Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

3.8 39
by Barbara Leaming

View All Available Formats & Editions

Barbara Leaming's Marilyn Monroe is a complex, sympathetic portrait that will totally change the way we view the most enduring icon of American sexuality. To those who think they have heard all there is to hear about Marilyn Monroe, think again. Leaming's book tells a brand-new tale of sexual, psychological, and political intrigue of the highest order. Told for the


Barbara Leaming's Marilyn Monroe is a complex, sympathetic portrait that will totally change the way we view the most enduring icon of American sexuality. To those who think they have heard all there is to hear about Marilyn Monroe, think again. Leaming's book tells a brand-new tale of sexual, psychological, and political intrigue of the highest order. Told for the first time in all its complexity, this is a compelling portrait of a woman at the center of a drama with immensely high stakes, a drama in which the other players are some of the most fascinating characters from the world's of movies, theater, and politics. It is a book that shines a bright light on one of the most tumultuous, frightening, and exciting periods in American culture.
Basing her research on new interviews and on thousands of primary documents, including revealing letters by Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan, John Huston, Laurence Olivier, Tennessee Williams, Darryl Zanuck, Marilyn's psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson, and many others, Leaming has reconstructed the tangles of betrayal in Marilyn's life. For the first time, a master storyteller has put together all of the pieces and told Marilyn's story with the intensity and drama it so richly deserves.
At the heart of this book is a sexual triangle and a riveting story of betrayal that has never been told before. You will come away filled with new respect for Marilyn's incredible courage, dignity, and loyalty, and an overwhelming sense of tragedy after witnessing Marilyn, powerless to overcome her demons, move inexorably to her own final, terrible betrayal of herself.
Marilyn Monroe is a book that will make you think--and will break your heart.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews
Our fascination with Marilyn Monroe does not fade. Dozens, if not hundreds, of books have been written about the iconic, enigmatic beauty, and yet few of those volumes could be aptly described as serious biographies. Bestselling biographer Barbara Leaming (Katharine Hepburn) relies on new interviews and thousands of documents -- including letters by Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan, John Huston, Laurence Olivier, Tennessee Williams, Anna Freud, and many others -- to weave the various threads of Monroe's troubled life into a portrait of clarity and insight. It's the perfect gift for any Monroe fan or anyone interested in this period of American popular culture.
Is there anything left to be said about the sex icon of the 1950s? Leaming, author of the much-read Katharine Hepburn, has lots to say, and she's worth listeining to. This is no sleaze job by any means; hers is a respectable, respectful look at the much-misunderstood Marilyn Monroe. MM emerges as a smart perfectionist riddled with self-doubt and self-destructive tendencies; she became the most famous movie star of her day because that was what she wanted for herself, and her drive made it happen. "Marilyn wanted to be a movie star so very badly because it was the only way she knew to escape a chaotic, nightmarish existence that constantly threatened to draw her back in." The story of Monroe's life reads tragically from day one-from page one here. It was a life that despite the bright light of fame shining on it for many years could only be described as one long downward spiral. Monroe had barely gathered herself into a functioning entity before she began falling apart. We come away from Leaming's detailed explicit, sympathetic picture with more understanding of Monroe's demons and more comprehension of her talents. And the book ends on a positive note. "On her own," Leaming concluded, "against almost impossible personal and professional odds, she had created something brilliant and magical."

Place this in the hands of not only those readers who are nuts over Hollywood but also those who simply enjoy well-done biographies.

