Harold Jaffe |
Found dead in the dawn hours on August 5, 1962 in her bed in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. Because of“insufficient evidence,” the official cause of death is “probable suicide [by] acute barbiturate poisoning.” Marilyn Monroe is 36 years old.
Jim Dougherty: First lover and husband; he was 21, she was 16, an indifferent Christian Scientist teenager called Norma Jeane. She later claimed that her marriage to Dougherty was like being chained to a zoo animal. He became a narcotics cop in the LAPD, and actually was among those who found her dead in her Brentwood bedroom.
Joe DiMaggio: Second husband, the great “Yankee Clipper.” When she met him she expected a jock and found a distinguished graying man who resembled a “bank vice-president.” He wanted MM to give up her career and become a wife and mom. She later claimed that he was all missionary position, playing golf, and being adored by sports fans. But after their divorce, when she was in need (often), she called on him and he came.
Marlon Brando: Her first famous lover who wasn’t her husband. The next day she said to one of her confidants that she wasn’t sure she was “doing it right.”
How did Brando find her? No comment (for public consumption) from the Wild One, who like MM, didn’t wear underwear.
Arthur Miller: The most improbable of her husbands. He “seduced” her one night at a party by holding her big toe in his hand for five hours while looking into her eyes. She later called him a “grump” and an iceberg.
Yves Montand: Resembled DiMaggio physically and came from the same Italian “stock”; he might have been her smoothest lover. He later said that MM had a “schoolgirl’s crush” on him and that their brief affair while shooting Let’s Make Love would not affect his marriage to Simone Signoret, who smilingly echoed his sentiments with a “C’est une chose des hommes, n’est-ce-pas?”
Sammy Davis Jr: Wore customized pantyhose which permitted him to sex, and presumably to poop, without removing them. MM either didn’t mind or didn’t notice.
Richard Burton: Boasted (while drinking) of his sexual prowess but according to MM was “pretty ordinary.” Burton might have wanted to compare Monroe with Taylor. The two ingenues were like cobra and mongoose--they despised each other instinctively.
Frank Sinatra: His sexual relationship with MM continued even as he was doing other women. When asked by a nosy reporter how it “was” with Sinatra, MM said, “He was no Joe DiMaggio.” Maybe not, but Frank took her
from behind (which got Norman Mailer all worked up in his extravagant MM
biography--that image of a ravishing platinum blonde “doing anal.”)
Dean Martin: Quickie. Dean laid his scotch down on the bed table, banged MM in the king-sized waterbed, then resumed sipping his scotch. The ice hadn’t even melted.
Timothy Leary: Benign lie. Never did MM. Except in an acid fantasy. Which is just as good.
Jack and Bobby K: Who, according to the available evidence, never sexed with MM en famille. About them she and her protectors gave out (deliberately?) contradictory statements:
--She preferred Bobby to Jack because of “Bobby’s mind,” but found Jack more attractive.
--She had little in common with Bobby but liked him physically.
--She loved Bobby but he “toyed” with her.
--She was never involved with either of them; it was an elaborate joke by that prankster Brit Peter Lawford of the Rat Pack and Kennedy family (by marriage). The “joke” also was designed to disguise the intensity of MM’s relationship with Sinatra. But wouldn’t an affair with one or both of the Kennedy bros be more problematic than an affair with Sinatra?
MM herself: By all accounts she was a passive, even distracted sexual partner. Something like: Welcome to the pleasure garden; pluck whatever you wish while I lie beneath or beside you, Nembutal dreaming.
“Can you see my feet in the mirror?”
“Do you like my feet?”
“Do you like my ankles?”
“Do you like my knees?”
“Do you like my thighs?”
“I love your thighs.”
“Do you like my shoulders? “
“I think they are not slender enough. Do you like my arms?”
“Do you like my ass?”
“Do you like my breasts?”
“Do you like my face? My lips, nose, eyes? My ears?”
“Yes, every pore of every feature.”
“Then you love me totally.”
“Totally. Tenderly. Tragically.”
No, BB, Brigitte Bardot. In Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, 1963, Toying with her husband, the failed writer Michel Piccoli.
But it could have been Monroe and Arthur Miller. Early in their relationship he slobbered over her. Insofar as he was able to slobber. He was politically progressive of course, but personally he was arid, parsimonious, even puritanical. He insisted MM convert to Judaism to marry him.
On the set of The Misfits, 1961, MM accused Eli Wallach and Miller of plotting against her to expand Wallach’s role while diminishing hers.
She said to Eli: “The audience would much rather see my ass than your face.”
(It was no longer the young, pneumatic, breathtaking ass of Niagara, but she was right, it still beat looking at Eli Wallach’s face.)
Then she said to Eli: “You Jewish men don’t understand anything.”
Hell, Eli Wallach was like the best Jewish cowboy ever. I know he was the best Jewish “Method” cowboy. Think of Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Wallach was top-drawer. It was Arthur Miller MM had in her sights. After
living with him her love turned to loathing.
He left her alone with Yves Montand while they were shooting Let’s Make Love, 1960, knowing that Montand could not resist doing her.
Monroe found Montand “very attractive,” but still she hated Miller for his complicity. Pimping her.
And she didn’t like being force-fed Dostoyevski.
Why did Miller do it?
“Pimp” her. Force-feed her Dostoyevski.
The Montand thing might have been a way for Miller to separate from MM without accepting full responsibility. Miller was guilt-ridden. He cultivated suffering.
Mailer sees them at this juncture in their marriage as two mutually hating
cellmates manacled to each other.
