Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976)
This sleazy biopic purports to tell the ‘real’ story of how Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe. ‘Not the legend’ according to the film’s opening credit, ‘nor even the way she told it. This is the way it was’. In trawling through the lurid details of this journey, the story has Norma Jean subjected to stag films, the casting couch and photo shoots for pulp magazines. It is indicative of this biopic’s quality that these photo shoots are handled more tastefully than anything else in the film.
Within the first fifteen minutes Norma Jean has been perved on by a foster parent, molested in a cinema and raped by a traffic cop. Rather than elicit sympathy for our heroine, these scenes are expected to provide titillation for the viewer, accompanied as they are by a music score reminiscent of 70’s porn. There’s even the obligatory lesbian scene. To convey her annoyance at such misfortune Misty Rowe, in the lead role, shrieks, flares her nostrils and holds her head in her hands while shaking it from side to side. At all other times she recites her lines in a low breathy voice that sounds more like an asthmatic Betty Boop than Marilyn Monroe.
Larry Buchanan, who wrote, directed and produced this biopic, returned to the scene of the crime thirteen years later to make Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn, a film that promised to tell the truth about the star's death, as told by a "friend" of hers. A more appropriate disclaimer for both movies would be that any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Despite the film’s opening title assuring us that “this is the way it was”, this biopic is a work of fiction. As such, it is perhaps more appropriate to list the few things in “Goodbye, Norma Jean” that are ALMOST factually correct:-
Marilyn’s mother did suffer from mental illness.
Marilyn did recall her mother trying to smother her in her crib with a pillow.
Marilyn was sexually abused by at least one of her foster fathers.
Marilyn did work in a munitions factory where she was photographed for a magazine.
Marilyn did undergo plastic surgery.
Character of Hal James appears to be based on Marilyn’s agent Johnny Hyde. Whereas Hal James dies on the day of Marilyn’s screen test, Johnny Hyde passed away shortly after negotiating her seven-year with 20th Century Fox, by which time she had appeared in over ten films.
No scene recreations as biopic is set before Marilyn's film career.