Behind the Bombshell – “Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe” by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment
After the death of Marilyn Monroe, her personal notes and possessions went to her acting coach and friend, Lee Strasberg. When he died, they passed to his wife, Anna. Unsure what to do with the items, Anna asked her friend Stanley Buchthal for advice. Such began the story of “Fragments.”
“Fragments” is a beautifully produced collection of personal notes and photos of the beloved screen legend in her private time.
There are recipes and lists of songs and even a long-form poem that portrays Strasberg as a surgeon. A few pages contain lines from some of her movies, scribbled in her handwriting, clearly having resonated to her for one reason or another. The notes, scribbled on everything from hotel stationary to notebook paper, reveal an insecure and struggling woman who desperately wanted to improve herself. (Hey, if the whole world thought of you only as a sexy blonde, wouldn’t you want to show them your smart side?) Her notes are introspective and searching. She wanted to be a better actress, and wanted to be someone worth being proud of. (Meanwhile, there’s a particularly heartbreaking note written after she discovered her husband, Arthur Miller’s, journal, in which he’d written about how he was sometimes ashamed of her in front of more intellectual company.)
Marilyn writes in a wonderfully free and unpretentious way – not being aware of the rules, she didn’t have to obey them. Her spelling wavers, and her handwriting is a bit chicken-scratchy, but her point is clear and unwavering.
The book is also decorated with numerous photos of Marilyn the book nerd, reading everything from James Joyce to Michael Chekhov’s “To the Actor,” and hanging with literary luminaries from Truman Capote to Carl Sandburg to Carson McCullers.
Reading “Fragments” admittedly felt a bit invasive. These are private things I’m certain Ms. Monroe never intended to be published to the world. However, they grant the world (a world still obsessed with her) a new understanding of the woman behind the legend. It’s an incredibly touching collection, beautifully bound and arranged. I’m delighted to have read it.