I wanted to have this review done for my Marilyn birthday post but hey you try reading a 500 page book in a timely manner (it’s difficult). Anyway, today’s book is from a controversial author, to say the least. Darwin Porter gets a lot of flak for his Hollywood tomes, many citing that it’s easy to besmirch the dead and make stuff up. I do take some of Porter’s stories with a grain of salt but most of the time, I feel transported back to the days of Confidential magazine (a popular Hollywood gossip rag which I never read as I wasn’t born yet). His books are filled with salacious gossip, sex, and in the case of today’s book…the murder of an icon. Believe what you want (and Porter doesn’t make it easy at times) but having read almost all of his biographies I found Marilyn at Rainbow’s End to be my favorite!
Porter seeks to describe Marilyn Monroe‘s final days from filming The Misfits, to the dissolution of her marriage to Arthur Miller, and ultimately her death. Throughout this lurid tome a Who’s Who of characters both big and small arrive from Joe DiMaggio all the way up to JFK himself. Porter’s theories about Marilyn’s death are varied but it mainly involves the Mafia and Bobby Kennedy.
To start, I find Marilyn Monroe’s death fascinating regardless of whether it was murder or suicide. There’s a lot of unanswered questions, some coincidences, and it wouldn’t surprise me if something happened that has never been revealed. With that, Porter’s “revelation” about Marilyn’s death wasn’t shocking to me as I’ve heard the same theory in other books, most recently in Max Allan Collins fictional detective story Bye Bye Baby. Porter does seem to have a lot of evidence though including interviews and quotes from the ambulance drivers and various retired members of the LAPD. The murder investigation is by far the most fascinating element of the book and worth buying alone. There’s also a fair amount of crime scene photos I’d never seen.
The rest of the book’s 500 pages seeks to showcase Marilyn herself, warts and all. Porter’s works have always been based on conversations “remembered” by people no longer living and the dialogue can be frank and laughably cheesy. At times the players involved seem to be telling the audience what they should know, making you doubt they ever said that. Either way the dialogue exchanges between Marilyn and her friends feels legit, especially the conversations with Jeanne Carmen who Porter defends as a close friend of Monroe’s. With that, I found this book to feel far better researched than his other works (note there’s no bibliography in the back as many of these conversations were “off the record”). I’ve always been frustrated by Porter’s books as I wanted some proof that these accounts were accurate and while Porter doesn’t give away everything he does include book titles for his quotes, and does mention explicitly if he was there during a conversation. I felt more relieved taking his stories on faith because at least he’s saying “this is where it happened, there’s hard proof.” Sure at times he does shy away from backing himself into a corner by saying “evidence shows” and not giving us what that evidence is or where it was shown, but he’s definitely improved on giving stronger support to his audience.
For the most part Marilyn at Rainbow’s End is just a fun read, regardless of how much you believe. I do believe that the Hollywood of that time period could cover something up like murder (look at the Thomas Ince story for proof…I’d actually love Porter to write a book about that) so many of Porter’s arguments I agreed with including the appearance of the Mafia. When the book isn’t about the murder Porter presents Marilyn as a confused, highly mentally unhinged woman who I understood. Many books almost deify Marilyn as misunderstood and Porter presents her as a girl who definitely needed medication or at least a fair time away from Hollywood. There were times I rolled my eyes at the appearance of certain people like James Dean, but that’s what makes Porter’s books so fun. His books are meant to evoke that Confidential feel where things might not be true, but don’t you wish they were? Many of his other books can feel repetitive at times and I never felt that here. Every story felt fresh and unique, laying down story after story and allowing the reader to suss out what they want to believe.
Sure I could join the group of comments citing “this is inaccurate” or “Porter needs a copywriter to fix those spelling errors” (and Darwin, as much as I love you I had a hard time reading all the spelling mistakes which really shot some arguments in the foot) but that’s why you buy these books. Porter’s books make you feel like a part of the party of the time period. He presents a first person story (again regardless of authenticity) and bluntly tells the reader “take it or leave it.” I don’t eat up everything he lays down but when I do believe, I can’t stop. I read this book as quickly as I could and there’s so much to devour, including the slew of pictures are included. Some of his interviews are also fantastic involving characters that have supposedly been “discredited” like Robert Slatzer. This is where Porter actually delves into presenting facts in the case of Slatzer and the disgraced ambulance driver. Porter could have said “believe them or not” but he takes the time to say “people say this but here’s the evidence” again, strengthening his arguments.
Marilyn at Rainbow’s End isn’t for everyone, nor should it be; this is a book for conspiracy theorists, and fans of Old Hollywood and the gossip it evinced, for fans of the fan magazine and the old gossip rags of the Hollywood era. Porter has come a long way as an author and enhances his arguments far better than in his previous books and presents an interesting sequence of events that led to Marilyn’s possible murder. We’ll never find out truly what went on August 4th, 1962 but Porter gives a damn convincing scenario I couldn’t stop reading. Many will cite that I’ve been too harsh on him in this review but much like Porters books, I’m damned if I do damned if I don’t. Marilyn at Rainbow’s End is the mecca of guilty pleasure reads! Read it and love it whether you believe it or not! Thanks to Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince for sending me a review copy. Order information on the book can be found here.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.