Barbara Leaming is the author of the New York Times best-seller Katharine Hepburn, as well as the much-acclaimed Orson Welles. She was for many years professor of theater and film at Hunter College. Her articles have appeared in Vanity Fair and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Connecticut.
Thirty-six years after Marilyn Monroe's death (at the age of 36), Leaming, prolific celebrity biographer, picks through the bones and neuroses of the ultimate Hollywood icon. More than 200 books have been written on the subject; only a few biographies (namely, Donald Spoto's revisionist Marilyn Monroe: The Biography) have managed to humanize the fragile actress, who has long since been subsumed by her own mystique. Leaming's relentlessly morose and stand-offish portrait, by contrast, places Monroe on a downward spiral from birth. Beginning in 1951, the book backtracks briefly, skimming over her childhood, early marriage, status on the party-girl circuit and early screen debut. Relying on letters, memos, other biographies and a paper trail from Twentieth Century-Fox, Leaming relays the precise dates when Monroe signed contracts, called in sick, filmed for half a day, etc. It's an approach that does little to explain Monroe's dynamc screen presence, her warmth and charm. The absence of new interviews here is most noticeable in passages detailing Monroe's marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Both husbands remain enigmas on the page. However, secondary characters (such as Lee and Paula Strasberg and longtime agent Charles Feldman) are often vividly etched. If Monroe enjoyed any good friendships or happy experiences making films, they're not presented here. Leaming's real contribution is the coverage of the HUAC blacklisting trials and its effects on the men in Monroe's life. As interesting as these details may be, however, they overwhelm the book and, even worse, shove Marilyn from the spotlight. 32 pages of photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
The author of a number of big biographies of big stars, e.g., Katharine Hepburn (LJ 4/1/95), Leaming digs into the scandals surrounding Monroe's life and death.
"Engrossing. . . . Restores Marilyn's humanity. . . . A gripping
and corrective book."
--Molly Haskell, New York Times