Monday, September 21, 2015

Mount TBR #36

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Marilyn: A Biography –Norman Mailer

I like reading Hollywood life stories. So this biography of the most celebrated blonde in the world by a major literary celebrity seemed a natural to me. I also remember reading excerpts of it when it was first released in 1973, so I remember the vocabulary being hard. Anyway, Mailer sincerely argues that he did research for eight years before he started writing the book.  He freely grants that he leaned heavily on Norma Jean by Fred Guiles.

Mailer concludes that his subject was uneducated, unwise, unguided, and unmoored in the sense of lacking a firm sense of identity. Still Mailer argues convincingly that she was not a dumbo out of her depth. She really wanted to make herself into a serious actress and no less than Method acting guru Lee Strasberg thought that she could have been as great as Brando. To impress people like Strasberg and his followers, she had to know her own strengths and be committed to integrity. She also had to play the Hollywood publicity machine like a pinball table.

What undermined her – besides a probable diagnosis of borderline personality disorder -  and finally did her in was abuse of barbiturates like nembutal. Her medications for insomnia caused her to be late on set and in a daze. The resulting delays for her fellow actors and the technical people, due to her lateness and unreliability, gained her the reputation as a frivolous diva. Unprofessional, John Huston judged her on the set of The Misfits.

Mailer is not really into explications of the movies except for her last one. His production stories about The Misfits are excellent. What a snake-bitten movie, considering the fates of Clark Gable, Marilyn, and Montgomery Clift! Like Rebel without a Cause – Dean, Mineo, and Wood all had sad ends.

Mailer is weakest where any writer on this subject would be weakest: the marriages. What outsider can tell, in fact, the dynamics that ruined her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller? Mailer gamely attempts explanations, but there’s no escaping we can ever really know why.

Mailer speculates that, bad with figures, in a fuddle of intoxication, she had just lost count of how many pills she had taken. However, we are on firm ground to conclude that when she died at 36 due to an overdose of nembutal and chloral hydrate, she intentionally committed suicide. The experts who did her psychological autopsy noted that she had recently been fired from a job, her three marriages had failed, and she was addicted to drugs. In her background was a miscarriage and a history of mental illness on her maternal side. Her father was a drug addict. As a child, she had bounced through a dozen foster homes. She had tried to do away with herself before but had telephoned for rescue before she went beyond help.

While this bio is not a persuasive as his biography of Lee Harvey Oswald (Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery), I think this is worth reading, despite some uneven and incomprehensible passages that offer occult explanations.

Oh, yes, this is a coffee-table book so it is full of outstanding pictures of the subject.

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