However, along the way he takes some mighty swipes at the reputations of JFK, whom everyone agrees had a one-night stand with Monroe at Bing Crosby’s house; Robert Kennedy, whom Badman, proverbially holding his nose, lets off the hook from both the charges of having an affair with Monroe and being complicit in her death; Monroe’s last psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson; the actor Peter Lawford; and the suits in the front office of 20th Century Fox. His hero is the baseball icon Joe DiMaggio, the second of Monroe’s three husbands and the only one to attend her funeral and never to write a confessional book or give interviews about the actress.
Banner’s ambition is much larger — to consider the living Monroe as a whole person: an unusually imaginative and loving child; a sufferer for almost her entire life of a pronounced stammer and an array of other physical ailments; a victim of childhood abandonment by her parents, of a murder attempt by her insane mother, and of pedophiliac molestation if not rape; a survivor of many foster homes, which Banner has tracked down; a largely self-taught connoisseur of art and photography; an earnest student of Method acting; a reader of the 16th century anatomist and author Vesalius, Freud, Lincoln Steffens, I.F. Stone, Willa Cather and of poetry by, among others, her friend Carl Sandburg; a student of dancing with Lotte Goslar, Jack Cole and Gwen Verdon; a woman known for her kindness and generosity; a libertine who longed to be an artist; and, perhaps most unusual, a person with an intensely spiritual side.
Despite its elaborately psychoanalytic perspective — its speculations as to motives and feelings are sometimes highly questionable; Banner takes Dr. Greenson’s part — this is the book to read if you want to try to understand what made Monroe tick. Where Badman’s book took five years to produce, Banner’s took 10; and, although their background readings seem to overlap in places, Banner keeps asking questions and weighing evidence long after Badman has settled for his eureka revelations. Banner’s methodical approach and refusal to give Monroe praise when the actress doesn’t deserve it confers a sort of dignity on the subject that Badman’s book doesn’t.
Unfortunately, both books could have used more stringent proofreading and copy editing, as well as a crackerjack overall editor who would point out contradictory statements and perform careful line editing. The cover photographs for each, though, are exactly appropriate to their respective texts and independently wonderful.
Mindy Aloff reviewed this book for The Washington Post.