The fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death inspired me to pick up her autobiography this month. It had been years since I had seen one of her films, so I also watched The Seven Year Itch after I read My Story. I forgot how captivating Marilyn is on screen, even in a lighthearted comedy in which she’s typecast as a “dumb blonde.”
Marilyn’s memoir My Story is a simple, elegant, personal account of the infamous actress’s life. Unsurprisingly, it’s rather melancholy. Marilyn mentions often episodes of crying in bed all night and having moments when she had wished she were dead. Her haunting vision of herself as “the kind of girl they found dead in a hallway bedroom with an empty bottle of sleeping pills in her hand” was disquieting.
My Story begins with Marilyn’s childhood as an orphan deep in poverty: mistreated, abused, and unwanted. It reveals the emotionally and philosophically complex woman behind the sex kitten image on screen. It reveals a troubled woman with crippling insecurity and vulnerability, but also yearning for a sense of belonging, true unrequited love, and a place in this world. She possessed a strong appetite for learning about history and the arts. Marilyn’s perseverance in pursuit of her Hollywood dreams despite the challenges and uncertainty in this business was inspiring, as was her drive to hone her craft. She talks about being desperately broke much of the time, but never comes off as pathetic or complaining. Marilyn regarded acting as an art form, something to be taken seriously, and she worked hard to reach the highest plateau she could in Hollywood. Marilyn climbed to the top with grace and integrity; she recalls refusing offers of starring roles for sex with top studio executives, which could have been career suicide. She also had several marriage proposals with large sums of money behind them, which she turned down because she wanted to marry only for love.
This is not a tell-all full of juicy scandals. Marilyn does talk about a couple of supposed feuds with other Hollywood starlets, but she claims these ladies (and many others) were just jealous and truly had no reason to be so. She had no interest in married men (or hardly any men, for that matter), and she had no interest in sleeping her way to fame. She was honest, reserved off-screen, and devoted to her work. It was heartbreaking that Marilyn seemed to be able to count the number of people who were kind and helpful to her on one hand, and the countless number of people who tried to exploit her.
In the hardcover illustrated edition I have, Milton Greene’s photos are peppered throughout in full color, showing many shades of Marilyn: the screen siren; the playful woman; and the sweet, poor girl inside. My Story abruptly but sweetly ends during her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, on a bright note about looking forward to performing for U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea—a life unfinished.
Read from August 15 to 16, 2012.