The miraculous but short and tragic life of Norma Jeane Mortenson (1926–1962).
Taraborrelli (Diana Ross: A Unauthorized Biography, 2007, etc.) delves beneath the legend of Marilyn Monroe to uncover the stark facts of the life and times of a singularly vulnerable woman woefully unequipped to deal with the quotidian business of “normal” life, much less the pressures of a Hollywood career and international celebrity. The author devotes much attention to Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker, who suffered from severe mental illness and was institutionalized for most of her adult life. A paranoid schizophrenic, Baker was emotionally distant and unpredictable, necessitating Monroe’s years in foster care and, for a short period, an orphanage. Baker’s mother, who also suffered from mental illness, committed suicide, and Monroe was haunted by the idea that her own mental health would inevitably fail. Tragically, her fears were well-founded, and, according to Taraborrelli, her entire adult life was a constant struggle to maintain some semblance of emotional equilibrium. Further complicating matters were Monroe’s insatiable appetite for various prescription medications; deeply flawed marriages to baseball great Joe DiMaggio, who allegedly beat her, and playwright Arthur Miller, who condescended to her; callous treatment by movie studios; and a disastrous dalliance with President John F. Kennedy (and subsequent obsession with his brother, Robert), which, writes the author, precipitated the emotional spiral that ended in her fatal overdose, an event still shrouded in mystery and the subject of wild speculation. Taraborrelli clearly sympathizes with the beleaguered star, and his reliance on verifiable facts and copious interviews with Monroe’s intimates supports his view of Monroe as a hapless victim of heredity and circumstance, an unwanted child who—by dint of an alchemy of physical beauty and sexual allure she herself did not fully understand—became the most wanted woman in the world.
A painful and engrossing account of the profoundly damaged personality at the heart of the world’s greatest sex symbol.