August 17, 1962
A Last Long Talk With A Lonely Girl
by Richard Meryman
Only a few weeks before her death Marilyn
Monroe talked at length to LIFE Associate Editor Richard Meryman about the
effects of fame on her life. Her story was published in the August 3
issue. Here he recalls what Marilyn was like as she talked to him.
If Marilyn Monroe was glad to see you, her
"hello" will sound in your mind all of your life - the
breathless warmth of the emphasis on the "lo", her well-deep
eyes turned up toward you and her face radiantly crinkled in a wonderfully
I first experienced this when, after two
get-acquainted meetings in New York, I came in the late afternoon several
weeks ago to her Brentwood, Calif. home to begin a series of conversations
on fame. Expecting one of the famous waits for Marilyn, I sat on the soft
wall-to-wall carpet of the living room and began struggling to set up my
tape recorder. Suddenly, I became aware of a pair of brilliant yellow
slacks upright beside me. In the slacks was Marilyn, silently watching me
with a solicitous grin, very straight and slender with delicately narrow
shoulders. She seemed shorter than I remembered and she looked spectacular
in a loose-fitting blouse. I stood up and we greeted and she said,"Do
you want my tape recorder? I bought one to play the poems of a friend of
Before starting what was to be no less than
a six-hour talk, she wanted to show me her house which she had personally
searched out and bought. Describing it earlier she exclaimed, "...and
it has walls." She had refused LIFE any pictures of it,
saying, "I don't want everybody to see exactly where I live,
what my sofa or my fireplace looks like. Do you know the book Everyman?
Well, I want to stay just in the fantasy of Everyman."
It was a small, three-bedroom house built in
Mexican style, the first home entirely her own she had ever had. She
exulted in it. On a special trip to Mexico she had carefully searched in
roadside stands and shops and even factories to find just the right things
to put in it. The large items had not arrived - nor was she ever to see
them installed. As she led me through the rooms, bare and makeshift as
though someone lived there only temporarily, she described with loving
excitement each couch and table and dresser, where it would go and what
was special about it. The few small Mexican things - a tin candelabra,
folding stools ingeniously carved from single pieces of wood, a
leather-covered coffee table, tiles on the kitchen walls - revealed her
impetuous, charming taste. Separate from the house, attached to her
two-car garage, was a large room being converted to an apartment which
would be, she explained, "a place for any friends of mine who are in
some kind of trouble, you know, and maybe they'll want to live here where
they won't be bothered till things are OK for them."
Back in the house I remarked on the
profusion of flowers outside. Her face grew bright and she said, "I
don't know why but I've always been able to make anything grow." She
went on: "When I was married to Mr. Miller, we celebrated Hanukkah
and I felt, well, we should also have a Christmas tree. But I couldn't
stand the idea of going out and chopping off a Christmas tree."
In the living room, seated on a nondescript
chair and sofa, we went on talking-after Marilyn poured herself a glass of
champagne. At each question she paused thoughtfully. "I'm trying to
find the nailhead, not just strike the blow," she said. Then a deep
breath and out her thoughts would tumble, breathless words falling over
breathless words. Once she said, "One way basically to handle fame is
with honesty and I mean it and the other way to handle it when something
happens-as things have happened recently, and I've had other things happen
to me, suddenly, my goodness, the things they try to do to you, it's hard
to take - I handle with silence."
Her inflections came as surprising twists
and every emotion was in full bravura, acted out with exuberant gestures.
Across her face flashed anger, wistfullness, bravado, tenderness,
ruefulness, high humor and deep sadness. And each idea usually ended in a
startling turn of thought, with her laugh rising to a delightful squeak.
"I think I have always had a little humor," said Marilyn.
"I guess sometimes people just sort of questioned, 'does she know
what she's saying,' and sometimes you do all of a sudden think about
something else and you didn't mean to say it exactly. I'm pointing at me.
I don't digest things with my mind. If I did, the whole thing wouldn't
work. Then I'd just be kind of an intellectual and that I'm not interested
At this point I began to see that Marilyn
did nothing by halves. Of her millions of fans she said, "The least I
can is give them the best they can get from me. What's the good of drawing
in the next breath if all you do is let it out and draw in another?"
I could also see how important it was to her to feel that the person she
talked to "understood."
Understanding apparently meant being very
sympathetic, taking her side in everything, recognizing the nuances of her
meanings and valuing all that she valued, especially small things. When I
showed genuine enthusiasm for her house, she said, "Good, anybody who
likes my house, I'm sure I'll get along with."
But I had the constant, uneasy feeling that
my status with her was precarious, that if I grew the least bit careless,
she might suddenly decide the I, like many others she felt had let her
down, did not understand. Once I slangily asked her how she "cranked
up" to do a scene. I was instantly confronted by queenly outrage:
"I don't crank anything. I'm not a Model T. I think that's kind of
disrespectful to refer to it that way."
But I could not feel impatient with her
impatience. It was all so understandable as she talked about the people
who wrote columns and stories about her: "They go around and ask
mostly your enemies. Friends always say, 'Let's check and see if this is
all right with her.'" And then she added wistfully: "You know,
most people really don't know me." There was grief in her eyes when
she described how she had once found her stepson Bobby Miller hiding a
magazine containing a lurid article about her, and how Joe DiMaggio Jr.
used to be taunted at school because of her.
"You know, ha, ha, your stepmother is
Marilyn Monroe, ha, ha, ha. All that kind of stuff." And there was
yearning in her voice as she returned over and over again to "kids,
and older people and workingmen" as a source of warmth in her life,
as the unthreatening people who treated her naturally, whom she could meet
spontaneously. I felt a rush of protectiveness for her; a wish - perhaps
the sort that was the root of the public's tenderness for Marilyn - to
keep her from anything ugly and hurtful.
Before I left late that night, she asked to
be sent a transcript of the interview. "I often wake up in the
night," she explained, "and I like to have something to think
When I arrived the next afternoon for a
second session she immediately asked to postpone our talk. She was tired
out, she said, from negotiations with 20th Century Fox over resumption of Something's
Got To Give. But she hospitably offered me a drink and we chatted. She
was obviously upset. But there was no hint of morose despair. She was
electric with indignation and began talking angrily about how studios
treat their stars. Then she paused, said she needed something to help
overcome her tiredness and got a glass of champagne. I asked if she had
ever wished that she were tougher. She answered, "Yes - but I don't
think it would be very feminine to be tough. Guess I'll settle for the way
We were interrupted when her doctor arrived.
Marilyn bounded out to the kitchen, returned with a little ampule, and
holding it up to me said, "No kidding, they're making me take liver
shots. Here, I'll prove it to you." By then she was willing to talk
on, and it was nearly midnight when Marilyn jumped up and announced she
was going to throw a steak on the grill. She came back to say there was no
steak and no food at all. Before I left one of the last things she said
was, "With fame, you know, you can read about yourself, somebody
else's ideas about you, but what's important is how you feel about
yourself - for survival and living day to day with what comes up."
Over the weekend Marilyn was scheduled to
pose for pictures so I suggested we eat breakfast before her noon
appointment. She agreed and I arrived on Saturday at 10. I rang the
doorbell repeatedly. No answer. But through the window I could see a man
sitting in her little glassed-in porch, reading a magazine with the bored
patience of somebody who had been there a long time. I waited and rang for
about 10 minutes, then went away for an hour. At 11 my ring was answered
by Marilyn's housekeeper, Mrs. Murray, who took me to wait in a guest room
just off a tiny hall from Marilyn's bedroom. At noon Mrs. Murray took a
tray of breakfast in to her. Shortly afterward Marilyn came out and said
I then became a witness to the fabled
process of Marilyn preparing for an appointment - and being four hours
late for it. The patient gentleman was her hairdresser, Mr. Kenneth. While
he worked on her and she sat under the dryer I could hear uproarious
laughter. Then, in her curlers, she made little barefooted errands about
the house and in and out of her room, phone calls, visits to me to ask if
I was comfortable, all busy bustling, getting nothing done. There was none
of the fearful moping and preening in front of mirrors I had heard so much
about. She was entirely cheerful and utterly disorganized. I could not
help feeling that what some people blamed on stagefright might partly be
her endless debt to time. The necessary mechanics of daily living were
beyond her grasp; she always started out behind and never caught up.
Finally she was almost ready and she came
tripingly into the room where I sat. She wore high heels, orange slacks, a
brassiere, and held an orange blouse carelessly across her bosom. "Do
I look like a pumpkin in this outfit?" she asked. She looked
wonderful. "You'll set the fashion industry ahead 10 years." I
said. She was very pleased and answered, "You think so? Good!"
Two days later I called Marilyn for another
appointment to talk over the final draft of her story. She said,
"Come anytime, like, you know, for breakfast." There was in her
voice a note which I had come to recognize - an appealing eagerness to
please. I came again at 10 and once again she slept till noon. Finally we
sat down together on a tiny sofa. She was barefooted, wearing a robe, and
had not yet washed off last night's mascara. Her delicate hair was in a
sleep-tumbled whirl. But she had made me feel this was a compliment.
"Friends," she had said, "accept you the way you are."
As was usual, her face was very pale. She held the manuscript high in
front of her eyes and carefully read it aloud, listening to every phrase
to be sure it sounded exactly like her.
She kept the manuscript and I returned for
it late that afternoon. On the steps of the house she showed me changes
she had penciled in, all of them small. She asked me to take out a remark
about quietly giving money to needy individuals. And then we said goodbye.
As I walked away she suddenly called after me, "Hey, thanks." I
turned to look back and there she stood, very still and strangely forlorn.
I thought then of her reaction earlier when I had asked if many friends
had called up to rally round when she was fired by Fox. There was silence,
and sitting very straight, eyes wide and hurt, she had answered with a
-Transcribed by Melinda