REVIEW: Marilyn Monroe: The Biography
I feel guilty for believing all the things people have said about Marilyn Monroe.
- Marilyn Monroe had an affair with Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy.
- Marilyn Monroe was a “dumb blonde,” capable of only playing “dumb blonde” roles.
- Marilyn Monroe only had her beauty and her figure and no actual talent.
- Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with baseball player Joe DiMaggio was a perfect storybook romance.
- Marilyn Monroe overdosed on purpose.
After reading Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto (published in 1993), I genuinely believe all of those things are false. The book is a detailed look at Monroe’s life, beginning with her grandparents and parents and finally Marilyn’s early years. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, Monroe had an unstable childhood and was bounced between relatives and foster homes. She was left or relocated by parental figures (especially women) several times and she was plagued by abandonment issues for her entire life.
From an early age, she was complimented on her looks. Heaps of attention from male admirers came when she hit puberty and she filled out into the idyllic hourglass that helped her find fame.
Marilyn found modelling for photographs easy and never found discomfort in revealing clothing or nudity. She found acting a true challenge and struggled with crippling self-esteem issues her entire career, and there were people who took advantage of that and encouraged her self doubt to make them depend on them, keeping their wallets padded as movie studios threw more and more cash Monroe’s way.
While light comedies and musicals like Some Like It Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire shot her into the celebrity stratosphere, she yearned to play more serious roles. She was given the chance a few times (Niagara and The Misfits) but she was difficult to work with—she was always late and always insisted on a lot of takes, all while getting feedback with acting coaches located just off camera. In the case of The Misfits, the script was changing every night and the whole thing was a bit of a disaster. It would be both Monroe’s and Clark Gables’ last completed films.
By the time she had really grown up and was finally finding herself as a confident woman and as a serious, talented actress, her time had run out. An accidental combination of medication ended her life at the age of 36, just before she was to remarry ex-husband Joe DiMaggio.
(Note: I’m sure Marilyn and Joe loved one another, but they divorced in 1955 for a reason. He was angry about the famous white dress scene from The Seven Year Itch and showed his disproval by being physically abusive with her.)
The details of Monroe’s death are carefully investigated during one of the final chapters of the book. You can tell author Donald Spoto was angry as he compiled the various people who were involved and how the tragic night occurred. He doesn’t include much emotion throughout the book but there’s definitely some there.
With that said, the rest of the book doesn’t actually require any emotion-triggering flourishes: Marilyn’s life, full of highs and lows, does that all on its down.
This is a fantastic book that I highly recommend to anyone who likes stories from old Hollywood, classic films and people who want to know the truth behind some of Hollywood history’s most incredulous rumors.
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a hoarder of podcasts and a history enthusiast. Learn more.