Fifty years after her death and hundreds of books later, are we any closer to understanding Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962)? Probably not, but this new biography brings the known facts up to date and offers a fresh, modern take on the tragic star’s life and choices.
For Banner (History and Gender Studies/Univ. of Southern California; MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe, 2011, etc.), the tangled roots of Monroe’s contradictions—shy but lurid, innocent and calculating, user and used—originated in her childhood. The product of a family with a history of mental illness, she was passed around between foster homes (both good and bad) as well as an orphanage. She experienced sexual abuse, absorbed a variety of religious influences, and discovered that her lost-lamb look attracted every man she met. Although Banner occasionally plays psychoanalyst, it's only in an effort to see her subject from every conceivable angle. The author’s film criticism is insightful, particularly in showing how Monroe helped build (and would deliberately mock) her own public image. She examines how Monroe’s unique allure drew on popular tradition and looked forward to the Pop Art future. As for the big question—did Monroe commit suicide or was she murdered by Bobby Kennedy, or her psychoanalyst, or mobster Sam Giancana, or the FBI?—Banner offers no smoking guns. Instead, she gives reasons why all the scenarios, both official and otherwise, are as problematic as they are plausible. Though the author sometimes over explains the obvious, this flaw does not detract from the book’s forward drive or Banner's sympathetic intelligence.
Surely not the last word, but a complete and honest effort and a good starting place.