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The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, by J. Randy Taraborrelli

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe
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When she sang "I Want to be Loved by You" in the movie "Some Like it Hot," Marilyn Monroe could have been awarded a summa cum laude degree from the method school of acting. It was not even a remote stretch for her to draw on her own background and emotions as motivation for a plea for love. Norma Jeane Mortensen-Baker-Gifford?-Dougherty-DiMaggio-Miller-Monroe spent her entire life looking for love. Born to a mother with a history of mental illness, her placement in foster care was arranged by her grandmother before Norma Jeane's birth. For the first 7 years of her life, she lived with foster parents, Albert and Ida Bollender, who made her a natural part of their family. However, her mother Gladys then stepped in and took Norma Jeane to live with her. What followed was 10 years of a series of homes -- with Gladys and her assorted men, with friends and relatives and even stays in orphanages. At 17, Norma Jeane was persuaded to marry James Dougherty, a neighbor's son. When she started to receive notice as a model, the marriage ended. She went on to pursue a career in Hollywood, aided by numerous influential men and women who fell prey to her beauty, her vulnerability, her star power.

J. Randy Taraborelli's comprehensive expose of Marilyn's life was made possible by the 2006 Freedom of Information Act release of FBI documents as well as his thorough and exhaustive research, including interviews with anyone he could find who'd known Marilyn/Norma Jeane at any stage of her life. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe reads like a novel, but the narrative is composed of not just an author's tale, but rather is woven from fragments of shared experiences, remembered conversations and personal comments of hundreds of people who knew Marilyn or her friends, family or co-workers. Taraborelli is so skillful at incorporating witness' accounts of Marilyn's actions and comments that it's difficult to remember that unless Marilyn is being quoted directly, her reported feelings are only conjecture and hearsay. This account of Marilyn's early years, her rise to stardom, her quest to find love is a sad story, but it is Marilyn's story. What makes this book a stunningly engaging auditory experience is Robert Petkoff's convincing portrayal of Marilyn and her famous friends, lovers and costars. Spoken with eerie similarity to their actual voices, it's as if Marilyn, Dean Martin, Clark Cable, Jane Russell, Bobby Kennedy and others are narrating the book, not Petkoff.

Although she gained a reputation for being difficult to work with, according to Taraborelli her behavior was the result of extreme stage fright, not the selfish action of a spoiled superstar. In fact, she did not even realize she was a star until she saw her name on a movie marquee late in her career. Probably the greatest tragedy of Norma Jeane's life was her addiction to drugs and alcohol. What started as a way to get to sleep, to overcome performance anxiety, to ease her worries about her mental illness legacy soon became an addiction to prescription medicine. As one acquaintance observed, "There was always some doctor willing to help her to oblivion." Whether she committed suicide or was the victim of an accidental overdose will probably never be proven. There were probably few of her friends who hadn't feared that she would succumb to one or the other, being witness to numerous close calls with overdoses and threats to end her life. This is a book that deserves to be listened to more than once, not only to appreciate the talent and depth of this tragic star, but to understand the era in which she shone.

Ruth Mormon

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