Sunday, August 25, 2013

Queen of Desire by Sam Toperoff

This “movie of your life” style novel consists of a series of scenes from the life of Marilyn Monroe.

 We first see her in 1935 as a little girl sick in bed with a cold being molested by her mother’s current boyfriend after he sends Gladys out for ice cream. She next appears as a young bride working in an aircraft factory and doing some modeling on the side while her husband is away at war. She accompanies her friend Mickey, whose real name, Marilyn, she will later to take, to have an illegal abortion. She tries her hand at singing the blues as Marilyn Darvey and gets some advice from jazz man Billy Bam. Agent Johnny Hyde takes the starlet Marilyn to visit a famous plastic surgeon to make some minor improvements. Then we see Marilyn Monroe, a full blown, world famous star, in her most demanding role as Mrs. Joe DiMaggio. Soon, longing to be taken seriously as an actress, she is playing a scene from Anna Christie before Lee Strasberg at his famous Actors’s Studio in New York. He aspires to cast her in the role Jeanne Eagels made famous in Rain. Then Marilyn and her new husband, playwright Arthur Miller, are consulting famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. And problems on the set of the Misfits leads director John Huston to invite the cast and crew—Marilyn, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, etc.—to a poker game. Marilyn and Simon Signoret are enthralled by the life and legend of Jean Harlow while having their hair bleached by the Platinum Blonde’s former hairdresser. Next she meets the lusty President of Indonesia but Bob Hope and a tall tale about Veronica Lake of the Peek-a-boo Hair help her escape. She sings Happy Birthday to President Kennedy in a nearly nude dress. Then, on the last night of her life, Marilyn, forever the insomniac, calls a late night talk radio show and discusses where human creativity comes from and suicide as a form of freedom of choice with atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

Although many of these episodes are more fictitious than fact, sometimes based merely on a kernel of fact, they feed our enduring fascination with the enigmatic Marilyn Monroe. If you’re one of those readers who tends to read a novel hunting for inaccuracies and then feels disappointed or angry about how many you found, or because the author’s vision of a historical figure differs from your own, you probably won’t enjoy this book, but if you’re open to just reading it as what it is—fiction—I think this one is worth a try. I recently reviewed a similar novel about Marilyn Monroe, Misfit by Adam Braver, and I found this one to be the more enjoyable of the two, it moves at a faster pace, and I felt Sam Toperoff’s version of Marilyn was less remote and each scene offered some insight into this complex and troubled star.

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