New Biography Memorializes Marilyn Monroe as Intellectual and Proto-feminist
Glamorous sexpot or politically conscious, Hollywood intellectual? Marilyn Monroe emerges as both in a new biography examining her life, love and death. The complex, conflicting portrait is the work of 10 years of archival research by University of Southern California historian Lois Banner.
(PressZoom) - Glamorous sexpot or politically conscious, Hollywood intellectual? Marilyn Monroe emerges as both in a new biography examining her life, love and death. The complex, conflicting portrait is the work of 10 years of archival research by University of Southern California historian Lois Banner.
Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox reexamines a woman traditionally portrayed as either a bimbo or a victim. This new take on Monroe's story reveals she read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky voraciously, supported the civil rights struggle and was deeply spiritual, exploring Buddhism, Judaism and Christian Science. She attended literary salons, studied art and traveled in artistic circles with lovers like director Elia Kazan and playwright Arthur Miller.
youtube.com/watch?v=hag9eb8GTVg&noredirect=1 She was a self-educated, self-made woman, a fact many previous biographies gloss over. The book chronicles how she was shuttled between a dozen foster homes, enduring sexual and emotional abuse as a child that would develop into sex addiction in adulthood. She overcame dyslexia, a debilitating stutter and severe stage fright to become an international Hollywood icon.
A symbol of straight, feminine sexuality in the conservative '50s, she anguished over lesbian affairs and what they meant for her identity. She kept secret apartments, wore disguises in public, and traveled under pseudonyms – partly to hide from the press, and partly to live out a thrilling fantasy life. It's little wonder Arthur Miller said Monroe didn't have "a single conventional bone in her body."
Banner, a professor of history at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science and a founder of the field of women's history, said Monroe's determination to be the best at everything drove her life.
"There's a megalomania in her," Banner said. "It's an ambition to be perfect. It's an ambition to conquer the world."
Banner brings a level of scholarship to the study of Monroe that surpasses previous biographies. Her book is the product of at least 100 interviews with friends and associates, as well as the chance finding of two filing cabinets full of personal effects belonging to the actress. In 2011, Banner published a collection of the memoranda in MM – Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe. Banner's previous work includes a biography of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, Intertwined Lives: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Their Circle, and a history of the American ideal of feminine beauty, American Beauty.
Banner said that before researching the actress, she had many of the same assumptions as others who haven't examined her life – the Monroe myth that she was a "dumb blonde" with a public image created by others.
"She had a reputation as not being very intelligent and not being very interesting," Banner said. "I was floored by what I found."
Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox reveals the depth and complexity that coexisted alongside Monroe's pin-up persona. Marilyn was a party girl, an artist, and even a bit of a mystic. No previous biography has uncovered as much about Monroe's spiritual life. Banner said religion was one way she tried to solve the puzzle of her fractured self.
"She hoped she could somehow find a way to conquer her very difficult self through meditation or spiritual order," Banner said. "And it never really did happen."
Banner will attend a book signing Aug. 5 at the Egyptian Theater from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., prior to a screening of the Monroe film "River of No Return."
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