Watching Marilyn, p.26Jack Chapman
Sol had booked a table for four at Musso and Frank’s on Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Vine. Expensive but Sol enjoyed picking up the tab.
Sherri and Donna Raven rubber-necked for any celebrities in tonight while we followed the waiter in bright red jacket and bow tie across the room to one of the high-sided mahogany booths, but it was a dim-lit place and the booths made for privacy.
Donna Raven was one of the string of nurses looking after Tommy Junior while his bones were mending and he needed daily physio. She was maybe in her mid-twenties but that was always hard to tell. I wondered if she was the same nurse who a couple of weeks ago had her hair in a beehive, but now it was clean-washed and straight to her shoulders with her sunglasses pushed up on top. That kind of thing changes a woman. She was attractive but not enough to easily remember given she’d also changed her uniform for a bright-patterned silk shirt and an extravagant black skirt. Sol had filled me in on a bare minimum of details when he was twisting my arm the day before, leaving it late to cut down opportunity for excuses. Donna was divorced a year, just starting to get back on the social scene.
"Martinis, right?" Sol glanced around the booth confident we’d take his suggestion. He passed the order to the waiter then told us "Charlie Chaplin was a real fan of the martinis here, he used to come with Paulette Goddard all the time. Humphrey Bogart, the Warner Brothers, they all did. This is the oldest restaurant in Hollywood."
"You get a lot of big names in here, Sol?" Donna asked. She had a collection of bracelets on her wrist that jangled when she moved.
I thought of pointing out the dark corner where Peter Lawford was getting drunk and intimate with a woman who wasn’t Patricia Kennedy but thought better of it.
"Sure," Sol answered off-hand, "here or at Romanoff’s or Ciro’s or the Brown Derby or the Trocadero, but celebrities aren’t what they used to be. You get a lot of screenwriters especially here as well. Writer’s Guild building is just up the road on Cherokee. Was a time you’d see Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, you'd see Dashiell Hammett before those commies he bail-bonded disappeared and he got thrown in jail, but he was a broken man after. Raymond Chandler wrote The Big Sleep at one of these tables. Faulkner used to favour the Mint Juleps. They all drank like fish."
The drinks waiter came back and passed around the martinis that Chaplin used to like. The food waiter hovering behind for our order. Donna Raven copied Sherri and asked, like it needed permission, if she could have oyster stew. Sol told her she could have anything she could lift and himself toyed between the corned beef with cabbage or the grilled liver but eventually settled for the T-bone. Tommy Guppy would have loved that menu if he’d been there and someone other than Sol had been paying. I wondered if the Jap was still keeping his copy of Black Mask.
Donna Raven started telling Sol that her nursing was just a stop-gap and her real ambition was to be a costume designer. Either she wanted to work with a film studio or even better design stage clothes for rock stars. I couldn’t see how she thought that would impress people who were employing her for medical services, but realistically who expected anything different in Hollywood. She moved her hands a lot, jangling her bracelets, describing the English fashion for suits with round necks she thought would look real good on Sol and me, "Only no collar, know what I mean? Like the Beatles brought over from Carnaby Street?"
Donna kept scanning the room while she was talking. She gasped and shut up when James Mason came in the restaurant with a redhead on his arm. Mason stopped beside Lawford’s table and exchanged greetings. Both being English they didn’t say too much but in the dim light it appeared polite. Sol waited until the red-coated waiter had seated them then stood up and took Donna Raven by the arm. "Come on, I’ll introduce you." Sol winked back at us over her shoulder.
Sherri watched them head off, Donna taller than Sol in her heels and jangling with excitement. "You don’t want to be introduced to any stars, Frank?"
"I met Lassie’s son once. Got real intimate. He had a wet nose. After that it’s an anticlimax."
She leant over the table to be closer to me. "Well, you never were lucky with relationships. Long time since we’ve been on a double date." Sherri was looking meaningful
"That what this is, a double date?"
"Not unless you make a move to get the couples at this table the right way round."
"You’re starting to sound like my sister."
"That’s what sister’s do. We don’t like loose ends. And it’s Saturday night. You’re never more alone than on a Saturday night, Frank."
"Right now? Another of those nurses is waiting on him hand and foot, she’s maybe number two in looks, Sol picked the best for you. But they all think he’s a real cute kid. And he’s growing up, I think he’s getting a crush on Donna. You’d better move fast before he’s back on his feet and starts to give you real competition."
Sol and Donna Raven came back to the table, Sol pleased with himself, Donna on a roll. When she tried to convince him he really had to update James Mason with mop-top hair for Lolita Sol decided he’d change the subject to something I’d know about. He still seemed to imagine I was close to the government.
"You think Kennedy’s serious about sending combat troops into Saigon, Frank? The other side of the world? Some swamp nobody in their right mind would want? I mean how much more of my take-home dollar is going to evaporate in taxes?"
"Vietnam and Cuba, they’re surrounding us," Sherri answered for me.
"It doesn’t look too good," I agreed.
Donna said sharply "Oh stop that! Be positive. I guess we all have times things don’t go too well. You folks know that, the way you must have worried over TJ. But we all just need to dream hard enough and believe hard enough and know in our hearts we can do it and we can make everything just wonderful."
I had to check I’d heard that right. "We can make everything wonderful?"
Donna looked deep in my eyes like a vet searching for life in a run-over dog. "Truly wonderful," she said sincerely. "It’s such an exciting world, Frank. The music, movies, television, America on its way to the Moon. How everything’s changing? Like this is the start of the future."
Sol Marx raised his cocktail glass in enthusiastic agreement, "Here’s to the Brave New World, my friends."
"New lives," Sherri said.
"Here’s to us," Donna added.
I put up my Charlie Martini. "Everything that changes."
We had a good time. Tomorrow was just another day.
I walked down the Corridor of Memories at Westwood Memorial Park, walked away from Crypt 24.
The day was fading, heat leaching from the ground.
I’d made a stand about the red book even if I didn’t know exactly what my stand was for, and it made me feel I’d won in some way. I didn’t put it down to any natural instinct but in the end even Tommy Guppy, the drunk, had thought of someone other than himself and that was cause for optimism.
When they buried Marilyn it was like I’d buried Carmen at last. In there with her. Or two different people. Or nobody at all.
It didn’t matter. It wasn’t a woman in that coffin, it was a dream of what every woman would be if the world wasn’t dross and the people in it losers.
I went through the evening paper and found a small movie house on South Broadway still trying to cash in on yesterday’s headlines, showing a rerun of Marilyn Monroe's Some Like It Hot.
Drove out. Sat in the dark and watched her in the dress they’d sewn her into.
Knew how naked she was underneath.
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes