Marilyn Monroe suffered so much emotional pain throughout her life—from abused child to tormented movie star—one can only hope that 1955, the year she spent in New York, was as euphoric and productive as Elizabeth Winder portrays it in Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy. At war with her studio over the frothy movies it forced on her, Monroe and fashion photographer Milton Greene came to New York in December 1954 to set up a production company that would give the actress enough clout to choose her own roles. Monroe also wanted to immerse herself in the city’s artistic ferment and, above all else, to study at Lee Strasberg’s fabled Actors Studio, then the incubator of such radiant talents as Marlon Brando, Eli Wallach, Shelley Winters and Lou Gossett Jr. All of this she achieved.
The author bases her gossipy chronicle on having sifted through all the major Monroe-related biographies, filmed interviews about her, newspaper and magazine accounts and hundreds of photographs taken during the year in question. The effect of this accumulated minutiae is to put the reader at Monroe’s elbow as she nightclubs with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra, swills champagne in bed and sits timidly at the back of the classroom as Strasberg pontificates to his more confident young lions.
The artsy crowd virtually swoons over Monroe. She enthralls the likes of Truman Capote and Carson McCullers, columnists Elsa Maxwell and Earl Wilson and even Strasberg himself, as well as the normally imperious Sir Laurence Olivier. She begins dating Arthur Miller (who emerges as something of a cold fish) and ultimately negotiates a contract with her studio that gives her story, director and cinematographer approval—plus the highest salary of any actress at that time.
With a magical year behind her, Monroe heads west, ready to give her dramatic all to a new film, Bus Stop, and what will prove to be the finest role of her career.