A heavy read, not only due to the sheer size and length of the book (532 pages), but just as much for its content. Let me say something in advance: I am always extremely skeptical when it comes to conspiracy theories, whether they revolve around man landing on the moon, world economics, the true nature of UFOs, the existence of Aliens or the death of someone famous. Therefore, I picked up this book (it comes from the treasure chest full of books I received in spring last year from a very kind friend) with some reservation, but also interested in learning more about the actress whose face I have known all my life without really knowing much about her.
The author, Donald H. Wolfe, had this book published in 1998, 36 years after Marilyn Monroe's death. On the book jacket, he is said to have worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter and film editor for 25 years, and met MM in 1958 during the filming of Some Like it Hot. I was not able to find an author's website for him, but numerous references on sites dealing with MM herself and elsewhere.
Mr. Wolfe certainly goes about his subject in the most meticulous manner. There are footnotes throughout the book, explaining where certain information comes from, as well as an extensive appendix of source notes, ranging from FBI documents to personal conversations with those who knew Marilyn.
All this makes the information in this book seem very well founded, and not just like another nutter adhering to a conspiracy theory.
The title is a little misleading, since we accompany MM not only on an almost minute by minute account of her last days, but learn about her grandparents, parents, her own childhood, teenage years, young adult life and her career. The picture that emerges is one that is rather painful to behold: a talented, beautiful woman for whom nearly everything in her life went terribly wrong from the very start.
There were few happy times, and somehow these must have made it possible for her to go on, and it is hardly surprising after all that she had been through that, on more than one occasion, she attempted suicide.
Excerpts of interviews with Marilyn make it obvious that she was anything but a "dumb blonde"; in fact, she sounds rather bright and would have probably done well academically, being given the chance. Take this small bit of obversation she made about the then 70-year-old Fox studio czar Joe Schenck:
I liked sitting around the fireplace with Mr. Schenck and hearing him talk about love and sex. He was full of wisdom on these subjects, like some great explorer. I also liked to look at his face. It was as much the face of a town as of a man.
This is not a "dirty old man seduces innocent young starlet" scenario, but a 21-year-old woman, still inexperienced in the whole Hollywood and film-making scene, learning from someone who, as opposed to almost everyone else she came across, never took advantage of the trust she placed in him.
Or take this statement Marilyn made about herself, about what she was like at the time (we are talking 1947 here):
My illusions didn't have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. With the arc lights on me and the camera pointed at me, I suddenly knew myself. How clumsy, empty, uncultured I was! A sullen orphan with a goose egge for a head. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But my God, how I wanted to learn! To change! To improve! I didn't want anything else. Not men, not money, not love, but the ability to act!"
And my God, did she learn, change, improve and become able to act!
There is lots more in this book I could go on about, but let me end here with saying that, on top of it being a well-written, well-researched biography, it also offers a caleidoscope of the political, cultural and economical landscape of the years it spans, and not only for the U.S.It wasn't an easy read, but it engaged my mind, taught me a lot and I am glad I didn't put it back into the treasure chest unread.