Sunday, October 24, 2010

Marilyn Monroe: A User's Manual

"Why," she asked me in 1955, "do they print things about me that aren't true?"

Marilyn Monroe was only a superstar then, not yet a legend who, almost half a century after death, is now on the cover of Vanity Fair. Three films about her are in the works, and a journalist just came from France to interview me about the week I spent reporting on her in New York.

Back then, I answered Marilyn's question: “Because pictures of you sell papers and magazines, and when there’s no excuse for running them, they’ll print rumors, gossip, anything they can get.” Something pushed me to go further. “They’re not trying to hurt you, just use you.”

Marilyn looked at me with a flinching smile that said she knew all about being used, and I recalled a story about her as a starlet: When a studio executive had sent for her to show a magazine publisher her breasts and lifted her sweater, she had never stopped smiling.

Now, in the era of Lindsay Lohan et al, Marilyn is still being used to sell books, magazines and movies, but the use was always mutual.

"She was smart enough," Maureen Dowd writes, "to become the most famous Dumb Blonde in history. Photographers loved to get her to pose in tight shorts, a silk robe or a swimsuit with a come-hither look and a weighty book...Men who were nervous about her erotic intensity could feel superior by making fun of her intellectually."

That week in 1955, she was at the Actors Studio to study for parts like Grushenka in “The Brothers Karamazov.” The papers dug out cliches about comedians who want to play Hamlet, underlining their ridicule with photos from “The Seven Year Itch,” Marilyn on a subway grate, an updraft billowing a white dress over her hips.

When she married Arthur Miller, a headline read "Egghead Weds Hourglass," but a few years later, after he had publicly described her as an "Earth Mother," she was devastated to discover a diary entry by Miller complaining she embarrassed him in front of his friends.

Miller used her more than anyone else. As their marriage was falling apart, he wrote "The Misfits," a movie that exploited Marilyn's psychic fragility, and after her death, wrote "After the Fall," a play that portrayed her as a shrill harridan.

In her 36 years, Marilyn Monroe lived in a world where people (including those like me) use one another ruthlessly, but there was one exception--Joe DiMaggio.

Even after their divorce, DiMaggio was always there to take care of her when she was in distress and, after her death, kept the funeral private and sent flowers to her grave three times a week. And never said a word about her publicly.

Whether she was aware of it or not, Marilyn Monroe had known true love.


hking said...

Thanks for another gem.

Melinda said...

Just came across your great story about Marilyn and Eddie. I have a book of his photos of Marilyn called "Marilyn Fifty-five" which is one of my favourites. Thanks for sharing this.

Owen Gray said...

I truly enjoy reading your stuff. Your professionalism shines through each post.