50 Years After Marilyn Monroe’s Death – Examining The Books That Were Written About Her While She Was Living

The Fascination With Marilyn Monroe: A Look At The First Six Books About Her

Sometime during the evening or early morning hours of August 4 or 5th 1962 Marilyn Monroe died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 36. Even after fifty years to the day that she died, Marilyn Monroe may be more popular now than when she was living. Her movies are what propelled her to fame and are the way people today primarily become familiar with Marilyn. Her image is part of our popular culture. But books about Marilyn have helped her achieve a level of immortality that is not shared by any other star.

By a wide margin no other entertainment personality has been covered in books more than Marilyn Monroe. Elvis would run a distant second. Since 1953 there have been slightly more than 200 books in English that are directly about Marilyn Monroe. There are dozens more that have been printed in other languages and hundreds of others that contain chapters about her.

Her movie career spanned from 1947-1962, yet only six books were written about Marilyn while she was living, with various levels of cooperation from the star herself.

The first book written about Marilyn was published with little fanfare on October 29, 1953. The Marilyn Monroe Story by Joe Franklin and Laurie Palmer, (1953 Rudolph Field Co.) distributed by Greenberg.  The book retailed in paperback for $1.00 and hardcover for $2.00. It is considered the rarest and most collectible book about Marilyn and very good condition paperback copies sell for upwards of $200 and hardcovers without the dustjacket fetch over $300 and with a nice dustjacket can sell for $700 or more.

So besides being the first book about Marilyn what makes it rare? In the early 1990’s I mentioned I owned a copy of his Marilyn book to author Joe Franklin and the longtime radio and television host told me quite a story about the book.

“I now don’t even have a copy of my own book,” Franklin said. “Over the years every copy I owned, I lent to people who never returned them! Now it’s become quite valuable I understand and I’ll tell you why. It was the first book I had ever written and I was excited that it was coming out. Well the day it was scheduled to be published, Rudolph Field, the publisher died! The book had a much more limited printing and distribution because of Field’s untimely death.”

“Do you know whatever became of your co-author Laurie Palmer?” I asked.

“I have absolutely no idea.” Franklin replied.

The story about Field and the limited printing may be apocryphal as I can find no mention of Field’s death in The New York Times or searching the web. In 1954 The Times does say Rudolph Field was planning to publish another book, so maybe the company outlived him and continued for a short time.

Either way the slim 63 page book is scarce. It contains a brief overview of her life with photos interspersed. Marilyn was not interviewed for the book, though Franklin would get to know Monroe personally later in their mutual careers. The content therefore is nothing earth shattering. What makes the book special is that it is the first.

The second book to appear about Marilyn was published a year later. Marilyn by Sidney Skolsky, (1954, Dell Publications) is technically not really a book at all. It is in fact a full length magazine completely about Marilyn with many photographs and was made with her cooperation.  It should be included in a book bibliography because it contains many facts that were perpetuated about her life in other biographies. As the cover exclaims it also contains “100 exciting pinups! Skolsky was a Hollywood entertainment writer who championed Marilyn early in her career and because he helped her, she repaid him with many exclusive interviews throughout her career. The magazine is difficult to find in good condition and when one is found it will usually sell for at least $100.

The next book about Marilyn is photographer Sam Shaw’s slim paperback photo essay. Marilyn Monroe As The Girl: The Candid Picture Story of the Making of The Seven Year Itch, Sam Shaw (1955, Ballantine Books).

This little pocket-sized book retailed for 35 cents and apparently did not sell very well; few copies turn up for sale on the used book market. When they do, copies in very good condition will sell in the $50-100+ range.

As the cover promises there are over 100 exclusive photographs. Shaw was one of Monroe’s preferred photographers and he was fortunate to get a lot of great photographs of Marilyn on and off the set of The Seven Year Itch. Shaw along with many others one night in New York City took iconic photos of Monroe’s dress billowing up from the air coming from the subway grating she was standing over, as seen on the cover of the book. There is no insight into Marilyn, as the book is photographic.

The first significant biography of Marilyn Monroe arrived in book stores a year later. Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe? by Pete Martin, (1956, Doubleday).

Martin was a veteran Hollywood journalist and interviewed Monroe and others for what end up being a  three part serialization in The Saturday Evening Post in May of 1956. Those articles comprise this book which came out October 4, 1956. The title refers to Marilyn’s desire to be taken as a serious actress and that she had begun attending The Actor’s Studio in New York City to improve her craft.  Kirkus reviews said,

“From the pages of The Saturday Evening Post comes this picture of the girl who — and cinema sleuths can fill in much to fill that out. From an accumulation of interviews, with photographers, directors, film studio officials and Missy M herself, Martin slicks away at the various comments, observations and fact-finding to bring out a personality that has had the most, sensational publicity to date. Her dumb-blonde sayings, her sincerity and honesty, her ambition to be a recognized actress, what makes her a sex ball, her marriage to Joe Di Maggio, her holdouts on the studio-these get a run through from the gallery while Missy M at the Actors’ Studio, after her incorporation (and its resulting contracts), with Sir Laurence Oliver offer their prediction of the New Girl to come. A breeze through on a contemporary Monroe doctrine, this should pamper the most public of tastes.”

Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe? is an important contribution in the Monroe bibliography as it presents in book form the first real look at Monroe as more than a personality, but as an actress and human being from someone who had interviewed her several times over the years. It can be purchased in nice shape with a dust jacket at many used book sites or on Ebay for between $50-100.

The next book is clearly the most important in the living Monroe litany: Marilyn Monroe A Biography by Maurice Zolotow, (1960, Harcourt, Brace and Company).

Zolotow was Monroe’s first serious biographer. He was the drama critic of Theatre Arts and a regular contributor to the Sunday drama section of The New York Times and tackled his subject as objectively as he could. He interviewed many people associated with Marilyn and spent time interviewing Marilyn herself. Zolotow was the first biographer to find the real person behind the star factory that created Marilyn and untangle half-truths and outright fabrications about her early life. It is an indispensable book for anyone who wants to understand Marilyn. This was not an authorized biography and Marilyn regretted cooperating with Zolotow as she would not ever sign the book if she was presented a copy by a fan. Zolotow was concerned that Monroe would sue him after publication, but she never did. Copies of the book are not difficult to find and was reprinted in paperback and updated in 1990, 28 years after her death. A first edition with dustjacket will run from $25 – 50.

The final book that was written about Marilyn Monroe while she was living is: Marilyn Monroe Her Own Story by George Carpozi, (1961, Belmont Books). A small paperback in which Carpozi, a newspaper writer spent one day interviewing Marilyn Monroe. He also interviewed dozens of people associated with her and read all the previous articles that he could to form this biography.  It recounts her life and career in a standard fashion and is not too difficult to find, a first edition will sell for between $15 – 35.

After Marilyn Monroe died the legend was born and publication has increased ever steadily decade by decade.

Considering there were only six books about her while she was alive and over two hundred more written after she died, I’d like to think Marilyn would have been as surprised as anyone at the interest taken in her life.

We’re still thinking of you Marilyn.

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