Saturday, August 24, 2013

Twilight Of Innocence The Disappearance Of Beverly Potts by James Jessen Badal

On the evening of August 24, 1951 two ten-year-old girls left their homes in a quiet, respectable Cleveland neighborhood to walk to Halloran Park, five minutes away, to attend a free performance of the traveling Showagon, a troupe of dancers, singers, and magicians. Patricia Swing would come safely home, but sweet, shy Beverly Potts, who had recently had her long pigtails cropped into a stylish bob, would never be seen again.

The author chronicles the police investigation and extensive media coverage, which left no stone unturned in a diligent and dedicated effort to find Beverly Potts, every clue was meticulously followed, including the numerous false hopes and cruel hoaxes that inevitably accompany such well-publicized disappearances. The police never gave up on finding Beverly, but to this date no trace of her has ever been found. In July 2000 an anonymous letter in cramped handwriting, claiming to have been written by an 82 year old man who claimed to have molested and unintentionally murdered Beverly was sent to a local newspaper, the author said he wanted to confess before he died, but the police were never able to identify the author or determine if it was authentic or a hoax. This is a very detailed and well-written account of the tragic disappearance and probable murder of an innocent child. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli

As a longtime fan of Marilyn Monroe I've found that almost every new biography claims to be THE ONE to reveal the REAL truth about her, to reveal the heretofore undisclosed and to blast the lies and secrets away like bursting bombshells. That said, Mr. Taraborrelli's book did indeed contain some unexpected surprises. Instead of giving in to sensationalism and conspiracy theories as the title might reasonably lead readers to suspect, he instead paints a portrait of a sad and lonely woman grappling with the demons of her own mind, a borderline paranoid schizophrenic, terrified that, like her mother and grandmother before her, she would end up institutionalized.

The life of Marilyn Monroe is a fascinating study in contradictions. She was the woman every man wanted and every woman wanted to be, but that was just a beautiful illusion. The real Marilyn, despite her breathtaking beauty and genuine talent, was a bedeviling blend of insecurity and fear barely glued together by drugs and alcohol which made her behavior and mental state even more erratic. She was a woman who used sex to affirm her desirability and usually chose badly, either to boost her career or stave off loneliness, when it came to the men in her life. She also had a distressing tendency to surrender herself to the power of strong, Svengali-like personalities, such as her acting coaches Natasha Lytess and Lee and Paula Strasberg, and her last psychologist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, a man often cast as the villain in the saga of Marilyn Monroe, because of the control he exerted over all aspects of her life and the unorthodox and unprofessional choices he made in her treatment.

To my surprise, Mr. Taraborrelli, while admitting anything is possible, largely debunks the web of conspiracy, sex, and murder that has been spun around Marilyn and her relationships with President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert "Bobby" Kennedy. He maintains that Marilyn was basically a weekend fling, just another conquest--bedding the ultimate Hollywood blonde--to JFK, and that poor deluded, drug-addled Marilyn became obsessed with him, doggedly pursuing the President and pestering him by phone, wanting their relationship to be more than it actually was or could ever be, maybe even going so far as to imagine herself as First Lady someday. When Marilyn refused to face the facts, Bobby Kennedy was dispatched to tell her to back off and stop calling. Though many believe this confrontation evolved into a love affair, the evidence presented by Mr. Taraborrelli fails to support this, and one is left with the feeling that while they make fascinating reading the conspiracy theories that abound about Marilyn and the Kennedy brothers are more fiction than fact.

Although a genuine air of mystery enshrouds Marilyn's death, and there are questions that remain unanswered and probably always will, in Mr. Taraborrelli's account suicide seems more likely than murder. For many years, I was a devout believer in the murder conspiracy, but as I have gotten older my mind has given greater consideration to the suicide theory. I used to be one of those who believed that Marilyn would never have intentionally taken her own life, she had too much to live for; things were looking up, she had a bright future ahead of her and some great projects in the works. But I know now that having talent that suggests a bright future lies ahead is not always enough to chase the darkness of the soul away. Attaining success, or even stardom, is not a cure, and these things bring their own share of problems that can compound pre-existing ones. Admiration, adoration, and accolades aren't enough, they are not chicken soup for the soul. In the end, Marilyn Monroe couldn't escape the encroaching darkness, she was a woman fighting a losing battle with her own mind and inner demons; she could not save herself and no one else could or would either.

Whatever the truth about Marilyn Monroe's last night on earth, and whether she departed via malice, accident, or intent, Marilyn Monroe didn't die that night, sad, lonely, frightened, lost little girl Norma Jeane died, her glittering platinum and diamond creation, with the breathy little girl voice and marshmallow-soft but oh so fragile heart and soul, the legendary Marilyn Monroe lives on.

I found Mr. Taraborrelli's book to be a refreshing, down to earth, unsensationalized look at the life of Marilyn Monroe, the woman and the movie star. The only issue I had with it was that he omitted to mention either the cosmetic surgery or abortions that form an oft-repeated part of the Marilyn Monroe story and appear in numerous books about her. To me, the book would have felt more complete if he had explored these issues, regardless of whether it was to affirm or disprove them. That said, I would still recommend this book to any casual reader or devoted Marilyn fan.