Like a rather lovelier Rodney Dangerfield, Marilyn Monroe never got no respect. For one thing, she was funny, she knew it, and she hardly ever got a chance to show it off. We all know she could sing, but come on—she could really sing. And yet, she remains thought of as not much more than what Truman Capote called “a platinum sex-explosion.” (Of course, she was that too.) Capote thought a lot of Marilyn—there’s a beautiful scene with her in Music For Chameleons—but apparently Marilyn didn’t think much of him, because she didn’t own a thing he wrote.
That’s according to this rather nifty list of the books known to be in Monroe’s personal library. She did have quite a lot of non-Capote reading, though, ranging from the very very low brow (How To Talk At Gin, a cocktail party humor book) to the very very high (Proust!). Of course, we have no way of knowing how many of these books Marilyn actually read. Famous people have always gotten stuff for free, and I imagine that even today’s dimmest starlet has bookshelves full of high-brow reading material that somehow washed up on her doorstep.
But there’s something refreshing about imagining Marilyn curled up in her favorite chair—or even her second-favorite chair!—thumbing through a well-loved copy of, I don’t know…The Poems & Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. I have a lot of misplaced nostalgia for the studio system, and here’s another item to add to the pile. When stars were surrounded by an impenetrable wall of press agents, as they were in the ’50s, the studios were able to control celebrity journalism completely. This meant for celebrity journalism that was even duller than it is today—”Rita Hayworth Is Down To Earth And Just Like You—More Details Inside!”—but would have spared us the cesspit that is The Daily Mail.
(Please hold, as I waste ten or fifteen minutes looking at The Daily Mail. Ohmygod, Khloe Kardashian wears Spanx?! Seriously—don’t click on that. It will give them traffic and make you dumber. It’s just four pictures of Khloe Kardashian tugging at her dress and—oh. You clicked on it.)
By putting forward a version of its stars as, essentially, The Most Boring People In The World, the studio system allowed for them to have an inner life. (Did you know that Jimmy Stewart was a decorated Air Force pilot, and refused to let the studio publicize it because he didn’t want to act like serving your country was no big deal? Celebrity has changed.) Then, our celebrities were more interesting than we thought. Now, they are much, much more boring. (Except for Mila Kunis, naturally.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go search on eBay for a copy of the strangest sounding book in Marilyn’s archive: Stoned Like A Statue: A Complete Survey Of Drinking Cliches, Primitive, Classical & Modern by Howard Kandel & Don Safran, with an intro by Dean Martin. I want it!