Molly Haskell
The chief virtue of this retelling . . .is that the author restores Marilyn's humanity, gives flesh and blood, intelligence and iniative, to the archetypal dumb blonde. . . .a gripping and corrective book.
The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
...[U]neven....[it has] a novelistic narrative, animated by dramatic set pieces and vivid cameo portraits....highly readable... [but] it frequently sidesteps the standards of serious biographical research.....
New York Times
Jeff Brown
[A] sympathetic, gracefully written study of an American legend. . .
People Magazine
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Nov.)
Library Journal
The author of a number of big biographies of big stars, e.g., Katharine Hepburn, Leaming digs into the scandals surrounding Monroe's life and death.
Kirkus Reviews
A dramatic, psychologically astute biography of the troubled sex symbol and star of such classics as 'Some Like It Hot,' 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' and 'The Seven Year Itch.' Leaming's research is extensive and innovatively interpreted in this unusual biography, but she is bent on telling Marilyn's story in a set, idiosyncratic way. This is both the great strength and weakness of her book. As a single, authoritative account, it cannot stand: Leaming omits too many telling details. Marilyn's childhood, for example, is hurried through in a handful of pages. But as a portrait of the star's conflicted, complicated nature and of those around her, this account is first-rate. Marilyn first landed in Hollywood as a "party girl," a wanna-be starlet, who traded sex for possible career advancement. She had some small successes, until she cleverly promoted herself into a breakthrough role. Fame then came almost instantaneously. But Marilyn was increasingly unable to handle its demands. Making movies came to terrify her, and drugs, alcohol, and on-set acting coaches could do little to assuage her fears. The caddish, self-serving behavior of many of those around her did little to help. And her suicide at 36 is all too understandable here. Beyond her acute insights into Marilyn's psyche, Leaming offers extensive acid-tipped portraits of those around her. Drama coach Lee Strasberg uses Marilyn to build up his prestige, regardless of the effects on her career or well-being. And second husband playwright Arthur Miller is a weak, self-justifying, egocentric who badly fails Marilyn. It's indicative of the eccentricity and ingenuity of this account that Miller's friendship/rivalry with the directorElia Kazan (another lover of Marilyn) occupies a central narrative position. Odd, but with a touch of genius.

From the Publisher
"Engrossing. . . . Restores Marilyn's humanity. . . . A gripping and corrective book."
—Molly Haskell, New York Times

