It has been sixty years since Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Hollywood Hills home at the age of thirty-six. Questions about her death, the complexity of her beauty and intellect, and the tragedy of her life still mystify and inspire people today.
People began writing about Ms. Monroe at the same time as her breakthrough movies, “Niagara,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, and “How to Marry a Millionaire” were released. The Marilyn Monroe Story: The Intimate Inside Story of Hollywood’s Hottest Glamour Girl by talk show host Joe Franklin and Laurie Palmer was published in 1953 when Monroe was just twenty-seven. That was just the beginning of the public’s fascination with the star, and after her death, an onslaught of titles – serious to frivolous, fact-based to pure speculation – have been published. A Biblio title search for “Marilyn Monroe” comes up with over 4,000 books!
Although interest in the star’s life never entirely faded, a current resurgence is taking place. For those interested in learning more, or starting their own Marilyn collection, here is a short list of top titles about the captivating woman.
My Story, by Marilyn Monroe and Ben Hecht
Written at the height of her fame, My Story, by Marilyn Monroe was not published until more than a decade after her death. Released in 1974 by Stein & Day, the manuscript was ghostwritten by screenwriter and novelist Ben Hecht, although he publicly denied involvement and was not credited until 2000.
Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto
This nearly 700-page book published in 1993 by Harper Collins is an extensive look into Monroe’s life. Spoto used 150 interviews and 35,000 pages of previously sealed files to present a detailed portrait of her life and death.
Goddess by Anthony Summers
Anthony Summers is an Irish writer famous for his biographies of famous people from history. His 1985 book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, published by Victor Gollancz in the UK and Macmillan Publishing in the US, was based on 600 interviews. Summers was the first to gain access to the files of Monroe’s last psychiatrist, and he presents new material on Monroe, including that Robert Kennedy and Peter Lawford first discovered her body. Summers is featured in the 2022 documentary film The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, based on this book.
The Girl by Michelle Morgan
A more recent publication, released in 2018, The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, the Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist, covers two years of Marilyn’s life when she landed her pivotal role as The Girl in The Seven Year Itch, ended her marriage with Joe DiMaggio, began a relationship with Arthur Miller, and legally changed her name, leaving her past as Norma Jean behind. The book examines her as a powerful, thoughtful woman, not just a ‘dumb blonde,’ who began her own production company and studied acting with Lee and Paula Strasberg of the Actors Studio. Michelle Morgan is the author of several Hollywood-related books and the co-author of nine books about Marilyn Monroe, including her recent When Marilyn Met the Queen: Marilyn Monroe’s Life in England.
Fragments, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment
After her death, Marilyn’s personal items were left to acting coach Lee Strasberg. After he died in 1982, his widow Anna found two boxes of poetry and other writings by Monroe. She asked her friend, producer Stanley Buchthal, for help. He consulted and collaborated with editor Bernard Comment. The resulting book, Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, and Letters by Marilyn Monroe published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2010, is 250 pages of words written on scraps of paper – poems, thoughts – with translations on facing pages, offering an intimate glimpse at her private world.
MM-Personal by Lois Banner and Mark Anderson
This book is a biography written by history professor Lois Banner from the University of Southern California, coupled with documents, snapshots, letters, and memorabilia from Monroe’s personal archives. MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe was published by Harry N. Abrams in 2011, and is relatively rare.
Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words by George Barris
George first met and photographed Marilyn in 1954 in New York City when she was on location for the film The Seven Year Itch. The two became friends, and through June and July of 1962, just after Monroe’s 36th birthday, they hung out on the Santa Monica beach, taking photos and doing interviews about her life for Cosmopolitan. George was the last professional photographer to take pictures of Marilyn Monroe and is famous for her “last photo” taken on July 13th, 1962. Illustrated by 150 photographs taken by Barris and Marilyn’s candid words, Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words was first published in 1995 by Birch Lane Press.
Marilyn: Norma Jean By Gloria Steinem
Published in 1988, this essay on Marilyn’s formative years by the feminist icon Gloria Steinem looks at Marilyn as a complex and intelligent person. Henry Holt and Company asked Steinem to write the text to accompany George Barris’s last photos of Marilyn. Steinem originally wrote about Monroe in an article entitled “The Woman Who Died Too Soon” for Ms. Magazine in 1972. At a time when it was primarily men writing Monroe’s story, Steinem offers a more nuanced portrayal in Marilyn: Norma Jean and reacts specifically to the limited and patronizing view of their words, especially the unsympathetic ‘novel-biography’ written by Norman Mailer.
Marilyn Monroe by Charles Casillo
Published in 2018, author and actor Charles Casillo presents new interviews and research on the mysteries around Marilyn’s troubled life and death in Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon.
Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation by Eve Arnold
Photojournalist Eve Arnold began photographing Monroe in 1951 and the two women became friends. Arnold’s most iconic photos of Monroe were on the set of The Misfits in 1961. Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation includes previously unreleased photographs and text by Arnold regarding observations of Monroe in the form of a tribute.
Marilyn Monroe: Metamorphosis by David Wills
This massive volume is a collection of the largest archive of photos of Marilyn Monroe. David Wills is an Australian-born author and famous photographic preservationist who has worked with museums and curated many high-profile exhibits. Marilyn Monroe: Metamorphosis is a photo journey that follows Monroe through adulthood, from her wedding day in 1942 until she died in 1962, displaying the best pictures from an assortment of top photographers. It includes over two hundred photographs and reflections from associates and Marilyn herself.
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
Blonde, a National Book Award Finalist by Joyce Carol Oates, was first published by Ecco Press in 2001. The novel is hefty, over 700 pages, and chronicles in fiction the inner world of Marilyn Monroe.
Amy C. Manikowski is a writer living in Asheville, NC.