Lois Banner: Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox
Marilyn Monroe was one of the great icons of mid-century America. I grew up while she was in her prime in the late fifties and the early sixties, and the power of her image and beauty was available even to me as a pre-pubescent youth. Her cultural appeal was remarkable. But the complexity of her persona was equally powerful, and certainly enabled her incredible charisma and appeal.
Her marriages to the equally iconic Joe DiMaggio and the brilliant playwright Arthur Miller, and rumors of her romantic liaisons to many other well known public figures added to the mythological elements of her story. And her undeniable skill as a comic actress and amazing on screen sexuality were unmatched by any other actor of her time. That she died relatively young, and in mysterious and controversial circumstances only added to the ongoing fascination with her life that continues a half century later.
Marilyn biographies (and exploitive tell-alls) abound. But no biographer has done what feminist scholar Lois Banner has done in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox. This is a complex and in-depth examination of a complex and challenging subject. Through exhaustive research and access to previously unavailable sources, Banner tells the story of Marilyn’s life in incredible (and never boring) detail, begins=ning at the outset of Marilyn’s difficult life and through to her sad and tragic death at age 36. We learn a tremendous amount about Marilyn, as a person, an actress, a thoughtful and well read intellectual, a star with a created narrative, a lover of men and of women, and in many ways a proto-feminist figure.
Reading this book, I found myself thinking about the distinctions in human nature that enables some of us to use personal challenges to grow and to create ourselves into powerful beings, while others simply suffer. But most of all, the sheer loneliness and pain of being that beset Marilyn are overwhelming to contemplate. Reading Banner’s recounting of her final weeks and days is an incredibly painful experience. And it was eye-opening for me to understand that the circumstances of her death are likely not as most of us have believed, a suicide.
This is really a powerful story, and one that I recommend to readers who may not have felt themselves interested in the details of Marilyn Monroe’s life. This is a serious biography about a serious and important life, and one that is well deserving of the powerful telling Banner has given to Marilyn. You can learn more at the author’s website. I really enjoyed talking to Ms. Banner and wished we had more time available to talk together about this book.