Liz Smith: Marilyn — Still Alive in the 21st Century!

And more from our Liz: new book reveals Monroe’s thoughts on Castro, RFK — and what she bought at art galleries

“NOW, ON Castro. You see, I was brought up to believe in democracy, and then when the Cubans finally threw out Battista with so much bloodshed, the United States doesn’t stand behind them or give them help or support even to develop democracy! I can understand John Daly on an American national broadcast making fun of Castro for having appeared at one of his country’s national functions in a tuxedo. But the New York Times’ responsibility to keep its readers informed — means in an unbiased way. I don’t know, somehow I have always counted on the Times, and not entirely because you’re there.”

That is a part of a long letter to senior New York Times editor Lester Markel, dated March 29, 1960. The writer? Miss Marilyn Monroe.

(Actually, I personally think the Times went all out to support Castro’s ascension via their reporter T.S. Matthews who is credited by conservatives as having “accomplished” Castro’s rise to power. The Right has always blamed The Times.) But “never mind” if Marilyn had it wrong — she was probably swept up by the romanticism of a revolutionary who said he was “for the people.” She proves that she cared about what was happening in the world.

* * *

THIS letter (in which MM also ruminates on campaign slogans for the coming presidential race) appears in a new (yet another!) book on Marilyn, the star who simply cannot die. This one is titled MM-Personal: From the Private Archive of Marilyn Monroe by Lois Banner, photograhs by Mark Anderson.

Unlike last year’s Fragments, which consisted solely of Marilyn’s notes, poems, jottings, recipes, etc., MM Personal — while it also has letters from the star — is mainly correspondence to Monroe. From friends and professional colleagues — including harried notes and telegrams from publicists frantic to put a stop to the unhappy publicity surrounding Marilyn’s behavior on the set of “Some Like It Hot.” These strategic plans are overshadowed by Monroe’s miscarriage, which is referred to. (There is even talk of suing Time magazine.)

Among the affectionate missives is this telegram from the great Broadway and movie choreographer Jack Cole: “The universe sparkles with miracles, but none among them shines like you. Remember that when you go to sleep.” The book, a luscious glossy thing, is studded with photos, many of them Monroe’s personal items — including artwork she purchased just before her death.

There’s a great deal of minutiae that only the most devoted MM fans will appreciate –check stubs and such. But the overall vibe of the book is wrenching, because it clarifies Monroe’s humanity, her working life, her normal day-to-day existence. She didn’t lurch around every single moment in a drug-induced coma. She had a vital — if troubled —existence. She wrote to her stepchildren by Arthur Miller (in the voice of the family dog, Hugo) and she wrote to Isadore Miller, even after she had divorced his son, Arthur.

This note to Miller, dated February 12, 1962, contains a significant paragraph: “Last night I attended a dinner in honor of the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. He seems rather mature and brilliant for his 36 years, but what I liked best about him, besides his Civil Rights program, is he’s got such a wonderful sense of humor.”

However it ended up, that controversial relationship began as most of Marilyn’s relationships with men began — appreciation of the mind, and a fine regard for laughter. Six months after writing this, Monroe was dead. But, not really.

Others were more beautiful, more talented, had far more illustrious careers. But even in her lifetime, there was sense that she was a little different than the usual “sex symbol.”  Certainly, her struggles to raise herself up in the world were there for all to see. Death enshrined her, and books continue to analyze and reveal the woman who, according to her last press rep, Pat Newcomb “never told everything to anyone.” Monroe herself said, weeks before her death, “Fame will go by, and so what?  I’ve had you, fame. It’s something I’ve experienced, but that’s not where I live.”

She couldn’t know that Fame is exactly where she’d live, forever.

18 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

    I suppose I should say enough Marilyn, let her be.  Sometimes I do and sometimes like this morning I enjoy reading about this book.  This one doesn’t seem macabre or nasty.  Hope it isn’t.  She was and is fascinating to so many.  I have never entered into debate about her talent or lack thereof.  I felt she was underrated.  Still feel that it was sad she died so young.

  2. avatar Rho says:

    Please, let her rest in peace.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rho…I think books like this actually do let her rest in peace. 

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        There is something prurient about these books somehow and I go back to my grandmother who left her diaries for my mother to read. With the request that she then burn them.

        The odd thing is these two latest books in particular do raise some questions about her death because as Liz Smith put it she “didn’t lurch around every single moment in a drug-induced coma” which is always the basis everyone assumes she accidentally overdosed or committed suicide.  That she was “destined” to eventually die at her own hand.  She seems instead to have always managed to rise above herself and the drama of her life. Until that one night.  People don’t like to think of such things happening. But I will, again, always believe she was murdered.  And these two books in particular seem to bear that out since she had risen above herself and the drama of her life too many times before.  And seemed oddly very sure of herself in the end.  That in itself calls into question the matter of suicide.

