The Best Marilyn Monroe Books to Read After Seeing ‘Blonde’

In life and in death, Marilyn Monroe marketed sex, sensuality and fame. Today she is still a visual shorthand for our idea of ​​the ultimate celebrity. Andy Warhol’s iconic screenprints of Monroe perhaps best captured this: visual reminders of her marketable face, femininity and perennial fame. Now a new Netflix movie, Blond, adapting Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novella of Monroe’s life story to give us an unvarnished account of the dangers of her fame. The film joins countless other creative efforts to understand and analyze movie star-born Norma Jeane Mortensen, including biopics, television series, biographies, photo books, essays and even plays. Some have had firm targets — like biographers who have claimed she was murdered by the FBI or had an affair with Robert F. Kennedy — while others have leaned into the emotional depths of her short, tragic life to create a portrait of someone draw whose fame has completely eclipsed humanity. For those who want to dig deeper, here are the best books that deconstruct, analyze, and even transform the star known as Marilyn Monroe.

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“The only voice of Blond belongs to Norma Jeane,” says Oates of her critically acclaimed 2000 novel. Blond. The book is a fictional exploration of Marilyn Monroe’s life that sheds the facade of Hollywood filmmaking and leaves the unpolished Norma Jeane in search of safety and certainty. At nearly 1,000 pages, it’s an epic work that uses the crude storyboards of Monroe’s life to create a richly humanistic and relatable narrative. But be warned that it’s also a real sober read. It is about Monroe’s traumatic childhood, her multiple abortions, suicide attempts, alcoholism and drug problems, lovers and abusers and her precarious mental health. And then there’s the endless sweat Blond: the sweat of trying to be Marilyn Monroe, the search for personal and professional autonomy, the need to survive deep and nagging trauma. The book aims to confront, while Oates tasks us with reconciling this brutalized woman with the sanitized, glamorous femininity of star Marilyn Monroe. For those who enjoy the new film adaptation, Oates’ enduring novel about Monroe is worth digging into as it beautifully amplifies her tragedy, loneliness and endless search for stability.

Marilyn: A Biography

Norman Mailer’s 1973 illustrated book on Monroe is not essential reading. But it’s an important cultural artifact in understanding how the star’s story was previously presented to the masses. In the book, Mailer makes outrageous, unsubstantiated claims, mostly stealing biographical sources from other bios. He fills in Monroe’s life to build a crescendo of claims, such as that the FBI allegedly murdered Monroe to quash her affair with Robert F. Kennedy. These and other claims proved bankable for Mailer in the 1970s, when the book sold millions. There is other notoriety Marilyn: A Biography, also with some critics claiming it was an attempt by Mailer to hit back at Arthur Miller, as Mailer had ambitions for wider stardom that completely eclipsed Miller in his marriage to Monroe. Re-reading the book today, it uses cheap, abbreviated psychoanalysis to analyze the star and is punctuated with awkward passages that rhapsodize about her erotic allure. It’s a relic of its time, but key reading for those wanting to reckon with how many Americans have viewed Monroe since the 1970s — as a bombshell, a slut, and the victim of an FBI cover-up. Mailer’s biography remains remarkable only because it understands the urgent work that other biographers have had to do to dispel his many sensationalist claims.

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Marilyn Monroe: The Biography

Thoroughly researched and detailed, Donald Spato’s biography of Monroe is hard to find today, but well worth the search. Often regarded as the best of the Monroe bios, it remains an essential corrective. At nearly 800 pages, it’s a comprehensive account of Monroe’s much-famed life story, beginning with her troubled childhood — absentee, unknown father and mentally ill mother — through her early days in Hollywood, until she was finally engulfed by her huge celebrity. The book is a fair and revisionist approach that puts many rumors to bed, including fully debunking the Kennedy brothers’ sexual affair stories (thanks Mailer). Spato says Monroe only slept with JFK once: “The Kennedys had almost nothing to do with her.” This is all backed up by exhaustive research, including 35,000 personal and professional documents (some unsealed for the first time) and rare interviews, including those present at the autopsy (who emphasize that Monroe was not murdered by the FBI or CIA). Instead, Spoto tries to let the facts do the talking alongside highly reputable sources, arguing that Monroe’s tragic end had everything to do with her quest for stability in life and nothing to do with wild conspiracies.

