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The biography genre is one that is rarely picked up for pleasure. Typically people don’t step foot in that section of the library unless they’ve been assigned to do so for academics. Naturally, this too is my personal reason for picking up a biographical text. A good biography tells a story much like any other book might, only with more dates and realistic value. This consists of developing early character traits and struggles, followed by the steps taken to overcome difficulty, and lastly the pivotal choices that are made and the outcomes of these choices. Throughout the book will be people who made a large enough impact on the person that they’re worthy of mention and to some degree, there will be a lesson learned from all of this. A moral to the story in the same manner that there are lessons to be learned from history. Marilyn Monroe’s life was filled with ups and downs from orphanhood as a child to the many failed marriages of her young adult life. “Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress” takes a thorough look at Marilyn’s life and death encompassing the major points of what led to her untimely demise.
In her early life, before she’d established herself with the stage name “Marilyn Monroe”, she was just plain jane Norma Jean. From childhood she was dramatic as ever, seeking out attention from an unresponsive mother and later a strew of unresponsive foster parents. The earliest difficulty she faced was the absence of her father. This was soon followed by the removal of her mother from her life when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to a mental institution. The author of “Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress” delves into her struggles and how she looked back on them during interviews later in life with mention of her attention-seeking tendencies to exaggerate her misfortune. Norma Jean suffered from anxieties due to her unorthodox childhood, being thrown from one caretaker to another. She failed to find her identity for reasons psychologists may suggest were due to her lack of parental figure or guidance. She was neglected and as a result had a divided personality of extreme highs and extreme lows.
After setting her heart on Hollywood, Norma Jean recognized the fact that she needed to improve a lot of things, starting with her education. She surrounded herself specifically with people who could help her reach her goals and struggled to reach out to people outside of this circle. The first influential figure in her life was Natasha Lytess who was the woman who suggested Norma Jean take on a stage name. Thus, Marilyn Monroe was born. Her long brown locks chopped short, bleached blond, and swept up into the popular style of that time. She was taught to carry herself in a certain manner, smile with her lip curled just the right way, speak with the perfect bit of sex appeal. Natasha accompanied Marilyn to many of her sets as Monroe had developed an incredible dependence on her. The author brings up Marilyn’s need to rely on someone else for support often throughout his retelling of her short life. She looked to them to reassure her of her new identity and remind her of the person she’s supposed to be. Unfortunately she was dismissed from both her initial 20th Century Fox and Columbia contracts. Out of desperation for money she turned to stripping as well as nude calender photo shoots to pay the bills. It is also believed that she provided sexual favors for men who agreed to support her in her career. One of these men was Joe Schenck, an executed producer at 20th Century Fox. She sought help securing her name and place in show business from him.
The first of her pivotal choices was her decision to go to college at the University of California. Embarrassed by the lack of knowledge she could offer in conversation, she felt this would enrich her personality. She never went to enough school to earn a degree. Monroe then fell in love with Fred Karger, a musical coach with a compelling smile and elegance. However, he was brutally honest with Marilyn and scolded her for her immaturity. This toxic relationship ended when she was introduced to Johnny Hyde, a powerful Hollywood agent who was the first influential person in her life to express unreserved faith in her star quality. Unlike her past mentors, Hyde built her up rather than cutting her down and restraining her to be what was wanted of her. He helped her land a role in Asphalt Jungle and there she began her tendency to desire retake after retake due to her need for perfection as well as an insecurity in her work. This led to 20th Century Fox’s offer of a seven year contract and the rise of her career.
Fame hit and it hit hard. Her past indecencies with nude photo shoots were discovered as well as the idea that she’d be exaggerated the majority of miserable orphanhood. She finally had it, what she’d so desperately wanted for so very long and now people were digging into her sex life and picking apart her wardrobe. Her previous insecurities soon catch up with her and Monroe begins to worry that she can’t uphold this fame. She runs off to marry a man she’d had a short affair with only to divorce him several days later. At this point she bordered hysteria in her internal conflictions. Very soon after she married Joe DiMaggio, a man who had seen her in a picture and immediately desired to meet her. He never held interest in her career and acting roles, but loved her solely for physical attraction. Marilyn, as she so often did throughout her life, relied on him heavily and quickly became frustrated with his dismissal of her intellectual attributes. They divorced during her work on The Seven Year Itch and by this time she had frequent breakdowns on set. Her mental stability had been waivering for some time but now she was really starting to crack.
Every public moment of her life become another acting scene to uphold the personality she’d been trying to be since the start. She turned to a controversial therapy called the Method in which there is an intense concern with how an actor’s private life affects their acting roles. This is believed to have tarnished her ego by forcing her to relive traumatic past experiences. Finally Marilyn was married to a man named Miller and attempted to have a child with him. She had a miscarriage and was suffering from severe mental issues at this time. After the loss of the baby, Monroe turned to pills for comfort and had a series of suicide attempts before finally sealing her fate.
Tragically for Marilyn there never was a time when she’d fully overcome her difficulties, instead she was perpetually struggling with them and making poor choices that led to more difficulties. She never formed relationships outside of those she thought would help her career and was described as someone who was hard to get close to. Marilyn gave up most of her personal in an effort to further her career, the consequences of her success being a lethal dosage of attention and scrutiny. Making movies had become the object of her life and so she’d turned around and claimed that all her mistakes were simply a “misunderstanding”. By the end of her career she was not happy with the person she’d become. Lost in a spiral of depression and pills, Marilyn Monroe ended her long and difficult life. There is a lesson to be learned in all of this, not just from Marilyn, but from the people around her. On the one side, it would be easy to disregard her misery and say that anyone with a tough upbringing can still push through and be successful. But was she truly successful? All her life she pursued what she had assumed would make her happy, but instead it left her lonely and incomplete. It was the lack of praise from the people near and dear to her that left Marilyn Monroe divided and unhappy.
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