Screen icon Marilyn Monroe was an avid reader. She became known throughout her career for playing dim-witted, beautiful characters labelled “dumb blondes” – her characters Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Sugar Kane in Some Like It Hot, for example – a fact which often overshadowed her love of literature. When she died suddenly in 1962, it’s reported that Monroe was in the midst of reading To Kill a Mockingbird and a novel by Leo Rosten entitled Captain Newman MD. Some years prior she had met and befriended English poet Edith Sitwell, since both were keen enthusiasts of literary Modernism.
A monumental Christie’s auction in 1999 included many of Monroe’s own books, kept in her personal library, alongside much of the actress’ estate. Within the literature auctioned off were multiple plays, and now A Book of Book Lists, a new publication by Alex Johnson, has republished a record of some of them. Marilyn’s plays are in good company; the book also includes lists from ‘David Bowie’s 100 influencers’ to ‘Desert Island Discs: the books’ and ‘The books Alan Turing borrowed from his school library’ – and so the lists themselves are often as engrossing and revelatory as the tomes they feature. This catalogue of plays once owned by Monroe, including those by Henry James, Norman Corwin and Eugene O’Neill, is telling of the star’s intellect and broad literary interest (the plays range in period from Elizabethan to modern American). To recreate her literary experience, read on.
- 16 Famous European Plays, compiled by Bennett Cerf and Van H. Cartmell
- Theatre ’52 by John Chapman
- Thirteen by Corwin, by Norman Corwin
- More by Corwin, by Norman Corwin
- Untitled & Other Radio Dramas by Norman Corwin
- Critics’ Choice by Jack Gaver
- The Potting Shed by Graham Greene
- Modern American Dramas by Harlan Hatcher
- The Complete Plays of Henry James
- Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin
- Politics in the American Drama by Caspar Nannes
- Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill (two copies)
- Elizabethan Plays edited by Hazelton Spencer
- Sons of Men by Herschel Steinhardt
- Best American Plays: Third Series, 1945–1951
- The Album of the Cambridge Garrick Club
A Book of Book Lists by Alex Johnson is available now, published by The British Library.