Watching Marilyn, p.6Jack Chapman
The door opened. It was a hacienda style door with one of those small, ironwork grill windows at eye level but she didn’t check. I was expecting the housekeeper but it was Marilyn herself looked up at me. She looked blank for a while like she didn’t much care who I was. The way she stood in that door reminded me of the silent place Tommy went when even a bad drunk couldn’t make him forget he was missing Junior.
"I made an appointment through your agent, Miss Monroe. My name’s Frank Watson. I’m the journalist working on a magazine story…?"
"I suppose you better come in," she said when enough time had passed she had to say something. Not sounding either as if she cared all that much.
Marilyn was wearing a thin, white dressing gown that kept falling open under the satin belt but this night she wasn’t projecting the way she could. She looked like a tired woman. She looked, to be honest, just a little overweight.
I stepped over the mink dropped on the hall floor and followed the scent of Chanel 5 and vodka through to the big living room with the tiled floor and the rugs in the wrong places.
"Who did you say you were working for, Mr Watson?"
"I’m freelance, Miss Monroe. Jack Scalligan of Fox Publicity introduced me to your agent. I hope he gave you the details?"
She shrugged like she’d never heard but it wasn’t her main problem. "I guess that’s all right. The studio usually sends someone along from PR to watch what I say. But what the heck they just twist the truth. I learnt that all right." She took a drink from the tea-cup she was holding and took her time evaluating me.
I was tempted to tell her someone was listening in right now but I only took out a notebook like a professional. "Mind if I ask a few questions?"
"What’re you interested in?"
"Well, this and that. The way I work I like to get to the heart of a subject. In depth. Serious analysis, that kind of thing."
"Like how you think moving your career from a kind of light, sex comedy to being a serious actress is going."
"Get you anything?"
"Well thank you. I’ll just have whatever you’re having."
Marilyn turned and went out of the room. I sat on one of the sofas pushed against the walls. A moment later a small, white poodle scuttled through the door, claws sliding on the Spanish tiles and rucking the Mexican rugs. It jumped over the black telephone that had been left in the middle of the floor. It barked a few times but didn’t have the chest to be intimidating and switched to pushing its nose in my groin. I stood up and went and put the telephone receiver it had knocked off back on the rest.
The dog ran around me a couple of times then went to bang its tail against the leg of a baby grand piano near the window. The piano had seen better days, the white paint was shabby and the veneer of the wood was battered. I moved her tea-cup half full of vodka to a safer place and went to straighten the picture on the wall behind which we’d put one of our microphones and where someone who might or might not be the LAPD now had their own. I started counting books on the bookshelves but gave up after a couple of hundred.
Marilyn came back in the room with a glass of scotch no ice which she handed me with the poodle jumping up at her legs. Seemed she was keeping the vodka to herself. The poodle tripped over the trailing wire of the telephone and knocked it off again.
"This is Maf. Aren't you a sweet thing?" she spoke to the dog then back to me in a less interested voice. "That’s short for Mafia. He’s a short dog. Frank gave him to me. You know? Frank Sinatra?"
"Lassie's supposed to be his father. But that's what they say about every pup in Hollywood." She tickled one of the feathery ears. Confident now it had backup the animal yapped a challenge at me.
I couldn't see anything except poodle in its ancestry. "It doesn’t bite?"
"Treat them right dogs never do. Just humans."
I made a note in my notebook to look professional.
She took another drink from her vodka tea-cup while I was busy. She was standing and only swaying a little but she was speaking slow and carefully. "What did you say your name was again?"
"My name's Frank as well, Miss Monroe. Frank Watson."
"We met before, Frank?"
"I'd certainly remember that."
"Beverly Hills when I was shopping."
"I don't shop much."
"That was when. Sure. It stirs up envy, fame does. People... there's a lot of people think fame gives them some kind of right to walk up to you and just say anything to you... and it won't hurt your feelings... like it's happening to your clothing."
"What do they say?"
"This was about Clark. You remember?"
"You sure you're not confusing me?"
"I wouldn't have done anything to hurt him. He was ill already and kinda old."
