Tuesday, January 25, 2011

To-Go Book Review: Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?

The glamorous, vivacious and infinitely sexy Marilyn Monroe once said, "I'm only comfortable when I'm naked."

Almost in response, the more subdued, classy Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis said "There are two kinds of women, those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed."

Two seemingly opposite women with more in common than you think.

I just finished one of the best books I've ever put my hands on. Are You a Jackie or Are You a Marilyn? by Pamela Keogh is so brilliantly researched and written that I, someone who has loved both of these women my whole life, learned more about them than I have ever known.

Keogh has a way with words that made me want to read until the wee hours of the morning. She is funny, clever, and totally relatable. I can't wait to get my hands on more of her work. Through her witty commentary, I learned that these two women were deep. Intense. Strong. They were self-made in more ways than money. They were powerhouses. Dynamos.

I knew Jackie came from money, and I knew Marilyn came from nothing. But what I never knew is that Jackie had a very tumultuous childhood - one that money could not rectify - due to the fact that her hero, her father, was a raging alcoholic. One who was so far down into the bottle that he was too drunk to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. She "learned" from her father that men cheat on their wives and walk out on their families, and she never expected more from any man in her life. She became a very independent woman who found out early that she would need to blaze her own trail. She could not rely on a man.

Marilyn did not have a father to make a bad example for her. Instead, she grew up in orphanages and found her independence extremely early. She let her guard down once she experienced a family structure, only to have that family abandon her as a teenager. She looked next door and decided that it would be a good idea to marry her friend and neighbor. She found herself alone again when he went to war, and the first second someone suggested that she was pretty enough to model, she left tire tracks and a trail of dust on that life. She worked harder than anyone in show business and became the most famous actress in the world.

Their similarities don't end there. They were each incredibly critical of themselves and drove themselves further than anyone should drive themselves. And it paid off. Jackie met the man of her dreams (twice) who could provide her with a comfortable life and Marilyn was allowed to enjoy the love and adoration that she so craved from the world. Everyone wants to be loved and everyone wants to be comfortable monetarily, but these separate successes met deep yearnings for these women. The desire overtook them; therefore they would stop at nothing. That is admirable, really.

The more I read, the more I lost respect for Jackie and gained respect for Marilyn. I am critical of myself, but I would never be critical of others. Jackie was so critical of others that she didn't allow daughter Caroline to eat more than a very small portion because she didn't want her to get fat, and thus not attract a suitable husband. I get that people need to take care of themselves, but when you are telling this to a young girl, you are setting her up for some serious self-esteem issues. Jackie expected the highest level of perfection from everyone around her. I know I expect a lot, but I also try to understand that not everyone is going to live up to my expectations, and there are people in my life who rarely do. But I love them anyway. I have to make a decision sometimes: make them live up to my crazy high expectations (and drop them if they don't), or love them the way they are, quirks and all. Sometimes I choose the latter. Sometimes I choose the first one. It just depends. But for Jackie, it was never the latter.

Marilyn was more understanding. An imperfect, wounded bird herself, she didn't expect anyone else to be perfect either. She knew that people would have good days and bad days, and memorably said, "Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." That's my kind of girl. I could hang with her, no problem.

Although Jackie was known for her brains, Marilyn was also very smart. She is rumored to have had a higher IQ than JFK. The "dumb blonde" act was just that - an act. Marilyn once said, "I've never fooled anyone. I've let people fool themselves. They didn't bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn't argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn't." At home, she was known for not wearing any makeup or jewelry. She was incredibly down-to-earth, and just plain Norma Jeane. She had to spend hours to "become Marilyn."

If you know anything about me (reminder: hopeless romantic), then you know I enjoyed reading about the two women's many lovers. Both were surrounded by men at all times. Men really liked Jackie. But men LOVED Marilyn. Men felt that Jackie was interesting, intelligent, riveting. But men were CRAZY about Marilyn and couldn't get enough. They would camp out on her doorstep and show up every day with flowers, just hoping for a few seconds of her time. Two very different dynamics.

JFK was not the love of Jackie's life. It is clear from what I read that JFK was a very inattentive lover, but that Ari Onassis was the polar opposite. When times were good, Ari and Jackie were crazy about each other. However, a little time passed, Jackie's spending was out of control (an average of $50,000.00 per day... seriously), and Ari was struggling with the sudden death of his son. They separated and Jackie came home to New York while Ari was grieving. Then before any reconciliation could happen (if that was even in the cards), Ari died of a heart attack. Who knows what could have happened between them and what the future held.

Marilyn was married three times. After leaving first husband, James Dougherty, for Hollywood, Marilyn eventually ended up in the arms of Joe DiMaggio. They had short, passionate, tumultuous marriage. Joe wished that Marilyn would always be the person she was at home. But she could not make him understand that the public expected her to be "Marilyn." They divorced after a year of marriage, and attempted to rekindle the flame many times after that. Eventually Marilyn married playwright Arthur Miller, who showed her a slower pace of life. She welcomed it for a time, but became restless. They soon divorced. In the end, Joe DiMaggio was the love of her life. Before she died, she and Joe were talking about getting married again. It was Joe who claimed her body at the morgue and planned the funeral. Joe loved her so much that he sent flowers to her grave three times a week until he died twenty years later.

Jackie lived a long life, whereas Marilyn's was cut short. And although Jackie was around a lot longer, it is Marilyn who has remained as famous as if she were alive just yesterday. Marilyn created sexy, and although many have tried, no one can touch her unique persona. Jackie is an icon, no doubt. But it is Marilyn who will remain timeless.

When I picked up this book, I figured that I was 50% Jackie and 50% Marilyn. I am like Jackie in that I am classy and polite, I immediately send out thank you notes for even the smallest favor, I pride myself on my intelligence, and I can rock some nautical stripes and big sunglasses. Adversely, I am like Marilyn in that I am rarely on time, am constantly searching for approval and adoration, I love to laugh and be giddy, and I can be overly critical of myself. And I'll never forget where I came from, no matter how amazing my life turns out.

But now, I figure that I am 25% Jackie and 75% Marilyn. And I'm proud to be more like Marilyn. Above everything else, she was kind. To me, that matters more than anything.

Before I read this, I would have put money on the idea that Jackie and Marilyn were polar opposites and would have never existed in the same universe. Although similar in most ways, the two never met. Something tells me they would have severely disliked each other. It would be interesting to know who would have won, if they were to fight each other. Jackie was athletic, Marilyn was scrappy. My money is on Marilyn. "Scrappy from the streets" almost always wins.

(Go to Pamela Keogh's website - http://www.pamelakeogh.com/)