Norman Rosten’s ‘Marilyn: Shadow and Light’ in France

One of the best books ever written about Marilyn is Marilyn: The Untold Story (aka Marilyn: A Very Personal Story), the memoir of her poet friend, Norman Rosten. Although long out of print, affordable used copies can be tracked down at online bookstores. And now, the book has been reissued in France as Marilyn – Shadow and Light, and is also the subject of articles (in French) from Vanity Fair and Critical Zone. Let’s hope an English reprint will follow…

“August 1962-August 2022: the 60th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe. ‘Rosten’s book offers the most tender portrait that exists on Marilyn. A story as beautiful as it is intimate’ – Norman Mailer

Among the plethora of works devoted to Marilyn Monroe, the testimony of Norman Rosten, published in 1974 in the United States, is certainly the most authentic. Poet, novelist, playwright and screenwriter, Norman Rosten was (with his wife Hedda) one of Marilyn’s close friends during the last seven years of her life. He had met her one rainy day through photographer Sam Shaw (one of the most important of Marilyn’s career, author of the cover photo). Shaw, on a walk with the actress in Brooklyn, had taken refuge with his friends the Rostens to escape the downpours. Wrongly understanding that her name was ‘Marion’, the Rostens had initially taken the young girl with wet hair for a starlet, Shaw’s girlfriend. Before realizing that it was the headliner of The Seven Year Itch, a recent box office triumph.

That hadn’t stopped them from being immediately seduced by her charm. Their whole relationship would thus be placed under the sign of naturalness and spontaneity. Thereafter Rosten visited Marilyn all the more because he was very good friends with her third husband Arthur Miller. With Arthur and then without, Marilyn and the Rostens would spend many dinners, weekends, vacations together, from Upper Manhattan to Brooklyn and to the beaches of Long Island (where Norman almost saved her from drowning one day when she wanted to escape a crowd of fans). Between Norman and Marilyn, the bond was all the stronger as the young woman, in love with poetry, passed her texts to him to submit them to his judgement: ‘Do you think there is poetry in there?’. They would remain close until the very last moments of Marilyn’s life.

Braided with funny or moving anecdotes, this short testimony, the work of a writer, recounts Marilyn with respect and affection, and paints a portrait that imposes itself by its sincerity, by its delicacy, by the accuracy of its gaze. A diamond in the rough for whoever wants to grasp who Marilyn really was.”