A photograph of a dreamy-eyed Marilyn Monroe among a group of Hollywood starlets captures vividly the description of herself in My Story, the autobiography she collaborated on with screenwriter Ben Hecht. The true dimensions of Monroe’s ambitions only began to be apparent when Norman Mailer wrote about her Napoleonic sensibility. She came to conquer her world in the same way as many of my other subjects—notably Dana Andrews and Sylvia Plath—did: through hard work, tenacity, talent, and the ability to see beyond their own cultural conditions. How did Marilyn Monroe and others like her overcome obstacles and setbacks? What is it that keeps a person going after so many rejections, and how does someone not only overcome self-doubt but became a star? Marilyn Monroe’s story contains the answers to these existential questions as well revealing both the promise and the peril awaiting those who aspire to greatness.
One of America’s foremost teachers and practitioners of biography, Carl Rollyson is also one of the most prolific, having published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, and Susan Sontag to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His work has been reviewed in newspapers such as The New York Times and the London Sunday Telegraph and in journals such as American Literature and the Dictionary of Literary Biography; for four years (2003-2007) he wrote a weekly column, “On Biography,” for The New York Sun. Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews has just been published by the University Press of Mississippi. His biography, American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, will be published in February 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of her death.