The latest version of Marilyn Monroe – this time from Joyce Carol Oates – is coming to the screen

In 1955, photographer Eve Arnold took what has become a famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe, on a park bench, reading a distorted copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Arnold later told the world that while they were filming together in the park, Monroe picked up the book from her car and started reading it.

Her car, she tells Arnold, is where she always kept it.

This famous photo has been the occasion of countless laughs at Monroe’s expense ever since, especially from: 1) literary intellectuals; 2) people who want to be seen as literary intellectuals; 3) friends of those in groups 1) and 2); and anyone else who wants to feel superior to an actress too famous for her bimbo roles in her quest to be taken seriously for her superior abilities.

I’m on Monroe’s side. And consider the facts: She was already involved with writer Arthur Miller at the time and would marry him a year after the picture was taken.

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Take a good look at the photo. Not only is her copy of “Ulysses” damaged, but she confessed to Arnold that she didn’t always understand the book. She liked to read it aloud, though, for the sound of the words. That’s about as good a reason for non-literary types to be supporters of “Ulysses” as any I know.

Look even better at the photo. What she reads are the last pages of the book – Molly Bloom’s soliloquy reminiscing about the moment she first succumbed to the seductive charms of her husband, Leopold, the struggling advertising salesman. The book famously ends “and yes I said yes I will yes”.

It’s one of the most legendary passages in all of English literature – especially the literature we’ve spent the last century calling “modernism”.

Then browse the web for a bit, especially if you keep smiling at Monroe’s “pretensions.”

You will find that after his death people searched auction catalogs and other sources and found 430 books that were in Monroe’s personal library at the time of his death. As the lists go, it’s nothing but clever: Camus’ “The Fall”; “The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison; “The Last Temptation of Christ” by Nikolas Kazantzakis; and many from DH Lawrence, including “The Portable DH Lawrence”, the selected poems and no less than two copies of his novel “Sons and Lovers”.

Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was the novel that, during her lifetime, began the possibility on both sides of the Atlantic of reading unredacted copies of long-censored books.

The woman who was labeled a “sex symbol” almost everywhere in the Western world had good reason to explore literature considered erotic, including Joyce’s extraordinary monologue on stream of consciousness, one of the most famous never written.

Monroe’s encounter with literature is an astonishing subject since she married one of the most famous writers of her time, author of plays (“Death of a Salesman”, “A View from the Bridge” ), novels (“Focus”), essays, you name it. Before their divorce after five years of difficult marriage, he had written a screenplay for her in the role of director John Huston (“The Misfits”) and with Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach. After their divorce, he wrote the play “After the Fall”, which she is often thought to have exploited in a lifelong familiar way.

It’s likely to be a long time before the writers leave Monroe alone.

Among recent notable vintages is “Blonde,” the 738-page novel by Joyce Carol Oates who, as we speak, is still awaiting the Nobel Prize for which she was once rumored to be a logical candidate. “My ‘Moby Dick’,” Oates called “Blonde” with a tongue firmly in her cheek.

It’s a bit surprising that it took 22 years for “Blonde” to become a movie. (It’ll be here next week and will be available on Netflix September 28.) Since her death in 1962, Monroe has been enacted by a cast of ambitious movie actresses, whether they look like her or not.

The latest, Ana De Armas, is kindly reviewed by those who have seen the film on online screens or at festivals.

In the meantime, let me tell you about a forgotten and little-seen film from 2011 that had a tremendous performance by Michelle Williams, an actress who looked very little like Monroe but whose talent always exceeded her reputation by at least one factor or 10.

It’s by British director Simon Curtis and is called ‘My Week with Marilyn’ and is based on a book by Colin Clark which he says stems from his sweet and sympathetic relationship with her when she traveled to England to do the ill-fated “The Prince”. and the Showgirl” with Sir Laurence Olivier.

On its small scale, it’s as memorably Monroe-likeable as the ambitious three-hour “Blonde,” which arrives with the NC-17 rating. (There is a graphic rape scene and a visualization of Monroe’s encounter with John F. Kennedy.).

I find myself in my maturity sympathetic to everything I know of her self-destructive life but still as unimpressed by her in the cinema as I have always been, from the 1950s onwards. (Major exceptions: “Niagara” and “The Misfits”.)

One would have to be blind not to register her astonishing beauty, but I am one of those who support the theory that her true genius was that of a model photographer and not that of an actress. Yes, she was funny and hugely memorable in Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot,” but anyone who thinks seriously about the actress and that movie can begin to understand why she was so often late to film sets — can -even being why she needed to abuse so many substances just to get through a world of wall-to-wall, 24/7 exploitation.

That’s always my problem with Monroe onscreen, striking beauty or not. Even as a child, I always had reservations about Monroe films telling me that the epitome of sex appeal was empty-headed. The actresses I would always point to as personal goddesses were Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Janet Leigh, Inger Stevens and Lee Remick – all of whom were regularly filmed having great working brains, often at the expense of men. co-stars whose gray matter was far less visible.

Cultural dissent was quite common for me in the 50s and early 60s. Over the years, changing tastes made me much more comfortable.

At the same time that I was never thrilled by Monroe onscreen, I found everything I know about the woman increasingly touching when it wasn’t secretly admirable.

If I’ve always had respect for his personal qualities, it’s because of my favorite story about Monroe, a story that can’t be told often enough.

She was, long before the general run of her peers in show business, utterly devoted to the magnificent artistry of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald at the time longed for extended gigs in lavish nightclubs so he wouldn’t have to travel so much for mini-gigs in smaller jazz clubs with less monetary return. One place she longed to play for a week was the Mocambo in Los Angeles. Small problem: the owner was considered a racist whose hiring practices were one with his reputation.

When Monroe heard this, she went to him and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: If he booked Fitzgerald for a week, Monroe would show up on time every night and stay front row all night. the night. He could use this fact for his publicity, thus ensuring that his club would be jam-packed every night.

She knew who she was and what her reputation would do to Fitzgerald’s box office. She would fill the joint.

And so she did, giving one of the greatest jazz singers America will ever have the kind of gig she only dreamed of in Los Angeles and the model for many gigs. which will occur next.

Monroe, Fitzgerald said admiringly each time she told the story, was always ahead of her time.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the kind of reception she got in Hollywood. One of his most famous quotes was, “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and 50 cents for your soul.” I know this because I’ve often turned down the first offer and held on for the 50 cents. “

I’ve often wondered what might have happened if 36-year-old Monroe had been able to hang on for a few more years, when directors like Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Robert Altman could have come up with creative ideas on how to use a former sex symbol now in his 40s who desperately deserved the means to fulfill his ambitions.

And not in goth freak shows like “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” either.

I really think that if she had lived, her time would come.

But Miller – whose expertise on the subject is unquestionable – once said simply that she was “a woman haunted by the ghosts of an unhappy childhood that ultimately destroyed her”.

Her time on Hollywood cultural soil was the sister of Elvis Presley, another movie star with acting ambitions and murderous drug habits.

Just saw Baz Luhrmann’s beautifully garish “Elvis,” a 21st-century celebration of a character whose greatness managed to survive lifetime exploitation.

And now, rushing towards us all is “Blonde,” a film about exploitation that many believe is itself indistinguishable from exploitation in a “Me Too” era.

Either way, it’s a film of an America that, it seems, has finally caught up with her: the real woman, not the actress or the symbol of swagger.

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