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

While some Marilyn books have had political agendas, J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography is more invested in her family ties and focuses on Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker. We learn how severe mental health problems plagued generations of Monroe’s family, including her mother, Gladys, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and spent much of her life in institutions. Monroe was terrified of suffering the same hereditary lineage of insanity that devastated both her mother and grandmother (who, incidentally, committed suicide). Taraborrelli’s approach is to emphasize Monroe’s “secret life” and to argue that her mental health problems were owed to this inevitable hereditary fate. Much of mental illness was misunderstood in the 1950s and, in Monroe’s case, mistreated by the exploitative studio system and a cringing crew close to her. Monroe’s concerns about her mental stability only increased her addiction to prescription pills and alcohol to later calm her immense anxiety. (It’s grim reading to learn that she died with 15 bottles of prescription pills on her bedside table.) Be aware that this bio is a more garrulous take than others, so don’t look for and expect lots of thoughtful comments more revelations (like interviews with Secret Service). agents and copies of Gladys Baker’s medical records).

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My story

Believe it or not, Monroe actually wrote portions of her own autobiography while she was alive. My story (first published in 1974) is an anomaly, however, as it was largely forgotten, only being published in the mid-1970s in response to renewed interest in her (thanks again, Mailer). The book stitches together several interviews conducted with screenwriter Ben Hecht, chronicling their life up to 1954. Some surprising findings are shared here, including that Monroe was sexually abused at the age of 8 by a man who was staying with her foster parents. (There’s also a wild tale of how Joan Crawford scolded her for her outfits.) Monroe presciently accepts My story, “Yeah, there was something special about me… I was the kind of girl they found dead in a hallway bedroom with an empty bottle of sleeping pills in hand.” Know this isn’t a complete picture — more like a little window in Monroe’s thoughts. Assembling personal thoughts, anecdotes and reminiscences, the book challenges fans to fill in the blanks in Monroe’s brief life by listening to her own voice and reflections, rather than going along with the outrageous myths projected onto them.

Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon

While Monroe biographies are often pumped out every few years, Charles Casillo’s mediation on Monroe is one of her more redeeming treatments in recent times. Unlike others who have sought absolute and dispassionate accuracy or speculated on wild conspiracy theories, Casillo leans on human backstories for a more sensitive portrait that mines the emotional contours of her life. Specifically, how nagging insecurities Monroe was plagued — regarding her mental stability, her broken family ties, her own self-preservation — and wrecked by dependencies to seemingly stay alive and work, using everything from alcohol to barbiturates . The book’s central claim is that Monroe’s fractured and unfulfilled relationship with her unknown father has caused a lifetime of problematic relationships and trauma with men. This included her husbands, the demanding Joe DiMaggio and the disparaging Arthur Miller. Monroe’s search for her father is emblematic of her larger search for certainty elsewhere in her life, which sadly is never fulfilled and eventually sees her take her own life – whether intentionally or accidentally. This is a fresh biography that condenses many parts of her life story into one easily digestible and compelling psychological study.

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Marilyn Monroe

Barbara Leaming goes to great lengths to discount the usual scandalous parts of Monroe’s life (like the Kennedys and her suicide) in order to invest heavily in a study of her identity as a woman struggling against the studio system, society, and herself. At the heart of this dispute is her marriage to Arthur Miller. Leaming argues that this union remains representative of Monroe’s desire for dignity and artistic respect, away from the emptiness of Hollywood exploits and the façade of Marilyn the dumb blonde. Slightly pessimistic, however, Leaming says that despite marriage, Monroe eventually succumbed to the same cycle she was trying to avoid. She spent her later years posing for nude photos and hitting the drinking and partying circuit, returning to the humiliating routines she was so desperate to escape by becoming a big movie star in the first place. Of all the biographies out there, this one will surely appeal to readers interested in reckoning with the relationship between Monroe’s celebrity and womanhood, as Leaming provides important correctives to many mainstream stories. Marilyn Monroe restores to Monroe the maligned femininity, intellect, and depth that remains in popular understanding of her today as a symbolic shortcut to sex and celebrity.

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