Watching Marilyn, p.2Jack Chapman
The bugs Tommy Guppy had planted above the principal rooms at 12305 Fifth Helena gave us some domestic conversation involving the housekeeper, and plenty of playing the radio, but such lousy quality it was a pain to listen.
The radio Marilyn favoured was some small-audience LA station putting out non-stop classical except when it asked for money. Her phone calls were mostly fixing up times to meet people, calling numbers that turned out to be her analyst or psychic or masseuse.
Plus the sequence of calls long-distance to the White House late one night that didn’t any of them get past the government switchboard operator.
What we mostly learnt was she didn’t spend a whole lot of time explaining to anyone why she wasn’t turning up for work on the set of Something’s Got to Give like she was contracted to.
What we had of Robert Kennedy on the reel to reel that day, July 2nd 1962, once the housekeeper had given him coffee and left them alone, was written down in Tommy’s transcript. Tommy put question marks where the sound was unintelligible, and overlooked a couple of expletives on grounds he didn’t tolerate a foul mouth in a woman.
Kennedy’s voice with those hard New England edges, every word like a pebble bouncing off a table. But we lost more of him than of Marilyn husky and low toned. It was like she couldn’t help her star quality on a microphone even when she didn’t know it was there.
RK: We, ah, need to talk over things, Marilyn.
MM: Sure. I’d like to talk. Only Jack makes me feel he’s not listening.
RK: Jack sends his regards. Along with apologies. You know it’s a job ?????? demands. He wants me to make sure you’re keeping well. He was concerned when...
MM: That’s done with.
RK: So ?????? [a number of seconds] ?????? Marilyn, how are you feeling now?
MM: You know, when you grow up you can get kind of sour. I mean, that's the way it can go. But I’m keeping busy. I have some new plans I’m excited about. Yourself, Bobby?
RK: Oh, yes, busy. Always busy.
MM: So when can I expect to see Jack?
RK: We really need to talk ??????, Marilyn.
MM: That’s not what I want, Bobby. You know what I want. I don’t want ?????? your way out. You try to give me the run-around, no thanks. You go back and tell Jack I won’t take no for an answer any more.
RK: I’d like you to consider very carefully whatever you’re contemplating...
MM: I’ve spent all the time I’m going to spend, Bobby. That’s the end of it.
[A number of seconds of no conversation. Some sounds of movement in the room]
RK: You know Pat and Lawford are giving a dinner party tonight?
MM: Uh huh.
RK: I’ll make some calls. Maybe we can move the situation forward.
MM: You do that.
RK: You want to come over there for dinner, the Lawfords, we can discuss it?
RK: You’re not doing anything else?
MM: Oh I’ll be there.
"A number of seconds?" I asked Tommy, quoting him. "What number? Number one? Number eight? Number ten zillion?"
"Everyone knows what a number of seconds is," Tommy insisted.
"Why don’t you just write several seconds?"
"Because several ain’t a legally valid terminology," he stated with the confidence of a man who never trusted the law.
Tommy was getting the municipal building plans and making a list of equipment he’d need to bug her psychoanalyst’s office, which is where he believed the key to everything would be, and possibly the source of some of the pills allegedly making Miss Monroe unreliable on set.
I was of the opinion if he couldn’t get clearer amplification he’d be wasting his time.
Then only two days after we put them in, the microphones at Fifth Helena stopped working.
Even in Beverly Hills it is not all that common to find a genuine movie star walking down the street 3 p.m. Tuesday. Marilyn was taking in a little expensive window-shopping the day after a late night dining at the Peter Lawford beach house with the United States Attorney General.
Mostly stars got driven door to door or the shop comes to them. But when you do find a movie star in the street it is not hard to follow her.
No need to stay too close when for some distance around most heads turn to point where she is and where she goes to.
Or get close as you like, even with not many people nearby to cover you, because the celebrity will not look at or notice you, having learnt from experience never to make eye contact with a stranger in the street.
So when the mad woman ran up to start shouting at her Marilyn Monroe was not ready. The woman was calling her all kinds of obscenities and screaming out, over and over, that Marilyn had murdered Clarke Gable. Marilyn just froze, hunched up defensive, standing face turned away from this mad woman shouting at her.
I took hold of the woman's shoulder. She was 40 or 50, not badly dressed, but ungracefully aged and a face like a twisted wound. I told her to calm down. She had hold of Marilyn's arm and I had her shoulder which I gripped hard enough to make her pay attention. I leant into her and said "Listen, you know it really isn't likely this lady murdered Mr Gable."
I was talking forcefully but keeping calm and rational thereby attempting to influence her by example. I said "I wouldn't guess she's murdered anyone at all. You want to leave go of her, please?" I repeated this sort of thing several times.
