Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Memoir of Marilyn Monroe by Sandi Gelles-Cole




“They say only the good die young and I guess it’s true because I’m still here. Today is my eighty-fifth birthday. During these years I have lived three lives: Before Marilyn, Being Marilyn, and After.” So begins this tantalizing fictional memoir, speculating on what might have happened if Marilyn Monroe had survived that controversy shrouded August night in 1962 and faded into obscurity.

With the help of the Dimaggios—famous Joe and his son Joe Jr.—Marilyn survives the lethal enema and spends the rest of her life trying to escape her creation—Marilyn Monroe.

While the world mourns and speculates over her supposed suicide, her nude body found in a welter of white sheets with a phone clutched in her hand, Marilyn is taken to a safehouse, to detox, and begins the lifelong battle, to get, and remain, clean and sober.

She takes the name Cherie, from the character she played in Bus Stop, lets her bleached hair grow out, leaves off the makeup, and puts on a bra (Marilyn was famous for going braless and without panties too) and opts for a simple, no fuss wardrobe, and speaks in a normal voice instead of the famous breathy whisper. She begins learning to be a human being again instead of a movie star.

After Joe Dimaggio beats her up, because she won’t marry him again, Marilyn/Cherie starts moving. Her journey takes her from Northern Hollywood, to Florida, Cuba, New York, Rome, Spain, and ultimately back to her Hollywood roots again. There are AA meetings in church basements and a succession of lovers along the way, even a brief, experimental lesbian dalliance with a Dutch waitress/torch singer. Through it all, she never stops hoping her Prince Charming will come along and save her. She falls off the wagon and stays drunk for two years, returns to the platinum hair, glamour garb, and stiletto heels and the champagne and cocaine never stop. But a day finally comes when she hits rock bottom. An unkempt, unwashed bleached blonde with body odor is sitting in a bar, drinking whiskey and being chatted up by the man beside her, when on the TV screen above the bar shots ring out—JFK has just been assassinated in Dallas. For Marilyn/Cherie it’s a wakeup call. She never takes a drink or uses drugs again.

She gets herself together. Moves to New York, takes classes in Russian literature, and goes to AA meetings and movies alone or with people from the meetings who won’t put her in the way of temptation.

Middle age finds her back in California, not regretting disappearing from a life where people would have always expected her to be young, beautiful, and glamorous, she wears her hair in a honey blonde bob and does the Jane Fonda workout, and works for an animal shelter with a few forays back into show business as a Marilyn Monroe impersonator or singing in a cafe. 

At 74, when she least expects it, Prince Charming finally arrives, in the form of a retired lawyer and widower, with an adorable redheaded granddaughter, and Marilyn/Cherie becomes a prosperous Southern California wife dressed in tasteful but expensive designer clothes in neutral shades and kitten heels with a huge diamond on her now arthritic hand. But as Orson Welles once said, if you want a happy ending, it depends on where you end your story.

I won’t spoil the rest for you. But if you are a Marilyn Monroe fan or curious about what might have been if Marilyn had somehow managed to save herself, this is a good book to spend some time with.

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