She sauntered through life as the most delectable sex symbol of the century and became its most enduring pop confection

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How much deconstruction can one blond bear? Just about everyone has had a go at Marilyn Monroe. There have been more than 300 biographies, learned essays by Steinem and Kael, countless documentaries, drag queens, tattoos, Warhol silk screens and porcelain collector's dolls. Marilyn has gone from actress to icon to licensed brand name; only Elvis and James Dean have rivaled her in market share. At this point, she seems almost beyond comment, like Coca-Cola or Levi's. How did a woman who died a suicide at 36, after starring in only a handful of movies, become such an epic commodity?

Much has been made of Marilyn's desperate personal history, the litany of abusive foster homes and the predatory Hollywood scum that accompanied her wriggle to stardom. Her heavily flashbulbed marriages included bouts with baseball great Joe DiMaggio and literary champ Arthur Miller, and her off-duty trysts involved Sinatra and the rumor of multiple Kennedys. The unauthorized tell-alls burst with miscarriages, abortions, rest cures and frenzied press conferences announcing her desire to be left alone. Her death has been variously attributed to an accidental overdose, political necessity and a Mob hit. Her yummily lurid bio has provided fodder for everything from a failed Broadway musical to Jackie Susann's trash classics to a fictionalized portrait in Miller's play After the Fall. Marilyn's media-drenched image as a tragic dumb blond has become an American archetype, along with the Marlboro Man and the Harley-straddling wild one. Yet biographical trauma, even when packed with celebrities, cannot account for Marilyn's enduring stature as a goddess and postage stamp. Jacqueline Onassis will be remembered for her timeline, for her participation in events and marriages that mesmerized the planet. Marilyn seems far less factual, more Cinderella or Circe than mortal. There have been other megablonds of varying skills, a pinup parade of Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren and Madonna--but why does Marilyn still seem to have patented the peroxide that they've passed along?

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