"Could have happened any time."
Marilyn had wandered over to stand beside the white, baby grand. She put her tea cup on the lid and started picking out chopsticks. She wasn't too good at the tune.
"And you know he could have been my daddy." She stopped abruptly, took another drink and giggled. "That’s true, Frank, I don't tell everyone. I'll tell you a secret. My mother, she used to be a film cutter over RKO, and that’s how she bought me this piano when I was just a little girl. It used to belong to Frederic March, he’d just started in the movies so maybe he bought himself a bigger one. And just before..., you know my mother's dead don't you? It's okay, long ago. Well, just before she died she sort of talked once about her and Clark Gable, about how he might've been my real daddy." Marilyn focussed on me for a moment like she'd realised she wasn't talking to herself. "You can keep a secret can't you, Frank?"
"You mention this to him?"
Marilyn closed the piano lid.
"Oh no. I never believed it. Not really. I mean people dying like she was don’t always tell the truth. I guess their minds wander and get confused."
"I guess so."
"But it’s true what she said about me being descended from President James Monroe because I know my grandmother who was her own mother, though she died when I was maybe one year old, but she actually was called Monroe. Really. She was Della May Monroe."
I made another mark in my notebook. "You took your stage name from her?"
"Her and the President."
"You must like Presidents. How about John F. Kennedy?"
"Well I thought one time it would be so nice to have a President so young and good-looking."
"And being descended through your grandmother? Family must mean a lot to you. Particularly if you don't grow up with one?"
"Family's the most important thing in the world."
"You could be right. And may I say something personal? No offence but I have a sister, couple years younger. She’s not the sort of woman is a great judge of character. Mostly I wouldn’t trust her opinion about anything. But she says you dye your hair, Miss Monroe. That even though it’s your trademark you are not a natural blonde."
Marilyn shrugged. "She can believe what she likes. She’s entitled." She walked away from the piano and sat down on a sofa across the room from me. She twisted to face away from me and picked up the poodle to make a fuss over. The dog, the tea-cup, chopsticks on the piano, she was doing a lot of displacement activity.
"No, she doesn’t just believe it. I mean she knows it. Reason she knows it she sleeps with a hairdresser over at Fox. This man tells her things. Makes out he knows all the stars, how intimate he is with them, you know the line. He tells her how you aren’t really a blonde. You dye your hair even in, let's say, intimate places, so any indiscreet rumours or photographs confirm the image. Telling that sort of secret, taking her into his confidence, that impresses my sister. She kept falling into bed with him. Now she's moved in with him."
"Is that how it works
"I believe it’s called pillow talk."
"That would make a great movie title."
I nodded. "Incidentally I’d just like to say I’ve seen every one of your films. I’m your biggest fan."
"All of them?" She didn't sound surprised or interested.
"Maybe half. But some twice."
"People don’t remember. Counting bit parts I’ve played in thirty movies. Thirty. How many you remember? You see Asphalt Jungle? That was my best."
She’d only played a minor role, I couldn’t understand the choice. I got up and walked across to the walnut-veneer radio telling her "Yeah, I had to go over South Broadway to catch a rerun of Asphalt Jungle. But it was certainly worth it." I turned the radio on, waited for the tube to warm. It was the small-audience classical station we’d filled so much of our tapes with. I twisted the dial, tuned into Little Eva singing the Locomotion, volume up, blanketing the bugs. "What I would like to know, Miss Monroe, is what John Kennedy told you?"
Marilyn stared at me. Head back. Blank, blue eyes a little unfocussed. She might have wondered for a moment about the radio but she decided it was my problem.
"You really got a sister, Mr Watson?"
"I have a sister. My kid sister, she's called Sherri, couple of years younger."
"I only ask because I’ve got one too, only she’s older than me. Lives in Florida. I didn’t know anything at all about her, that she existed even, until I was oh, around 12 maybe. So we’re more like sisters now than strangers but not real family because…, you know, we didn’t grow up together. It was just one of those accidents of childhood things. Bernice, that’s her name. Bernice Miracle since she married. Isn’t that a wonderful name?"
