New Marilyn Monroe Biography Says Her Death Was an Accident and JFK Was Just a One-Night Stand
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As the media undoubtedly will note this week, Aug. 5 marks the 50th anniversary of the sad, premature death of Norma Jeane Baker, aka Marilyn Monroe, the multitalented movie star and L.A. native.
Her films go unwatched by most people under 50 these days. So why, or more to the point, how do we care about Marilyn Monroe now, anyway? Answer: as a subject of biographies, an iconic face on walls and shirts, a color-drenched silkscreen portrait by Andy Warhol. For those who dig a little deeper, she is yet another vaguely situated satellite in the shadowy universe of (drum roll) Kennedy conspiracies. And yet ...
Lost is the real-life story of an unwanted girl who was abandoned at birth by a mentally unstable mother (a film cutter at a Culver City movie studio), raised in a Hollywood orphanage and in foster homes in Hawthorne and Van Nuys, who, through ferocious drive, made it to the pinnacle of Hollywood stardom, married two celebrities and sang "I Want to Be Loved by You" to the world before dying unhappy, drugged-out and alone at 36.
While some excellent and thorough biographies like Anthony Summers' Goddess and Donald Spoto's Marilyn Monroe: The Biography cover her life from its Dickensian start to its rocker-burnout finish, Keith Badman's Marilyn Monroe: The Final Years (St. Martin's Press) focuses exclusively on 1961-62, the disastrous last two years of her life. As former rock biographer Badman exhaustively documents, these were the spinning-out-of-control years, when the superstar's ill-advised liaisons with the sexually sleazy president of the United States, his flirtatious but morally upright younger brother Bobby and their much sleazier friend Frank Sinatra and his Mafia buddies put her in harm's way. Her drug dependence didn't help, either.
The book is, therefore, necessarily 80 percent depressing, chronicling everything Monroe did wrong and everything wrong that was done to her. In the former category we have two chapters' worth of Monroe's erratic behavior during the filming of the last movie in which she was supposed to star, Something's Got to Give, a project she herself derailed with ridiculous, diva-ish demands, along with a string of no-shows during production, which resulted in her quite rightly being fired. (The book quotes twice-burned screenwriter Nunnally Johnson: "I used to be sympathetic with actresses and their problems. But Marilyn made me lose all sympathy for actresses.")
The second category takes up much of Badman's book, and he prides himself on both debunking and confirming several decades-old rumors and conspiratorial chestnuts, particularly the Kennedy kind. While acknowledging that Monroe most likely had a Don Draper-worthy one-night stand with the president in Palm Springs in 1962, he proves the impossibility of other alleged liaisons between the two, with well-documented specifics that earlier biographers should have caught. The author's triumphant verdict: one boink but no affair.
While many claim that Monroe and Attorney General Robert Kennedy also "met," pelvically, at a party at actor Peter Lawford's place on PCH in February 1962, Badman makes a strong case that the ever-righteous RFK never did anything more intimate with her, then or later, than talk politics. He quotes Monroe as telling columnist James Bacon, "I like him, but not physically."
Badman does, however, recall in minute detail RFK's angry visit to Marilyn's home the day before she died, the purpose of which was to tell her to stop trying to contact JFK, on whom she had by then quite deluded romantic designs.
And yet: In the realm of Marilyn-/Kennedy-noia, nothing a conspiracy theorist would dream up could be as nightmarish as Badman's account of the most horrific episode in this woman's tragic life, only alluded to in earlier books: the night of molestation and possible rape that descended on her at on-/off-again boyfriend Frank Sinatra's Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe in June 1962. Reading the unbelievable description of Monroe, very drunk following a late-night performance by singer Dean Martin, being molested by Mafia thugs and photographed in her hotel room with a prostitute in a sordid, sloshed, faux-lesbian encounter is pretty horrifying. Rat Pack indeed, Frank!
For all the author's admirable detective work, the book can be a bit of a grind, with his insistence on laundry-listing every receipt, every bill, every flight number. It would have been good, too, if the publishers had spent a few bucks to translate this originally British book into American English. Even for Anglophiles, encountering "from the off .... the play hit the buffers" and "a scrum of reporters" can be distracting.
Still, all the heroes and villains from that smoky, shabby time are here: Monroe's pill-dispensing shrink Dr. Greenson, loyal ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, slimy Peter Lawford and troubled husband Arthur Miller, all bewildered or damaged by their encounter with our one-in-a-billion "eternal feminine" just before her bright, quavering yellow flame went out, as Badman persuasively argues, by her own hand. "The girl was an addict of sleeping pills," he quotes director John Huston, "and she was made so by the God-damn doctors."@LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.