Marilyn Monroe – From the Heights to the Depths


I was very surprised to read recently that Marilyn Monroe, arguably the greatest movie star and icon, was fifty years dead.

Tempus Fugit. Born Norma Jean in North Hollywood in 1926, she never knew her father and Gladys her mother, was quite mad indeed, dying in an asylum in 1936. Norma spent the rest of her youth living with various relatives before in 1942 marrying Jim Dougherty. They were divorced within two years.

In 1944 she got a job in Burbank California and started her early career doing pin up shoots. Her infamous nude shot was in the first issue of Playboy. In 1948, Johnny Hyde became her agent. Johnny had her teeth fixed, her hair dyed blond and renamed her Marlyn Monroe. He got her a one year contract with Columbia where she landed a small role in All About Eve. Marlyn then moved to 20th Century Fox where she made many B Movies.

Her big break came in 1952 when she made Niagra with my old friend Dennis O’Dea and his lovely wife Siobhan McKenna who lived near us in South Richmond Street. That same year she met the Yankee Clipper Joe DiMaggio, her next husband and only true friend.

Her next big movie was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Jane Russell where she was furious to discover that Jane was paid nine times more than her. When they were imprinting their hands and feet in wet concrete, Marlyn shouted to the phalanx of media, “This is not our best bits. It should be my bum and Jane’s tits.” Christian Churches were soon calling for her head. Her studio suspended her again and uncaring Marlyn said, “I don’t care. It was great publicity. I made world headlines.”

In 1954 she married DiMaggio. They were divorced six months later. She would later marry and divorce Arthur Miller amid numerous affairs and miscarriages. She was a disaster to work with, always late, always sick, was suspended several times and attempted suicide several times more. Billy Wilder, who directed her in Some Like It Hot, recalls that it took two days to direct the scene where she simply utters, “Where’s the Bourbon.” Wilder said, “It took 82 takes, 150,000 feet of shot film and I paid her €250,000. I am furious.”
“Like kissing Hitler”, Tony Curtis, one of her many lovers, snapped at a simmering hack when asked what it was like to kiss the starlet. At this time Monroe was on top of the world. She had landed the cover of TIME magazine and the US post had released a 32c stamp with her face on it. Yet she had no self-esteem, no commitment, nothing. It must be said that Marlyn was a very solipsistic and dystopian woman.

In 1962 Marlyn got involved with her own kind of louche set that was Sinatra and his cronies, Jack and Bobby Kennedy. But there was no happy ending for Marlyn. She died alone on August 5th, 1962. Her death made headlines, all of them sad, sordid and nasty. The media were told that Marlyn died alone and naked in bed with the telephone in her hand. Her home was like a bombsite. Nothing was clean or tidy. Her clothes were all stuffed in plastic bags. Nobody claimed her body until her knight in shining armour, the Yankee clipper, the greatest baseball player ever. Joe DiMaggio, arrived from New York with his young son in full dress uniform. Joe took command, calling a press conference telling the media they were not welcome at Marilyn’s funeral. “I hold everyone in Hollywood morally responsible for her death.” He gave her a magnificent and dignified send off and left the following orders with the florist, “Until the day I die, deliver fresh flowers to Marilyn’s grave every week.”

I’ll leave the last word to Marilyn herself. In the late 50s she left a quote that would have made our own Oscar Wilde proud. “In Hollywood you will get a thousand dollars for a kiss and ten cent for your soul.”

by Noel Twamley