Arts & Entertainment

Book reviews: All things Marilyn Monroe

AuthorsMarilyn MonroeThe Rolling Stones (music group)BookAcademy AwardsThe Beach Boys

In the decades since her death on Aug. 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe has been the subject of so many books that the actress practically deserves her own Dewey Decimal classification.

And although it seems unlikely that there's any aspect of her 36 years that hasn't been adequately dissected, analyzed and scrutinized half a century on, the books keep coming, like the following — two weighty tomes and two glossy coffee table books — that have been published in the last few months.

Dressing Marilyn
How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla

Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer
Applause: 192 pp., $29.99

Costume designer William Travilla dressed Monroe over the course of eight films and was the man responsible for some of her most iconic outfits; the life and back story of the Oscar-winning costume designer are sketched out in the first section of the photo-rich book.

The rest of the book is divided into chapters by iconic outfit ("The Gold Dress," "The Red Dress," etc.), a testament to Travilla's talent as "The Pink Dress" instantly calls to mind the pink confection Monroe wore in the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" song and dance number in 1953's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," and "The White Dress" registers immediately as the white (bone-colored, the book points out) halter dress that billowed about Monroe's waist to famous effect in "The Seven Year Itch" (1955).

As manager of the costume designer's archives, Hansford had access to Travilla's original sketches, patterns and costume test shots, and their inclusion here is a rare, up-close look at exactly how one costume designer helped achieve some of Monroe's most memorable on-screen moments.

Marilyn Monroe
The Passion and the Paradox

Lois Banner
Bloomsbury Press: 516 pp., $30

This is the second book on Monroe penned by the USC professor of history and gender studies, and one that she spent a decade researching. It's a dense, detail-packed book, so much so that in recounting Monroe's early years and the people in her life as she was shuttled from home to home, it's easy to lose track of all the players and places.

But Banner's throughline isn't hard to follow: The woman who started life as Norma Jeane Mortenson worked hard at creating and then meticulously honed to perfection every last aspect of the Marilyn Monroe persona, and Banner's book lays out the theory that childhood sexual abuse laid the groundwork for it all.

Marilyn Monroe
The Final Years

Keith Badman
St Martin's: 340 pp., $25.99

Written by a British author whose previous works tackled the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, this book is such a sordid account of Monroe's final years that it's hard to read it without feeling almost criminally voyeuristic.

A lot of that has to do with the level of Marilyn minutiae detailed in the book, including limousine company records, utility bills, phone records and a laundry list of the items purchased in her final days (among them a Roman-style white chest of drawers, a hanging begonia and a couple of pet toys). Why does it matter that the food delivery to her home from Briggs Delicatessen in the days before her death cost $49.07?

The effect of Badman's meticulous spadework is that the reader feels compelled to give him the benefit of the doubt when he makes some of the book's more salacious claims and assertions (not the least of which involveJohn F. Kennedy and UFOs).

Marilyn in Fashion
The Enduring Influence of Marilyn Monroe

Christopher Nickens and George Zeno
Running Press: 280 pp., $30

Despite the title, readers shouldn't expect this photo-driven book to explain the reason for Monroe's enduring fashion influence as much as chronicle the contents of her closet, particularly the most famous of pieces — the subway grate dress and the gown she wore to serenade Kennedy — and the fashion designers behind them.

But that's a task it accomplishes handily, both in describing — to an exhaustive level of detail — the fabrics and embellishments of the various pieces, and by including several different instances of Monroe wearing the garment, and the occasional sketch. What at first seems repetitive actually helps paint a much more nuanced portrait of the actress and the way she wielded the power of her wardrobe.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
AuthorsMarilyn MonroeThe Rolling Stones (music group)BookAcademy AwardsThe Beach Boys
  • Marilyn Monroe: Still shining
    Marilyn Monroe: Still shining

    Fifty years after her passing, Marilyn Monroe continues to resonate through popular culture: Her look, her hair and her clothes still influence fashion and style today.

  • The literary side of Marilyn Monroe
    The literary side of Marilyn Monroe

    Since her death on Aug. 5, 1962, hundreds of books about Marilyn Monroe have been published by various writers, ranging from famous names such as Norman Mailer, Gloria Steinem and Joyce Carol Oates, to people who worked with her on movie sets. With so many choices, its hard to navigate...

  • Time Warner Cable to broadcast final Dodger games on local TV
    Time Warner Cable to broadcast final Dodger games on local TV

    Tens of thousands of Los Angeles Dodgers fans haven't heard legendary broadcaster Vin Scully call games. They've missed two Dodger no-hitters, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez's clutch home runs, outfielder Yasiel Puig's antics and pitching ace Clayton Kershaw clinching his...

  • Angel City Jazz Festival lineup looks to past, present and future
    Angel City Jazz Festival lineup looks to past, present and future

    Roberto Miranda and the Interstellar Quintet kick off the eight-day Angel City Jazz Festival on Friday. Other acts at the festival include Anthony Braxton, Matana Roberts and Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio.

  • 'Eleanor Rigby' examines a relationship from multiple angles
    'Eleanor Rigby' examines a relationship from multiple angles

    More than most movies, romantic dramas are defined by point of view. Are we seeing the film through the lens of a man or woman? The jilted or the jilter? A well-intentioned character or a dubious one? Or does a filmmaker seek to avoid specific vantage points entirely, keeping us at...

  • Beckett classic 'Happy Days' on superb ground at Boston Court
    Beckett classic 'Happy Days' on superb ground at Boston Court

    Logistically I know it's impossible, but I could have sworn that Winnie, the determinedly cheery middle-aged woman who is planted in the earth up to her bosom in Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days," had been ahead of me at the checkout line the other day at Trader Joe's.