BOOK REVIEW BY DAVID MARSHALL
Any Marilyn Monroe fan who is serious
about trying to understand her life is in quite a pickle. Like any student
studying a specific topic, the serious Monroe fan will do their research,
reading each and every biography, hoping that each new book on the late actress
will add additional pieces to the overall puzzle. Then, one day, everything will
fall into place as each successive biographer has added their research so that
at the very end the student will be able to grasp not only the big picture, but
have all those little details in keen focus.
But… that same serious student
soon realizes that with each new biography that comes out, (so many at this
point that the serious student has a hard time keeping up), the story doesn’t
quite mesh. They will be caught up in the story, going along for the new ride
over familiar territory and then… “Wait a second. That can’t be. Can
it?” Like someone who has watched a favorite movie many times over can spot
what scene has been cut to fit the time slot when it is shown on television, the
Marilyn student realizes that something has changed, something’s been cut,
something is wrong.
And I’m not talking only of her last
day-- that whole Where Was Bobby, Did She Eat a Hamburger or an Omelet, Did She
Go To The Beach or Stay Home stuff. I am speaking of nearly every step along
that unsteady path her life took. It can be downright frustrating when really,
all we want to know is, well-- The Truth. So when a book like Donald Spoto’s
“Marilyn Monroe” comes along, the serious student breathes a sigh of relief
and forks over the price eagerly. Why? Because just look what it says right
there on the back cover:
“Forget everything you’ve ever
heard or read about her. Acclaimed biographer Donald Spoto was granted exclusive
access to previously sealed documents and has penetrated a conspiracy of silence
to reveal Marilyn Monroe as she really was. Here at last is the definitive
account of her life and death. The truth. Finally.”
The key sentence to the blurb is
that very first line: Forget everything you’ve ever heard or read about her.
If you do forget everything else you’ve ever read, and if you promise not to
compare what one biographer says to Spoto’s “definitive account”, then you
are going to be one happy camper. The book is a joy to read, it captures
Marilyn’s spirit, dispels the rumors and tall tales and when you reach those
very last pages, you have a wide open grin on your face because even though it
is a heart-wrenching story, at last you have read “the truth. Finally”.
That’s how I felt anyway when I
read the book about ten years back. Spoto is a wonderful writer and I’d take
his serious study of this complex woman over the likes of Donald Wolfe and Bob
Slatzer any day. But see, I went and did something stupid. Real stupid. I
didn’t allow Mr. Spoto the final word he so emphatically requests. It was a
dumb thing to do, I know. I should have just taken Mr. Spoto’s word for it,
realized that I had read the truth, finally, and left it at that. But no, like a
complete fool, I picked up another biography. And another. And still another.
And you know what? I don’t think Mr. Spoto got it as right as he thought. In
fact, just between you and me, I think Mr. Spoto fell victim to the same malady
that so many others have when taking on the Monroe Story.
Donald Spoto set out to write the
truth, finally, once and for all. What he meant by that was he was going to put
an end to those trumped up Kennedy rumors once and for all. And he does a hell
of a good job of it. If there is one thing I wish every person interested in
Marilyn’s life would read, it is the last thirteen pages of his MM bio. These
last thirteen pages are an amazing piece of brilliant investigative reporting,
the work of a serious scholar who has taken the time to actually research. These
thirteen pages trace the entire “Kennedy Connection” from the very first
time the rumors appeared in print all the way down to the present, leaving the
likes of Mailer and the aforementioned Mr. Slatzer in the dust. Seriously, I can
not praise this piece of research high enough. It really should be required
reading for anyone, fan or not, who has ever had the least bit of interest in
But Mr. Spoto, coming after so many
different accounts of Marilyn’s life, needed a hook, something that would set
his work apart, something that could make it, well, “definitive“. Spoto’s
hook is that he insists that there was no Kennedy connection, that the entire
thing is the rambling and fevered imaginations of those hell bent to tarnish not
only Marilyn’s memory but the already dimming legend of our 35th
President and his family. But see, if you start off your book with this already
in mind, then everything along the way has to point towards the conclusion you
have already arrived at before you began telling the tale.
So if there was no JFK/RFK
connection, then that means, obviously, they had nothing to do with her death.
If they had nothing to do with her death then, obviously, the Attorney General
could not have visited her house on August 4, 1962. So how do you go about
proving that? Well, everyone who has written of that last day, including Dr.
Greenson in his letters to Dr. Kris, states that he came to Marilyn’s house
close to 4:30 that afternoon. Mr. Spoto places Greenson at the house at 1:00. If
Greenson was at the house at 1:00 then RFK couldn’t have appeared at 2:00.
While everyone else who has written of the last day has Marilyn never leaving
her house, including Mrs. Murray in her book, Spoto has Mrs. Murray ferrying
Marilyn to the beach in front of the Lawford home, where she can stumble across
the sand in a drugged haze, witnessed by one man while all of Peter Lawford’s
other afternoon guests fail to notice her. While all other biographers have
Marilyn experiencing the weekend from hell at the Cal Neva Lodge the weekend
before her death, Spoto has her sharing an idyllic romantic get away with Joe
DiMaggio so as to plan their upcoming remarriage.
I can go on and on, (as I do about
just about everything). The point is made. Well, not quite. Two years back I was
fortunate enough to meet Roy Turner in person. Roy supplied a good deal of
background research for Mr. Spoto, something any one of us would be very honored
to have done. But the problem is, as Roy reluctantly told me, Mr. Spoto seemed
to have altered some of that research. Not a whole lot but just enough so that
certain aspects of Norma Jeane’s childhood read completely different than
Roy’s research showed.
Then there is the odd way in which
Spoto deals with Mrs. Murray. God knows what the truth is about that woman--
creepy spy or doddering old lady-- take your pick. But even though the write ups
of Marilyn’s passing has come to look more and more like a bizarre game of
“Clue”, no matter how you turn things around, I doubt if you can really come
up with Mrs. Murray in the Bedroom with the Enema Bag. There’s more going for
that enema story than some other authors have suggested but to think that Mrs.
Murray offed her boss with a purposively drugged enema, well, maybe it’s just
me and too much research but I’d be more willing to buy into the idea of
Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the Lead Pipe.
Donald Spoto has written several
other biographies, all of them very good. And his “Marilyn Monroe” is one of
the best-- one of the best of the ones he wrote and one of the best on Marilyn
period. It is a high quality product with a great style and a fascinating read.
The book is so good and so popular that it is still in print all these years
since its publication twelve years back. Sure, I’d recommend it. But please,
don’t forget everything else you’ve read about her. And certainly don’t
stop reading anything more just because Mr. Spoto says he’s provided you with
the “definitive account of her life and death”. There’s a great deal of
wonderful stuff in here but is it the final truth? I don’t think so.