150 Years Of The Atlantic December 2006

American Icons

This is the eleventh in a series of archival excerpts in honor of the magazine's 150th anniversary. This installment is introduced by Mark Bowden, an Atlantic national correspondent.
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Marilyn Monroe
August 1973
By Norman Mailer

In an excerpt from his then-forthcoming biography of Monroe, Norman Mailer offered a look at Monroe’s ill-starred marriage to the playwright Arthur Miller, the insecurities that plagued her, and her longing to be more than a sex goddess.

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?

Vol. 232, No. 2, pp. 33–53

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