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December 07, 1986|Jeff Silverman

JOE & MARILYN: A MEMORY OF LOVE by Roger Kahn (Morrow: $17.95; 288 pp.). Roger--and oh, what a writer he used to be--Kahn has the nerve to subtitle this vapid and venal exploration of the romance between America's greatest centerfielder and America's greatest blonde "A Memory of Love." First, he should be hospitalized for amnesia. Then, with his marbles presumably back in place--we wouldn't want a mistrial here--he should be hauled into court and convicted of alienation of affection, pomposity in the extreme, and assault with a very dead typewriter.

"Joe & Marilyn" has little to do with memory and less to do with love. What it has everything to do with is commercial exploitation, and exploit it does: The book is an empty exercise that trivializes the lives of two remarkable icons. Kahn, a terrific reporter when he wants to be, uncovers nothing new about either DiMaggio or Monroe here; he simply lifts from those who've run these bases previously. Reading Kahn overwriting on DiMaggio reminds you how much Gay Talese can accomplish in a single magazine-length profile. Reading Kahn adrift in an attempt to capture Monroe makes you realize just how good Norman Mailer's plunge into the same treacherous waters actually was. And as for Kahn's hackneyed probings of the works and ways of Hollywood, well, the late Lulu, Lolly Parsons, seems a Max Weber by comparison.

It's hard to believe this is the same Kahn of "The Boys of Summer" and "How the Weather Was"; like an aging athlete way past his prime trotted out for this year's Old Timer's Day, the swing may be reminiscent but the bat no longer connects.

Perhaps Kahn himself offers an unconscious glimpse into his real motives behind the book. On its last page, he recounts a story. McCall's magazine once asked him to deliver a brief, adulatory interview with DiMaggio on Marilyn. DiMag, ever the gentleman, declined, depriving the writer of both a coup and a paycheck. Could "Joe and Marilyn" be Kahn's revenge?

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