There are many poignant moments in Fragments, bringing into more intense focus than ever before how much desolation Monroe had to fight against when she wasn’t resorting to all her razzle-dazzle tricks. “I am depressed with my whole life since I first remember,” she notes. And in another place she writes: “remembering when I couldn’t do a god/damn thing./ then trying to build myself up with the / fact that I have done things right that/ were even good and have had moments/ that were excellent but the bad is heavier/ to carry around and feel have no confidence….” Her abiding sense of emptiness is brought vividly home by a dream she describes in which Lee Strasberg and one of her psychiatrists are preparing her for surgery—“to cure me of this terrible dis-ease/ whatever the hell it is—“only to discover that there is nothing inside of her but “finely cut sawdust—like out of a raggedy ann doll.” The fact that she was able to put out as much in the way of entertainment value as she did notwithstanding is quite a tribute to both her native talent and her trained will. Perhaps the wonder is not that she was late to the set as often as she was (she was fired from her last movie, Something’s Got to Give, because of her repeated lateness and absences) but that she showed up at all.
Having said that, the dark side of Marilyn is not exactly a revelation. What does come as more of a surprise is the joyous, functioning Monroe that also leaps out of these pages. She is an avid student with a keen intellectual appetite, taking diligent notes on Renaissance art. She is an excellent reader of scripts, with an intuitive feel for where the focus of a narrative should be. Regarding The Misfits, she writes: “I feel the camera has got/ to look though Gay’s/ eyes whenever he is in a/scene and even when is/ not there still has to be a sense of/ him.” And, contrary to all the rumors of her ditzy sloppiness, she turns out to be quite the occasional Hausfrau, taking down recipes in great detail and organizing a dinner party down to the guest towels.
A sudden chill enters the book about midway with the entry of someone named “Peter,” who the editors surmise might be the actor Peter Lawford, who was married to John Kennedy’s sister Pat. Monroe refers to “being afraid of Peter he might/ harm me, / poison me.” Her instincts were on the whole rather solid; Lawford would eventually introduce her to both his brother-in-law and Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn would go on to have affairs with both men, who may or may not have conspired in her death but who certainly didn’t leave her feeling happy.
That she was indeed capable of feeling happy—of being absorbed by both simple and more cerebral pleasures—as well as connected with great affection to those people she came to trust becomes eminently clear, making her frequent dips into anguish all the sadder to contemplate. One comes away from this book with a sense of profound loss—as well as great admiration for the many ways in which Monroe succeeded in warding off her demons, all of them suggestive of what she might yet have become had time been on her side. Fragments provides an intimate look at a complex woman, brimming with intelligence and awareness, who learned that boobs and breathiness were her calling card. It is hard to think of an equivalent actress today who would so earnestly engage in self-accounting and improving her mind. Now it is all twitter and branding and the dedicated cultivation of inauthenticity.