Read Marilyn: Norma Jeane Online

Authors: Gloria Steinem

Tags: #Biographies & Memoirs, #Arts & Literature, #Actors & Entertainers, #Specific Groups, #Women, #Humor & Entertainment, #Movies, #Biographies, #History & Criticism, #Actors & Actresses, #Movies & Video

Marilyn: Norma Jeane

BOOK: Marilyn: Norma Jeane
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Marilyn
Norma Jeane
Gloria Steinem

This book is dedicated to the real Marilyn. And to the reality in us all.

—Gloria Steinem

To a gentle, fragile Marilyn who will forever be in our hearts. Thanks for your friendship.

—George Barris

Contents

About This Book

The Woman Who Will Not Die

Norma Jeane

Work and Money, Sex and Politics

Among Women

Fathers and Lovers

The Body Prison

Who Would She Be Now?

Image Gallery

Technical Data

About This Book

T
HIS BOOK BEGAN WHEN
George Barris, an American free-lance photojournalist who had been living in Paris for more than twenty years, decided to publish the many photographs he had taken of Marilyn Monroe in June and July 1962 in California. They were probably the last ever taken of her alive.

Together with a text for which he had completed only one long interview, they were to become a book, an illustrated biography that would, in Marilyn’s words, “set the record straight”; but this collaboration that she began on June 1, her thirty-sixth birthday, was never finished. Some of the photographs and quotes were used in newspaper reports after her death, but the book had been a joint project. George lost heart for it. In order to put some distance between himself and the sad sensationalism that followed her death, he moved to Paris. Once there, he met and married a French actress, Sylvie Constantine, became the father of two daughters who grew up there, and simply didn’t come back. Over the years, some individual photos from those sessions were published, but most were not. Not until the approach of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death did he revisit the original idea of a book.

I owe my part in it to Dick Seaver, president of Henry Holt and Company, who was looking for a writer to help explain Marilyn as an individual and as an icon of continuing power. Certainly, our new understanding of who women are has increased our fascination with who Marilyn might have been. The goal of this project, therefore, could and should be closer to that of feminism in general: to include the viewpoints and influence of both women and men, and thus to have a better chance of seeing one woman’s life as a whole. When Dick Seaver introduced me to George Barris, a gentle man who had been touched by Marilyn’s willingness to open a part of her life to him, as well as by the loss of her magical presence, I think we both recognized in each other an empathy for our subject.

Because this was the first time I had ever written a text to accompany photographs, I had one extra writerly hope. I wanted to find a way to give words some of the nonlinear pleasure that images have always had. After all, each photograph is complete and enjoyable in itself. It can make sense on its own, whether we look at just that one, or go through a collection back to front, or start in the middle, or just browse; yet many photos taken of one subject can still create a holograph in our mind’s eye. That’s why I have tried to write each chapter as an essay complete in itself. You may read about one aspect of Marilyn’s life that you feel connected to or curious about, or choose several, or proceed in reverse, or read straight through as in a conventional book (for there is also some chronology to the order of chapters). But hopefully, you will find a microcosm of Marilyn’s life in any one essay, and major themes will be repeated from different viewpoints in several essays, so that a factual and emotional holograph of a real person will begin to emerge.

George Barris and I shared one more idea: that this book might continue something that Marilyn herself cared about. When we discussed it, we realized that this “something” was clearly children—especially children who, like Marilyn as a child, needed more help, love, and protection than their own families could give. Almost everyone who saw Marilyn anywhere near children has remarked on the direct, emotional connection she had with them. Both at the times she did and at the times she did not want children of her own, she remained loyal and protective toward the children of her friends, and got special satisfaction from giving to an orphanage like the one where she had felt abandoned. Probably, she would have contributed more if she had paid attention to money or received a substantial percentage of the estimated $100 million that her films had earned when she died in 1962. (As a contract player, Marilyn received no more than $1,500 a week even when she was a big star, while other actresses who were her costars—for instance, Jane Russell in
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
—might receive five or six times more. The largest single sum mentioned in Marilyn’s will was only a $100,000 trust fund, part of which went to support Marilyn’s institutionalized mother.)

For many of us whose lives coincided with Marilyn’s, in reality or as a public image, her influence stretches both forward and backward.

For George Barris, this book began even before the taking of the photographs, or his current decision to publish them. It goes back to the fall of 1954, when he was assigned to photograph Marilyn Monroe while she filmed
The Seven Year Itch.
He stood with New York crowds as she was directed by Billy Wilder to repeat over and over again the famous scene in which air from a subway grating blows her white skirt high over her head, with the camera’s eye inches away from her skin. (“I hope this isn’t for your private collection, to be shown in stag shows,” Barris remembered her saying to Wilder. Later, when the most provocative shots were not in the finished movie, George wondered if she might have been right.) Standing with Walter Winchell was Marilyn’s then husband, Joe DiMaggio. When he could take the scene no more, DiMaggio just left. At a thank-you party Marilyn gave several days later for the cast and friends of the movie, George sat with her as she tried to track down Joe by phone, and talked tearfully about how lonely she was. It was the beginning of a friendship that was peripheral for Marilyn, but affected the course of George’s life. Indeed, when he brought his family back to California to live, the first thing his two teenage daughters, Caroline and Stephanie, wanted to see was “where Marilyn was.” He took them on a pilgrimage to Westwood Memorial Park, where Marilyn’s body rests in a wall crypt; she did not wish to be buried.

