NEW YORK - Marilyn Monroe is one of the classic movie stars of the 20th Century, but a new biography of the Hollywood icon suggests it was her life in the Big Apple where she felt the most at home.
"Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy" offers a different side of the legend, who grew-up in a Los Angeles orphanage and re-invented herself as one of the most famous celebrities who ever lived.
Her New York story begins on Lexington Avenue and 54th Street on a warm September night in 1954. That's when Monroe and Manhattan became forever joined thanks to one of the most memorable scenes ever shot in the city.
In that one moment on a subway grate in "The Seven Year Itch," she would secure her place in Hollywood. But just two months later, she came back to New York not to make movies, but to be purely and simply herself,
Or so says author Elizabeth Winder.
"I think that the real Marilyn was the Marilyn in New York," she said. "People might not know this about Marilyn, but she wasn't someone who loved dressing up in fancy clothes and putting on lots of makeup and jewelry. She really liked dressing down and being casual."
It was her chance to escape, a luminous star trying to be inconspicuous.
"She created this hard, outer shell that enabled her to sort of make a name for herself in Hollywood and then felt trapped inside that shell," Winder said. "A very, very shy, sensitive person whose passion for learning and self-improvement I just find so touching."
Monroe's quest led her to the Actors Studio in Midtown, where she worked at her craft like never before.
"It wasn't easy for her when she came to the Actors Studio," Winder said. "This was a very different kind of place, and she knew that her colleagues here, they weren't going to bow down to her just because she was a celebrity. If anything, it was going to be just the opposite."
Monroe's photo still hangs on the wall near where her studies culminated in a single theatrical performance.
"And everyone was thinking, could she really pull it off?" Winde said.
She could and did, near the end of what Winder calls "her year of joy."
"I describe it in my book as kind of a love affair, you know?" Winder said. "The city fell in love with her, as she was falling in love with New York."
Monroe met and married playwright Arthur Miller, and until their divorce, the couple made their home north of the city. She would another seven years and make several memorable movies, but she just may have been happiest as "Marilyn in Manhattan."