        It’s always people who claimed to have known her well who have always maintained she either overdosed accidentally or comitted suicide. Their recollections don’t seem to match the recollections of Marilyn Monroe herself as reflected by these two books. 

        Death enshrined her, and books continue to analyze and reveal the woman who, according to her last press rep, Pat Newcomb “never told everything to anyone.” Monroe herself said, weeks before her death, “Fame will go by, and so what?  I’ve had you, fame. It’s something I’ve experienced, but that’s not where I live.”

        That is certainly not a comment by someone who would commit suicide weeks later. Or someone who was so out of it that she would accidentally overdose.

        • avatar Baby Snooks says:

          And the comment by Pat Newcomb is just as revealing. Marilyn Monroe never told anyone everything.  And yet so many claimed to know everything. When in fact they didn’t. Seems like many in fact knew nothing at all.  

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          Dear Baby… “…but that’s not where I live.”  Brave words, wise words.  But where did she live?  What existed outside her fame? The same woman who uttered those words was the same woman who could not keep her clothes on toward the end, at odds with all her genuine pleas to be taken seriously.  The same woman who said to Natalie Wood, weeks before the end, “I’m 36, and it’s all over!”  Or in the same period, burst into tears when Jane Fonda spoke eagerly about aging and becoming a character actress–“No, no!” cried Marilyn,  “It can’t happen to me!”

          Do I think she planned to commit suicide?  Not at all.  Had she survived she would have gone on, trying to make sense of herself and her image.  However it might have played out, for sure we wouldn’t care much about 80 year old Marilyn today.

          But even though the murder conspiracies don’t make sense (to me!) they are as alluring as the tragic suicide scenario.  One way or another, she’s the eternal victim.  It seems that’s how we want her.

          • avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

            Mr. WoW,  I agree.  I do not think she was murdered.  I just think is was a sad accident.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Everyone psychoanalyzes over comments she made and reality is no one knows what happened although most simply do not want to accept the possibiilty that she was murdered because of the implication of it.  Sorry but the Kennedys were not choir boys.  And perfectly capable of anything. Perhaps even murder.

            We like to tell ourselves that these things just simply do not happen.  And if they do, they cannot be covered up. And yet they do happen. And are covered up.  As we saw in the case of Ethel Kennedy’s nephew. And that was covered up.  By whom we don’t really know. But it raises questions. Questions that some don’t want asked. 

            Sometimes the easiest way to cover something up is simply to make sure no one investigates too much.  Or investigates at all.  Been there, done this myself.  It’s not a nice world. Lots of string pullers as I call them. Pulling strings to cover up all sorts of things. Including murder.

            And some, by the way, wonder the same thing about the murder of Ronni Chasen. Human nature perhaps to think the worst. But also human nature to question when the pieces of a puzzle don’t fit. 

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Baby…you know me, nothing like a silly back and forth over dead people or Liz Taylor.

            I know every single conspiracy theory.  Not one of them makes sense.  Certainly not the one where she’s supposed to “tell all” about the Kennedys.  I mean, that is post-1994 thinking; reality TV and utter shamelessness.  MM was a disturbed woman, but a woman who wanted to salvage what was left of her career.  Even if such a press conference happened (highly unlikely!) it would have spelled the end of her career.  Nor was she vindictive by nature.  She never spoke unkindly of DiMaggio (who beat her) or Miller (who used her to save his own ass)  Or even Yves Montand, who tried to boost his career by sleeping with her.

            Other theories also fall flat—to me.  Again,  I don’t see her as “planning” to die.  Indeed, she had meetings scheduled for Monday. (She passed on a Saturday night)  But in the grips of depression, shit happens.  Everyone who knew her testified that her moods were quicksilver—radiant one minute, down in the depths on the 90th floor the next.  She had attempted suicide a number of times.

            I think to make her the dumb, angry, blonde cog in some Byzantine murder plot, is far more demeaning than accepting that she suffered one terrible night.  She had a lot a of hope but she also had a huge sense of failure–and she did not have the vital support of the movie industry. Or a family.  36 was old in 1962.  A few hours thinking on that, in the dead of night, perhaps rejected by a lover or ex-lover…shit happens.

            Eh…”The Prince and the Showgirl” was on Turner Classic Movies last week.  Delightful.  And the way she’d prefer to be remembered. 

            But, Baby…I know you are not at all alone in your dark ideas about that hot Saturday night.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            I never paid attention to the conspiracy theories mainly because most were not really credible. But there were pieces to the puzzle that still didn’t fit. 