For me, this book began when, in 1953, as a teenager who loved all movies, I still walked out of
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
in embarrassment at seeing this whispering, simpering, big-breasted child-woman who was simply hoping her way into total vulnerability. How dare she be just as vulnerable and unconfident as I felt? Three years later, I went briefly to the Actors Studio, where confident New York actors seemed to take pleasure in ignoring this great, powerful, unconfident movie star who had dared to come to learn. She sat by herself, her body hidden in a shapeless black sweater and slacks, her skin luminescent as she put her hands up to her face, as if trying to hide herself, and she gradually became a presence in the room, if only because the rest of the group was trying so hard
not
to look at her. I remember feeling protective toward this famous woman who was older and more experienced than I; a protectiveness explained by the endlessly vulnerable child who looked out of Marilyn’s eyes.

Wherever possible I have used her own words in this book. In addition to her interview with George Barris, I have quoted her from many sources, including her own unfinished autobiography,
My Story,
published from a manuscript she gave to business partner and friend Milton Greene. The confusing facts and stories of her early life were best researched by Fred Lawrence Guiles in
Legend: The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe.
I owe a special thanks to Anthony Summers, whose 1985 book,
Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe,
not only brought together existing research on her later life and the speculation surrounding her death, but also included many new interviews about those last months. Unless otherwise stated, the references in the latter half of “Fathers and Lovers” are largely taken from Summers’s research.

In fact, so much has been reported about Marilyn Monroe in more than forty books written over the years that details of her life become colored pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope. If you read enough and turn them over enough, they fall into a pattern. (For instance, in one book, you learn that there was emerald jewelry in the toe of a slipper found in her closet by her last housekeeper. In another book, you learn that Frank Sinatra once gave her emerald earrings, and feel the joy of a detective.) The interviews I did myself served to confirm the patterns that emerged, or to add some character-revealing anecdote. I am grateful to my friend Nancy Wartik of
Ms.
magazine, for fact-checking the pieces of that kaleidoscope, and to Catherine Fallin at Henry Holt, for editing and orchestrating this book’s production.

There are also collectors of Monroe memorabilia who have put great time and effort into figuring out whether or not a woman in an old photograph was really Ana Lower, the woman Marilyn lived with as a teenager, or in what year a particular baby photograph must have been taken. I am especially indebted to the generosity of George Zeno, an expert who helped by giving us childhood and other photographs too early to be provided by George Barris, and so allowed us to see some of the people spoken about in Marilyn’s early life.

I also thank the many people who shared their feelings about Marilyn Monroe with me, and who helped explain why her legend lasts and keeps its power.

Now, almost twenty-five years after her death, I notice the same phenomenon that was true when I first wrote a brief essay about Marilyn Monroe fifteen years ago: many of us remember the precise moment on August 5, 1962, when we first heard of her death. We remember where we were, what the room looked like, who was there. It’s a sense memory usually reserved for the death of a president like Roosevelt or Kennedy, or a great leader like Martin Luther King, or a member of our own family. Even for those of us who are not old enough to have such a memory, her name is almost as familiar as that of the famous who are living now.

Her terrible openness made a connection with strangers. It seems never to end.

The Woman Who Will Not Die

I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.

—from the unfinished autobiography of Marilyn Monroe

I
T HAS BEEN NEARLY
a quarter of a century since the death of a minor American actress named Marilyn Monroe. There is no reason for her to be part of my consciousness as I walk down a midtown New York street filled with color and action and life.

In a shop window display of white summer dresses, I see several huge photographs—a life-size cutout of Marilyn standing in a white halter dress, some close-ups of her vulnerable, please-love-me smile—but they don’t look dated. Oddly, Marilyn seems to be just as much a part of this street scene as the neighboring images of models who could now be her daughters—even her granddaughters.

I walk another block and pass a record store featuring the hit albums of a rock star named Madonna. She has imitated Marilyn Monroe’s hair, style, and clothes, but subtracted her vulnerability. Instead of using seduction to offer men whatever they want, Madonna uses it to get what she wants—a 1980s difference that has made her the idol of teenage girls. Nevertheless, her international symbols of femaleness are pure Marilyn.

A few doors away, a bookstore displays two volumes on Marilyn Monroe in its well-stocked window. The first is nothing but random photographs, one of many such collections that have been published over the years. The second is one of several recent exposes on the circumstances surrounding Monroe’s 1962 death from an accidental or purposeful overdose of sleeping pills. Could organized crime, Jimmy Hoffa in particular, have planned to use her friendship with the Kennedys and her suicide—could Hoffa or his friends even have caused that suicide—in order to embarrass or blackmail Robert Kennedy, who was definitely a Mafia enemy and probably her lover? Only a few months ago, Marilyn Monroe’s name made international headlines again when a British television documentary on this conspiracy theory was shown and a network documentary made in the United States was suppressed, with potential pressure from crime-controlled unions or from the late Robert Kennedy’s family as rumored reasons.

As I turn the corner into my neighborhood, I pass a newsstand where the face of one more young Marilyn Monroe look-alike stares up at me from a glossy magazine cover. She is Kate Mailer, Norman Mailer’s daughter, who was born the year that Marilyn Monroe died. Now she is starring in
Strawhead,
a “memory play” about Monroe written by Norman Mailer, who is so obsessed with this long-dead sex goddess that he had written one long biography and another work—half fact, half fiction—about her, even before casting his daughter in this part.

BOOK: Marilyn: Norma Jeane
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