She took the empty whisky glass out of my hand and went out of the room again walking carefully so the door-frame didn’t catch her unawares. There were a lot of questions I wanted to ask but her sister’s name wasn’t on the list. What I needed to know was why the White House wasn’t answering her calls after that performance laying-it-out at JFK’s birthday binge. Then I was more than a little concerned about the spooks who were watching her, and who had those bugs in her attic.
I’d seen these things before. A different country with different people, but the bystanders the machine rolled over always bled the same. I needed to know exactly what I was involved in. Who was laying the honey trap, which arm of authority or power. I knew they must have deeper motives than Twentieth Century Fox.
I was feeling heated which is how I assumed my glass had emptied so quick. I stood up, walked around, picked up a few volumes from the bookcase as distraction from wondering what I was really doing here. The books were a jumble, no apparent method or order. Albert Camus’s The Fall was next to The Little Engine That Could. I flipped through a broken-spined How Stanislavsky Directs by Michael Gorchakov trying to make sense of the annotations she’d made in the margins.
When she came back and pushed the second glass of scotch into my hand I asked, "What did he tell to impress you, Miss Monroe? Because whatever sweet little indiscretion the President of the United States whispers over the pillow is going to cause a lot more trouble than some hairdresser shooting his mouth off over dark roots."
"Anyone ever tell you how rude and uncouth you are, Mr Watson?"
"It was a straight question." Mascara was smeared on her cheekbones like she’d been rubbing her eyes.
"I really don’t like this conversation. And I need to get some sleep. Do you mind if I ask you to drink up and leave?"
"Did he tell you something no one else knows? Maybe something about Cuba. What the CIA are doing there? The Russians? All the President’s secrets?"
That was when she changed. This tired, thirty-six year old woman. Underneath she was just a little girl, that's all. So vulnerable and the wide, innocent eyes looked up and trusted me and the full, red lips quivered just so I hardly noticed the moment but badly needed to help her all the same.
She brushed past, Chanel 5 and warm flesh, and turned the radio off. No distractions. She asked in her small, choked voice "Mr Watson?"
Like a cut from one reel to another. The way Carmen used to switch when she seriously wanted something I couldn’t afford. She had turned the magic on faster than you knew. But magic fades, or I was older. I leant towards Marilyn and whispered "What did John Kennedy tell you about Cuba?"
Breasts heaved and the thin, white silk of her dressing gown might as well not been there. "I think you're a cruel man."
"I'm trying to help."
"Supposing I was in bad trouble, like that time in Beverly Hills only a hundred times worse and more insidious. Would you help me again? No matter whoever was hurting me?"
"I’d like to think so."
"Who do you work for, Mr Watson?"
"You're in deep, Miss Monroe. People are taking this beyond limits it's safer not to venture. I just advise you to get out of the situation fast as you can. You’re an actress, Miss Monroe. Go back to the Studio. Make movies."
"You’re no journalist. Not even a show-business one."
"Listen to me."
"Are you working for Bobby?"
"Robert Kennedy? I really couldn't say. I might not even know. What does it matter who? Believe me I have your interests at heart."
What I needed to know was why I was mixed up in affairs the Attorney General took a personal interest in.
"Those bastards are passing me round, Mr Watson."
"It could get worse. Look, I think it’s getting worse right now. You need to get out from this."
"Oh I’m getting out all right. Let them try and make trouble if they think they’ve got so much influence with the studio. I can fight back. I'm not taking any threats or innuendoes."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"I'm getting out. I’m going to Calneva. You know Calneva?"
"I’ve got friends with influence."
I waited but she’d turned her attention back to her tea-cup.
"You keep the piano in the orphanage?"
She looked at me. "No, I couldn’t do that. It got sold to pay debts. After my mother died. It all went. I didn’t have anything at all."
"Must have meant a lot to you if you found it again, bought it back."
"It’s a famous piano. Frederic March’s piano. Fame gravitates."
I nodded. Fame stirred up trouble as well, did a whole lot of things. It kept itself busy.
