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Indeed, his use of language is so artful that even when he wanders off on tangents or revels too much in his own lust for his subject, the spell never wavers. "Marilyn" remains compelling throughout.
The original, pre-Taschen edition featured photographs by many artists including Richard Avedon, Bert Stern, Andre de Dienes, Milton Greene, Sam Shaw and others. There is also a full-page shot of one of her nude calendar poses. I'm not sure whether it was the grade of paper they used, the printing dyes or what, but the printing quality of this book is the best I've ever seen. Razor sharp images, lushly saturated and incredibly dimensional in some cases (Andre de Dienes' early shots in particular) are literally breath-taking. You could cut out any page, frame it, and it would look like a professional art print.
Mailer went back to the Monroe well twice more, with the slightly bizarre book "Of Women and Their Elegance," (in which he literally writes AS Monroe), and the off-Broadway play "Strawhead", in which his own daughter played the star (the title is derived from a quote from Daryl Zanuck: "Who told that Strawhead she was an actress?"). One might say the otherwise macho Mailer carried a lifelong torch for Marilyn. Obviously entranced by her, he manages in "Marilyn" to similarly enchant the reader into a surreal dreamscape, orbiting, examining, and otherwise trying to find a troubled, but ultimately magical, woman.
Mailer traces Monroe rise from poverty, the struggle to find herself, through to the rocky and some times sleazy road to stardom. As always with Mailer one gets his take on what the symbol of Marilyn meant to my parents' generation, and, let us face it, especially men. His portrayal does not evoke his preferred hipster, beat personality but its counterpoint in the 1950's the heyday of Marilyn's fame. Mailer also goes through Marilyn various affairs with men particularly the doomed marriage to the playwright Arthur Miller. Finally he gives some very interesting details on the behind the scenes drama in the creation of many of her well-known films. Marilyn, while she was alive, never drew my eye for the reasons that Joni Mitchell did. But much later, having seen the classic The Misfits in a film revival theater, I will say just one thing about her looks and performance in that film. Wow. The marriage to Miller may have not worked out but she did right by him and herself with that performance. Yes, indeed.