Over at NYRB, Larry McMurty reviews a trio of new books on Marilyn Monroe:
In film Marilyn’s talent shows most strongly in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, Some Like It Hot, Bus Stop, and The Misfits. The director Billy Wilder quarreled with her on Some Like It Hot—but Wilder was no dummy and had this to say about her: “I think she was the best light comedienne we have in films today, and anyone will tell you that the toughest of acting styles is light comedy.”
She was almost always photographed smiling, her lips slightly parted, her skin aglow with an aura all its own, and yet there was usually a curl of sadness in her smile: sadness that just managed to fight through; sadness that was always considerable and sometimes intense.
Monroe used her lack of an actress’s skills to amuse the public. She had the wit or crassness or desperation to turn cheesecake into acting–and vice versa; she did what others had the “good taste” not to do, like Mailer, who puts in what other writers have been educated to leave out. She would bat her Bambi eyelashes, lick her messy suggestive open mouth, wiggle that pert and tempting bottom, and use her hushed voice to caress us with dizzying innuendos.
…Her mixture of wide-eyed wonder and cuddly drugged sexiness seemed to get to just about every male; she turned on even homosexual men. And women couldn’t take her seriously enough to be indignant; she was funny and impulsive in a way that made people feel protective. She was a little knocked out; her face looked as if, when nobody was paying attention to her, it would go utterly slack–as if she died between wolf calls.
She seemed to have become a camp siren out of confusion and ineptitude; her comedy was self-satire, and apologetic–conscious parody that had begun unconsciously…The mystique of Monroe–which accounts for the book Marilyn–is that she became spiritual as she fell apart. But as an actress she had no way of expressing what was deeper in her except moodiness and weakness. When she was “sensitive” she was drab.