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Old Hollywood Book Reviews: Goddess – The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe

Anthony Summers seems to have inspired future writers based off his 1984 book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.  In reading the recent reprint of the book, I found myself reading several excerpts that were lifted, and placed, in Darwin Porter‘s recent book about Marilyn.  Since Porter doesn’t include a bibliography with his works it’s unknown if Summers was used or not.  With that, Goddess walks the tightrope between lurid expose (on par with Porter), and intriguing government conspiracy.  I wouldn’t call this a biography as Marilyn’s childhood is virtually eliminated.  It’s all for the best as a majority of Goddess was well-known to me, and would have simply been repetitive.  The strongest elements of Summers’ work is his research as well as his assertions about Marilyn’s demise.

Goddess doesn’t tell a straight, chronological look at Monroe’s life.  In fact, the book starts with her birth then quickly jumps to Monroe at 16.  To hard-core fans, omitting this is fine since it’s been rehashed in other works.  If you’d like an in-depth look at Monroe’s childhood I recommend Marilyn Monroe: Private and Confidential by Michelle Morgan.  Unfortunately in lieu of Marilyn’s life and work Summers just seems content to jump from relationship to relationship.  I didn’t learn anything new about Monroe, simply about the men in her life.  It’s interesting, but for a biography of over 600 pages it’s a little sad to boil Monroe down to her men.

What’s interesting is that no book on Monroe is wholly the same.  For a woman who lived such a short time, every book presented about her can be contradictory.  Depending on the author, and the sources, Monroe can be a misunderstood saint, or a promiscuous moron.  It’s hard to figure out what Summers thinks about Monroe as a woman, or an actress.  In the early chapters Monroe comes off as a woman who will lie and sleep with whomever to get the publicity machine rolling.  The book alleges possible hard-core drug use, although has no proof and leaves it to be a line of writing and nothing else.  On the other side the book presents a vulnerable woman who was incredibly bookish and wanted to be smart.  Monroe was aware of what people thought about her, and it’s been well-documented in this book and in others about her voracious appetite for reading.  Her quoted interviews with reporter W.J. Weatherby present an intelligent woman who was able to talk about the issues of the day.  She desperately wanted approval, yet was afraid of failure.  The author injects his own thoughts in mentioning how Marilyn’s fear of things dying (even flowers) is “pathetic” yet briefly touched upon is Monroe’s relationship with Arthur Miller‘s and Joe DiMaggio‘s children who were considered surrogates for the children Monroe never had.  Several sources portray Monroe as a sad, mentally disturbed individual of which I believe some bits, but not all.  As the book enters into her later years the author doesn’t stretch his connections to present a picture of mental illness; the conversations with friends do that.  I’ve read in several books Monroe was lazy in the extreme.  Summers has a friend saying that when Monroe had gallbladder surgery she’d allow the garbage can to fester with old wound dressings which smelled into the next apartment. Unlike other authors, Summers takes the time to interview independent doctors and psychiatrists well-versed in mental illness who present mixed opinions about Monroe’s mental state.  Marilyn’s own psychiatrist Ralph Greenson is quoted as attributing Marilyn’s issues to her inability to handle hurtfulness, alongside an “abnormal fear of homosexuality.”  I’d never heard this, and find it a bit hard to swallow (310).

The saddest element in Goddess is how few of Marilyn’s friends and contacts had her best interests at heart.  The book includes several never-before-heard interviews (at least to me) that mention Marilyn was on a downward spiral throughout her life, and yet the studios hushed everything up in order to further Marilyn’s sex appeal.  Interviews Monroe gave with particular magazines where she discussed marriage and family were suppressed as it didn’t jive with her supposed sex appeal.  It’s interesting to see how actions in Marilyn’s life can be seen in young stars of today.  One anecdote tells of Marilyn attempting suicide during filming of The Misfits.  When a reporter called the studio press officer asking for a quote they commented “That’s impossible!  She has to be on the set at 7:30” (253).  Best friend Milton Greene alleges in the book that Marilyn’s production company was taken over and replaced with friends of Arthur Miller.  Other acts of suppression include stories revealing Marilyn’s affair with JFK.  Reporters were well aware of it, and yet no one wrote about it till after Monroe and JFK had died.

I mentioned how similar things in Darwin Porter’s book show up here.  Both Porter and Summers believe Monroe friend Robert Slatzer (author Michelle Morgan doesn’t).  Both also believe Monroe friend Jeanne Carmen.  Summers has a far better research instinct with his book, and for every assertion he tries to provide as much evidence as possible.  He goes so far as to interview employees of the Payne Whitney psychiatric hospital where Monroe stayed.  Porter alleged sexual misconduct and other horrific things there.  Summers quotes people who worked there and maintained they believed they were helping Monroe get better; really it’s a notion that’s not so far-fetched considering it was a mental hospital.  Porter went in-depth into Marilyn’s relationship with Jose Bolanos, and the idea that she was going to adopt a Mexican child.  Summers touches on the fling, and states he doesn’t have any proof of the child.  He doesn’t outright make allegations for which he has no proof.  I did enjoy how Summers states Marilyn was not one to use vulgar language until after Some Like It Hot.  If you read Porter’s book you’d assume she cursed like a sailor her whole life.

The strongest elements of Goddess are the photos, and the research into her death.  There’s an amazing photo section that includes photos of Marilyn’s mother, both new and old, as well as older photos of Marilyn I’d never seen in other books.  Within the pages are various copies of correspondence including notes written by Marilyn and her mother, as well as Kennedy sister Jean.  As Summers goes into discussing the murder investigation he includes telegrams Monroe sent RFK and his wife two months before her death, and portions of Marilyn’s phone records with the word “Kennedy” written next to particular numbers.

Author Anthony Summers

I’m not a conspiracy nut, but Summers presents the most compelling argument towards one.  He doesn’t allege murder, but the possibility of an accident that was not reported to police in a timely manner.  He alleges that a police cover-up of events happened due to Robert Kennedy possibly being there at the time, and alluding to RFK pushing Marilyn towards suicide.  There’s also the possibility of a second person overdosing Marilyn that’s introduced, but doesn’t have quite the weight to his other allegations.  Summers shows how skilled he is in his investigatory practices by actually talking to toxicologists and doctors in different fields while not mentioning Monroe is the subject.  The doctors all contradicted themselves, both confirming certain elements of Monroe’s death as suicide or not.  Considering Monroe’s death was reopened in 1982, although it went nowhere, it’s obvious things were overlooked and covered up.

Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe is a fascinating book the later in the book.  Hard-core fans of Monroe don’t have to worry about repeated childhood stories, but there’s little depth to Monroe herself.  Fans of Monroe will probably want to read the murder investigation parts.  Newer fans of Monroe won’t find any discussion about her works, or her life, but will discover the story of a woman who was seen as a star and nothing else by those who made money off her.  Goddess has serious flaws, but it’s a fascinating read regardless.

Goddess is available where books are sold!

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Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe


2000s, Book Reviews

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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