Sunday, October 12, 2014

Marilyn Monroe's Bookshelf: What She Read

Back in 1999, the office building where I worked was down the street from Christie's, the world-famous auction house specializing in high-end collectibles. In October 1999, Christie's was auctioning off items from the estate of Marilyn Monroe. But before the date of the auction, Christie's allowed the general public to come in and view the items. I decided to go during my lunch break.
Marilyn Monroe was a great collector and lover of books.
Image via Booktryst

Viewing the personal possessions of Marilyn Monroe, I marveled at many things: her driver's license, the well-preserved cosmetics still in their cases, 1950s electronics that included a small television set, movie scripts, and of course her many clothes, among them luxurious furs and elegant evening gowns. But what surprised me the most were the many, many books that made up her home library. There was a great abundance of books in her library, quite a few of them first editions, such as a copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I also remember seeing books by Proust, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov. This was the collection of a well-read, erudite person.

I was struck that someone who found fame by playing a "dumb blonde" was in actuality an incredibly sharp person who devoured books, some of which would be considered far too "academic" and "tough" for the average man in the street. That Marilyn Monroe owned and very likely read these books illuminates a whole other, lesser-known side of this pop culture icon. It shatters what you thought you knew about her and adds a greater, deeper dimension to her public persona, taking you beyond your perception of Monroe as a child-like, none-too-bright woman who reveled in an almost wholesome sensuality and who was the rumored sexual plaything of those in the upper strata of society. Marilyn was an intellectual.

The people at Open Culture, the self-proclaimed "best free cultural & educational media on the web," have listed "The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe's Library" and asked: "How Many Have You Read?" In addition to works by Kerouac, Proust, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov, the books that Open Culture says were in Monroe's possession include:

  • The Fall, by Albert Camus
  • Camille, by Alexander Dumas
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming
  • The Prophet, by Kahlil Gilbran
  • Ulysses, by James Joyce
  • The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis
  • Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
  • Long Day's Journey into Night, by Eugene O'Neill
  • Once There Was a War, by John Steinbeck
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemmingway
  • The Magic Christian, by Terry Southern
  • A Death in the Family, by James Agee
  • The Family of Man, by Carl Sandburg
  • The Summing Up, by W. Somerset Maugham
  • Bound for Glory, by Woody Guthrie
  • Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Dubliners, by James Joyce
  • Poet in New York, by Frederico Garcia Lorca
  • Das Kapital, by Karl Marx
  • Democracy in America, by Alexis De Tocqueville
  • Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare, by Bertrand Russell
  • Out of My Later Years, by Albert Einstein
  • Men and Atoms, by William Laurence
  • From Hiroshima to the Moon, by Daniel Lang
  • The Actor Prepares, by Konstantin Stanislavsky
  • The Importance of Living, by Lin Yutang
  • Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke

It was determined that these books were in Monroe's personal library based on research conducted by Everlasting Star, an online Marilyn Monroe fan club whose members studied photographs, interviews, and the catalog from Christie's October 1999 auction. Booktryst, an online site that's "A Nest for Book Lovers," compiled Everlasting Star's findings, and Open Culture presented this list of Monroe's books. If you would like to see "The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe's Library," go to the Open Culture article at THIS LINK.

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