Timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of her tragic death, a collection of essays by feminists, film buffs, and literati about the legendary film goddess.
McDonough (The Barbie Chronicles, 1999, etc.) selects articles from an array of talented writers including Marge Piercy, Kate Millet, and Gloria Steinem to explore Monroe’s painful contradictions. Admired by millions, she was painfully lonely and insecure; sexually provocative, she was delicate and childlike; capable of attracting “all the available light” in any room she entered, she was shy to the point of reclusiveness. An awesome turn-on but totally nonthreatening, she made an ideal transitional figure between the uptight ’50s and the sexual revolution. (If there hadn’t been a Marilyn, the editor notes, we would have had to invent her.) Much is made here of the iconic moments in her life: the windblown skirt over the subway grating in The Seven Year Itch, her singing of “Happy Birthday” to JFK at Madison Square Garden. Essays discuss her unhappy childhood, her determination to become a serious actor, and the cultural significance of her screen persona. Among the standouts are “Centerfold,” by Joyce Carol Oates, writing as if from Marilyn’s perspective; “The ‘Love Goddess’ Who Never Found Any Love,” by Claire Booth Luce; Laurence Olivier’s acid recollections of shooting The Prince and the Showgirl; and “Two Daughters,” a compelling piece by Dennis Grunes comparing Monroe with fellow ’50s icon and “Not-Marilyn” Audrey Hepburn. There are also a few oddities, such as an appreciation of Monroe’s singing, a discussion of how her girlish speaking voice influenced numerous women, including Jackie Kennedy, an account of her conversion to Judaism on the day she married Arthur Miller, and a final reflection on the Christie’s auction, decades after her death, of Monroe’s clothes, shoes, and other personal effects.
Generally insightful and, like Monroe herself, displaying tender charm alongside the glitz.