Since her death, Marilyn Monroe has been the subject of some 600 books, all of which claim to uncover the 'real Marilyn'. But the biographies can't agree on many of the most sensational details of the life of the twentieth century's most famous woman. Rather than promising another 'definitive life', Sarah Churchwell's book looks at the writing of Marilyn Monroe's many life stories, comparing the competing versions of some of the key moments in her life including: her father's identity, her mother's mental problems, her alleged childhood molestation, her teenage marriage, stories of prostitution and the casting couch, her own psychological problems, her marriages to two other legends, her difficulties on the set and with directors, her affairs with one or both of the Kennedy brothers, and of course the highly charged debates about her death. Churchwell looks at how these stories have continued to trivialize a woman we supposedly 'worship', and explains what the stories reveal about our attitudes to sex symbols and icons, to women, sex, and death, to biography as an enterprise and to Marilyn herself.
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Sarah Churchwell studied at Vassar College and Princeton University. She currently teaches American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia. This is her first book.Review:
“[A] sustained, strenuous critique of the lazy thinking, sloppy research, and overall softheadedness that characterize so much popular biographical writing.” ―A. O. Scott, The New York Times Book Review
“Smart, graceful, and lucid, this is a veritable Sherman's March through the Marilyn oeuvre, with bodies--Mailer, Oates, Miller--strewn everywhere. Instead of a torch, however, Churchwell wields a rapier, and if she flays the authors, it is to lay bare the anatomy of authorship in all its tangled complexity.” ―Peter Biskind, author of Down and Dirty Pictures
“Refreshing . . . Her book has torn away layers of false readings and conspiracy theories.” ―The New York Times
“Humane and skeptical . . . Churchwell has written an extremely useful deconstruction of the piffle that has accreted around her subject over the years . . . offering realistic alternatives to spiraling fantasies.” ―Richard Schickel, Los Angeles Times
“Ferociously smart . . . offers a rare combination of guilty pleasure and intellectual insight.” ―Vogue
“Sarah Churchwell wades through the conflicting bios of the legend so that you don't have to. . . . She provides a fair accounting of the ink spilled thus far and calls attention to the many veils between Marilyn and her audience.” ―The Village Voice
“This intelligent and subtle book reminds us that Marilyn Monroe, in our fantasies, was a Snow White we pretended was a Cinderella: the slipper was never going to fit. In telling us the real story of so many wild tales about this mythologized figure, this study shows us that there is truth in lies too, as Hollywood used to insist, if you get enough of them. And if--big if--your mind is as alert and agile as Sarah Churchwell's.” ―Michael Wood, author of America in the Movies
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