20 March 2018 08:11AM
“Dear Red, The Lost Diary of Marilyn Monroe” is a novel. And yet.
It’s hard to believe it was written 55 years later by Maureen McNeil, a Claverack resident, and not in 1962 by Norma Jeane herself, (Speaking of Claverack, a house on 23B is called the Marilyn Monroe House, because of its most famous visitor. I always thought it was because it looks like her, another creamy, voluptuous blonde.)
“Dear Red” is a testament not only to its author’s ability to crawl inside the incisive mind of the woman inside the icon, but to a body of research as exhaustive as any biographer’s. If it rings true, it’s because it is—truth gleaned from books written by many others and McNeil’s understanding of and love for her protagonist, perhaps the result of her years as Executive Director of the Strasberg Institute. (Lee Strasberg, a teacher as iconic as his most famous student, and his wife, Paula Strasberg, MM’s coach, were also her surrogate parents.)
The entries, which chronicle the last seven months of Monroe’s life, were posted on IMBY as they occurred in 2017, and collected in an IMBY blog, before the book was published. The book, however, contains considerable material not included in the posts.
There is, of course, no mention of Monroe’s death at 36 by overdose of barbiturates, hastily ruled a suicide and never investigated. Like the diary of Anne Frank, another 20th century icon mentioned more than once in “Dear Red”, it just stops. But also like Anne Frank’s diary, not before its author becomes her own woman: a protofeminist, despite her disregard for the wife of the man she is in love with, who happens to be the president. And an extraordinary actor, who has just negotiated her own unprecedented million-dollar contract and is about to fire the people who surround and suffocate her, led by a Svengali of a psychiatrist. But unlike Anne’s diary, you can see Monroe’s death coming, even as you hope it won’t.
The author’s purpose is to refute the dumb blonde bombshell myth our culture inflicts on women of “radiant sexuality”. For McNeil, Monroe is intelligent, immensely talented, funny, self-deprecating but self-aware, daring, even outrageous, but not ditzy, not unstable, and not tragic, until she died.
The direction of the seven month trajectory is up, not down, and I was left not only saddened, but sickened by the unshakable feeling that her death was no suicide, and likely no accident.
The live MM redeems the late MM in more ways than one. In the group or on your own, read their book.