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Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters

by Marilyn Monroe, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Fragments by Marilyn Monroe
© Farrar Straus Giroux
Marilyn Monroe, intellectual. Those three words would appear to be an oxymoron of the first magnitude. The famous photo in which she had "nothing on but the radio." The blonde bombshell in a skintight silver sequined dress warbling "Happy Birthday, Mr. President." The always late, moody movie star; not an actress, but a star. The famous picture in the flying, flowing white dress billowing about her hips over the subway grate.

All those images come readily to mind to those of us old enough to remember her. Indeed, those images come to mind to most sentient beings of any age, for Marilyn Monroe continues to be the subject of books, film retrospectives, and every documentary about President John F. Kennedy.

What we do not see – ever – is the embodiment of those first three words. They are not an oxymoron as this fine new book written in Monroe’s own words aptly demonstrates. My recollections fit the conventional mold of the sexy star. Marilyn Monroe's thoughtful words have changed my perceptions.

Buchthal and Comment have skillfully edited her notes from 1943, when at just 17 years old she married James Dougherty, to just before her death in 1962. That first long, typed note outlines many of the uncertainties she would face through her life, yet demonstrates a surprising maturity and facility with words. She had a "desire to belong and develop..." Her sentence structure and spelling were always erratic. "Its not to much fun to know yourself to well or think you do..."
Around 1956 she writes of Peter Lawford that "Peter wants to be a woman – and would like to be me – I think." Further on she notes "the feeling of violence I’ve had lately about being afraid of Peter he might harm me, poison me, etc. why – strange look in his eyes – strange behavior." The gossip that Lawford did kill her persists to this day in some circles. In that same note, she shows a very different side when she says she is "too inhibited to feel spontaneous I’m afraid to be mean – because I don’t know what will come out – what will happen even gas off my stomach (afraid to write fart)..."

Monroe expressed her thoughts wherever she was on whatever was handy, using notebooks and scraps of paper, including hotel stationery. She wrote of her perceived shortcomings, frequently self-analyzing in a prescient manner. Buchthal and Comment have put a copy of her typed and handwritten notes on the left page and a typed copy on the right so that the reader can see her thought process as she wrote and edited. Her use of arrows to connect and rearrange thoughts and paragraphs is a technique some of us remember all too well from the days before word processors.

Marilyn Monroe counted Carl Sandburg, Carson McCullers, and Isak Dinesen among her friends. Her personal library, which she actually read, included Flaubert, Conrad, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Camus, Ellison, Beckett, and, of course, Arthur Miller. The back cover shows her reading Joyce’s Ulysses. After her death, her books were sold and the proceeds donated to the charity Literacy Partners.
Fragments is a gripping and moving revelation of the Marilyn Monroe we have never met. It is a must read for anyone who shares the limited understanding of her persona developed over the nearly 50 years since her death. As late as the November 2010 issue of Vanity Fair, she graced the cover which trumpeted excerpts from her "secret diaries." Even there her fragments were sensationalized to sell magazines. This gripping book presents her in a more appropriate and balanced light.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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