This is a detailed, fairly complex biography of Marilyn Monroe. I may not necessarily agree 100% with the conclusions that author reached, particularly towards the end of Marilyn's life, but there is a lot of interesting, intriguing information in this new biography. As an avid, avid fan of Miss Monroe, I have read just about every biography there is (that I know of!--I have over 75 books about MM as of my last count), as well as of other significant players in her life. So the idea of a new, comprehensive biography is something that I always look forward to.
The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe is extremely well written and researched, and gives the reader a new appreciation of Marilyn--particularly as relates to her early life and the events that helped shape her personality. The analysis of Marilyn's early life as Norma Jean Baker is perhaps the best overall assessment I have read yet. The author has taken time to put into perspective her early relationships with her foster families and relatives involved in her upbringing. The sad story of Norma Jean's mother, Gladys, is related in poignant detail throughout the book. The overall premise that Norma Jean/Marilyn was descending into the same schizo-paranoid type personality towards the end of her short life is the basis for many of the author's conclusions about MM. After reading about Marilyn's early life (Norma Jean) up to the point where she divorced Jim Dougherty, you truly get a sense of the uncertainty and insecurity of a girl who was shuffled from home to home and who was searching for family caring and love. Stories related in other biographies, particularly of childhood molestation, are pretty well put to rest according to author Taraborelli. Norma Jean's transition into Marilyn Monroe is plausible and well-covered, including a sympathetic look at MM's relationship with agent Johnny Hyde.
Where I run into a sense of frustration with this book is at the point in Marilyn's life where she begins to date Joe DiMaggio. Indeed, the major events of their lives together, and subsequently her relationship with Arthur Miller, are chronicled, but at this point there seemed to be a bit of a loss of direction regarding the relationships of Marilyn and her second and third husbands. The chemistry between MM and Joltin' Joe is well defined; their later relationship especially after he rescued her from Payne Whitney, less so. The early romance with Arthur Miller is well-done; the disconnect between him and Marilyn after she found his journal notes is poignant. Less informative is information regarding the end of their marriage and divorce.
Marilyn is described in the early 1960's as either quite charming and lucid, or totally drugged and 'out of it.' The same witty, attractive and clever woman who could charm JFK or his brother Robert seems to bounce back and forth almost daily as being between being lovely and clear -- or deranged and delusional, depending on the drugs she is deemed to be taking. This poses a problem in this reader's mind, as it seems a bit unlikely that both personas could be present depending on the circumstances. It also is interesting to note that, in her mid 30's, Marilyn was more beautiful and sexy than ever, and the many thousands of photos from various photographers, such as Bert Stern, or outtakes from Something's Got to Give, show this. After all, the camera doesn't lie--even for Marilyn Monroe. Sure, she had approval of her photos and it's certainly true that not every shot was spectacular, but in a series of photos shot at the same time there are always great shots and so-so/bad ones. Her look, during this time, was trimmer and even lovelier than she was 10 years before.
The Cal-Neva lodge incident is detailed far more clearly and cleanly than in any other bio of MM that comes to mind. Indeed, the relationship of friendship between MM and Pat and Peter Lawford makes sense, at last. The apparent great friendship between MM and Pat Lawford is given great credence here.
Perhaps there is no way to have a 'definitive last word' about the events in MM's life. This book unequivocally states that Marilyn met John F. Kennedy in 1962. Other books, also seemingly well researched, put their relationship as beginning much earlier. Another current book, In the President's Secret Service, clearly states that MM and JFK had an ongoing affair and met many times in many places in New York City.
The eternal question about Marilyn's death (suicide or murder) is not clearly resolved, although the author indicates that he believes it was by a likely unintentional overdose of drugs. That said, the timelines which have been offered over the bios of the last 25 years do not really mesh with this conclusion, especially regarding the time of death and the chaos at MM's house in the hours after her death was known.
Little things, like whether Eunice Murray actually lived with MM (in this book it is stated she did--in some other well-researched books it is indicated that the only night she EVER spent at MM's Brentwood home was on August 4, 1962), lack of mention of some major players in Marilyn's life (Arthur Jacobs comes to mind) and a brusque sentence in which all the angst of Marilyn's firing by Fox over Something's Got to Give is resolved in a statement to the effect that suddenly MM had a brand new $1 million contract with Fox and the movie was going to be finished after all--with absolutely no detail as to how this came about -- left me feeling a bit uncertain and wondering about the information available on issues like these.
Overall, this is by far one of the better biographies of Marilyn Monroe to come out in awhile. Definitely worth a read for the MM fan, and for the movie fan who wants to try and understand a bit more about the mystique of the one and only Miss Marilyn Monroe.