Jacqueline Rose on Marilyn Monroe
April 24, 2012 5:26 PM   Subscribe

>And according to Gloria Steinem, when the Mocambo nightclub in Los Angeles was reluctant to hire a black singer named Ella Fitzgerald, the owner received a personal call from Monroe, who offered to take a front table every night if he hired Fitzgerald (as Monroe had promised, the press went wild and Fitzgerald, by her own account, never had to play a small jazz club again). Fitzgerald never forgot. Monroe, she said later, was ‘an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times’.

I'm only part way through but so far it is the most interesting thing I've ever read about Marilyn Monroe
posted by Listener at 5:46 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ayn Rand on Marilyn Monroe: here, fwiw.
posted by parki at 6:02 PM on April 24, 2012

When I first moved to Los Angeles, in 1990, I quickly became homeless. I stayed at a shelter run by the Gay Lesbian Community Serviced Center, and, being jobless, tended to start each day by taking a long walk to what is now the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, just behind the Paramount Studios lot. I would pass 815 North El Centro Avenue, which had been the Los Angeles Orphan Home, where Monroe lived for two years starting when she was 9. She claimed she had a window that looked out on the RKO Water Tower, which is now the Paramount water tower, and she would stare at it and dream of working there.

Later that year I joined a theater program through a program for homeless teens called The Teen Canteen. The program was really the work of just one woman, Shelley Winter, who came every Thursday and led improvisation lessons. I did that program for almost two years. Shelley told me she did it because she had been roommates with Marilyn Monroe, and Monroe felt so badly for orphans that she made Winters promise that they would start a program together, the two of them, that would go to orphanages, and teach the orphans to act, so they could have the chance to break into show business as she did. Of course, Monroe died, and Shelley didn't get around to it until long after. By then, there weren't orphanages any more. Just homeless teens. So that's who Shelley tried to teach to act.

I quickly took over in the program as a writer. Shelley wanted to do Waiting for Lefty, the pro-union play by Clifford Odets, because she thought the recession of the 90s was a lot like the Depression of the 30s. We were going to do a companion piece that I was to write about the experience of homeless teenagers, but, when Shelley read it, she didn't like it. It drew too biographically from the lives of the teens in the program. "This isn't theater," she complained. "It's psychodrama!" She dropped out of the program, the one she started. I went with some other people from the Teen Canteen over to her duplex, near Cedar's Sinai, and she met us at the door in a hospital gown. On her mantle were three things: A photo of her with Monroe, an Oscar, and a menorah. I was startled by all three. The Monroe photo was intimate and candid, and they were both young and very beautiful. The Oscar was the first Oscar I had ever seen. And I did not know it was Hannukah. I never know when the Jewish holidays are.

We could not convince Shelley to rejoin the program, and it fell apart. I never saw her again after that day. I left Los Angeles not too long afterward, very disappointed in the whole experience, but I kept playwrighting and have enjoyed some success with it.

A went back to LA years later, for about six months. I wound up working in a movie theater in Westwood, just a few hundred feet from Monroe's crypt. I think I have told this story on MetaFilter before, but I'll tell it again, quickly. I would eat lunch on a little stone bench in front of Monroe's grave. At that time people would leave little messages for her at her grave, and, after a while, I started to steal them, because I was curious. Every day I would take a few, and then I would read them at work. They were sweet, often filled with flattery for Monroe, and often unbearably mundane and intimate. I felt terrible guilty about it, and, on my last day in Los Angeles, I left a note of my own on Monroe's crypt: I'm sorry I stole all those notes.

I'm back now, living in Hollywood. Marilyn is still everywhere. Her picture is all over this town. Women dress up in front of her and stand in front of the Chinese Theater, hoping people will give them money to pose with them. I have noticed something: While Monroe was unusually beautiful, artistic representations of her are often quite terrifying. I plan to start photographing as many as I can soon, a project I call Scarilyn Monroe. They all have these pinched faces that are just lunging forward, an inexact representation of Monroe's signature open-mouthed smile that makes them look like feeding anacondas. They're just awful. And perhaps its right that they are. There really is something awful about her story, and her life, even after she got what she wanted in this town. I find myself feeling unexpected sympathy for her, and I think it's in part because I don't know if I would be a playwright now were it not for a promise she and Shelley Winters made to each other a decade before I was born, and I think it's because there is still something awful about this town, and it is right that she haunts it as a haggard misrepresentation of herself.

I guess she's haunted me this whole time too. That's Hollywood. I came here nearly 30 years after she died, and she still legitimately affected my life, and she was sort-of unavoidable. She's probably still around somewhere, in some ghostly way. This is a haunted place. Monsters from the 30s are still superstars here -- you'll never see anyplace with more public representations of King Kong. The set from Phantom of the Opera still stands. I could walk out my door and walk west and in 20 minutes be outside the house from Nightmare on Elm Street. She wanted to be a part of Hollywood so badly. I guess she always will be, as a ghost, anyway.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:21 PM on April 24, 2012 [27 favorites]

> I'm only part way through but so far it is the most interesting thing I've ever read about Marilyn Monroe

That's how I felt about the whole piece. I've always felt Monroe got a raw deal, but usually when I read pieces that try to get you to Take Her Seriously, I've felt special pleading was being indulged in. Not here. It's long, but it's well worth anyone's while to read the whole thing if they have any interest in the subject.
posted by languagehat at 6:56 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, thanks for this. It's fascinating, as is most of what Rose writes.
posted by OmieWise at 8:58 AM on April 25, 2012

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