Literary Supplement contributor Churchwell steps back to examine the examiners and ask: why has so much been written about Monroe, and what does this fixation say about our society? She doesn't provide any answers, but focuses instead on the phenomenon-she's fascinated by the investigation itself. Although Churchwell touches briefly on the few factual areas where biographers and conspiracy theorists agree, such as Monroe's marriages and film stats, she chooses to linger on the numerous crux points for commentators. Even something as mundane as how Monroe developed her characteristic hip-swinging strut has been hotly debated: the head of the star's former modeling agency maintains it was because of weak ankles, but an acting coach claims he invented it, and a gossip columnist insists Monroe shaved off part of one high heel so her walk would be uneven. Instead of trying to find the truth, Churchwell ponders why such seemingly minor aspects of Monroe's image draw such fervid attention in a culture already saturated with image, celebrity and sex. Churchwell culls a wealth of information about Monroe, providing insight on our celebrity culture, with a refreshingly detached perspective. 13 b&w photos. Agent, Angela Rose at Granta UK. (Jan. 10) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Frequently dissected in an attempt to uncover the person behind the star, Marilyn Monroe now resides as a myth that reflects our culture's complex attitudes, values, and critical judgments of celebrity, success, and life. Taking a fresh approach to the subject, Churchwell (American literature & culture, Univ. of East Anglia) focuses on the stories themselves and the legend they created in an attempt to determine not who Monroe was but who she became as a result. Churchwell studies the writings of various biographers, novelists, journalists, and commentators (notably those of Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, and Monroe's onetime husband Arthur Miller), analyzing the content and nuance of these works and underlining subsequent reactions by the public and the media. The result is a well-researched yet disturbing look at an enigmatic woman and the confusing culture that made her an icon. For circulating libraries.-Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Astute scrutiny of "the perilous and fascinating lines between fact and fiction, between desire and contempt, between knowledge and doubt," as demonstrated in critical and biographical treatments of the iconic sex goddess. Monroe is a brutally oversold image, writes Churchwell (Literature and Culture/Univ. of East Anglia), "an icon of desirability and a stereotype of pathological femininity." On the one hand, Monroe is a myth, relecting and sanctioning our cultural values; on the other, as Churchwell makes clear, her symbolic relationship to femininity, sexuality, Hollywood, and celebrity has become what the author calls a dead metaphor, "a metaphor that has lost its figurative power, and gets taken literally." Churchwell wades into the various biographies, biographical novels, plays, and photo-essay, from Fred Guiles and Barbara Leaming to Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, and the truly weird Frank Capell, staunch anticommunist and hater of all things Kennedy. With sparkling clarity, she analyzes how these works feed our notions of spectacle, commodity, and representation. Worst of all, they just don't get it right: Churchwell, who can be coruscating, dubs one psychological profile "stupid to the point of incomprehensibility." She's an author of the if-it-looks-smells-and-tastes-like-an-apple-it-is-an-apple school of thought. Writing about Leaming's comment that the skin-tight gold lame Monroe wore in 1952 to an awards ceremony showed that the actress was "hell-bent on self-destruction," Churchwell dryly adds, "rather than the more obvious goal of self-promotion." She would like to liberate Monroe from such glib characterizations, especially those that use the name the actress discardedto make sentimental assumptions about her "real" personality. "Marilyn Monroe was a real person," she writes. "It is Norma Jeane who is the fiction, the cultural figment, the ghost of the real invoked as a death sentence." Speaking of which, she also stirs up serious dust in examining Monroe's death. Churchwell claims she's not out to paint a new portrait, but to understand the genesis and purpose of the stories that swarm around Monroe. Turns out she does quite well on both fronts. Pumps a lot of bilge overboard. (13 b&w illustrations)
From the Publisher

“[A] sustained, strenuous critique of the lazy thinking, sloppy research, and overall softheadedness that characterize so much popular biographical writing.” —A. O. Scott, The New York Times Book Review

“Smart, graceful, and lucid, this is a veritable Sherman's March through the Marilyn oeuvre, with bodies--Mailer, Oates, Miller--strewn everywhere. Instead of a torch, however, Churchwell wields a rapier, and if she flays the authors, it is to lay bare the anatomy of authorship in all its tangled complexity.” —Peter Biskind, author of Down and Dirty Pictures

“Refreshing . . . Her book has torn away layers of false readings and conspiracy theories.” —The New York Times

“Humane and skeptical . . . Churchwell has written an extremely useful deconstruction of the piffle that has accreted around her subject over the years . . . offering realistic alternatives to spiraling fantasies.” —Richard Schickel, Los Angeles Times

“Ferociously smart . . . offers a rare combination of guilty pleasure and intellectual insight.” —Vogue

“Sarah Churchwell wades through the conflicting bios of the legend so that you don't have to. . . . She provides a fair accounting of the ink spilled thus far and calls attention to the many veils between Marilyn and her audience.” —The Village Voice

“This intelligent and subtle book reminds us that Marilyn Monroe, in our fantasies, was a Snow White we pretended was a Cinderella: the slipper was never going to fit. In telling us the real story of so many wild tales about this mythologized figure, this study shows us that there is truth in lies too, as Hollywood used to insist, if you get enough of them. And if--big if--your mind is as alert and agile as Sarah Churchwell's.” —Michael Wood, author of America in the Movies

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466825949
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
12/27/2005
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
753,797
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Sarah Churchwell was educated at Vassar and Princeton and is now a professor of American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia. The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe is her first book. She lives in London.


Raised in Illinois, Sarah Churchwell was educated at Vassar and Princeton and is now a professor of American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia.

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Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really don't see why this book was published. The writer's supposed goal for the book is to denounce all of the Marilyn Monroe biographers and show the real 'Marilyn.' Okay, where does the writer accomplish this? It reveals well known facts about Marilyn that others have wrote endlessly about then goes on to say that they are not true. Please keep your money. It was a waste of mine. If you want a good Marilyn book don't get this
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