The Unquiet Ghost of Marilyn
What is it about Marilyn Monroe that will not die? Most stars settle for being legends in their own lifetimes. But the shade of Miss Monroe appears to rise uneasily whenever one of her self-appointed biographers attempts to retell her sad, quixotic story.
Just last year there was a great hue and cry when Norman Mailer’s coffee-table extravaganza, Marilyn, appeared. Maurice Zolotow, author of a previously published biography of Monroe, and Mailer exchanged noisy charges of plagiarism and libel.
This season the biographer is alleged to be Marilyn herself telling My Story, slated for publication June 1—the very day Norma Jean Baker began her tinselly and troubled life 48 years ago.
Milton Greene, photographer and sometime business partner of Miss Monroe, claims she gave him a typed version of her autobiography in the mid ’50s. “Here, Milton, you take it,” he remembers her saying. “I know you’ll do what you believe is right.”
Greene now says that after Marilyn’s death in 1962 he tried and failed to interest publishers in using the book as text for a collection of his distinguished photographs of Monroe. This season Greene and publishers Stein & Day judged that the world deserved the sex goddess’s revelations forthwith.
The book’s buyers will read the cautionary tale of Marilyn’s painful journey from the obscurity of an orphanage to the X-rayed exposure of celebrity. Typical of her self-conscious reflections is a passage from the chapter “I Branch Out as a Siren”: “The boys took to wooing me as if I were the sole member of my sex in the district…. Most of them were satisfied with a goodnight kiss…. Boys from 15 to 18 are not very persistent love-makers. I imagine that if it weren’t for older women seducing them, they would remain virginal just as long as girls do (if girls do).”
As was the case with Mailer’s memento mori, publication of My Story has provoked a brouhaha. Journalists discovered glaring resemblances between it and a serialized version of Monroe’s story run 20 years ago in the now-defunct London Empire News. Published in the first-person, Marilyn’s breathy reminiscences have been attributed to Ben Hecht, late great playwright and screenwriter. But professing faith in the book he bought from Greene, publisher Sol Stein vowed he would go ahead with his first print order of 50,000. “We were convinced by the touching simplicity of the prose.”