That Marilyn Moroe was a dazzling presence, that she achieved legendary status is without question. That she is a feminist icon however is a question that has rarely been pursued. The reasons for this are debatable but author Michelle Morgan has undertaken this very issue in THE GIRL: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist.
Credit must be given for a valiant attempt. Certainly there are indicators of an independent, indomitable spirit. During the period in question, generally the summer of 1954 to the summer of 1956, although Morgan makes forays into years both preceding and following, Monroe loosens the grip of her studio contract, starts her own production company and immerses herself in the influential Actors Studio. She makes herself a bit of a New Yorker, eschews the role of ’50’s housewife by divorcing Joe DiMaggio and develops friendships and acquaintances among the artistic and literary, ultimately marrying playwright Arthur Miller. But sadly, as is the case when delving into Monroe’s life, her emotional instability, at times debilitating insecurity and wavering identity are unavoidable aspects of the actor. Morgan tries to shift focus to her accomplishments, intellectual pursuits and artistic interests, those she impressed and those who attempted to unsuccessfully oppress, even providing expository cultural context, yet the book suffers by the nature of its subject. Monroe’s life rarely followed a straight line and as she winds along her path of halting self-discovery, frustratingly unfocused during the few years she was free (and alive!) to truly pursue her luminous talent, the book follows in a similar meandering fashion. The actor, so innately gifted, does as much to hurt as help her career during this two year period; the book ultimately culminates in the filming of The Misfits and the end of her crumbling marriage to Miller. Yet Morgan has provided exhaustive detail for this brief two year period leaving this mini-biography well-positioned to be fascinating to fans of Monroe.
Due to the focus upon Monroe as potential feminist icon and smart and savvy professional, short shrift is naturally given to rich back stories, particularly on set, that are familiar to many fans of this most charismatic of stars. In that way too the book frustrates as it struggles to makes its points. Along the way we do learn of the many ways in which Monroe attempted to advance herself, culturally and artistically, yet at the end of it all, I was only wishing she’d left us with more movies and a little bit more of her time.
Warmly recommended for die-hard Marilyn Monroe fans.
Thank you to Running Press for providing me with an Advance Reader copy of this book. THE GIRL: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist by Michelle Morgan (Running Press 2018) will be available for purchase May 8th in Hardcover, eBook and Audio CD from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or your favorite bookseller. It is currently available for pre-order.