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Author: Gary Vitacco-Robles
Publisher: Bear Manor Media
Marilyn Monroe is an enigmatic figure in the history of the entertainment industry. Half a century has passed since her death, yet she is remembered today as if she were yet alive. Her story has evolved into legend. Breathtakingly beautiful, talented and charismatic, she begins her career in the heyday advent of the movie industry. The widescreen Cinemascope technology and stereophonic sound present her on the wide screen as sensual, alluring and innocent – the undeniably seductive child-woman somehow untainted by the world. She was so compelling in her portrayals that two of her most successful films (Some Like It Hot and The Misfits) were produced in black-and-white. Other glamorous stars preceded her, but none secured the same lasting impact.
Ms. Monroe is both the product and the victim of twentieth century America as the country moves into new-found affluence after World War II. The age is witness to the rise of materialism, the redefinition of sexual values, the questioning of the place of women in society and the leaderless rebellion of youth against the established order. Monroe’s name is associated with some of the elite of the era, Carl Sandberg, John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy among others. It would only follow that many would try to exploit her memory for personal advantage. Over 600 books have been published about her. Many accounts distort the collective memory to such an extent the task of untangling and clarifying Ms. Monroe’s story takes on monumental dimensions.
Gary Vitacco-Robles was not one to be deterred from the challenge of making certain truth would prevail. His two volumes, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe constitute the definitive biography of the great actress. (See the earlier review of Volume I on this web site.) That Vitacco-Robles cares, and cares deeply, for his subject is clear. His compassion and sensitivity are never more obvious than when he addresses the less-than-glamorous episodes in her life. Readers can expect to be impressed with the depth of his research. Every scene is filled with poignant detail. His credibility is unassailable and thus the power behind his narrative flows from genuine empathy for his subject.
Volume II covers the turbulent years from 1956 to 1962, the year the star died of a tragic, accidental overdose. By 1956, Ms. Monroe is established as a star. The Seven Year Itch established her securely as a box office draw. Successes followed including The Prince and the Showgirl, Bus Stop, and arguably the greatest comedy of all time, Some Like It Hot. The world comes to know the screen persona of the actress. What becomes central to the spiritual and psychological plight for Ms. Monroe is that the world does not know her for who she truly is. “Do you want me to be Marilyn?” she teases one guest. In private the actress finds the affection, addressed as it is to a characterization, void of the affirmation she desperately seeks. She struggles with depression, the anguish of bipolar emotional swings and the unfulfilled yearnings with their roots in a deprived childhood. Vitacco-Robles has the professional credentials to state his own analysis, but he remains objective and quotes other authorities who knew Ms. Monroe whenever he wants to describe her tormented mental state. Throughout, the author is even-handed and balanced in presentation; neither apologist nor critic. He treats the actor’s professional growth in the same manner. Monroe’s contemporaries observe that she is at the height of her talent and growing as an actress at the time of her death.
Several persons emerge from the author’s narrative as major influences in the star’s life. Arthur Miller’s withdrawal from her while they are married leaves readers questioning the depth of artistic sensitivity. Joe DiMaggio’s undying devotion to her throughout her life is moving. Lee and Paul Strasberg seem to thrive on keeping Marilyn dependent rather than helping her toward a more autonomous self-sufficiency. Readers may also conclude that Physiatrist Ralph Greenson is also guilty of cultivating a dependency. Monroe was on the verge of firing him at several points..
Vitacco-Robles’s writing style is sturdy and straightforward. There are moments when the author could have moved his story along more efficiently had he used notes to provide background data. The central story all but surrenders to detail and the string of the trail of the narrative fades. These are the minor shortcomings of an impressive work of unflinching objectivity. Ms. Marilyn Monroe’s talent and memory deserved a biographer who brings to his task a dedication and skill that is worthy of her as a subject. Vitacco-Robles had done just that. He has paid her the highest possible complement in completing his magnificently memorable biography.