A thoroughly researched but ill-balanced retelling of the brief love affair, marriage, creative collaboration, estrangement and divorce of Hollywood’s sexiest star and Broadway’s leading playwright.
Prolific biographer Meyers (Samuel Johnson: The Struggle, 2008, etc.) is particularly well equipped for the task of gleaning something new from this heavily harvested field. However, like many others who have drifted into the gravitational pull of planet Monroe, he can barely force his eyes away from her long enough to give Miller’s story more than a perfunctory summary and analysis. Describing her nude calendar from 1950, for example, he pants about Monroe’s “perfect body,” calling her “a modern Venus” in a torrid paragraph smoking with erotic detail (“Her alluring breasts promise pneumatic bliss, and her pink nipples merge with the red velvet”). Meyers begins his chronicle in 1951 with the initial meeting of his two principals, then retreats into alternating biographies, devoting nearly 80 pages to Monroe’s well-known depressing childhood and youth. Miller’s 36 pre-Monroe years merit only ten pages. The author revisits all of the central Marilyn moments: multiple foster homes, abuse, character flaws (habitual tardiness, deep insecurity), substance issues (alcohol, drugs), serial sexual escapades, notable marriages (to Joe DiMaggio and Miller) and most controversial affairs (JFK, RFK). Meyers dismisses as “wildly implausible” the conspiracy theories about her death and repeatedly assails both her acting coach Paula Strasberg and her final psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, who was “more disturbed and dangerous than the patient.” Meyers recognizes that Miller truly loved Monroe but finally ended the marriage when he realized she was destroying him. He’d spent three years working on a film for her (The Misfits), earning only her scorn, and her needs were too complex and her problems too intractable. In the final chapter, Meyers thoughtfully mines Miller’s last plays for nuggets about Monroe.
Not much new in this rehearsal of one of celebrity’s saddest stories.