A dramatic, psychologically astute biography of the troubled sex symbol and star of such classics as Some Like It Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and The Seven Year Itch. Leaming's (Katharine Hepburn, 1995, etc.) research is extensive and innovatively interpreted in this unusual biography, but she is bent on telling Marilyn's story in a set, idiosyncratic way. This is both the great strength and weakness of her book. As a single, authoritative account, it cannot stand: Learning omits too many telling details. Marilyn's childhood, for example, is hurried through in a handful of pages. But as a portrait of the star's conflicted, complicated nature and of those around her, this account is first-rate. Marilyn first landed in Hollywood as a ""party girl,"" a wanna-be starlet, who traded sex for possible career advancement. She had some small successes, until she cleverly promoted herself into a breakthrough role. Fame then came almost instantaneously. But Marilyn was increasingly unable to handle its demands. Making movies came to terrify her, and drugs, alcohol, and on-set acting coaches could do little to assuage her fears. The caddish, self-serving behavior of many of those around her did little to help. And her suicide at 36 is all too understandable here. Beyond her acute insights into Marilyn's psyche, Leaming offers extensive acid-tipped portraits of those around her. Drama coach Lee Strasberg uses Marilyn to build up his prestige, regardless of the effects on her career or well-being. And second husband playwright Arthur Miller is a weak, self-justifying, egocentric who badly fails Marilyn. It's indicative of the eccentricity and ingenuity of this account that Miller's friendship/rivalry with the director Elia Kazan (another lover of Marilyn) occupies a central narrative position. Odd, but with a touch of genius.