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Book Review: My Story – Illustrated Edition by Marilyn Monroe with Ben Hecht

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Marilyn Monroe has been dead about 42 years, so give yourself a gold star if you already know that this autobiography is not exactly new. In fact, this is its third printing. The first was in 1974, then another in 2000. So, why do it again? Well, besides the fact that the others are out of print, this is the first time that the words of Marilyn Monroe have been put together with some of the greatest pictures taken of her, namely those by photographer and Monroe business partner Milton H. Greene.

Greene was more than a photographer. The two became close friends, with Monroe actually living with Greene's family for four years. And the friendship culminated in a partnership in Marilyn Monroe Productions, which produced the movies Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl. So Greene had extensive access to Monroe for a good number of her most famous years, and he took some of the most well-known photos of her between 1953 and 1957.

This "Illustrated Edition" of My Story includes 46 of these photos, including shots from what Monroe fans might know as the "Black" series and the "Ballerina" series. The pictures look great, which is probably testament to the work of Joshua Greene, Milton's son, who for the last decade or so has been digitally restoring many that were thought to be unsalvageable. Joshua Greene also provides the foreword to the book, where he helpfully identifies where and when most of the photos were taken.

The photos are the star here, but I suppose the story itself should be mentioned. My Story is published with Marilyn Monroe as the author but also with the words "with Ben Hecht" added on. Hecht was a screenwriter who collaborated with Monroe on the book, and some Monroe biographers believe he (and/or others) took the liberty of embellishing both the facts and Monroe's version of them. (In one instance, Monroe says she is the kind of girl they find dead in a hallway with an empty bottle of pills. Were those really her words, or added later?) Nevertheless, the project had Monroe's approval, and it undoubtedly captures a good deal of her life story.

The most notable sections of the book come early, when Monroe describes an upbringing in which she was shuttled from foster home to foster home, never knowing her father and being largely abandoned by her mother. When her mother was finally able to create a home for them, it didn't last; she soon had to be institutionalized for schizophrenia and young Norma Jeane Baker was orphaned again. Her escape from this life isn't a fairy tale, either; she marries Jim Dougherty at only 15 in order to continue having a home. They divorced when she was 19. It's a sad start to a life – in this case, a life that was already half over. 

The rest of the book takes the reader through Monroe's struggles to gain acting roles (including posing nude to get enough money to get her repossessed car back), her troubles with lecherous men and jealous women, her eventual success, and her feelings of always being a misfit in the movie business. The chapters are short and breezy, an enjoyable read if not particularly insightful. For example, the chapters on her relationship and marriage to Joe DiMaggio don't make it particularly clear why she fell in love with him, other than that his reserved nature seemed to impress her. All in all, Monroe comes off as likable and smart, which was likely the book's main goal when it was written.

My Story ends abruptly; it was never finished. Monroe is still married to DiMaggio at the end (although one of the photos in the book shows Monroe with her third husband, Arthur Miller). For fans of Marilyn Monroe, this may be a pleasant way to finish — dozens of Milton H. Greene's photos of Marilyn coupled with a story that has a happy ending.  Although if we didn't know how it really turned out, the book might not be nearly as interesting.

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About Adam Jusko

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • http://markbellinghaus.com/ Mark Bellinghaus

    Dear Adam, Marilyn Monroe has been dead for over 44 years, not 42. Just to be exact.
    Nice article, you seem to have understood Marilyn’s life much more than others.
    Milton H. Greene is a must for any new admirer of Marilyn Monroe.
    Good job.

  • http://www.bessed.com Adam Jusko

    My bad math, Mark. Yes, she died in 1962.

  • Nicchia(Nisha)Vella

    I have read and own a copy of Marilyn Monroes MY STORY.I knew it was written in the 1950s at the hight of her fame but I didnt know it was the third time for printing the book.What I like about the book was the wonderful photos in there that has been fixed in order to place in with the book.The writing in it is very simple and I can only hope that most or all of it is in her own words.Thats why I got the book in the hope to read about her own point of view.Now I wonder if it was her who wrote,”Im the type of girl who`d be found dead with a bottle of pills dead”.Its funny about that because she was found in almost that same type of situtation.Never the less I will always be hoping to learn more about this wonderful women and maybe oneday we will all know the truth about how Marilyn Monroe died….Just like the book and her life and death it has never really finished,has it? Poor girl!