Dostoyevski? That was Miller’s paternalism allied to MM’s hopeless intellectual strivings.
You can see the paternalism at work in Miller’s tiresome autobiographical play After the Fall.
Miller was utterly unaware of it.
The LA narc Jim Dougherty spoke after her death about how silken, how pliant his 16-year-old bride was. Norma Jeane. How she melted into his arms.
The photographer Milton Greene remarked about the young MM that she seemed to love everyone.
What happened then, between say 1950 and Some Like it Hot in 1959, when Tony Curtis famously remarked that “kissing her [Marilyn] was like kissing Hitler”?
It is a sordid tale of star power and fairy-tale capitalism, American style.
With internal resources that surprised everyone, Norma Jeane picked herself up by her bootstraps, alliterated her name, got plastic surgery on her nose, jaw and teeth. Posed nude for a calendar shot. Performed the requisite blowjobs in Hollywood exec offices. Became a wizard at applying makeup and manipulating the camera. Wore an American flag lapel pin. Routinely arrived three, four, even five hours late for a shoot with her entourage of protectors and confidants.
After getting to the set nearly four hours late for the shooting of Some Like it
Hot, it took MM 47 takes to speak the line: “It’s me, Sugar,” without messing it up.
Meanwhile Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, turned out in girdle, wigs, falsies, lipstick, and high heels, fumed in the wings. After the 34th take, the director Billy Wilder pasted the words “It’s me, Sugar,” all over the set within MM’s sight, but she still couldn’t nail it.
Everyone ended up hating her, until they saw the completed movie:
MM was fabulous.
What sort of alchemy did she perform? Nobody could say.
It was an alchemy she was to bring off other times; in Joshua Logan’s Bus Stop, Lawrence Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl, Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch--egomaniacal and inept on the set, hung over from barbiturates, constantly conferring with her protectors, making enemies all around . . .
But then, small miracle: She is Marilyn Monroe-splendid in the movie itself.
Even the cruel Otto Preminger, who directed MM in River of No Return, 1954, and remarked that “Directing Marilyn Monroe was like directing Lassie,” expressed amazement at how good she was in the actual movie.
MM followed her customary routine on the set of The Misfits, but there the
Barbiturates, booze and depression had aged her beyond her years.
Previously she’d been capable of making extraordinary recoveries, from abject to stunning, sometimes in a day or two.
But in 1960, on the set of The Misfits, it didn’t seem to be working.
Unlike Billy Wilder, John Huston was not moved by her passions, anxieties, what remained of her vulnerable beauty.
Arthur Miller’s script was listless, and his presence on the set oppressed
In a cast filled with pros: Gable, Monty Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter, Kevin McCarthy, it was only Gable who would speak kindly of her.
Then he died of a massive heart attack about a week after the movie was a wrap.
His wife, Kay Gable, pregnant at the time, attributed his death to the pressures of working with “that impossible diva” Marilyn Monroe.
When MM, just back from a two-week drying-out in a fancy drug rehab clinic, read Kay Gable’s remark in a gossip column she nearly committed suicide right then—throwing herself out of her 20th floor apartment window in New York City.
Her handlers recognized her condition and persuaded her to leave Manhattan and move to the Hollywood area, where there were no high-rises.
Where she spent the final agonizing two years of her life.
MM would compulsively shop for clothes she’d simply hang in her closets, and she refused as always to wear underwear.
According to Mailer, some high-toned Beverly Hills salesladies complained that the once-divine Marilyn actually “smelled.”
In her Brentwood house she swallowed barbiturates which still wouldn't grant her sleep, got massages in the dawn hours from her long-time masseur, lazed around her bedroom in a soiled nightie.
But then the Kennedy brothers drama erupted and she seemed to rally.
Singing “Happy birthday, Mr. President” in the Rose Garden, with her tiny
voice, her seductive genius suddenly intact.
Conspiracy time. Was it suicide, murder, manslaughter? Though MM didn’t wear underwear during the day, she always slept with a bra to prevent her breasts from sagging. But she was found completely naked, in a peculiar position on her bed, with (the autopsy revealed), a suicidal quantity of barbiturates but no food in her stomach. As though her stomach had been pumped and the barbiturates forcibly administered.
Did Bobby have anything to do with her death then disguise it (as Teddy later tried to disguise the Chappaquiddick incident)? What about Hoover’s FBI? Early in the morning on which she died, the FBI swept in and seized MM’s phone records for the last month of her life. Hoover and Bobby Kennedy were mortal enemies and the logic was that the FBI wanted to have something big on Bobby to keep him in check.
The final measure of Marilyn Monroe is--must be--her representation on celluloid:
Her two-dimensional radiance.
When a man took her loveliness in his arms, he took his life in his hands!*
Her skin-tight red dress above the knees, steep décolletage, no underwear, her deliberate, dreamy, wiggling walk away from the mounted zoom,
Away from the panting worldwide audience . . .
That simulacrum of a forever vulnerable, unattainable golden-haired sex goddess, who, like Circe (irresistible), transforms men into swine.
Jean-Luc Godard uses this aperçu from André Bazin as the epigraph to Contempt:
“The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world that is in closer harmony with our desires.”
Or in Gilles Deleuze’s formulation: "Cinema achieves another sexuality, molecular rather than localized, which results from a transformation of the “ordinary” into an image capable of generating extraordinary affects and sensations.”
*Ad for Niagara, 1953.
The data in this text are largely drawn from Norman Mailer’s Marilyn, (1973), Lawrence Guiles’s Norma Jean (1969), and Maurice Zolotow’s Marilyn Monroe (1960).
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