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Review: 'Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe' reveals a mosaic of the icon's life

Almost half a century after her death, Marilyn Monroe has turned from star to myth — so much so that even her ephemera continue to fascinate.

Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe offers a whole new batch of that ephemera. When Monroe died in 1962, her personal possessions went to her mentor and acting teacher Lee Strasberg. He died in 1982, and it was years later that his widow, Anna, discovered two boxes of poems and other manuscripts by Monroe.

The result is this book, which includes diary entries, reminder lists to herself, even recipes, as well as letters to friends and starkly emotional poetry, some of which refers to her childhood sexual abuse and her mother's mental illness.

Fragments doesn't offer startling revelations, but its combination of primary material and insightful commentary by the editors adds an interesting piece to the puzzle that is Marilyn.

Arranged in mostly chronological order (although some can't be dated), the documents begin with a long typed note written during, and about, her first marriage to James Dougherty — a surprisingly mature note, given that she was 17 at the time.

It ends with Monroe's notes on her answers for an interview in 1962, including her heroes (Eleanor Roosevelt, Carl Sandburg, Greta Garbo, John and Robert Kennedy), what she was reading (Captain Newman, M.D. and To Kill a Mockingbird) and her nightmare ("My nightmare is the H-bomb. What's yours?")

The book reproduces images of the manuscripts, most in Monroe's handwriting, which varies from flowing script to jangled printing; the editors provide printed versions on facing pages.

Fragments also includes a number of photographs from Monroe's private collection and, as a final image, her favorite photo of herself. A black-and-white portrait shot by Cecil Beaton in 1956, it shows her reclining in a dress that blooms like petals around her bare shoulders. She clasps a flower to her breast and gazes into the camera that always loved her, looking luminous and vulnerable and, for better or worse, self-aware.

Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe

Edited by Stanley Buchtal and

Bernard

Comment

Farrar, Straus

and Giroux,

239 pages, $30

Review: 'Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe' reveals a mosaic of the icon's life 12/04/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 4, 2010 3:30am]
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