            The autopsy for one. The pieces that didn’t fit never really had an explanation except that she was murdered and murdered in a way to make it appear she had overdosed.  An overdose for someone known to take pills and booze is usually a simple matter. But it wasn’t so simple with Dorothy Kilgallen. Found dead in bed with a book in her lap. And her reading glasses downstairs. Whoever murdered her apparently didn’t know she used reading glasses. She was working on something about the assassination of JFK. No one ever found anything. No notes. Nothing.  No one including the coroner really believed Dorothy Kilgallen accidentally overdosed.  And quite a few don’t believe Marilyn Monroe overdosed. Why would someone murder her? Only whoever murdered her would know the answer to that question. Most don’t want to even consider it had anything to do with the Kennedys. We have no royalty but have our royal famliies.  All of whom have their deep dark secrets that even when they come out we really don’t want to know. Preferring to keep our myths untouched. Including Marilyn Monroe. We all want to believe she was doomed from the start. And so we must believe she died at her own hand.  It completes the myth. The tragic Lorelei. 

            So many point out that she had attempted suicide before. So had many others. Including Elizabeth Taylor.

            So many point out that someone must have known something. They would have come forth at some point. 

            Dead men tell no tales. And sometimes neither does anyone else if they fear they may be next if they do.  That is human nature as well. 

          • avatar Mr. Wow says:

            Dear Baby…was there a “cover up?”  For sure.  Like with the sudden death of any big star–let’s try to clean things up.  If we can. 
            As for our girl Liz, I cannot believe any of her suicde attempts were for real.  They are not even on the record as such. (“a bad bowl of chili” in ’62, when she thought Richard was retutning to Sybil.)  As selfish as she was, she had children to live for, and aging parents to support.  And the promise of more jewelry. 

  3. avatar Rho says:

    Mr. Wow, I don’t think so.  Enough already.

  4. avatar Maggie W says:

    Just as those who build shrines to Elvis in their homes and eat grilled peanut butter/banana sandwiches in his memory , there are those who cannot let Marilyn go .She will continue to be bigger in death than in life.  I have never been too interested in this lovely, troubled woman but would prefer reading about her from time to time rather than who Lindsay accosted in rehab and why.

  5. avatar Charles Casillo says:

    What I love about the two new books is that they go directly to the source.  There have been so many biographies through the years–books, documentaries, newspaper articles, rumors— that the stories surrounding her, and even her very character, has been greatly distorted.  It’s almost as if these books, with material from her archives, is Marilyn coming back to clear the air and bring us back to some of the basic truths of who she was.  An intelligent, struggling, striving, sensitive, woman–a true artist, with wit and understanding and talent…but always the fear.
    It’s astonishing that NEW THINGS (photos, letters, film footage fragments) keep popping up.  She only lived for 36 years, and yet she left a remarkable trail that can be followed to finding out a lot about her as a real person–outside of her screen image.
    It also astounds me that people are still following that trail.  I’m guilty of it myself.  I’ve been utterly fascinated and captivated by her since childhood.  Each new generation brings a new set of young admirers.  There was some magic in her that most mortals don’t possess.  Sure there are some people who don’t agree she had a “specialness.”  But the fact that we are still talking about her proves she did.
    Through the years the Liz Smith columns about Marilyn have been some of the most clear-headed, sensible, sensitive essays on Monroe.  I would love to see them all collected in a book.

  6. avatar Chip Griswold says:

    I am certainly no expert on any of this, but it seems that whenever a “mega star” passes the conspirators come out in droves.  Isn’t it possible that she did just take some drugs and passed away – depression the culprit?  Isn’t it possible that Elvis was overdosing on drugs (even if they were prescription)?  Isn’t it possible Michael Jackson did the same as Elvis?  Isn’t it possible that John Kennedy was murdered by a mad man?  Once you strip the “star stuff” from the person, they are still people with the same human failings as everyone else: they are people not some mythical God…

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Chip….yes, yes, yes and yes.  Sometimes an overdose is just an overdose and a crazy person with a gun is just a crazy person with a gun.

      Oh, and sometimes a princess is in  a car with with a reckless lover and a drunken driver.

  7. avatar amscia says:

    I am from India. Though there are many beautiful actresses in India Marilyn was my most favourite. I knew her for a long time from 1960 or so but I read her bio only last year. Earlier I had seen her in the light of sex symbol or most charming and beautiful woman on earth as described by media / people. However after reading her bio I cursed myself and felt very guilty concious that I never saw her other human aspects, her kindness and love for the weaker sections of society and other virtues. I now feel very sad and sorry for this world which has still some people who describe her as a whore or communist or link her up with Kennedys or fabricate lies for making money. If you have studied or know Marilyn’s character you will never believe in those rubbish suicide or overdose stories. Ever considered why such huge coverup was needed on the night of her death and who can arrange such vast coverup involving all those present at the death scene, Police, Medical biopsy and others. Even a dumb person will realize who can do it and why. They can make out any stories for justifying her murder. But there is only one story and that is she came to know the details of JFK murder plot. While the whole world loved and adored Marilyn the then CIA and FBI killed her. It really pains me to think that she did not deserve this end. Actresses will come, go and forgotten but we will never forget you Marilyn Monroe.

  8. avatar amscia says:

    Marilyn had one dialogue in her last incomplete movie that “he won’t harm even a fly”. I believe this dialogue is very much applicable to her. Only men without souls or consciences could have killed Marilyn.