With revelatory new information, from a leading feminist scholar and biographer, a nuanced and sympathetic biography of Marilyn Monroe to be published on the 50th anniversary of her death.
Like her art, Marilyn Monroe was rooted in paradox: she was a powerful star and a childlike waif; a joyful, irreverent party girl with a deeply spiritual side; a superb friend and a narcissist; a dumb blonde and an intellectual. No previous biographer has recognised - much less attempted to analyse - most of these aspects of her personality. Lois Banner has.
Since Marilyn's premature death in August of 1962, the appetite for information about the star has been insatiable. Biographies of Marilyn abound, and whether these books are sensational or flawed, Marilyn's fans have always come out in bestselling numbers. This time, with Lois Banner's Marilyn the fans won't be disappointed. This is no retread of recycled material. As one of the founders of the field of women's history, Banner reveals Marilyn Monroe in the way that only a top-notch historian and biographer could.
In researching Marilyn, Banner's credentials opened doors. She gained access to Marilyn intimates who hadn't spoken to other biographers, and to private material unseen, ignored, or misinterpreted by her predecessors. With new details about Marilyn's childhood foster homes, her sexual abuse, her multiple marriages, her affairs, and her untimely death at the age of thirty-six, Marilyn is, at last, the nuanced biography Marilyn fans have been waiting for.
Lois Banner is a founder of the field of women's history and cofounder of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the major academic event in the field. She was the first woman president of the American Studies Association, and in 2006 she won the Bode-Pearson Prize for Lifetime Achievement. She is the author of ten books, including her acclaimed American Beauty and, most recently, MM--Personal, which reproduces and discusses items from Marilyn Monroe's personal archive. In addition to her books on Monroe, Banner is a major collector of her artifacts. Banner is a professor of history and gender studies at USC and lives in Southern California.
Marilyn The Passion and the Paradox
Author: Lois Banner
Question: What drove your motivation for Marilyn The Passion and the Paradox?
Lois Banner: I live in Los Angeles, where Marilyn grew up and had her career; I had written about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Mead, and Ruth Benedict"three feminist leaders"and I wanted to investigate someone who didn't on the surface seem feminist at all. I teach at the University of Southern California, the world's leading university for cinema studies, and there are many film libraries, etc. close at hand. So I thought the research would be easy. It turned out not to be, but by then I wanted to uncover everything I could that wasn't known about Marilyn.
Question: Why was it important for you to recognise and analyse aspects of Marilyn Monroe's personality that hadn't been attempted previously?
Lois Banner: I felt I brought a new perspective to the enterprise. I was one of the founders of the field of women's history in the 1970s, and I realized that no one but Gloria Steinem had looked at Marilyn from a feminist perspective. With a salary for teaching from the university, I can take as much time as I want to write a book.
Question: What is the biggest misconception of Marilyn Monroe that your book challenges?
Lois Banner: She was not a dumb blonde. She was highly intelligent, and she created her career on her own. Her quips and puns were her own; she had a gifted wit by nature. She had an amazing charisma and a sense of the teachers and others who were at the top of their fields. She was trained by some of the best acting teachers and publicists in Hollywood. She talked them into teaching her and she put it all together herself.
Question: How did your research for Marilyn The Passion and the Paradox differ from previous biographers?
Lois Banner: My research was exhaustive, beginning with discovering her personal file cabinets from her Brentwood home. I searched collections worldwide, including some in Texas, New York, and Ireland. I became a major member of the Marilyn Fan Club. I read over 300 fan magazine articles on her, and I interviewed about seventy-five people. As an academic scholar, I tried to make this a definitive biography. I identified all of the eleven foster homes in which she was placed, and I identified the episodes of sexual abuse she underwent as a child. Most biographers contended that she made them up, but I consulted experts in sex abuse to discover that 95 percent of abuse does not involve penetration. Marilyn was fondled, as she herself stated in an interview. I am also the first biographer to read Arthur Miller's autobiography, Timebends. He described their marriage in that book.
Question: As we've approached the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death her popularity has grown, why do you believe we are all infatuated with Marilyn Monroe?
Lois Banner: Her combination of joy and sadness makes her the vulnerable woman we all want to protect. There are also the extraordinary still photographs taken of her (in the thousands), some only recently released. She was the most photographed woman of the twentieth century and the greatest model of that century. There is also the mystery of her involvement with the Kennedys and with her death. She was also exploited commercially, and that went on when she was alive. Thousands and thousands of copies of her nude calendar photo went on sale. She was on drinking glasses, trays, umbrellas, posters"just like today. Take a look on e-bay. Something like 50,000 items related to her are for sale.
Question: Can you share with us a piece of information, from Marilyn The Passion and the Paradox that many of us would not know about Marilyn Monroe?
Lois Banner: She was non-racist. She dated black men and was close to Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald. Her first foster father, Wayne Bolander, was a postman in Watts, a black area of Los Angeles. Wayne became friends with the people he served. He helped them in times of trouble, and they gave him Christmas cards and gifts. Marilyn was raised to believe in the equality of all individuals. She always identified with her working-class roots and was progressive by nature in her politics.
Interview by Brooke Hunter