Marilyn Monroe is dead for some fifty years now. She was thirty-six. She will never grow old. She is a legend, and in the United States, we treasure our legends far more than we treasure our substance. Her associated paraphernalia sells for many many digits.
Scores of books have been written about her. In this new one, “Marilyn Monroe: On the Couch: Inside the Mind and Life of Marilyn Monroe“, author Dr. Alma H. Bond employs a nifty device. As a psychoanalyst, with a long list of credentials, she assumes an alter ego, giving Marilyn a chance to tell her own story. The brief chapters are handled as a series of appointment notes, or letters. So far so good.
But as everyone knows, Marilyn was a victim of herself, and those who purported (sincerely) to be her friends, did her a disservice. In her own time, her fortune was truly her misfortune. She was definitely a pretty girl, enhanced by clever cosmetics, had undulating waves of hips second to none, and a compelling “je ne sais quoi” that made men drool. They still drool. Her calendars are still selling out. (Women were a little more ho-hummy, but they did strive to imitate.) In today’s more feminist culture, blatant sex symbols are hardly encouraged.
Her actual talents were modest. She could sing a little (Judy Garland wasn’t worried). She could dance a little (Ginger Rogers wasn’t worried either). And she could act a little. (Bette Davis smiled benignly.) She was really good in Some Like It Hot, but that was a phenomenally fine movie, and she had great co-stars, a hilarious script and a brilliant director.
If we treasure our legends, we also applaud those who wish to improve themselves, and “MM” certainly had aspirations. Could she have improved her education? Of course. But reading Russian novels does not make a person Mensa material. Could she have been a better singer and dancer? Sure. Fantastic, perhaps not. But certainly better. Could she have been a better actress? Probably. But definitely not the “great” dramatic actress presumed by Lee and Paula Strasberg, who served her very poorly. Doing the best with what you have is fine. Making her believe she could play Lady Macbeth or even Maggie the Cat is ludicrous. Making her shape up and do some hard work, focusing on craft rather than personal woes would have been better. She was horrible to work with, which accounted for her small body of films. She was uninsurable. Her co-workers despaired. She was set on self-destruction.
When you link all this with an abysmal childhood, a little-baby-voice, which author Bond does not evoke, you get a fragile and emotionally crippled person. Marilyn was a child-woman, who could neither grow up, nor take responsibility. She may have been fragile, but she wasn’t stupid. She knew from the start that she was the kind of woman a man only wanted to sleep with, and she did her share of sleeping-withs.
Her first husband doesn’t count at all. Her second husband, Joe DiMaggio, was a superstar in his own right. He had been at the top of the athletic heap far longer, with far better talents. He may have been dumb as a post, according to the author, but he nailed it when he said he wanted a woman, not a little girl. Her third husband, Arthur Miller, the playwright of Pulitzer Prize winning stature, spent most of his marriage wondering why he married her. The Kennedys, or course, were only interested in romping in the hay. Her list of lovers and husbands – dumb or smart – tired of her baby-voice and her emotional tapeworm. She needed constant care, and they were men, not nannies. Marilyn never could understand that she could be tiresome, and any rejection deepened her emotional paralysis. Enter the pills and liquor.
If one is ill-equipped to live, then it is probably very natural for them to have a death-wish, which Marilyn had in super-abundance. Dying is easy. Living is hard. Marilyn would likely have been a much happier woman, had she remained Mrs. Norma Jeane Anybody, with five kids, a bowling league and a good brownie recipe. But then, all those Marilyn Calendars would not be on sale today and her iconic form-fitting clothing would not be at the Smithsonian.
Alma Bond, however, is a very good writer, and for Marilyn lovers, Marilyn Monroe: On the Couch is an easy read, despite its chronic “poor-me” whine. As Darcey Dale, Marilyn’s “analyst”, Dr. Bond becomes an enabler, allowing herself to fall-in-love a little with the Marilyn personae, and tsk her to pieces. Perhaps that is what an analyst was supposed to do in the 1950s. (When “Dr. Dale” scolded Marilyn for being hours late to an appointment, I wanted to jump up and cheer!) But since everybody knows the end of the story before they start the book, perhaps tsking is what “Dr. Dale” needed to do.
I only wish she allowed “Dr. Dale” to have a real conclusion at the end. It would have wrapped the package so nicely!
Marilyn Monroe: On the Couch: Inside the Mind and Life of Marilyn Monroe, by Dr. Alma H. Bond
Bancroft Press, $23.95