Marilyn Monroe Died 50 Years Ago Today. Here's Mailer on the 'Angel of Sex'

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Two legends meet in the pages of The Atlantic. monroe.jpg

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Norman Mailer, tough guy to like. Marilyn Monroe, an easy persona to love. She died 50 years ago today, and in the August issue of The Atlantic in 1973, he ran an excerpt from his book on her.

The stated goal of his work on Monroe was to create a "literary hypothesis" of the legend "who might actually have lived," that was so good, any "future facts discovered about her would have to to war with the character he created." He may have succeeded.

Here he is discussing her marriage to Arthur Miller, which due to the vagaries of copyright law, is the only part I can reproduce here:

How beautiful they look in their wedding pictures. Staid Arthur Miller has been a scandal to his friends ... for he and Marilyn sit in entwinement for hours. Like Hindu sculpture, their hands go over one another's torsos, limbs, and outright privates in next to full view of company ...

But ... like everything else in Marilyn's life, she lived in the continuing condition of a half-lie, which she imposed upon everyone as an absolute truth--it was that Miller adored her out of measure. Like a goddess. Since Miller was also a man with such separate needs as the imperative to write well ... this half-lie or half-truth that he adored her without limit had to collapse ... Now there was an absolute denial, equally ill-founded. He did not love her at all. He wished only to use her ...

She, with her profound distrust of everyone about her, begins to suspect him. Has he married her because he can't write anymore? Is his secret ambition to become a Hollywood producer? ...

She has lived with the beautiful idea that some day she and Arthur would make a film that would bestow upon her public identity a soul. Her existence as a sex queen will be reincarnated in a woman. It is not that her sex will disappear so much as that the sex queen will become an angel of sex ...

It was as if she wanted to become the angel of American life; as if, beneath every remaining timidity and infirmity, she felt that she deserved it. Perhaps she did. Are there ten women's lives so Napoleonic as her own?


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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