By Glen Kalem
" The Prophet …It is very inspiring. It is more or less a pattern for everyday living."
Copyright © Glen Kalem all rights reserved 2019
Marilyn Monroe was a self-educated literate, and it may come as a surprise to many that she was like most self-educated people, (including myself) an avid reader of just about everything, with a wide variety of interests. We say ‘surprised’ because, for most of us we may have this image of the iconic Hollywood star standing over a street grate in New York City, with her dress blowing in the air. That picture like many others of hers was perhaps just a cover story for something deeper.
Open the book up, so to speak, and you’ll find this woman's intellect and thirst for knowledge was overlooked by the pretty girl imagery her public persona forayed, perhaps fuelled on by her own grassroots ambition, and urged on, by her greedy associates looking to capitalise on her notoriety. As history would suggest, with great fame, comes greater public obligation and scrutiny, which can most often lead to psychological and spiritual burnouts. Self-identifying the real in an idolizing world such as hers may have become too foggy to see through. A condition we have sadly read and seen in many other gifted artists whose careers tottered a similar path.
An example of such individuals would have to include the likes of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Amy Winehouse, who after amassing great popularity through their work, found themselves consumed with outward affairs and not with their own personal and spiritual growth. Even our beloved Gibran was not immune to this way of living, for after The Prophet was released, demands for his presence increased; lunches, dinners, parties and literary gatherings, were toppled with the unexpected soul-seeker eager to talk and sometimes ‘confess’ to The Prophet. ‘The Hermitage’2 a name given to describe his New York City apartment was now overwhelmed with visitors, increasingly taking solitude time away from his painting and writing. Gibran would often find relief by escaping to family in Boston or The Herkimer summerhouse of the Roosevelt’s.
As Monroe’s fame grew, so did the demands. We do not know if she had her own hermitage to retreat to, but maybe it was found in reading. Known to carry with her 'something to read', wherever she went I can't help think it was a great escape to a world that made more sence. She wasn’t just any kind of reader; One of the more famous books she read was serendipitously captured in what is now a contentious image; the book? 'Ulysses' by James Joyce. It turns out the striking photo taken by photographer Eve Arnold was not intended to be part of the original shoot she was hired for. Monroe was simply taking a moment for herself, as so often she would between shooting, to read! That’s when Arnold simply snapped the deeply focused Monroe and the now symbolic image has been used by magazines and the like, but robbed of its true nature. According to Oline Eaton from Finding Jackie its true nature has been misrepresented.3 Eaton writes: It represents an “unlikely juxtaposition” …because (1) it’s ulysses! and (2) it’s Marilyn Monroe! a pretty girl reading a ‘hard’ book. Something that is ‘cute’ rather than natural. The author continues by saying: …if you’re familiar with Monroe’s story, then her reading of Ulysses represents something entirely else: a woman without a high school education educating herself. And not… “an image of breasts and books that functions primarily as a stimulant of nerd-drool.”
Considered one of the hardest modernist novels to read,4 she felt challenged to understand it. Lines such as “ to learn one must be humble-but life is the great teacher” may well have further ingrained Monroe’s juxtaposition of what was not being reflective in the innermost journey that was calling out to her.
For those lucky enough to have visited Monroe’s home, they would have discovered her sanctuary of 430 books6 One can only imagine the solace and joy they gave her, easing her soul from the frequent bouts of depression and longing. If prompted to talk about them, she may well have greeted you with an enthusiastic review, leaving you inspired to read more for your self. Something all book lovers are guilty of!
In 1999 the book collection was sold along with other items at a New York Christie's auction house. The descriptions on some of the books mention how Monroe would leave personal markings, notes, and scrawls in many of her most cherished reading. Guilty of the same habit one can say, she took her reading seriously, but also she strikes me as someone who had a quenchless thirst for knowledge. The genre of works varied from "Art, Drama, Biography, Poetry, Politics, History, Theology, Philosophy, and Psychology" authors such as Tolstoy to Twain, and classic's like, The Great Gatsby, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, James Joyce’s Dubliners, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and The Fall by Camus. Among the eclectic reading, you'd also find books on gardening, her Bibles, and children’s books, including her own copy of The Little Engine That Could.7
From what we know, The Prophet was one of Monroe’s beloved favorites, often reading it in-between movie set breaks. As like, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were known to do, Monroe was noted to have given copies away to people in her circle and kept a collection of four copies herself.
The passage on Marriage especially haunted her, perhaps inspired by the love derby she fond herself in with husband and athlete, Joe DiMaggio and literary critic Bob Saltzer. On set one day during the filming of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monroe recited the passage on Marriage to her co-star Jane Russell. ...and stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow. Prompting Monroe to ask Russell; Is it true?”…“I mean do you have to keep yourself apart? I mean if a woman loves a man, does she have to give up her own individuality? Do we have to give our own identity up?”8
In Anthony’s Summers book; Goddess: The Secret Lives Of Marilyn Monroe it talks about how Bob Saltzer, “was supplying Monroe with books” such as The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam and Edgar Allan, Poe. She, in turn, gave him The Prophet. He further noted, “This was not, one would assume reading that Marilyn could share with Joe DiMaggio”.9
Saltzer, reflecting on an interview he made with Monroe some years after she died, remembers ‘kidding’ about whether or not The Prophet would make a “great picture’ further noting that she was under some kind of “spell” with Gibran’s poetry; to which Monroe replies: " The Prophet …It is very inspiring. It is more or less a pattern for everyday living."
In conclusion, whilst researching for this post, I had read some great journals and articles, including one that spoke so intelligently of the Ulysses-Monroe image and its backstory. During such time my colleague and friend Francesco Medici who inspired this study had sent me the Christies Auction sale item records (“The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe”.10 for reference and study. And sure enough listed under LOT 509 just below Erich Fromm “ The Art of Loving” was Monroe’s personal copy of The Prophet;
Listed just nicely below, and to my surprise under LOT 510 is the contentious, James Joyce novel, ‘Ulysses’ I smiled to myself and noted how nicely it was all Married by The Prophet and in my mind I contemplated Joyce's wise words as Monroe did; “ to learn one must be humble - but life is the great teacher”
I’d like to thank Francesco Medici for his indispensable contribution to this article and the Kahlil Gibran world at large.
Over the years, scholars, Francesco Medici, and Glen Kalem have researched and collected books and stories belonging to some of the most amazing and influential people who used Gibran's wisdom in their work or life. This study has inspired them to contribute a new monthly review that highlights some of Gibran's diverse readership across many countries and languages. The Kahlil Gibran Collective will feature a new monthly review on global subjects they deem worthy of study, who either read or were inspired by Gibran or his Works.
 Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(novel)
 The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroes Library http://www.openculture.com/2014/10/the-430-books-in-marilyn-monroes-library.html
 The Intellectual. Marilyn’s Libaray http://themarilynmonroecollection.com/marilyn-monroe-library/