by Lois Banner
photographs by Mark Anderson
Abrams, 336 pp., $35 (oversize)
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Imagine rifling through someone's drawers-- what the contents would bespeak of the person to whom they belonged.
Imagine two file cabinets that belonged to Marilyn Monroe, which have acquired a Byzantine history since they were removed from her Brentwood home during the days following her death on August 4, 1962.
BTW: Expect to read, see, and hear more of MM as the 50th anniversary of that date approaches in 2012.
Marilyn was a keeper.
She kept receipts for clothing, beauty products, drugstore items and prescriptions, and for many other goods and services that she could legitimately deduct from her income taxes.
She also kept correspondence.
MM saved carbon copies of letters that she sent. She selected fan letters (of the 20,000 she received per week at the height of her fame) that were special to her (particularly some from servicemen she met and entertained-- 100,000 strong-- during a ten-base tour of Korea).
MM held on to telegrams, as well as official memos and contracts from her home studio, Twentieth Century-Fox.
This beautifully designed book, with artfully photographed presentations of these file-cabinet contents (along with hundreds of pictures of MM, as well as some taken by her), provides an irresistible glimpse into the star's personal habits, tastes, personality, thoughts, and feelings.
Author Lois Banner supplies a good summation and chronology of MM's life and career. However, as with thesis- or agenda-focused biographies, the reader of this volume can examine the correspondence herein in order to draw fresh insights from these primary sources, the purest form in which to study history.
For instance, there are MM's thoughtful letters to her stepchildren by third (and final) husband, Arthur Miller. She mentions dancing with Sen. Robert Kennedy, remarking on his sense of humor and their discussion of civil rights.
There are recipes for bouillabaisse and Beef Burgundy that MM requested from Mary Bass, editor of the Ladies Home Journal. Betcha didn't know Marilyn loved to cook and serve as hostess at small dinner parties. Miller claimed that she prepared the best lamb he had ever tasted.
Betcha didn't know that MM collected stamps, too, particularly those featuring one of her favorite historical figures, Abraham Lincoln.
Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald were two of her favorite popular recording stars-- she had an affair with Sinatra not long before her death.
At her small, private funeral in Westwood Cemetery, a recording of Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" was played.
What a great way this is to learn more about Marilyn Monroe-- directly-- not through the veil of a biographer's opinions. MM fought inaccurate "journalism" throughout her career. No one wants to spill their private accouterments before the public. But, for the sake of accuracy, MM probably wouldn't mind us taking a peek at hers.
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