Marilyn Monroe - The Book Reader


Marilyn Monroe, known to the world as a Hollywood Star, a blonde bombshell, screen sex goddess, and less flatteringly, a dumb blonde; but to her impassioned fans and to intellectuals, they knew that there were brains behind the blonde. Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jean Mortenson, was a natural brunette, a business woman (she had formed her own production company - Marilyn Monroe Productions Inc.), had an interest in politics, and was an avid reader of literature and poetry.

Marilyn Monroe was far from the dumb blonde that the Hollywood Studios promoted; Marilyn had a passion for literature and poetry. Recalling the beginning of her career to French journalist Georges Belmont, Marilyn told him, "Nobody could imagine what I did when I wasn't shooting, because they didn't see me at previews or premieres or parties. It's simple: I was going to school! I'd never finished high school, so I started going to UCLA at night, because during the day I had small parts in pictures. I took courses in the history of literature and the history of this country, and I started to read a lot, stories by wonderful writers."

This photograph, taken by Eve Arnold, appeared on the cover of the July/Aug 2008 edition of 'Poets & Writers' Journal.
This photograph, taken by Eve Arnold, appeared on the cover of the July/Aug 2008 edition of 'Poets & Writers' Journal.

Marilyn would ensure that during photo shoots, the photographer captured this cultured and curious side of her character by having her picture taken whilst reading or holding a book. Probably the most natural and honest of these photographs is the one taken by Eve Arnold. It is a candid photograph captured in an opportune moment. In a letter by Eve Arnold she writes, "We worked on a beach on Long Island... I asked her what she was reading when I went to pick her up (I was trying to get an idea of how she spent her time). She kept Ulysses in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it - but she found it hard going. She couldn't read it consecutively. When we stopped at a local playground to photograph, she got out the book and started to read while I loaded the film. So, of course, I photographed her."

Lost inside her book, the expression on Marilyn's face is one of complete concentration. Totally oblivious to the camera, the 'dumb blonde', reads one of the world's most difficult books; and as we look at the photograph we become voyeurs into her own private world. As you first look at Marilyn, your eyes follow down her body onto those long perfectly formed legs. Even women cannot help but admire her body. As you reach her feet you gaze returns back up the length of her legs, up her body, and unto her face. Your eyes flick to the book then back to her face. Seeing the look of total absorption she has your curiosity; what is it that so has her attention that for a few precious moments the world around her is lost to her? Again you look at the book, at the well-worn hardback held in her hands, and see the title 'Ulysses'. No longer are you looking at her body, but at her mind.

Marilyn's library of four hundred books ranged from classics by writers such as John Milton, Gustav Flaubert, and Khalil Gibran, to contemporary writers including Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, and Jack Kerouac. with encorougement from her third husband, Arthur Miller, she read Carl Sandburg's six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Below are some of the book titles that were in Marilyn Monroe's library and are available from Amazon:

Some of my favourite pictures of Marilyn were taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE magazine in 1953. They were taken with her relaxing at home, curled up on a sofa, reading, in front of a shelf of books, the beginning of her personal library. Marilyn was dressed in white slacks (Marilyn probably purchased these from one of her favourite stores, Jax, which specialised in tight fitting slacks that zipped up the back), and black turtleneck top, and no shoes.

This Photo of Marilyn, used for the cover of the book "Fragments", is my favourite picture of her. It somehow reminds me of a painting by Jack Vettriano.
This Photo of Marilyn, used for the cover of the book "Fragments", is my favourite picture of her. It somehow reminds me of a painting by Jack Vettriano.
Reading "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. Photo by Ben Ross.
Reading "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. Photo by Ben Ross.

In 1952, Marilyn met the playwright, Arthur Miller; and she was photographed later that same year by Ben Ross, reading one of his books 'Death of a Salesman'. Following another chance meeting with him when see moved to New York, he helped her move into a more intellectual and cultured way of life. Marilyn and Arthur Miller were married in June 1956.

Sam Kashner writing for VANITY FAIR said, "Miller had a profound influence on his wife, reflected in a receipt found in the archive. It was not “Marilyn Monroe” who had walked into Martindale’s Book Store in Beverley Hill and bought ‘The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud’ in three volumes, it was “Marilyn Monroe Miller.” She was proud of being the wife of one of America’s most respected intellectuals.”

Below are a selection of photographs of Marilyn Monroe. They all show her in her favourite pastime - apart from acting - and that's taking refuge and companionship in a book; something that she seemed to be able to do anywhere, anytime, any place, and in any position, and always manages to look fantastic!

Marilyn Monroe reading what looks like a script.
Marilyn Monroe reading what looks like a script.
Marilyn Monroe at the Ambassador Hotel reading a book about acting, 1955.
Marilyn Monroe at the Ambassador Hotel reading a book about acting, 1955.
Marilyn Monroe relaxed reading a script.
Marilyn Monroe relaxed reading a script.
Marilyn reading the Motion Picture Daily.
Marilyn reading the Motion Picture Daily.
Marilyn reading "The Big Brokers" by Irving Shulman
Marilyn reading "The Big Brokers" by Irving Shulman
I'm not sure that she actually posed for this one!...... I wrote this before I saw the video; now I know she did pose for it. See Video below.
I'm not sure that she actually posed for this one!...... I wrote this before I saw the video; now I know she did pose for it. See Video below.

Some more books that could be found in Marilyn's Library:

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did please rate it 'UP' by clicking the tab below and one of the 'USEFUL', AWESOME', 'FUNNY' or 'BEAUTIFUL' tabs; and if you could leave a comment that would be fantastic. Thank you for reading!

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Comments 4 comments

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I enjoyed reading this Derek Slark -- and the photos, too. Much has been said and written about her, but this hub helps to humanize her. I saw much of her work on the big screen and heard a great deal about her over the years. I always liked her.


Derek Slark profile image

Derek Slark 5 years ago Author

Thank you for your comments William F Torpey, they are very much appreciated. I learnt so much about Marilyn by reading the book 'Fragments' (see amazon listing above), and that inspired me to do some more research and write about her. I am currently working on further hubs about her, looking at different, little known aspects of her character and life; so please, if you want to read more, check back in a couple of weeks or so - or better still, why not become a follower so that you get an automatic notification?


yenajeon profile image

yenajeon 5 years ago from California

The photos are beautiful. She's probably one of the few Hollywood blondes I've ever liked. Rated up & beautiful!


Derek Slark profile image

Derek Slark 5 years ago Author

Hello Yenajeon, your comments are always appeciated. I think it is only as you read more about her life that you can appreciate her as a person rather than a 'film star', and see beyond the blonde. Thank you for your vote.

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