A Year in Books/Day 145: Marilyn-The New York Years

  • Title: Marilyn-The New York Years
  • Author & Photographer: Sam Shaw
  • Year Published: 2004 (Lardon)
  • Year Purchased: 2004
  • Source: Unknown, but it was in conjunction with a show of Sam Shaw’s Marilyn photographs.
  • About: Sam Shaw was a photographer who also worked as a movie producer (most notably on several John Cassavetes films). He was a long-time close friend of Marilyn Monroe, and acted as the still photographer on The Seven Year Itch (1955). After her famous move to New York City to study acting with Lee Strasberg, during which time she married playwright Arthur Miller, Sam Shaw took up his camera to capture his friend at her luminous best. The trust she felt for Shaw is apparent: whether candid or posed, there is an ease and casual glamour to most of the images not seen since her earlier modeling work with Andre de Dienes. It is a beautiful coffee table volume that allows the photography to shine; the text is limited to a few brief quotes by Shaw and Monroe.
  • Motivation: Sam Shaw is my favourite Marilyn photographer; many of the images in this book were never-before-published. Win-win.
  • Times Read: A few
  • Random Excerpt/Page 4: “Eventually, Marilyn found herself in the business of being a superstar. She became a business woman. She became a big tycoon trying to lay the law down to the Hollywood bigshots. And she nearly beat them. In today’s atmosphere, with women all over demanding more rights, she would have won hands down.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+++

A Year in Books/Day 131: After the Fall

  • Title: After the Fall A Play in Two Acts/Final Stage Version
  • Author: Arthur Miller
  • Year Published: 1964/This edition: 1987 (Penguin Books)
  • Year Purchased: 1990/1991
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: No matter how hard I want it to be otherwise, After the Fall has always left a bad taste in my mouth. Although he’s not my favourite American playwright, I love Arthur Miller. I do. My love even survived not only reading Death of a Salesman (which I adore) in my high school AP English class, but watching multiple film and television adaptations over the course of a few days. That’s asking too much, yet my love and respect remained intact. After the Fall, based on his relationship with second wife Marilyn Monroe, goes a step too far for my taste. The whole enterprise, although undoubtedly cathartic for Miller, is tainted by the too-fresh dirt of his ex-wife’s grave. All writers write, to one extent or another, about people they know and experiences they have. (I’m no different.) I’d like to think that most of us are sensible or compassionate enough to do it from behind at least a slightly opaque veil, without dozens of raw and neon-bright references to friends and family. Especially when they were-and remain-one of the most famous people in the world. If you were to reduce the play to just Maggie’s lines, it would almost read like an autobiographical monologue by Monroe. Unless you do that to yourself, it’s a bit icky. Now here’s where I must pause and tell a tale on myself: if After the Fall was top-notch Miller, I’d probably be more forgiving. I know I’m a hypocrite but great writing gets me every time. This isn’t great writing; it’s a curiosity piece, an exercise in egoism, condescension and hand-washing. It’s not a good look for one of America’s best playwrights.
  • Motivation: I’ve loved plays for nearly as far back as I can remember; not just in performance, but in text. I would read aloud all of the parts, like some sort of egocentric table reading. I guess I was theatrically inclined even then, loving the interplay between words and action that is missing from straight fiction. I wrote my first play in the 5th grade. Even though the short story is my (near exclusive) fiction medium, I write with play craft in mind.
  • Times Read: 3 or 4
  • Random Excerpt/Page 84: “That decency is murderous! Speak truth, not decency. I curse the whole high administration of fake innocence! I declare it, I am not innocent-nor good!”
  • Happiness Scale: 6 for subject matter and over all execution/10 for the few passages where Miller’s writing soars
    Arthur Miller, American playwright

    Arthur Miller, American playwright (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Year in Books/Day 102: LIFE Goes to the Movies

  • Title: LIFE Goes to the Movies
  • Editor: David E. Scherman
  • Year Published: 1975/This Edition: 1986 (Time-Life Books, Inc./Pocket Books)
  • Year Purchased: 1990s
  • Source: On clearance at a forgotten store (likely Waldenbooks).
  • About: The binding of this book is falling apart; if you pick it up carelessly, random pages tumble to your feet. I’ve retrieved the disordered middle third of the book from the floor more than once. It’s that kind of volume-delightful, informative, unique and just damn good to ogle. It’s light on text but big on informatively captioned photographs. The staff of this quintessentially American periodical had a degree of privileged access to film studios and stars that today would be unthinkable. The best of forty years of their coverage is stuffed into 304 kaleidoscopic pages.
  • Motivation: LIFE magazine employed top-notch photographers; many of the images they published are instantly recognizable classics. I knew that I would never tire of looking through it, which I haven’t (apparently to the point of nearly destroying it from the inside out).
  • Times Read: Countless
  • Random Excerpt/Page 86: “In the Hollywood of the ’30s and ’40s, stars were not born; they were mass produced. The machinery that swallowed up legions of girls with pretty midwestern faces and that ground out sultry vamps and sexy hoydens gave each young hopeful a buildup that can only be described as relentless.”
  • Happiness Scale: 9

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A Year in Books/Day 96: Marilyn Mon Amour

  • Title: Marilyn Mon Amour The Private Album of Andre de Dienes, her preferred photographer
  • Author: Andre de Dienes
  • Year Published: 1985 (St. Martin’s Press)
  • Year Purchased: 1991
  • Source: I bought this book in high school. I remember the mall (City Center) and who I was with (my mom and her best friend Debbie) but I cannot recall the name of the book store!
  • About: However slight the connection, men just love to claim that they had an affair with Marilyn. Usually in book form. Fancy that. It’s almost a sub-category of the cottage industry that is the Marilyn biography. And they were never simply lusty flings or misbegotten one-night-stands. They were all, pretty much to a man, life-altering, planet-shifting Love Affairs. According to the gents in question, that is. The reality must be very different. Out of all of these claimants, Transylvania-born photographer de Dienes stands out as one of the most believable. The hundreds of photographs he shot of Marilyn between the years 1945-1953 testify to the fact that they had a viable working relationship; there’s obviously a sense of trust and friendship between photographer and subject. Since I don’t want to turn this from a review into a treatise, we’ll leave the veracity of his story for another day and another form. Instead, we’ll hone in on the real focus of his book: the photographs. What photographs they are! The majority date from the earliest days of her modeling career; they are undoubtedly the best pre-stardom images ever taken of her. They’re lovely. That’s right. Lovely. No big, loftily descriptive words are necessary, not when one word is so wholly perfect and concise. Her wardrobe of all-American basics (she was broke and had to supply her own clothes for the road-trip shoot of 1945) remain fresh and alluring; they set off her glowing, innocent beauty without detraction. This is the definitive Marilyn Monroe book.
  • Motivation: I was a teenage girl, studying acting. This play world was extremely compelling to me at that time.
  • Times Read: Countless
  • Random Excerpt: “I was impatient to train the camera on her, to choose the right light to set off her skin and her hair, to capture her expression, to make her move, run, stand still, arch her back, stretch. I wanted to catch hold of whatever it was I sensed lay behind that candid smile, those blonde curls and the pink sweater. In one fell swoop I was intrigued, moved and attracted by her.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10+++