Then because I was holding her shoulder so hard she couldn’t ignore me any longer the mad woman started screaming at me as well, calling me mostly the same inappropriate things, which didn't bother me at all. But she hadn't so far let go of Miss Monroe's arm who was still frozen, so I punched her in the mouth to shut her up and distract her.
Soon as Marilyn was free she just turned and ran on her spike heels back along the sidewalk.
I stayed blocking and listening to the mad woman for a while to make sure she didn't follow but she never started making any sense. She just backed off further and further away pawing at her bruised mouth as she used up her threats and her crazy allegations drained into disconnected obscenities. Until finally we were far enough apart it didn't matter.
Jack Scalligan was less pleased than you might expect. Eight p.m. that night he was shouting in my office, "If I wanted a damn moron bodyguard you think I wouldn't have hired one?"
Outside the window the traffic was a low rumble on the hot, still air. Inside a fly was making a nuisance around the electric bulb. I kept quiet. Was I psychic to know what he wanted?
"You some defective, some lame brain?" he yelled. "You got a surveillance job to do. Is that too hard to understand? You watch, you listen, you tail, you’re invisible. That's what I pay for. How you going to do that now she's seen you?"
"Seen you up close," Jack Scalligan elaborated, making it sound it disgusted him. His cheeks were scarred from bad acne as a kid but now he was nearer 50 and it made a rugged counterbalance to his tan cardigan and tan slacks. He wore a couple of heavy gold rings on each hand and a watch could have doubled as a nugget.
I neglected to tell Scalligan about the slight technical problems we were experiencing with the auditory surveillance. I blew out smoke from a cigarette, giving the impression I didn't care because I knew something he didn't know. I did that well. I was disappointed the studio didn't sign me up for a walk-on part in the next Charlie Chan mystery.
"How much would it cost Fox per week she got her face scratched and beaten so bad she couldn't work?" I offered.
"Hell, how often does she work now? Cukor’s got twenty-eight minutes in the can and the production’s already over budget. She never
"She wouldn't recognise me if I surfaced in her bath and asked her to marry me," I told him.
"Anything could happen with that woman," Scalligan said. He’d calmed down now that he’d shouted to show he could. "Apart from the incident, you find anything useful out yet?"
"She bought three pairs of real bright Capri pants and matching shirts from a boutique called JAX. Reliable sources advise me the pants are going to be skin-tight on 36 inch hips. After that she visited two different drug stores, Schwab’s and then a chain outlet. Got a different prescription filled at each for different medications. The prescriptions were signed by two different doctors, neither one of them Dr Hyman Engelberg who’s supposed to be her regular physician."
"No kidding." Scalligan didn’t sound surprised. "What was she after?"
"My partner followed it up later. He got photocopies. Asked a few questions." I passed an envelope over. Scalligan dropped it into his pocket without looking at the contents and waited for me to tell him.
"Both establishments claim they see Miss Monroe on a regular basis when she’s in town. But with a movie star as a customer there’s a temptation to exaggerate so I wouldn’t put too much reliance on that. The doctors involved are harder to get information out of. They both seem legitimate, neither’s got any reputation as a needle merchant, they’re not connected in any way. Just a couple of small practitioners out in the suburbs too flattered a big celebrity calls them to want to ask why she doesn’t consult her usual Beverly Hills quack. She could have picked them out of the Phone book. It’s maybe irregular but far as I can see nothing’s illegal about consulting two doctors. Just her way of getting more dope without over-many questions."
"So what are they giving her this time?"
"Nembutal was one, Chloral Hydrate is the other."
"She’s got a Nembutal supply from her regular physician, this Dr Engelberg, as well," Scalligan complained. "Allegedly prescribed for insomnia. Jesus, is it any wonder she can’t get her lines right the rare occasion she can stagger on set."
"For a publicity man you know a lot about her medical records. Even before I risk my neck and reputation to invade her privacy, Jack."
Scalligan looked annoyed for a moment. "Like I said, we own her contract. It makes it our business. Pills, booze, men. You know about the booze yet?"
"We’re working on it."
When it comes to marriage, working together is as big a mistake for an actress as working apart. Marilyn had split from Arthur Miller the year before, just when Arthur was finishing his screenplay for The Misfits. Even so, all credit to the man after she slept with Yves Montard, he had still written her a fair part. Although at the box office it was no more popular than you’d expect for a film about killing horses.
That was a difficult year all round with the Bay of Pigs and the Berlin Wall going up, Khrushchev hammering on the table with his shoe. John F. Kennedy must have wondered what sort of job he’d stumbled into. Kennedy only won the ‘60 election by a handful of votes and maybe by this time was suspecting Richard Nixon had pulled a fast one. You could understand the President might be attracted to a little rest and recreation with a Hollywood goddess. And from her point of view he must have been a step up from Yves Montard.
Marilyn starred alongside Clarke Gable, Eli Wallach and Montgomery Clift in The Misfits, but aside from the divorce and the habitual pill-popping, right from the beginning it had not been a well-omened production. She was already taking a lot of unauthorised time away from the location.
