She was 19 and just Norma Jean when we worked together at the Los Angeles munitions factory. We spray painted Radioplanes. She had her moods, but she was a nice girl, usually. In our off time, we went to the pictures and strutted around Hollywood in hopes of being the next big thing. Norma Jean was mad about Clark Gable. He was, she said, a real man.
Then she started modeling and got noticed by Hollywood. They fixed her nose, bleached her hair and changed her name. She didn’t like Marilyn, said it was a common name.
Sometimes she would phone. She hated Hollywood. Hated playing Marilyn. She was going to make a fortune, get out, find a real man and have three kids. She had read a lot about Jean Harlow and said Hollywood had killed her. She hadn’t gotten out in time. This was in 1950, just after “The Asphalt Jungle” had come out. Her first big break. Her body, not her name, appeared on the movie poster. She thought she could control things. Then she vanished into Hollywood and we lost touch.
Sometimes I would go to the premiers of her movies. She always came as Marilyn in a tight dress, blonde hair piled high, luscious red, red lips. She wiggled and blew kisses and would stand in a doorway, her back against the frame, moving slowly down and then up again. Like a caress. One night, I got my courage up and stopped her and asked her for an autograph. She squealed and hugged me, asked how I was. I told her I had found my real man and had three kids.
“What?” She said. Then signed “Marilyn Monroe”, hugged me again and disappeared into a limousine. As the car pulled away, she tapped on the window and held up three fingers. I nodded and she grinned and sat back in the seat.
She called now and then to ask about the kids. She said I was the only normal person she knew. One year, out of the blue, she came by with Christmas presents. Over the years, I mostly saw her from the back of a growing swarm of fans. Her dresses got tighter, lower cut. Her hair bigger and blonder. She had problems. Big ones that sometimes crushed her down. Everyone said she was difficult to work with. Joe DiMaggio came and went. Arthur Miller said she was nuts and divorced her. The last time I talked to her she said she hated Elizabeth Taylor and that she was moving to New York. She was drunk.
In 1962, I read she had been fired from a movie. She had been difficult, erratic. And she was 36 and no longer fresh faced. Elizabeth Taylor was.
The last time I saw her, she was coming out of a Beverly Hills drug store dressed in old jeans and a wrinkled linen shirt. Her face was pale, her lips thin and colorless. She drifted by as I was sitting at the window counter of an ice cream shop. Then she was gone.
She died a week or so later. Overdose of sleeping pills. Naked in her bed.
I didn’t understand the why of it at first. But now I think that she just got tired of playing Marilyn. But Marilyn was all there was left.