What I Read: The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Marilyn Monroe has always held an enduring appeal for many people as the ultimate sex symbol. The lasting image for me of Marilyn Monroe is of her posing for the camera with her pouting red lips, the sexy blonde into which she ended up being typecast in her acting career. I often wondered after watching her films how much of the ditzy persona was reflective of her personality, and so I ended up reading a biography of her life in order to get a proper feel for one of the  more famous film icons. I didn’t intentionally choose a book by a gossipy celebrity biographer but it was part of an e-book buying binge when I first got my e-reader.

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe tries to explain Marilyn Monroe’s life in the context of her own family’s history of mental health problems and her relationship with her mother, starting with her childhood which saw her frequently uprooted between foster homes and her own mother’s care. There also is a lengthy discussion of her career, mostly focused on the issues she had with over-dependence on acting coaches, her tardiness on set and her dependence on various pills, as well as being typecast into glamorous blonde roles and her difficult relationship with studio heads. Taraborrelli comes across as most sympathetic when discussing her marriages and her relationship with the Kennedy family, leading towards a theory of trying to replace her lack of a father figure with her husbands and love affairs. The author also goes to some lengths to dismiss many of the legends surrounding Monroe’s later years and her death, and emphasises Monroe’s suicide attempts and drug overdoses in the months before her death as pointing towards either death by accidental overdose or suicide rather than the many conspiracy theories surrounding her final days.

Unfortunately, there are also major weaknesses in the book as well. The tone of the writing leaned towards being gossipy in the beginning but towards the end, the writing became quite weak and dry in parts. It did manage to dispel and dismiss some of the more outrageous allegations made about Monroe, but I never felt like I got a true feeling for what it was like to be Marilyn Monroe. The book is worth a read for a balanced outline of her life, but the book fails to properly delve beyond the persona of Marilyn Monroe to reveal the woman behind the name.

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