5 Books That Get Marilyn Monroe Right (And 2 That Are Trash)

From Marilyn Monroe, The Biography
From Marilyn Monroe, The Biography

So you wanna know about Marilyn Monroe? It’s the 52nd anniversary of her death today (August 5, 1962) and so many rumors, falsehoods and stories still swirl around her. She’s still got the world completely captivated. No Hollywood star will ever have the lasting impact Marilyn has.

My Marilyn obsession has been going for about ten years now, so I’ve done a lot of reading, writing and contemplating about her. The root of my obsession is a story for another time, but I’ve always felt a kinship with her and fall back in love with her every time I see her on the screen. She’s magic.

We’ll never know what happened on the night of her death – I am firmly in the camp of “The Kennedys did NOT kill her,” but there are thousands of books one can read to learn a little more about her life. Some of them are insanely trashy and should be avoided at all costs; if the book you’re reading drops the name Robert Slatzer or Jeanne Carmen, throw it across the room! (Slatzer goes so far to claim he and Marilyn were secretly married. LOL.) In the years after Marilyn’s death, her so-called “friends” crawled out of the woodwork and gutters to make a few quick bucks off her name. However, there are plenty of really thoughtful Marilyn reads you should check out if you have even the slightest interest in the star. What you learn might surprise you.

Where to start:

Marilyn Monroe by Donald Spoto — This is my personal favorite Marilyn biography. It’s insanely well-researched and not gossipy, but written in a conversational manner that feels both smart and easy to get lost in. Spoto has done a ton of great Hollywood writing, and though this book isn’t perfect or 100% Bible truth, I always recommend it as the first place to start. His sources were real Marilyn friends and members of her inner circle, people who saw and worked with her every day. He presents us a Marilyn who was both flawed and flawless.

The Marilyn Encyclopedia — Wanna know almost every little detail about Marilyn, from what she ate for breakfast to which perfumes she wore? This is your Bible. I love this book. It’s totally ridiculous, jam-packed with facts and gorgeous photos. Buy it for the photos alone; so many great photographers have their work represented here.

Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes and Letters — Some of Marilyn’s personal papers, like journal entries and doodles, were found in a storage unit not too long ago. Reading them is a one-way ticket into her brain. Since she can’t speak from beyond the grave, this collection of snippets is the next best thing. It’s an intimate look at Marilyn via her own hand. The HBO mini-documentary, “Love, Marilyn” was based upon this book. It’s worth a watch.

Marilyn Among Friends by Sam Shaw — This isn’t a biography, per se, but a lovely photo book by her friend Shaw with accompanying text from another close friend, Norman Rosten. It shows Marilyn as she really was, playing in the country and on the beach with then-husband Arthur Miller and their dog, Hugo. She’s not done-up in the glittery Hollywood manner, but instead breathtakingly beautiful in simple clothes and minimal makeup. It’s a sweet, heartfelt portrait and love letter from those who really knew and loved her.

My Story by Marilyn Monroe — Marilyn “wrote” this at the height of her fame. Not all of it is quiiiiiite true; she exaggerated a little bit of her background. But it’s the closest thing to an autobiography we have from MM, and it’s worth reading her thoughts on her childhood, her looks and Hollywood.

Stay away from:

Marilyn Monroe Confidential by Lena Pepitone — This book was “written” by a former maid, who years later confessed it was all made up.

Goddess by Anthony Summers — This book is notorious for fueling the Kennedy rumors, and also for including an autopsy photo of Marilyn. Incredibly disrespectful. TC mark

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