MONROE WAS DENIED THE SERIOUS ACTING CAREER SHE LONGED FOR
beside her domineering husband. ‘‘ I’d like to be a fine actress,’’ Monroe reportedly told photographer George Barris near the end of her life. ‘‘ I wanted to be an artist, not an erotic freak.’’ Her last film, The Misfits, written by Miller, gave her the opportunity to act, but it came at a price. Their marriage was falling apart; the role wasn’t what she had hoped and she was taking large amounts of barbiturates. Miller had based the character of Roslyn on her. Playing the part left an emotionally raw Monroe stranded between fact and fiction, a dangerous place for her to be.
‘‘ As Marilyn spoke her lines, she realised she was speaking words she had spoken in real life, taken out of context.’’ Out of malice, perhaps, or exasperation, Miller rewrote scenes to make Roslyn into a prostitute. She became hysterical, Banner tells us, and was saved only by the intervention of her co-star, Clark Gable.
While Monroe was denied the serious acting career she longed for, Banner is unwilling to cast her as a victim. The Monroe she shows us is the author of her own success and her own downfall. Rebelling against the men (moguls, directors, husbands, lovers) who tried to control her, she made herself unmanageable. Banner’s descriptions of her tantrums and no-shows are clear-eyed and unforgiving. So is her account of the night Monroe sang Happy Birthday to president John Kennedy — a ‘‘ near manic’’ piece of exhibitionism that caused JFK to break off their relationship.
Aiming to present ‘‘ a new Marilyn, different from any previous portrayal of her’’, Banner digs deep into her childhood, identify- offered to be named as the translator.
Although robbed of the ability to stand alive in his homeland, in both his literature and his mind Dorfman spent most of his time there, scheming and writing for his people. This is not merely a tale of Chile, nor limited to Latin America or the countries of the Southern Cone that concurrently suffered the atrocities inflicted by military dictatorships. Dorfman provides an all too typical fable, that of a country and a people subject to heartwrenching injustices, of ways in which we deal with such things, of ways we can actively resist them and of ways in which we can begin to grow again when such dictatorships end.
There is a sequence where a self-righteous Dorfman attempts to explain to Gunter Grass why it is necessary for the Chilean resistance, the backbone of which was the Chilean Communist Party, to support the Soviets, even in the light of the recent Prague Spring, to which Grass replied, ‘‘ Don’t they realise, Ariel, that the Prague Spring and the Chilean revolution have both been crushed by similar forces, one by the Soviet Empire, the other by the Americans?’’
These words manage to change the tide for Dorfman, particularly the dependence of his ing 11 foster homes. She nails down previously vague allusions to the sexual abuse Monroe suffered as a child and suggests that she was tormented by lesbian urges that made a mockery of her fame as an international sex symbol. If Banner sometimes gets carried away with a belief in her own ingenuity (she refers, absurdly, to Miller’s published autobiography, Timebends, as an ‘‘ unexplored’’ text), she leaves few stones unturned in her search for the emotional, psychological and medical clues she needs to make sense of Monroe’s life and career. It’s a shame her editor and proofreader were not so diligent.
Did the Kennedys have Monroe killed to prevent her blackmailing the president? Did she kill herself because her first acting coach, Natasha Lytess, was about to reveal the story of their lesbian affair? Banner finds both scenarios believable. There were movies and other projects in the pipeline. She had reconciled with her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, who was expecting to remarry her.
‘‘ It seems unreasonable that she would take her own life,’’ Banner writes on page 425 — an odd conclusion to a book that uncovers so many reasons why she might have done exactly that. personal history on his political allegiances.
This is an important story containing many stories. It occasionally can be frustrating to read as it is relatively unstructured, following Dorfman’s intuitive meanderings more than any chronological or linear path, so much so that he even makes sure to mention it before the introduction, when he informs the reader of the existence of a timeline at the end of the book, with respect to which he poses the question: ‘‘ How could I, of all people, deny to those who wander in the desert a stable glimpse of stars that can perhaps guide them to a safe haven?’’
Such poesy is also, unfortunately, the rule and such ‘‘ lyrical earnestness’’, as Dorfman himself calls it, is understandable, particularly because of the strong cultural presence of his continental forefathers, the magical realists. It does, however, become tired quickly and reduces the impact of the narrative’s strong content. As Jorge Luis Borges wrote, ‘‘ If you invent metaphors, they are apt to be surprising during the fraction of a second, but they strike no deep emotion whatever.’’
Marilyn Monroe with Clark Gable in
left, and with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in above