Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About Marilyn


Again, a film rumbling through the theaters triggers a blog.  Like J. Edgar, My Week with Marilyn alights on an iconic personality, a name still smouldering with our secret emotions.  The focus, of course, is Marilyn Monroe.  From the moment she wriggled across the screen as Louis Calhern's vagrant mistress in The Asphault Jungle until she literally broke Clark Gable's heart in The Misfits, Marilyn inhabited our fantasies.  Bobby Kennedy would recall his brother Jack, helpless in yet another hospital bed, jacking off to a poster of the naked Marilyn plastered across his ceiling.

The Weinstein brothers have turned reimagining the secret anguish of the English upper classes into an late-life avocation.  What surprised me was how closely the Marilyn Monroe of this film touched on the celebrity herself -- succulent, as manipulative as an empress, apprehensive to the point of neurotic paralysis yet unable to keep from indulging every vagrant appetite.  The plot here concerns the shooting of a film in England, The Prince and the Showgirl, over the course of which Marilyn's bridegroom, Arthur Miller, gives up on her and returns to Manhattan while the star toys with a good-looking young English go-for.

Marilyn off the screen first came to my attention during the nineteen-eighties.  I was digging up the history of the CIA for The Old Boys.  During the 1950s Eisenhower's crusty Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was alarmed when the new postcolonial nations of the South Pacific attempted to coordinate their policies as "neutralists" at the Bandung Conference, which Dulles dismissed as "The Dark-Town Strutters Ball."  Their leader was Indonesian President Achmed Sukarno, a swart, wiry activist in a pitju well known to appreciate the ladies.  According to several sources, the CIA arranged a romp for a Sukarno look-alike with a very energetic blond, which the Agency filmed in Los Angeles and subsequently released around the workl to discredit the disobedient Indonesian before the upcoming elections.  What was an embarrassment to the Presbyterian Dulles was one more proof of their leader's boundless vitality to the Indonesian voters, which returned him to power with a much-expanded majority.  A rumor went around the Agency that Marilyn had done the CIA a favor.

I suppose that nothing I have ever written has upset people as much as my treatment of the 1962 romance between Marilyn and Bob Kennedy in Bobby and J. Edgar.  Like everything else in that controversial book, each episode was built on very hard evidence.  Testimony by Ethel Kennedy's brother is backed up by interview and written material from Peter Lawford.  I myself spent a day with the FBI agent who accompanied Bob around Los Angeles much of that fateful summer.  The details of how Marilyn died is revealed in the important book, Double Cross, by Sam Giancana's brother and stepson.  The Los Angeles Coroner's report -- declassified recently, after forty years -- corroborates the Giancanas' insistence that Marilyn succumbed to a lethel enema.

Like incontrovertible proof that JFK died in a crossfire in Dallas, the final infatuation and murder of Marilyn Monroe elicits disbelief in many.  Americans these days operate according to the precept:  "This can't be true because I don't want it to be true."  At times readjusting reality gets to be a lot of work.  Nevertheless, over the long run, the truth turns out to be a lot easier to live with.  But this is something we are only now beginning to discover.

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