Norman Mailer gives a gilded, forensic tour of all things Marilyn.
First, just let the product specifications sink in: Marilyn Monroe (Taschen), by Norman Mailer and Bert Stern, costs a thousand dollars. It pairs ninety-three thousand words Mailer wrote about Monroe in 1973 with more than a hundred shots from Stern’s 1962 four-day photo session with the doomed actress, snapped six weeks before her death.
Who would pay this kind of money for a glorified photo book? A person who wants to own a weighty, flashy object made specifically to call attention to itself (and to the tastes of the person who purchased it). And I must confess at the outset that I am not such a person—which means, in strict terms, I have nothing to say about the actual body in question. Taschen would not relinquish a review copy. So instead of sticking my nose in all of the book’s 278 fourteen-inch pages—which I assume are creamy and thick—and relishing the exclusive signed and numbered edition, I fingered a scroll button while images of a dead-eyed starlet stared back, sending creeps into my insides.
And in a way, that’s probably the most fitting way to take this curious project in. The whole thing gives off strenuously bad vibes. It’s not simply the offensive and vainglorious notion of a thousand-dollar art book—all but designed to set your teeth on edge with class resentment. No, it’s the actual insides of the book that are so distasteful. The Stern-Mailer collaboration originally came to light in a 1973 edition that paired Mailer’s Monroe appreciation with images of the starlet snapped by a host of different photographers. Here, however, Stern’s work takes center