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Book Review: My Story, Illustrated Edition by Marilyn Monroe

November 29, 2006

Marilyn Monroe has been dead roughly 42 years, so give yourself a gold star if you already know that this autobiography is not exactly new. In fact, this is the third time it has gotten a major printing. The first was in 1974, then another in 2000. So, why do it again? Well, besides the fact that the others are out of print, this is the first time that the words of Marilyn Monroe have been put together with some of the greatest pictures taken of her, namely those by photographer and Monroe business partner Milton H. Greene.

Greene was more than a photographer of Monroe. The two became close friends, with Monroe actually living with Greene’s family for four years. And the friendship culminated in a partnership in Marilyn Monroe Productions, which produced the movies Bus Stop and Prince and the Showgirl. So Greene had extensive access to Monroe for a good number of her most famous years, and he took some of the most well-known photos of Monroe between 1953 and 1957.

This “Illustrated Edition” of My Story includes 46 of these photos, including shots from what Monroe fans might know as the “Black” series and the “Ballerina” series, and many others as well. The pictures look great, which is probably testament to the work of Joshua Greene, Milton’s son, who for the last decade or so has been digitally restoring many photos that were thought to be unsalvageable. Joshua Greene also provides the foreword to the book, where he helpfully identifies where and when most of the photos were taken.

The photos are the star here, but I suppose the story itself should be mentioned. My Story is published with Marilyn Monroe as the author but also with the words “with Ben Hecht” added on. Hecht was a screenwriter who collaborated with Monroe on the book, and some Monroe biographers believe he (and/or others) took the liberty of embellishing both the facts and Monroe’s version of them. (In one instance, Monroe says she is the kind of girl they find dead in a hallway with an empty bottle of pills. Were those really her words, or added later?) Nevertheles, the project had Monroe’s approval, and it undoubtedly captures a good deal of her life story.

The most notable sections of the book come early, when Monroe describes an upbringing in which she was shuttled from foster home to foster home, never knowing her father and being largely orphaned by her mother. When her mother was finally able to create a home for them, it didn’t last; she soon had to be institutionalized for schizophrenia and Norma Jean was orphaned again. Her escape from this life isn’t a fairy tale, either; she marries Jim Dougherty at only 15 in order to continue having a home. They divorced when she was 19. It’s a sad start to a life; in this case a life that was already half over.

The rest of the book takes the reader through Monroe’s struggles to gain acting roles (including her posing nude to get enough money to get her repossessed car back), her troubles with lecherous men and jealous women, her eventual success, and her feelings of always being a misfit in the movie business. The chapters are short and breezy, an enjoyable read if not particularly insightful. For example, the chapters on her relationship and marriage to Joe Dimaggio don’t make it particularly clear why she fell in love with him, other than that his reserved nature seemed to impress her. All in all, Monroe comes off as likable and smart, which was likely the book’s main goal when it was written.

My Story ends abruptly; it was never finished. Monroe is still married to Dimaggio in its pages (although one of the photos in the book is Monroe with her third husband, Arthur Miller). For fans of Marilyn Monroe, this may be a pleasant way to finish—dozens of Milton H. Greene’s photos of Marilyn coupled with a story that has a happy ending. Although if we didn’t know how it really turned out, the book might not be nearly as interesting.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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