by J. Randy Taraborrelli; Grand Central, Sept. 2010; 576 pages; $15.99
Of all the American celebrities whose lives have become a subject of fascination for the public over the past century, none (with the exception of Elvis Presley) have been followed more frequently or more fondly in the biographical format than Marilyn Monroe. Ever since her untimely death in 1961, a collection of ambitious authors, researchers and (occasionally) devoted fans have continuously cropped up to tack their own respective contributions onto the starlet’s recorded legacy.
With literally hundreds of dust-gathering book-length additions to the foray that account for each new shred of information on Marilyn as it gains acceptance over the years (including a volume filled with Miss Monroe’s own diary entries), it’s a wonder that anyone would consider yet another freshly angled compendium of evidence to be of any relevance to the deceased screen goddess’s history. J. Randy Taraborrelli does not share this opinion, however, and since his already best-selling bio entitled The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe has been a prominent fixture on retail shelves since September, he seems well on his way to refuting the naysayers and laying their doubts to rest.
Taraborrelli, whose career thus far has established him as being exclusively a celebrity biographer (with such previous subjects as the Kennedys and Michael Jackson), makes the often-heard claim of having crafted the definitive Monroe bio on page one of his book and appears to write within this frame of mind until his story’s closing, which is as abrupt as it is long-anticipated. Although Taraborrelli’s extensive research regarding the model/actress’s bitterly tragic bullet train to self-destruction is impressive, it is his professionally neutral approach to deciphering her enigmatic end that lends the book such credibility and gives him the right to make such a boast.
In fact, the biographer manages to balance a sympathetic outlook toward Monroe’s unfortunate upbringing without softening his reproach for her descent into the underworld of loose friends and pharmaceuticals that eventually killed her. All the while, Taraborrelli seems to understand the fragility of his topic and, therefore, never condescends to condemning either Monroe or her hard-living associates. In addition to a balanced perspective, Taraborrelli’s bio flaunts a narrative mode of chronicling pivotal moments in Monroe’s life that, although it may make room for some inaccuracy, is deliciously episodic and turns the legendary figure’s private affairs into moments as rich and fascinating as any that she may have shared with us on film.
Lance Hicks is an English major at Jacksonville State University.