Sunday, April 21, 2013

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox




Book Review

Author: Lois Banner
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2012
Pages: 515
Price: Rs499

“A lot of people like to think of me as innocent, so that’s the way I behave to them.  If they saw the demon in me, they would hate me… I’m more than one person, and I act differently each time.  Most of the time I’m not the person I’d like to be – certainly not a dumb blonde like they say I am; a sex freak with big boobs.”  Marilyn Monroe said this to British photographer Jack Cardiff in 1961, one year before she met her tragic end. 

Marilyn lived a life she did not enjoy.  Yet that life was her choice.  Why did she choose that life if she didn’t want it?  Was it a psychological compulsion or helplessness or neurosis...?  Why did she allow so many men to walk through her life as if her life were a public park?  Did the Kennedy brothers who used her, as they did many other women, to sate their lust have anything to do with her untimely death?

Marilyn died in 1962 at the age of 36.  Lois Banner’s biography gives us a fairly vivid portrait of a woman who was indeed a bundle of paradoxes.  Marilyn was a smouldering passion too.

Marilyn spent her childhood in eleven foster homes and an orphanage.  It was at the age of 16, when she married, that she stopped living in a foster home.  Her mother was not in a position to look after her.  She broke down mentally when Marilyn was eight years old.  Her doctors diagnosed her as paranoid schizophrenic.  Marilyn herself suffered from many medical problems.  Dyslexia and stutter were minor problems that she grappled with.  “She was plagued throughout her life by dreams of monsters and witches, horrible dreams that contributed to her constant insomnia,” says Banner.  “She was bipolar and often disassociated from reality.  She endured terrible pain during menstruation because she had endometriosis, a hormonal condition that causes tissue like growths throughout the abdominal cavity.”  Chronic colitis, constipation, drug addiction, alcoholism... Marilyn did suffer much.

She was sexually abused as a child in one of the foster homes.  Banner thinks this left a huge scar in her psyche not only in the form of guilt feeling but also a relentless quest for love and acceptance.  The life in the foster homes must have added to her sense of insecurity.  Marilyn’s attachment to older men may be an indication of her search for a father-figure.  Her willingness to shed her clothes might have been also a way of wrenching attention from men.  But she was aware of the abnormality of her exhibitionism as she discussed it with one of her many psychological counsellors.  

She knew that the men in Hollywood were using her as a sexual toy.  Yet she allowed many men into her life, officially (by marrying) or unofficially.  When she could not get the man she wanted, she took a stranger from the bar or even a cab driver to her bedroom and thus avenged herself.
3 of the many photos in the book


Marilyn had a very strong psychological need for relationships.  Yet none of the relationships lasted much.  She was not much interested even in her mother.

Ralph Greenson, one of her psychiatrists, said about patients like Marilyn, “The more infantile people are, (...) the more deadly, the more self-destructive they are.”  Marilyn was infantile as well as self-destructive.  She had a childlike charm.  She also had demons within her, as she acknowledged herself.  She attempted suicide more than once.

Was her death really suicide?  Banner is not sure just as many earlier writers were not.  Did the Kennedy brothers have a role in her death?  Possible, but there are no conclusive evidences. 

Banner’s biography of Marilyn is well-researched and well-written. Anyone who is interested in reading about the sex queen of the Hollywood of the 1950s, in knowing about the passion and the paradoxes that populated her psyche is welcome to read this book.  The book also offers quite many photographs of Marilyn and the people who mattered to her.

23 comments:

  1. This is really very Tragic. I did not know so much about her. Behind success and fame there are hideous facts, we are oblivious to.

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    1. This biography made me feel sympathetic toward a person whom I knew earlier as a mere sex symbol.

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    2. Indeed .. thats how even i knew her until.. i read it in one of the blogs scrolling down some Hollywood classics ..
      Indeed she was more than one person !!
      Well.. so much to learn out of her bitter experiences .. i must say !

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    3. If she had a little different childhood, if her mother was not a neurotic... how different Marilyn would have been? Anyway, Marilyn was an interesting personality. I loved reading the book.

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  2. During her career, Monroe's films grossed more than $200 million. Today she is still considered the world's most popular icon though her end was tragic. Nice review.

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    1. Sometimes success means little. Marilyn's life was one such.

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  3. Nice review...got to know so much more about Monroe....

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  4. Good review, feel like getting a book for myself.

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    1. I think you'll enjoy reading it. All the best.

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  5. Previously, I had read about Monroe somewhere but don't remember where; but one thing was clarified to me then that our psyche is a powerful element of our personality, which we cannot always control. It may compel us to do things that may revolt us later on. A person's success is no way a measure of one's sanity. You have to understand your shortcomings, which are quite relative, and try to find solutions for that. If you can't find it, you are going to be living one blazing inferno of life.

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    1. Indeed. Marilyn made a mess of her life precisely because she failed to understand herself better. Whatever success she achieved as a sex symbol turned out to be of no use in the end as far as her personal happiness was concerned.

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  6. Would love to read it, will search for it in the library.

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    1. It'll be an interesting book for you, Saru.

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  7. I think I will read the book, I have known a great deal about Marilyn Monroe, thanks to the numerous biographies and the documentaries about her.

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    1. I hope this book will add to your understanding of Marilyn.

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  8. It is difficult for me to believe you wrote a "review" sort of thing on a celebrity ... What made you do this, other than enjoying the book ... That only begs the question that you had a reason to read the book ... A psychology course reading assignment :) :) :)

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    1. Not an assignment, Raghuram. But you are right, I had a reason. I read a review of this book in the Hindu and was taken up by the "passion" as well as the "paradox" of Marilyn some of which I share!

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  9. I wanted to write something truly risque, a take on "which I share". But I desist!

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    1. Needn't Raghuram. If I were to write an autobiography, I would have to project the diabolic aspect of me too. But all devils are not satyrs! :)

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