Product Details

Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

On January 16, 1951, a black Lincoln convertible pulled into the driveway at 2000 Coldwater Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills. Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan had just traveled cross-country by train from New York. Miller, tall and lean, had a dark, angular, weathered face and a receding hairline. Kazan, known as Gadget or Gadg to his friends, was small with a large nose and a mop of wavy black hair. The men were in Los Angeles to set up their first film together. Miller had written a screenplay for Kazan to direct, and both had a great deal riding on the venture. But already there was a serious problem. On the train, Kazan had read the most recent draft of The Hook, a story of union corruption on the Brooklyn waterfront, and he'd been disappointed by what Miller had accomplished so far. Kazan made it clear that the script needed to be much better.
Greeted at the front door by a servant, Miller and Kazan entered the home of Charles Feldman, a prominent Hollywood agent and independent film producer. He was producing Kazan's latest project, the film of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. As Feldman told his friend and investor Joseph P. Kennedy, he believed that Kazan's work had been outstanding. Shooting had been completed before the holidays, but some post-production work remained to be done. Feldman, away on business and anxious to keep the director happy, had offered Kazan the run of his art-filled house. An inveterate collector, Feldman purchased paintings and bibelots in quantity, often sight unseen. The furniture, mostly English antiques and modern pieces, was kept to a minimum to emphasize the Chagalls, Renoirs, and Toulouse-Lautrecs that covered the walls. There were Thai bronze Buddhas. There were Ming and Sui stone heads. There were Tang and Chou horses and birds.
In the garden, steps led up to a heated swimming pool, beside which Miller set up his typewriter on a glass table. To understand the strain he was under, it is essential to keep in mind that The Hook was not just any screenplay. It was to be the work with which Miller followed Death of a Salesman, which had been a huge success on Broadway in 1949, directed by Kazan. Many critics thought the thirty-three-year-old Miller had written the great American play, and some pronounced it the century's finest drama. There was a price to be paid for acclaim of that magnitude. After the premiere, Miller confided to his producer, Kermit Bloomgarden, that he knew he was going to have a hell of a time topping that. Indeed, there had been moments when Miller wondered whether he would be able to write another play at all.
As Kazan perceived, Miller was not a playwright who invented stories. He needed to find his material in his own life. Yet The Hook was not based on anything Miller had actually experienced. The screenplay did not come out of a crisis that he himself had endured, and as a result he did not completely trust it. Miller began to worry that for a man his age, he had not lived enough. Yet the pressure was on to revise quickly while they pitched to Twentieth, Warner Bros., and Columbia Pictures. Unfortunately, Miller was not like his rival Tennessee Williams, who could work anywhere, under almost any conditions. He was a creature of routine, who found it difficult to write in unfamiliar surroundings.
Adding to the playwrights pressures was the threat of losing Kazan. In a period dubbed by the critic Brooks Atkinson the Williams/Miller era, Kazan seemed at times to enjoy playing each against the other. Kazan, wavering provocatively between the two, had finally chosen to film A Streetcar Named Desire instead of Death of a Salesman. Afterward, when Williams had had every expectation that Kazan would do his new play, The Rose Tattoo, on Broadway, the director jumped ship at the last minute, going off to Los Angeles for The Hook. Evidently, Kazan was not about to give either playwright reason to take him for granted. Always the director, he controlled people and situations; he didn't like being controlled by them.
Kazan was then probably the most powerful director in America. On Broadway, he had directed three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays. His association with Miller and Williams had earned him a reputation for being a playwright's director, but he was also clearly an actor's director. His work with Marlon Brando in the first stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947 had broken exciting new ground. In Hollywood, he'd negotiated a six-picture, non-exclusive deal with Twentieth Century Fox, at the highest per-picture director's salary the studio had ever agreed to pay. Kazan had already won an Academy Award as Best Director for Gentleman's Agreement, but it was Streetcar, on which the advance word was spectacular, that promised to be his watershed. Before that, despite the Oscar, Kazan had confided in Williams that he didn't really know how to make films yet. In Streetcar, Kazan demonstrated the mastery he so often showed on stage. The Hook was particularly important to Kazan, since he needed to follow Streetcar with another great film; that's why the current draft had been such a big disappointment. As it was, the script wasn't going to give either man what he needed.
There was an even greater pressure burdening Kazan. The House Un-American Activities Committee, which since 1938 had been attempting to document the Communist infiltration of American film and theater, was preparing to launch motion picture industry hearings in March. Its investigations had been given new and vigorous life by Americas entry into the Korean War in 1950. Having belonged to the Communist Party for about nineteen months between 1934 and 1936, Kazan figured it was only a matter of time before HUAC summoned him. He was visible. He was successful. He was very much in demand. Those qualities made him a prime target for a committee whose raison dêtre, in large part, was publicity. If they call me, I'll tell them to go fuck themselves, Kazan vowed to Kermit Bloomgarden. If he did that, his Hollywood career would be destroyed. The inevitability seemed to shadow Kazan's every action.
The climate of fear in Hollywood also had an impact on the particular project he and Miller were selling. When they met with Darryl Zanuck in his high-domed office at Twentieth Century Fox, the production chief turned down The Hook because of its politically sensitive subject matter. Zanuck, though eager to begin Kazan's next film, wouldn't touch Miller's script, concerned as it was with unions and labor. Abe Lastfogel, Kazan's agent at William Morris, left the meeting and went directly to Warner Bros. to try his luck there.
Meanwhile, Kazan had something else he wanted to do on the Fox lot. Ostensibly, he took Miller to the set of As Young as You Feel to visit the director, Harmon Jones, who had previously worked as Kazan's film editor. But the real reason was to see a girl he had heard about from Charlie Feldman. The detour offered a way to blow off some of the tension.
