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Tom Alderman

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Marilyn Monroe: Still Dead. Still Selling. How Come?

Posted: 11/09/11 05:25 PM ET

For reasons beyond comprehension, Marilyn Monroe still engages the public some 50-plus years after her life and sudden, uh, mysterious death at age 36. At last count, Monroe books, calendars, and various doo-dads on Amazon total more than 15,000 listings. You can also find her on stage, including one 'it's-not-my-fault' play by ex-hubby Arthur Miller. She lives on in movies, like this November's release of My Week With Marilyn, with a cast including Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi. Monroe is on YouTube where she's currently computerized with President Obama. Uh-huh. And Dreamworks has a Smash TV musical in the works about Monroe with Debra Messing and Angelica Houston. Will this ever end? Apparently not.

In her day Marilyn Monroe was a continuum of Hollywood's blonde bombshell archetype that started with Mae West, through Jean Harlow to Monroe, Diana Dors and Jayne Mansfield. Their primary commonality: exaggerated, almost cartoon sexuality.

Contributing to the Monroe canon about, of and by Monroe, we can now add the novel Bye Bye, Baby, From Joe DiMaggio to JFK, they all loved her...but who killed the Blonde Bombshell? by Max Allan Collins. (Audiobook: Brillianceaudio.com. Print: Forge Books)

Whether you're familiar with none, some or all the theories about Monroe's death, be assured they are all covered here -- in ABUNDANCE. It's hard to connect the dots laid out in this fiction book but the main conclusion is: it was M-U-R-D-E-R!

Collins even creates the actual person who does the deed, the deed being a needle 'hot shot' containing the Propofol of its day. Who ordered the hit? Ah, that's the question the author raises over and over, and never, ever answers leaving the listener/reader to fill in the blanks from the long form of suspects and motivations.

It might be her shrink or housekeeper, both of whom she fires the day before her death. It's the Kennedy brothers, or the FBI, or perhaps the CIA, and of course, it's mob boss Sam Giancana by way of Frank Sinatra. They're all here.

You want proof? Immediately following her death, teams of folks go through her place destroying documents and files. Who are these people? Possibly all of the above but particularly her 20th Century Fox employers who are eager to manipulate the scene to make it look like an accidental overdose -- anything but suicide. As one studio exec explains, suicide is a bad image but premature accidental death elevates the star to immortality. Think James Dean. Michael Jackson?

Collins throws in small seasonings throughout his narrative intended to spice up the story. When Monroe's hairstylist comes in to do her hair for the funeral for example, he faints in grief so they have to use her wig from The Misfits for her burial. If you're a fan of Yankee baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, you'll be sorry to hear he physically abuses Monroe. And suicide is ruled out by her shrink who says Marilyn was changing herself and eventually wanted to do Shakespeare. You want more?

A stand-out component in Bye Bye Baby is the Communist piece. In this telling, her psychiatrist, her housekeeper and others are active Soviet espionage agents pumping her for confidential secrets she learns whilst bedding down BOTH John and Robert Kennedy who are also coupling with Jayne Mansfield, the Monroe clone of the day. Yes, it's that sleazy.

There are so many who bed Monroe in this book, including the narrator, Private Investigator Nate Heller, who is hired by her to find out who is bugging her phones when she dies. The sex throughout is gratuitous and mechanical which generally sums up the quality of this book.

However, if you are one of those who cannot get enough of Monroe's final days, then the audiobook edition of Bye Bye Baby is the one to go with. Narrator Dan John Miller keeps the listener moving along, deftly integrating a wide range of characters including a tough cop, effete gay, Peter Lawford, Robert Kennedy, an Austrian psychoanalyst and Monroe herself. He's so very effective the listener tends to forget there's only one voice doing it all. Miller almost makes the whole thing work except for the overly-plotted story which makes Bye Bye Baby eligible for the Oliver Stone-JFK Award for Excessive Conspiratorial Bloating.

So the question remains, nearly a half century since her death, why is Marilyn Monroe still selling? Yes, her premature and suspicious death propelled her into legendary status. Yes, the camera loved her. While today's actors and celebrities are still OD-ing, it's interesting to note the blonde bombshell Monroe type is hard to find in today's media. It seems to be an out of use stereotype. Could this be a function of an evolving American woman from cliché to authenticity? Maybe Monroe lives on as the last of an archetype we cling to from our innocent past but is now gone forever -- or until a future generation invents her again.