Monroe Symposium

Thank you to everyone who came along on Saturday to the Marilyn Monroe symposium at ACMI – I had a terrific time and learnt a lot about one of my favourite topics.

Lois Banner and I.

Over the day, a number of academics presented short talks on various aspects of Monroe’s life and impact, from the legal aspects of her will and estate, to Michelle William’s portrayal in the film “My Week With Marilyn” and Monroe’s legacy for contemporary photographers. She’s still very relevant today in so many ways, which is remarkable when you consider how little respect she got during her lifetime.

The highlight for me was the keynote speech by Lois Banner (author of two books on Marilyn, “The Passion and the Paradox” and “MM Personal: from the private archive of Marilyn Monroe”. Lois is an academic and I’m currently reading “Passion” as an audiobook.

I’ve read so many (hundreds?) of books on Monroe over the past 36 years and so many treat her like she’s a puff-piece, a light bit of popular culture despite her tragic childhood and difficult life. Sometimes the words just feel like an excuse to present yet another set of photographs. Lois has thoroughly researched and incorporated many early sources that are strong and have been overlooked by most contemporary authors, works like “Norma Jean” by Fred Lawrence Guiles and “Marilyn Monroe” by Maurice Zolotow. She hasn’t just read the books, she’s gone back to the writer’s original interviews and found rich material that was overlooked.

It’s so nice to see Monroe finally get the serious, academic treatment she requires to sift below all the lies and half-truths and get to the nitty gritty. She still has much to tell us and shapes our world in many ways.

As well as Lois’ speech, I also got to speak with her in length about the topic and I don’t think I’ve ever had the luxury of chatting about Monroe with someone who knows more than I do, has researched more and even has direct information from speaking with her friends and associates first hand.

I found it very nourishing to challenge and add to my knowledge, especially to discover that it’s likely that Monroe’s mother, Gladys Pearl Baker had probably sustained a brain injury as a result of the toxins she encountered through her work as a RKO film cutter, rather than her diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia and subsequent institutionalisation. We knew so little about mental illness in the ’20s and ’30s. This is a game changer, as Monroe always feared that she, too, was mentally ill and it helped form many of her decisions and insecurities.

I spoke at the symposium on Monroe’s fashion and costumes, accompanied by a slideshow of some of her most famous gowns. Afterwards, so many people came up to thank me, and one lady even hugged me and said that she would never forget me!


This completes my public speaking for the year. It always feels like such a privilege to address people about a topic of expertise and I always enjoy it.

In 2016, thanks to my studies, I haven’t been able to do as many talks and presentations as I would have liked, and next year will likewise be busy as I’m continuing with museum studies/cultural heritage at Deakin university, but I’m now taking bookings for talks for next year.

If you think that I could be a part of your future event, please let me know – as a published author, I charge the Australian Society of Authors rates, slightly more for weekends and love tailoring a talk to a variety of topics that fits in with your theme.

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