All of my heroes are creative people.
I had some great role models as a kid, and I’m a football fan, but it is the poets, the writers, the songwriters, that I have always admired.
I have never particularly been a fan of Marilyn Monroe the sex symbol/Hollywood actress, and know next to nothing of her life story. But, on discovering that there are books containing her own writings, as opposed to merely other people’s biographies of her, my interest and curiosity was piqued, in a similar fashion which led to my recent post about Ingrid Pitt.
The first book that I read is called Fragments, and contains poems, letters, and yes, fragments of jottings, made on hotel letterheads, in notebooks, etc, shown here in her own handwriting. Flicking through the pages you get a sense of uncensored intimacy. There is a letter included which details some of the things that happened to her when she was confined to a psychiatric hospital until Joe DiMaggio’s intercession.
I particularly liked her unrefined, undeveloped poetry and prose.
I am both of your directions
Somehow remaining hanging downward
but strong as a cobweb in the
wind-I exist more with the cold glistening frost.
But my beaded rays have the colours I’ve
seen in a painting-ah life they
have cheated you
In a footnote, it is revealed that Marilyn wrote several variations on the theme of the twofold course of life, and gives an example that can be found in Norman Rosten’s book:
To The Weeping Willow
I stood beneath your limbs
And you flowered and finally
clung to me,
and when the wind struck with the earth
and sand-you clung to me.
Thinner than a cobweb I,
sheerer than any-
but it did attach itself
and held fast in strong winds
life-of which at singular times
I am both of your directions-
somehow I remain hanging downward the most,
as both of your directions pull me.
We all come to her writing with our own prejudices and ideas, and of course it is hard not to read it outside of the context of what we know about her life’s end, (conspiracy theories not withstanding), which imbues some of the lines with a melancholy.
Oh damn I wish that I were
gone away from here-from
everywhere but how would I (the words ‘do it’ are crossed out)
There is always bridges-the Brooklyn
But I love that bridge (everything is beautiful from there
and the air is so clean) walking it seems
peaceful even with all those
cars going underneath. So
it would have to be some other bridge
an ugly one with no view-except
I like in particular all bridges-there’s some-
thing about them and besides I’ve
never seen an ugly bridge
The second book is her autobiography, the manuscript being published over a decade after her death.
In it she throws light on her early, troubled life as Norma Jean, a girl from an orphanage, plagued by fears of hereditary mental illness, and devoid of friendship and any real sense of belonging. She tells of the time she was molested by a ‘respected’ adult, and nobody would listen to her. She went from one foster home to another. Then, as she got older, her body began to develop and, suddenly, for the first time in her life, people began to notice her, particularly the boys in her school. She got her first real boyfriend, a twenty-one year old who believed her to be eighteen rather than the thirteen year old that she actually was. She fooled him by ‘keeping my mouth shut and walking a little fancy.’
When he informed her that they were going to the beach, swimming, and having no costume of her own, she rushed to borrow one from her ‘sister’ who was smaller than she was.
It was there, in her ill-fitting bathing suit, that she discovered even more that the unwanted child who nobody minded was now garnering the attention of others, both men and women.
I paid no attention to the whistles and whoops. In fact, I didn’t hear them. I was full of a strange feeling, as if I were two people. One of them was Norma Jean from the orphanage who belonged to nobody. The other was someone whose name I didn’t know. But I knew where she belonged. She belonged to the ocean and the sky and the whole world.
In the part where she rejects the advances of the head of a studio, rather than sleep her way to her big break, there follows the poignant:
I drove to my room in my car. Yes, there was something special about me, and I knew what it was. I was the kind of girl they found dead in a hall bedroom with an empty bottle of sleeping pills in her hand.
The book goes on to tell how Marilyn went from a bit part player to the hottest thing in Hollywood, the manuscript ending when she marries Joe DiMaggio and goes to entertain the troops in Korea. It is a pity the story ends there, as I would have loved to read her personal account of the rest of her life, but, alas, we will have to turn to the writings of others for that. I loved My Story, and will now read a biography of her life (I have in mind the Donald Spoto one), but it is to these two books that I will undoubtedly return. She comes across as a complex character, in equal parts intelligent, erudite, charming, witty, fragile, and vulnerable. There was much more to her than the Hollywood image that she was portrayed as. She was many things, but she was definitely not some dumb blonde.