In part two of my interview with Elizabeth Winder, the author talks about Marilyn’s legacy today, why she chose to cover that particular time in Marilyn’s life and what she admires most about the actress.
What do you think is her legacy today & what part did her time in NY play in that?
I’m glad that Marilyn’s legacy is changing. For so long she’s been seen as this cliche sex symbol— but she was so much more than that. Marilyn was an artist of tremendous ambition, and I think that people are starting to understand that now. New York was a huge part of her professional and artistic life. When she broke her contract with Fox in 1954, she literally fled Hollywood under the cover of darkness. In Manhattan, she found freedom, acceptance, and felt safe enough to grow as an artist, take classes with Lee Strasberg, and even start her own production company.
What is your favorite part of the era your book covers?
My book covers just a little over one year, and I think my favorite part of that year was the summer. Marilyn spent most of the summer of 1955 on Fire Island with Lee Strasberg and his family. She shared a room with the teenage Susie Strasberg, she swam in the Atlantic, she shucked clams and grilled hot dogs, she spent rainy afternoons sketching on the porch, she spent evenings drinking champagne from teacups and reading tarot cards with Paula. I picture that summer as a gorgeous music video, with Marilyn smiling the whole way through.
Why did you want to cover that specific time in Marilyn’s life?
Honestly I was stunned that no one before me had written a book focusing on this year. This was a year of incredible change for Marilyn— she defied the studio system, she divorced Joe, she fell in love with Arthur, she started a production company with Milton Greene, she joined the Actor’s Studio and became the toast of the town in New York. Basically, she went from feeling completely empty to self actualized in a matter of months. Other biographers obviously mention this year, but none have given it the attention it deserves.
What is it about Marilyn that you admire most?
There are so many things to admire about Marilyn, and it’s a shame that we tend to focus on her weaknesses instead of her strengths. Most of all, I admire Marilyn’s belief in herself as an artist. Her commitment to intellectual growth, hard work, and self improvement is incredibly touching. She never stopped reading, growing, or learning. She followed her dreams like a north star, and never lost sight of them. She was an artist in every sense of the word, and she inspires me every day.
Elizabeth Winder is a journalist and author. Winder lives in Washington, D.C. and has written Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, and more recently, Marilyn in Manhattan. You can pick up Elizabeth’s book on Amazon and her website right now.