Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe

Warning: The 1992 edition includes a photo of Marilyn's body after autopsy.  I have no idea why the author would do such a thing to Marilyn's memory.

Author Anthony Summers
Publisher Warner Books
Cover Type Softcover
Dimensions 4 x 7 inches
Publish Date 1992
ISBN 9780751503418
Signed No
Number of Pages 621


I admit that I have held off writing about Anthony Summers’ “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe”. I think the reason is that in my mind the book has become too closely associated with Robert Slatzer and Jeanne Carmen and the beginning of an avalanche of murky conspiracy theories cumulating in Donald Wolfe’s “The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe”. But I am viewing the book now in light of research the online DD Group did that seems to have discounted much of what Robert Slatzer had to contribute to the darker aspects of Marilyn’s death rather than the exhilaration the book created when it was published in 1985. Hard to believe that was twenty years ago.

 What I failed to consider when I first read the book and what I have to remind myself now when discussing it, is the fact that although a book may be listed as non-fiction that does not necessarily mean that every word in it is the truth. Newspaper reporters are supposed to always have any story corroborated by at least two sources. Non-fiction writers don’t have to go to the same lengths. This is not to say that newspaper reports are always the truth either but the generally held rule of having at least two witnesses back up any story should give the reader a modicum of trust that what they are reading has been well researched and vouchsafed.

 I think what I’m trying to say here is that I fully enjoy Anthony Summers and the research he did for “Goddess” unveiled a great deal that was either unknown or merely whispered about prior to the book’s release. And now, twenty years after the book’s first appearance, much of the material has been proven correct and has allowed the serious researcher to double check Summers’ findings with subsequent authors and make at least some sense of the events of Marilyn’s last months. Summers reports what has been told to him and although some of that might be judged not quite the truth by some, the majority of the people interviewed here have no agendas and are merely speaking because they have been asked for the first time. Figures now familiar to most of us like Natalie Trundy, Elizabeth Pollard and Ward Woods had small bits of information that prior to Summers didn’t seem to matter-- simple anecdotes like seeing a car parking in front of their neighbor’s home, an interrupted concert, a weekend card game. Yet it is these little pieces of the puzzle that have led to completing entire sections of the overall picture. As I say, it is here that Summers and “Goddess” shine. By presenting tidbits that in 1962 seemed inconsequential and certainly nothing any reporter working the story would have included, now have given us the required clues to even attempt to understand what all was going on in Marilyn’s life and, perhaps even more importantly, provide us with a timeline of her last hours.

 The other thing we tend to forget forty-some years after the events detailed here, is the explosive impact this book had when it was first released. You think Norman Mailer created a firestorm? That was some kid playing with matches compared to the conflagration that greeted “Goddess”. Of course the majority of the reaction was due to the fact that the book seemed to confirm that there was a whole lot more going on between Miss Monroe and the 35th President of the United States than a sweet and wholesome rendeition of Happy Birthday. While others would follow, it was the Summers book that began the revisionist look at the Kennedy Administration and the President himself. While there had been mention of the late President’s serial affection for the opposite sex prior to Summers, it was this book that sent the Kennedy reputation from LIFE magazine icon to a “Question of Character”, a pendulum look at history that has only recently begun its backward swing to a realistic middle ground.

 Looking back twenty years, I can dismiss a lot that is in the book. But I can also point to specific passages that showed us the way to, if not THE answer, at least a little further along the path to understanding. While some have pointed to the book as denigrating Marilyn’s memory by cosigning her to a subservient role as First Mistress, I look at the book as one of the first to point out that there was a hell of a lot more to the Blonde Bombshell than cooing and wiggling. Marilyn Monroe was an acute political thinker who, although not formally schooled, had an innate intelligence that could allow her to discuss the major events of her day with those who actually participated in those events.

 Here’s the bottom line: I don’t care who the author is-- Robert Slatzer. Barbara Leaming, or Anthony Summers-- read them all but check their sources. Just because someone is reported as saying they were standing right there when the Attorney General held a pillow over Marilyn Monroe’s face, that does not mean that they could say the same to a Grand Jury or under threat of perjury. Yet on the other hand, something that might sound ridiculous in 1962 might make a lot of sense in 1992 or 2002. I guess what I am saying is read everything you can get your hands on but don’t believe everything you read. Simply because someone has had their words published does not mean that every one of those words is the final truth. Use your own common sense, your own judgment. Don’t dismiss everything Robert Slatzer says and don’t believe everything Donald Spoto says. Read and even more importantly, Think. And with that in mind, pick up a copy of Anthony Summers’ “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe” if you haven’t already. Even if this book it is only an introduction for you to the many theories surrounding Marilyn’s death, you could do worse. A lot worse.

Oh. About THAT photo. The book really should have some sort of label on its cover warning that the photo section includes a startling post-autopsy photograph of Marilyn Monroe. We can debate the reasoning behind Summers’ decision to include the photo but that serves no purpose. If a photo of this sort will upset you, pull the photos out before you start reading as you’ve seen all the pictures before anyway. If you can handle it and are curious, take a look. But whichever you decide, don’t judge the content of the book by one picture alone.

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