The name Marilyn Monroe drifts by in a fog of legend. Her life has become virtually mythical. Something to be written down in epic sagas passed down to future generations of pop culture prophets. The platinum blonde hair, seductive eyebrows, white dress blowing above her thighs, alluring voice, famous lovers, and tragic death.
One thing that usually doesn’t come to mind is the image of a bookworm, lost in a story, fantasizing about intellectual pursuits and intellectual partners. But that is exactly what Marilyn Monroe was. A book geek, a well-read individual, an admirer of intelligence. Someone who enjoyed being photographed with a book in hand.
Monroe had a surprisingly large personal library of 437 works, all in the original bindings, several first editions, most of them covered in her notes and scribbles. She read everywhere. When one of her directors once found her on set reading Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, he inquired how she chose that particular title.
She replied, “On nights when I’ve got nothing else to do, I go to the Pickwick bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard and just open books at random—when I come to a page or a paragraph I like, I buy that book. So last night I bought this one. Is that wrong?”
The subjects in her library were wide-ranging and diverse. Everything from Classic Literature, Art, Drama, Biography, Poetry, Politics, History, Theology, Philosophy, and Psychology. Marilyn’s thirst for knowledge seemed to be unquenchable. Three of her prized First Editions included On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man and William Styron’s This House on Fire.
Iconic Quotes from Marilyn Monroe
Her bookshelf was filled with classics, from Twain to Tolstoy. From The Great Gatsby to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, from James Joyce’s Dubliners to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. She also had a soft spot for the French existentialist Albert Camus.
Besides these heavyweights of literature her collection also contained books on gardening, her personal Bibles, and children’s books, including her own copy of The Little Engine That Could, marked heavily with her doodles and scrawl.
But her love of knowledge didn’t stop at the page. Intellectual men also caught Monroe’s eye. Her third husband, Arthur Miller, was the famed novelist of The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. Their breakup was especially difficult for her when she found diary entries of his stating his embarrassment with Monroe. She consoled herself with one of her favorite pastimes, writing poetry. Her verses from that period are particularly vivid and memorable, such as:
“On the screen of pitch blackness
comes the shapes of monsters
my most steadfast companions …
and the world is sleeping
ah peace I need you – even a peaceful monster.”
Marilyn was admittedly a sapiosexual (someone attracted to intelligence) and one of her greatest intellectual fantasies was none other than Albert Einstein himself. In her memoirs, actress Shelley Winters, Monroe’s roommate from 1947-51, recounts a revealing episode.
The roommates challenged each other to make a list of men they wanted to sleep with, just for fun. Winters later recalled, “There was no one under 50 on hers. I never got to ask her before she died how much of her list she had achieved, but on her list was Albert Einstein, and after her death, I noticed that there was a silver-framed photograph of him on her white piano.”
Shelley is said to have responded to Monroe’s inclusion of the astrophysicist on the list by telling her, “Marilyn, there’s no way you can sleep with Albert Einstein. He’s the most famous scientist of the century. Besides, he’s an old man.” To which Monroe replied, “That has nothing to do with it. I hear he’s very healthy.” There is no evidence however that Einstein and Monroe ever met in person.
The many misunderstood aspects, undeniable glory and scintillating contradictions that make up Marilyn Monroe’s legendary character are incomplete without the realization that deep down inside, Marilyn Monroe was a bookworm.
Dave Ray is a novelist, essayist, history buff and world traveler.