Marilyn Monroe and her literary loves

The movie star was famed for playing ditzy blondes on screen, but a new book of her writings reveals her passion for James Joyce, Walt Whitman and Samuel Beckett

Susie Mesure
Sunday 08 August 2010 00:00 BST

She was the original blonde; her platinum curls inspiring millions of women to reach for the bottle. But Marilyn Monroe was no stereotypical intellectual lightweight, according to a collection of her own private writings that will paint an alternative picture of the cinematic icon when it is published this autumn.

The film star reveals her passion for literary giants including James Joyce, Walt Whitman and Samuel Beckett in previously unseen diary entries, musings and poems, challenging the popular myth that blondes are supposed to be dumb.

Although existing images of the starlet have shown Monroe posing with copies of Joyce's seminal novel Ulysses and Whitman's Leaves of Grass, the new book will mark the first time she has expanded on her literary tastes.

Bernard Comment, who is editing Fragments, which will be published jointly by the Editions du Seuil in France and Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the United States in October, revealed last week that Whitman, one of the most influential American poets, had "fascinated" Monroe. "In these very personal texts we come across James Joyce, who she discovered aged 26, performing extracts from Molly's famous soliloquy. She also admired Samuel Beckett, who was in his first flush of success when she was a regular at the Actors Studio after her arrival in New York. More surprising still is her fascination with Walt Whitman, the founder of modern American poetry," he said.

Her writings, which span just over half her life to the eve of her death in 1962, suggest that Monroe had a flair for writing words as well as speaking them. "There is a certain melancholy in the tone of the book, and what is very beautiful is the way the ideas interlink even if they are scattered through the page," Mr Comment said.

Monroe, whose death at the age of 36 remains a mystery, was an avid reader and something of a culture vulture while she lived in New York, frequently visiting museums and attending plays. Not that she got any credit for her intellect. Michelle Morgan, who wrote Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, said: "She played ditzy blondes and for some reason people believed that was the person she was, but that couldn't have been further from the truth. It's intriguing that she seems to be one of the only actresses who people confuse with her parts. People believed she was a joke but she was always trying to better herself."

She had a vast library, which included works by George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, D H Lawrence, F Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck, as well as Joyce, which she took with her whenever she moved house, something she did many times over her short lifetime. Her copy of Ulysses fetched $9,200 (£5,800) at an auction of her possessions by Christie's in 1999. While in Hollywood, she briefly took evening courses in art appreciation and literature at UCLA before withdrawing after her presence proved too distracting for the other students.

The book will also include notes from her readings about Renaissance art, letters and about 30 photos. Mr Comment has hinted that Fragments will include revelations about her love affairs. He has promised news of her lovers, who are rumoured to have included John F Kennedy as well as his brother Robert. There are also diary-style entries on Monroe's relationship with Arthur Miller, her third husband.

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