Marilyn stared helplessly at the piano. "Only I can’t play it right because I’ve got these hands like duck feet." She held them up like fists. She was clutching a balled-up handkerchief streaked with black mascara.
"You could have fooled me."
"I've never fooled anyone. I've let people fool themselves. That's the truth."
"These friends with influence. Are these the same ones introduced you to the Kennedys?"
She rubbed the balled-up handkerchief over her eyes then threw it either at the floor or at me, it didn’t go far. She said slowly and quietly "Fuck you, Mr Watson," turned and walked unsteadily down the corridor to her bedroom. I heard the door slam and the lock turn clumsily. After a while I picked up the soiled handkerchief, there was a tiny, embroidered rose in one corner. I put it carefully in my pocket and let myself out.
I went back to my apartment and started to wrap my ideas around a bottle of warm liquor until the thoughts might make some sense. I had a lot to think over that night. About one in the morning Ronald Reagan phoned. I didn’t think to ask how he got my home number. He didn’t ask if I was asleep.
"We talked at Sol Marx’s house. I recall you said you were interested in Marilyn Monroe."
After a moment’s more thought I admitted "Yeh, I’m interested in what she’s doing, why she’s doing it."
"Maybe you should be aski
"I sort of guessed for herself."
"She’s never been a loner. Maybe I should say she’s never been full enough of her own self-belief she could survive without someone to look up to for direction."
"Really? What I heard is she has real problems with directors."
Reagan chuckled. It was a good sound, made me feel as if I’d said something amusing. "No, I don’t mean movie directors. More like she needs some father figure in her life. You know the way I feel Patti Ann’s the most important person in the world? That’s how Marilyn needs people to feel about her. But every time she gets close to anyone they stop feeling that way."
"She’s got a lot of fans think she’s a goddess."
"You can’t look up to someone who’s looking up to you. She needs respected people to validate her, authority figures. But she keeps making bad calls. Like with Arthur Miller, she got taken in by the opinions of the liberal establishment. She's ambitious and too gullible and over serious. That last film of hers, The Misfits, I put a lot of the blame on Miller for turning her head. When Miller was under investigation by the House, refusing to name all the secret communist writers he’d associated with in Hollywood, Marilyn supported him all the way. She knew he had sympathies and she went ahead and married him. I just hope to God she never sets her sights on marrying Truman Capote. You know, pal, what I say is she should have worked harder at her relationship with DiMaggio. My bet is they could have made a real success. She just couldn’t have tried too hard."
That sincere actor’s voice, like listening to late-night radio when the jock gets philosophical.
"Or tried too long."
"Heck, Joltin' Joe was one of the great outfielders of baseball history, played ten World Series."
"Yes, sir. He did."
"Nicer guy you couldn’t hope to meet."
"That’s true. No doubt about it."
"And you know, I count him one of our authentic, American heroes. So how long did our Miss Monroe stick with him? Under a year that's how long. No darned time at all. Didn't give that marriage a fightin’ chance."
"Eight months," I said.
"Something like that. Must be close to six or seven years ago they divorced, with the Miller episode afterward and then all she’s gone through since. Well she lost her way back then, never found it again I’d say, keeps getting further off the track. And Joe still worships the ground she walks on."
"You could say that about a lot of men."
"Not if they're movie directors, pal. I recall from our last conversation you also seemed interested in the Kennedys."
"I’ve picked up there’s some relationships there might be relevant to my work."
"So would you be interested if I can maybe introduce you to someone who knows the truth behind some of the stories?"
"Who might that be?"
"Frank, can I rely on you to play straight?"
"Just show me the ball, Mr Reagan."
"Tell you the truth, after our last conversation I did some checking up on you."
"How were my references?"
"They were interesting. So if you’re serious about Marilyn then Richard Nixon wants to see you."
"The same Richard Nixon I think it is?"
"That’s the one."
"Used to be Vice-President?"
"Give me a day or two so I can sort some arrangements out. Hey, I'm not keeping you up am I?"
"No, sir." As if I was always on the phone in the early hours instead of sleeping like the Just.
"Enjoyed the conversation. Call me anytime." He put the phone down without leaving his number.
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes