Marilyn Monroe: Confidential

Lena Pepitone has admitted that this book was fabricated. So please do not take everything in it as truth. It portrays Marilyn in a very bad light. How anyone could remember all the detailed conversation so many years after the fact is beyond me. The biggest reason to doubt Pepitone's account is the fact that her English is very poor. I doubt very much that communication between herself and Marilyn is the way is appears in the book. I met Lena in 2005 and I could barely understand anything she said.

Don't waste your money on this book.

Author Lena Pepitone and William Stadiem
Publisher Simon and Schuster
Cover Type Hardcover
Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5 inches
Publish Date 1979
Signed by Lena Peptione
Number of Pages 222


When President and Mrs. Kennedy entered the White House in January 1961, one of the first pieces of business they decided upon was that all hired help, from the White House usher to John-John’s nanny, would sign an agreement forbidding them from writing about the First Family. Seems all bets were off once the President was killed as ever since the autumn of 1963 bookstores have been filled with such books as Maude Shaw’s White House Nanny and J. B. West’s Upstairs at the White House. One can wish that Marilyn Monroe would have followed the same course but then, once the summer of 1962 rolled around, Lena Pepitone would have followed in the steps of John-John’s nanny and the Chief Usher anyway.

 I read Marilyn Monroe Confidential back when it first came out and I can still recall the excitement of buying the book. Back in the late Seventies I’d read Guiles and Mailer and Murray and was eager for more. And if this was the real thing, a true glimpse inside Marilyn’s life, I couldn’t wait to get home and indulge. I was hoping for an author to bring Marilyn back to life, to let me in on what her day to day life had been, something that would allow me access to her true character. See, by the time I bought Marilyn Monroe Confidential, even if I’d been a fan since I’d been a toddler, I so wanted to know more about her, know her. My feelings back then were that Mailer was great but only because of the pictures; Guiles was fantastic but I wanted to read something by someone who’d actually known her; Mrs. Murray worked for her but didn’t really know Marilyn, if you get what I mean. I’d yet to hear about Norman Rosten’s book and Susan Strasberg and Berniece Miracle hadn’t written theirs yet. Settling down with Pepitone, I was ready to actually learn about Marilyn first hand.

 Now all these years later I decided to read the book a second time, thinking maybe my original disappointment had been rash. I rationalized this second reading by telling myself that I wanted to write something for the group but couldn’t trust opinions I might have held twenty-seven years ago, (man, does that make me feel old!). And, since I now knew so much more about Marilyn’s life, could accept the good with the bad and was prepared for the many “warts” Pepitone seemed to dwell upon, I figured I might be in for a surprise. Could be that I had been so overwhelmed by the negative that I had overlooked all the positive memories Ms. Pepitone likely held for her past employer.

 Lena Pepitone was hired as Mrs. Arthur Miller’s personal maid in 1957 and from her accounting of their very first morning together, the reader is tipped off that this is not going to be a “friendly” memoir. When right off the bat Pepitone has Mrs. Miller slugging back the Bloody Marys in an apartment that reminds her of a hotel, she has set the tone for what is to follow. And that those chapters that follow are nearly 80% dialogue, (and being that this is 1979 remembering conversation of over twenty years prior, the savvy reader might be tipped off that a very sizable grain of salt might be recommended), the only thing I can say for sure is Lena Pepitone is no W.J. Weatherby. Read as a novel, Marilyn Monroe Confidential might be fun, if defamatory trash. That the book is presented as “one that clears up many of the myths about Marilyn Monroe” sets it on another level altogether – and makes it very difficult to brush off as another fictionalized account of what life might have been like with the sex symbol of the ages.

 When Susan Strasberg writes of a memory of a Marilyn clearly addicted to prescription drugs, the heart goes out to both Marilyn and Ms. Strasberg. When a former maid is stating the same and presenting a picture of Monroe as ill kempt, smelling of body odor and walking around with menstrual stains, the heart does not go out to the woman presenting her memories but to the woman who is being depicted, rightly or wrongly, accurately or not. If this is all a bunch of bull, then shame on Ms. Pepitone for suckering those people who only wish to read about a woman they feel close to. If it is all true, double shame on Ms. Pepitone for turning on someone no longer alive to defend herself, for filling page after page of scenes and descriptions of a woman even I wouldn’t want to meet.

 And perhaps that is the main problem with the book. This is not June DiMaggio sneaking under the yellow police tape to retrieve a pizza tin. This isn’t Robert Slatzer burning a marriage license in some backwater Mexican town. This isn’t Jeanne Carmen weeping over her very best friend ever. This is a woman who served as Marilyn’s maid and you’d think she would have a bit more respect for her employer, if not for herself. For that’s the feeling one comes away with. Not that Marilyn was a woman deeply in need of some deodorant but that Lena Pepitone sold out someone who likely thought of her as a friend. And for what? A cheap book that sheds no light on the human aspects of a woman trying to keep her head above water in a very difficult period of her life. The book was far from a bestseller. That in itself is sad enough – that Pepitone has seemingly wracked her brain for the nastiest memories she could come up with and the thing didn’t even sell all that much. Would I have thought more of her had the book sold in the millions? No. But I would imagine she wouldn’t have felt so bad afterwards. At least, I hope she felt bad.

 Over the years I have read many things about Ms. Pepitone, most of them centering on the idea that Pepitone could barely speak English while working for Marilyn and as such, all of the dialogue in the book, all of the things Marilyn supposedly confessed to her maid, are likely products of Ms. Pepitone’s imagination. Or, even more likely, her co-author, William Stadiem. Having dealt with those in the publishing world, I know how hard it can be to get something into print. Ask Ralph Roberts – his manuscript, Mimosa, was turned down as it was “too tame.” Ask Robert Slatzer. He was turned down too until told that it was a shame he didn’t have a hook, like if he had, say, been married to Marilyn Monroe.

 I’ve no idea what Ms. Pepitone is like, what her command of English truly is, or even if what she reports in her book is true or made up for the same reason Mailer introduced the Kennedy name to his Marilyn, (as he confessed on 60 Minutes, “I needed the money.”). But I do know I came away from her book not disliking Monroe, but very much disliking Ms. Pepitone. For all of her playing confidante to Marilyn, for all her memories of the woman seriously in need of a bath, Pepitone is the true loser here. Rather than finding in her heart a warmth for the troubled woman she knew, she went for the easy buck and presented Marilyn Monroe as Neely O’Hara -- a strident, smelly, and not all that nice boss. One would think that if in the company of Marilyn Monroe for the length of time Pepitone states, one would learned some form of compassion. Sure, she writes of sobbing at the news of Marilyn’s passing, but by that point even the most naïve reader would cry “crocodile tears.”

 By the end of the book one does not come away thinking “poor Lena, having to put up with all that!” Nope, even one who is not a Monroe fan can not finish this book without thinking, “Poor Marilyn, if she’d only used another agency and found another maid!”

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