The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Tom Gilling Hugo Bowne-an­der­son

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.’’

Mis­fits, Some Like It Hot, The

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe with Clark Gable in

left, and with Tony Cur­tis and Jack Lem­mon in above

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