And if her absences were for the benefit of the President of the United States it didn’t impress the studio accountants. Soon after they wrapped the shoot Gable dropped dead of a heart attack. That’s when the rumours Marilyn had killed him started up. Only someone crazy as hell would believe that junk, but when was there any shortage of crazy people.
"Separate devices. No way everything’s gonna fail at once. Principal rooms and guest room are different circuits. Phone tap picks up power from the telephone company. Someone swept the house after us. Someone's taken them out," was Tommy’s opinion.
"We got to go and check on it anyway."
"Back in? They've swept the place and they found our stuff. They're gonna be wondering. They’ll be watching."
"Those Washington suits, who’d you think?"
"Things break, Tommy. We buy electronics because they can’t be traced back to us, not for quality, Christsakes."
"I ain’t taking you back in," said Tommy. "You were no damn use in there."
I rode out this misrepresentation. "We need sound back on her. Scalligan expects tapes for his money."
Tommy shrugged, and it wasn’t for the heat and need to conserve moisture he’d have spat on the floor. "Watch point. When those goons jump out of the undergrowth I want some warning."
This time I parked the Chrysler way down on Fifth Helena. The street being a long cul de sac I was going to observe any vehicle going in there with plenty of time for alerting Tommy via the walkie talkie which he had tuned to some frequency they only use for controlling model airplanes, of which there were unlikely to be many overhead this time of night.
The housekeeper’s car absent from the drive and Marilyn not expected until late. It was a quiet evening. You could hear insects winding down in the neat, flowering hedges at the end of another long, hot day.
Tommy went in with all due caution. Then was out again in under thirty minutes. It was full dark by then. He came back down the street weaving away from the staggered carriage lamps provided for civic benefit. His tool sack was as heavy with equipment as when he’d taken it in.
"Drive," said Tommy soon as he hit the passenger seat.
I put the car in gear. "Well?"
Tommy waited until I’d three-point turned and we were rolling. He talked quiet like he didn’t want to be overheard. "What’s happened, Frank, our stuff’s been swept. Gone like it never was. Real neat job filling the holes."
"We guessed. Bobby Kennedy’s people."
"Thing is they’ve put in their own pickups. Took our mikes out, replaced them with better stuff."
"Yeah I’m certain. I know what I see. That’s a top class, professional installation."
"You telling me the Secret Service are bugging Marilyn Monroe as well as us?"
"Instead of us," Tommy corrected pedantically.
"It ain’t the Secret Service."
"Whoever. Got to be somebody close to the Attorney General stripped our plant out. Any idea how much that all cost us?"
"I've seen the sort of installation they've got in there now plenty of times. I could probably tell you the name of the guy put it in. That’s LAPD equipment in there now."
"The cops stole our bugs?"
"Any chance they’ll give them back?"
Tommy just looked at me. I drove carefully. "I thought local cops were Republicans. So how you figure kid-brother Kennedy’s got so much pull with the Department?"
"Cops do what they’re told, Frank. In this town it’s the studios. The studios have got the Commissioner in their pockets."
"Sure. But it’s us the studio is employing."
Tommy kind of smiled, bad news suited him. "You only got Jack Scalligan’s word for that."
A neon-cut evening and the lone customers who still wandered the aisles too tired to listen while Nat King Cole crooned Let There Be Love from the speakers in the ceiling.
Me standing watching shelves until she came past. Then acting su
After it was obvious it was her I was talking to she gave that wary, minimal smile, that half-nod half-shrug you get, being polite but ambivalent, holding back as though she might have forgotten who I was, but since I hadn’t pushed an autograph book and a chewed pencil at her I was just possibly, in this neighbourhood, some off-duty executive. Just possibly important instead of another fan who had no right to know her but had seen through the headscarf and the sunglasses and the high buttoned mink she had wrapped around herself to visit the mart.
Or maybe they were just the wrong prescription glasses she was wearing that night to decide who the hell I looked like.
Staying familiar like a genuine acquaintance I told her "You know, I’m here for tequila," telling her my loitering had legitimate purpose. "There’s a kind of Mexican tequila, particular one. That’s what I’m looking for."
She stared past me at the shelves where the liquor was all lined up ready to surrender. She could see those all right.
"I like something they don’t put a worm in," I explained. Conveying the impression I really needed her help here.
She was past me by then. "There’s no such thing," she threw over her shoulder. That sad, child-woman voice.
I could see a shelf of bottles with no worm right in front of me, it being California and the FDA regulations.
Before I could point this out she was round the corner of the aisle and out of sight. I felt bad about that. And I knew if Marilyn ever remembered me at all it would be the worm in the bottle she’d be recalling.
Outside the mart when I went for my car I saw the man in a dark suit watching from the shadows. Washington suit.
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes