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Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox    by Lois Banner order for
by Lois Banner
Order:  USA  Can
Bloomsbury, 2012 (2012)
* *   Reviewed by Carrol Wolverton

Avatar of Her Age or Dismal Wreck ...

Marilyn Monroe was probably both. Born into poverty without a legal father, she bounced amongst her mother, grandmother, and guardian care to endure nine foster homes. Interestingly, even the foster providers were all loosely connected by relation, religion, or location. Well grounded in Christian Science, her learning conflicted with Hollywood reality.

She was insecure because of her circumstances and forever fearful of the mental illness that plagued both her mother and grandmother, both of whom were in and out of mental hospitals. Sadly, her fears had foundation. Sexual assault by an older, supposedly gentlemanly, tenant didn't help. Marilyn suffered mood swings and would switch back and forth from highs to lows. She also developed endometriosis and suffered severe pain and cramping from puberty on. This led her into drug dependence. The Hollywood area provided easy access.

What she did have was her body, and she learned to use it as early as junior high to gain popularity and attention. She would wear her cardigan sweaters backwards to accent her breasts in the eighth grade. Professional photographers noticed, and her body carried her forward. Although poorly educated, she read constantly, studied literature, took acting lessons, and spent a fortune on Freudian psychotherapy. She became a good actress and worked extensively with method acting. She was great company for the likes of Arthur Miller and his New York friends. Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra adored her. Because of her reading, she could discuss most anything.

She learned to play the system using sex and body exposure. Tales of the casting couch and orgy behaviors detailed by Lois Banner make it very clear how Marilyn and many others gained favor. Lesbian behaviors emerged, which Banner says sometimes result from early sexual assault. Marilyn considered the puritanical ways of her upbringing as hypocritical. Particularly in Hollywood, the world just wasn't like that. She described America of the 1950's as still a virgin. Marilyn knew better, and she had the body to prove it. When Lawrence Olivier tried to upstage her at a publicity event promoting The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn purposely popped a strap. Guess where all attention shifted and even made the headlines. The virgins were watching.

What she needed was treatment for what sounds like bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, her era did not have what is available today, although definitions of manic-depressive disorder date to the 1800's. Even now, affected persons too often go off their meds when feeling fine and lapse, leading to manic behavior, spending sprees, terrible lows, drug and alcohol problems, and destructive behaviors. They cannot make a relationship last. Sounds a lot like Marilyn.

This work is copiously researched and annotated. Banner points out that much written on Marilyn is based on rumor and various authors' material motives to bring out a book or article and not worrying too much about the truth. She swims through the maze of misinformation to sort out what solid documentation she can. Her writing style can be confusing. She will be talking about 1959, and the reader suddenly finds herself back in 1953. She also repeats herself. I got tired of hearing about no underwear.

The excellent chronology near the end tells the various versions of Marilyn's death. She was involved with the Kennedy clan who appear to have been key players, if not in her death, in a concerted effort to remove any damaging evidence. Marilyn had threatened to go public after JFK and Bobby rejected her. She loomed as a publicity disaster. Others accuse her doctor. She consumed too many drugs and sank to new lows after her separation from Arthur Miller. Jackie Kennedy prophetically noted in 1961 that Marilyn Monroe was a suicide waiting to happen.

Banner treads brackish water through a sea of misinformation and rumor to create what is probably the most complete and current Marilyn biography available. Marilyn is a crossover in many ways from an old era to a new one. She is also its victim.

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