What was Marilyn Monroe’s favorite music? We know she loved jazz. Her own music was highly inspired by jazz of the era, and she was a huge fan of Ella Fitzgerald, which we know from this famous story of Marilyn boosting Ella Fitzgerald’s career. But besides jazz, what did she listen to?
Several weeks ago, I connected with fellow Marilyn Monroe admirer and collector Mark Carvell. Mark owns a record from Marilyn Monroe’s collection, and was kind enough to share photographs of it (shown below!). The record, Goin’ Down The Road… by Clarence Cooper, was auctioned by Christie’s in 1999 as part of a lot that contained 51 records in total (though we only have detailed information about three of them).
Here is a description of the record, provided by Mark, as well as some photographs:
“The record is a 10” album (a popular format in the 1950s) released in 1955 on the Elektra label which at that time largely specialised in American folk and blues/jazz music (the label became more well-known in the 1970s as the home for West Coast rock bands like the Doors and Love). The label’s founder Jac Holzman wrote the notes on the reverse of the record sleeve. The songs are a mix of folk, blues, chain-gang and gospel songs sung by Cooper in a quite beautiful baritone and accompanied by his own accomplished acoustic guitar-playing (no other musicians were involved). The most famous of the songs is probably St.James Infirmary which Louis Armstrong recorded in 1928.”
Since coming into contact with Mark, I have been doing a little more research into some of the books on music that Marilyn Monroe owned. Because the Christie’s catalogue only includes the information of three of her records, we must look to her books to find out more about her musical interests and preferences.
As this record shows, Marilyn Monroe had an interest in Folk Music, so it is unsurprising that one of her books, Bound for Glory, is an autobiography of folk singer Woody Guthrie (book 5 mentioned below). In addition to folk music, it seemed that Marilyn Monroe was mostly interested in 18th-19th century composers, which would likely surprise anyone who does not realize how intellectual the actress really was. Several of her books were encyclopedic–providing information about a number of Classical and Romantic composers.
Below are five books on music that Marilyn Monroe owned. The photographs supplied show the same editions of the books that she owned (as far as I can tell), but I have yet to find the pictures of her actual books.
1. Men of Music by Wallace Brockway and Herbert Weinstock
This book looks at well known Classical and Romantic composers, including Brahams, Bach, Strauss, and Stravinsky. The book was first published in 1939, and Marilyn Monroe’s copy was a reprint from 1950.
2. Beethoven. His Spiritual Development by J.W.N. Sullivan
This book looks at Beethoven’s spirituality, and argues that it was his spirituality that influenced some of his greatest works. The book was originally published in 1927, and Marilyn Monroe had a copy from 1949. I am still trying to verify if the photograph below is the same edition as the one Marilyn Monroe had.
3. Music for the Millions by David Ewen
This book covers famous musicians and composers up to the mid-20th century. Marilyn Monroe’s copy was from 1950.
4. Schubert by Ralph Bates
This is a biography of Schubert by novelist Ralph Bates. Marilyn Monroe’s copy of the biography was published in 1935.
5. Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie
Thanks to Mark for pointing out to me that this book, sold in the Counter-Culture book lot in the Christie’s 1999 auction, is an autobiography (partially fictionalized) of the folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie. Marilyn Monroe’s copy of the book was a first edition (which can now sell for up to $500 dollars! As such, I am not sure if or when I will be able to add this book to my collection. I must wait for a Fairy Godmother or a really good deal).
As I continue to research Marilyn Monroe’s library, I learn more and more about the complex person behind the blonde bombshell. I am still working on the list of books that she owned (which includes photographs of the books when possible, and corrections to the Christie’s catalogue). I do not know how long it will take for me to complete the list and make it available. Those interested in receiving early access to the list through monthly updates can join my Patreon, where you can also vote on which book to read next, receive monthly updates to Marilyn Monroe’s Bookshelf Biography, and other fun offerings.