Before Miller and Kazan actually saw her, her name echoed through the studio. Marilyn! an assistant shouted frantically while Jones told Kazan about the trouble he'd been having with the twenty-four-year-old actress. She was forever disappearing from the set. Worse, when she returned, her eyes were often swollen from crying, making it difficult to film her. Fortunately, her role was a small one. This was to be her final day, if only Jones could get the shots he needed. She appeared at last, her skin-tight black dress disclosing a body perfect even by Hollywood standards. She had blue-gray eyes, a turned-up nose, and luminous white skin. She wore her fine blonde hair pinned on top of her head.
Marilyn Monroe was in crisis. When she finished work on this picture, she had no further assignments. After today, she had nothing to do and nowhere to go. A career that meant everything to her might well be over. Though Marilyn was under contract to Twentieth, Darryl Zanuck, who loathed her, was unlikely to pick up her option in May. Though she had signed a three-year contract with the William Morris Agency as recently as December 5, suddenly no one there would take her calls. Marilyn felt as if she were about to fall off the face of the earth.
Highlighting Marilyn's predicament was the fact that she had just had the best year of her professional life. She owed it all to Johnny Hyde, a partner and senior agent at William Morris. For two years, he had worked tirelessly on her behalf. Very much in love with Marilyn, the dwarf-like agent believed in her, and in her dream of being a star, as no one had done before.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Barbara Leaming is the author of the New York Times best-seller Katharine Hepburn, as well as the much-acclaimed Orson Welles. She was for many years professor of theater and film at Hunter College. Her articles have appeared in Vanity Fair and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Connecticut.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Marilyn Monroe 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was interested in learning more about her life but I found this book dragged on talking more about the people surrounding Marilyn and their lives rather than hers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
it is a great book to read if you wish to have a much deeper knowledge about Marilyn manroes life. It is well written and easy to follow. I would most certainly reccomend it to a friend. The author did a great job, by telling a very detailed story of her life. Just by reading the first few pages of it you are eager to find out mroe about her unpredictable life. reading this book is deffinatly a positive experience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
although this book doesn't talk about a whole lot of her childhood, it is very detailed in the rest of her life. it gives detailed occurences of most of the movies she made and detailed dilemas that she faced on a day-to-day basis. it also goes very in-depth about the people around her and her husbands. i would definitely recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was so disappointed in this book. It's very dry, reads like a compilation of production notes from her movie sets plus newspaper articles, with a thesis thrown in on the writings of Arthur Miller and how his wife Marilyn influenced his work. The insights into Miller's writing is interesting, but you have to know that that's what you're in for before reading this book. Personally, I was in the mood for more Marilyn.
JanetSeattle More than 1 year ago
Very touching look at how Monroe struggled with self-esteem and apparent inherited mental illness. Gives her a much more substantive image - way more intelligence behind this sexy beauty than I ever realized.... Also an interesting look at other famous people during these times. Highly recommended for anyone aware of what was going on in the 50's - it will fill you in on a lot of what was happening behind the scenes....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hello l just came form Paris and l am in cal what ls this is must be enjoyable right.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AshleighKirkland More than 1 year ago
This book gave a really in depth look into Marilyn Monroe’s complicated, controversial life. I enjoyed and would recommend this book because I’ve always been interested in her and her role in Hollywood. My only complaint about this book is that it briefly mentions a ton of different people that make the reading a little hard to follow but not enough to distract from the context. What made me pick this book up was my ethnography project in English class and I am so glad it brought me to it. This book connects to my project because it is all about theater and even though Monroe was a film star, her life still highlights a lot of the real struggles theater and film people alike go through. They have to get to know the right people, like ,”Johnny Hyde who had the power to make Marilyn’s dream a reality”, struggle to be known, likeable, and stay relevant, and land the roles that will propel their career forward. Another connection is the yearning she and a lot of other actors feel growing up, “she had become completely absorbed by the fantasy of the movies – a world of glamor and beauty that bore no relation to her own existence.” Acting was her life raft through an unloving childhood that motivated her to become the icon everyone recognizes today. Over all, I really enjoyed this book and I have a new appreciation for her and any actor/actress for their persistence and dedication. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very personal look at what it must have been like to be closely involved with Marilyn--her drug abuse, emotional dependency, paranoia. Still doesn't detract from the attraction she holds for us all, for some reason. She knew what she wanted to be from childhood, and she became that despite all her fears--one of the biggest fear was acting, ironically.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
YesBN More than 1 year ago
New insight into the relationship between Arthur Miller & Marilyn, absolutely falls flat for the last 8 months of her life. No energy & a terribly dull ending to the life story of a woman who still almost 50 years later generates interest. Her concensus that her dealth is a suicide and nothing more is a boorish way to end the book. Just decided to change my overall rating, as I rethink the writing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although the book was okay, it seemed to me that it focused too much around the circumstances and people surrounding the movies productions Marilyn was involved with. All of that seemed to be filler for a biography that doesn't offer much more than any other book about her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago