Dear Marilyn (Part One)

6 Mar

I just completed a screenplay yesterday for a proposed mystery series, in which the events revolve around the disappearance of a long-dead star’s body from her crypt.  She has been “collected”, you see, by a rabid fan.  Her corpse becomes, in effect, the ultimate piece of film memorabilia.  In the screenplay I call the star “Maxine Morrow”, but, as everyone will realize, it’s really Marilyn Monroe.  There’s been a long-standing rumor that Monroe’s body is not in the Westwood cemetery where she was laid to rest.  A corner of the marble door to her crypt sported a big chip for quite a while, allowing the faithful to touch her coffin if they so desired.  But some darker sources hint that the chip happened when her body had been whisked away by her acolytes, to become the centerpiece of some bizarre cult – and this is the nugget from which I drew my plot.  Who knows whether or not it’s true – it’s still a good story.  For me, the interesting thing in the writing of this screenplay was that I was forced to replay some incidents from my own past – for you see; I too have a tenuous connection to Marilyn.

The events I’m about to relate are true.  At first I thought I would turn them into a one-person play, in which a single actor plays all the parts; but with my last year’s first and only foray into the theater, I thought, “Why not just write about it for your blog?”  (The only thing that the theater did was convince me that I was much more temperamentally suited to being a novelist than a playwright.  I will always be grateful for the experience, if only because it was a clarifying one, but the theater really isn’t for me; more about that later.)

So here’s my story…

Before I became a full-time novelist, I served as a researcher on a couple of books, one of which was a best-seller.  It was called “Marilyn, the Last Take” by Peter Brown and Patte Barham (each of whom was an amazing character in their own right, and worthy of a book of their own).  The book concerned itself with Marilyn Monroe’s last (unfinished) film, the prophetically titled “Something’s Gotta Give”.  Incidentally, it also purported to at last uncover the truth about Marilyn’s so-called murder at the hands of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

I was hired mainly for my knowledge concerning the botched production of “Cleopatra”, which was the shadow story in the book; “Cleo”, if you remember, was being shot at the same time as “Something’s Gotta Give”.  It was the authors’ contention that one of the reasons 20th Century Fox pulled the plug on Marilyn’s picture, leading to her emotional meltdown and eventual death, was because of the studio’s horrendous travails with Elizabeth Taylor’s shenanigans in Rome – they simply could not afford two divas at the same moment, each with a reputation for tardiness, illness, and emotional volatility.  Clearly, with millions and millions of dollars sunk into its gargantuan production, “Cleopatra” was the more important picture.  The supposition taken by the authors was that the brunette won her battle with the studio while the blonde lost hers.

The book was an immense best-seller, mainly because of the Kennedy connection.  By this time, the late 1980s, the shocking news that the president’s mistress had been none other than Hollywood’s most famous and tragic blonde was old hat.  The truth was that Kennedy treated Monroe as just another serviceable doll, and when he was through with her he handed her off to his brother.  (This same territory had been covered as early as 1965 in Jacqueline Susann’s roman a clef, “Valley of the Dolls.”)  Monroe, however, was not just another easy bimbo and refused to endure such shabby treatment.  She was no $100 a night girl – she was a star!  Monroe pestered the President and his brother with daily calls and letters, insisting that she was going to spill the beans both to their wives and the public, and had, in fact, called a press conference for the following Monday morning.  That Sunday, however, she was found dead in her bedroom and the press conference never happened.

Well, there you have the ingredients for the perfect conspiracy theory.  You have the hysterical White House handlers, the unstable star, the pre-emptive murder made to look like a suicide, and the subsequent cover-up.  The real story was that sometime during the research phase the authors and I discovered that there was no proof whatsoever that the Kennedy’s had a connection to Monroe’s death.  Marilyn had been “sliding toward extinction” for most of her life.  She was forever getting plastered on the weekends with booze and pills, subsequently calling up her friends, members of the Rat Pack, and treating them to long, teary farewells.  “Say goodbye to the President for me,” she supposedly gurgled that last night, “and say goodbye to you, too, ‘cause you’re a pretty nice guy.”  Her friends even had a phrase for it – “Marilyn’s dangling the phone again.”

Usually one of them would race off to her house, revive her, call her shrink and have her stomach pumped out.  All would be well – for about another week.  Then it would start all over again, except that the last time everybody was tired.  No one went to help her, thinking that someone else would get it.  At worst, Marilyn’s death could only be labeled a negligent homicide – that people knew she was dying but did nothing about it.  The truth was that she had been dying every weekend for the last couple of years.  Her friends were sick of the endless drama.  (We’ve all had friends like this, haven’t we; people we’ve dropped from our lives because the emotional wear and tear is just so fierce.  Self-centered neurotics are fun theater for a short while, until you realize it’s all about them, and that you can never be more than a supporting player in their lives.)

Peter and Patte decided to contact their publisher, Random House, to tell them that they could not tie the Kennedy’s to Monroe’s death, but that they had a pretty interesting story to replace it nonetheless.  Do you know what the publisher’s reply was?  “You contracted with us to tell the story that the  Kennedy’s killed Marilyn Monroe, and by God you’d better deliver it or perhaps our lawyers will speak a tongue you comprehend.”  It was Gore Vidal’s cynical prophecy come horribly to life – that the new literature of the modern age takes real names, real places, and real events and simply makes all the rest up.

So here’s the lesson I wish to impart unto you today:  think of this story every time you read the purported “truth” in books or in magazines or in newspapers.  Remember that writing is slanted.  All writing has an agenda.  All publishing is about money.  If you want the truth, you must locate and read articles from many sources and then come to your own conclusions.  Somewhere in one of them there might be the kernel that engendered all the commentary – just don’t expect to find it in the book store, on the television or in the newsstand.  We have been so managed and maneuvered by our news sources that we don’t know what end is up anymore.

In other words:  DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING!

After the publisher’s scary dictate, the authors and I had to go back to emphasize every untruth, every veiled accusation, and every raving innuendo made by some nut case who claimed to know the real story.  But the publishers got what they wanted – a best seller.  It even engendered an episode on “Unsolved Mysteries” – which was a bonanza of publicity for the book and its subsequent release in paperback – in which Robert Stack solemnly urged the public to write the Los Angeles Supervisor’s office to “uncover the truth about Marilyn Monroe’s murder!”

That’s when it really got interesting.

Next:  “Dear Marilyn – Part Two”:  in which I read through 8,000 letters from “all those little people out there in the dark,” as Norma Desmond was fond of saying.  You might think that Hollywood people are crazy, but let me assure you – they got nothing on the public.  You might even think that the events depicted in my latest novel, “The Stand In,” (also set in Hollywood and also based on a true story) are lurid escapism –

But just wait!

Have you read The Stand In? Available on KindleNookeBook, and iPad. Downloading the book is a great way to support this indie-author. 

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5 Responses to “Dear Marilyn (Part One)”

  1. maroon5gurl88 March 6, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Awesome post! I’m a huge Old Hollywood/conspiracy theory fan whose read several books (non and fictional) of varying quality on the Monroe death specifically! I think it’s even more interesting that Monroe’s making a comeback in the entertainment world (although really, did she ever leave?) so who knows we might get more revealed about her demise.

  2. fooddrinkandbooks March 7, 2012 at 2:16 am #

    Ive just read the very same conspiracy theory about Marilyn in a biography about J.Edgar Hoover. I have to admit that I believed it at the time, but now…

  3. likeitiz March 7, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Great post! Will look out for the next parts.

  4. maxeyhouse March 7, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    Love it!!

  5. Kate Terence March 31, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Wonderful stuff. By the way, Henry James had a bad time with theatre as well, so you clearly are keeping great company x Kate

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