This Is Hollywood, Isn’t It?

My Time with Marilyn

By John Gilmore

Taken in the early 1950s, around the time she starred in The Asphalt Jungle with Sterling Hayden and Louis Calhern. She was an unknown at the time, and it turned out to be a small but key role in launching her career. 

Next came Wynn Rocamora’s soiree on Outpost Drive, and Marilyn in an alcove, tugging on the telephone cord. It was not long after I’d met her on Doheny. Rocamora tended a flock of stars, plus promising would-be’s like myself. He said he wasn’t Marilyn’s agent, but he was “working on it.” 

I smiled—she remembered me; didn’t recall my name, just said, “You’re John Hodiak’s friend.” I said yes, told her my name though wasn’t sure it logged in. I’d learn she didn’t forget things, or rather fixed faces in her mind with some label that she wouldn’t shake. I was “John Hodiak’s friend”—she introduced me that way. John was a mentor to me, and not the kind of “friend” typically understood in Hollywood terminology. 

Having trouble with the phone, Marilyn said, “Every time I call, the damn line is busy.” Flustered, she said she’d call the operator to interrupt the busy signal. I asked if she did that often. She said, “Otherwise I’m not able to reach the person when you have to talk.” She dialed the long-distance operator again to try the number before asking if I’d seen Hodiak lately. “He’s going to New York,” she said. I nodded. “John’s an admirable person,” she said, then hung up the phone. “Line’s still busy!” She stretched her upper lip practically under her front teeth. From then on I noticed this tic more often: Her fingers against her upper lip, gently tapping, accenting her thinking or not wanting to show her teeth when speaking. No reason to hide her wonderful teeth. It made me think of my former agent, Henry Willson, who said my teeth were small, needing porcelain caps, or should be extracted and replaced with a partial. 

Marilyn would also often pull on her upper lip as she spoke, sort of tucking it against the edge of her front teeth, the tip of her tongue easing against it. I figured maybe her rationale was that by lengthening her upper lip, it made her nose appear smaller—even though her nose was beautiful. Doing this caused her to lisp. She had several unusual ideas about her appearance—commercially the most important thing about Marilyn—but she really didn’t have to do anything. She could stand completely still and just let the magnetic waves radiate. 

She was staring at me and fiddling with the telephone cord. Laughter from the main room seemed to unnerve her. It looked like she was hiding. Unsure of what to say as I stared at her, I congratulated her on the work she did in the film Niagara. I mentioned the earlier movies she’d made and her eyes widened, her lip was going up and she put two fingers against her mouth. “They were terrible!” she said. “You can’t be serious. They keep coming at me.” 

Keeping us moving, I asked what picture she’d be doing next. “Oh, shit,” she said, “I don’t know. I don’t honestly have an idea why I’m doing what I’m doing. It doesn’t look good or substantial…” 

I said I thought she was great in whatever she did—even the earlier movies. I told her I’d been to Fox on Let’s Make It Legal, but “Robert Wagner got the part. Richard Sales said I was too young to be married to Barbara Bates—”

Marilyn laughed. “That’s baloney! That’s the part I was supposed to have—the one Barbara Bates did. I tested for the goddamn role and they had me at wardrobe! Richard Sales is an asshole.” Her eyes flashed. “What I did back then anyone could have put up cardboard, and it could’ve been me.” 

“I thought you were great,” I said. “So convincing in Niagara, I was hypnotized.”

Staring at me in that odd manner, her eyes intense but easing, she said, “It’s times like you’re saying that are rewarding, when someone says such a thing as you’ve just said—being hypnotized…” She sighed, yanking a little on the phone cord. She said she was working so much that she wasn’t even sure what she was doing because it was all so terrible. “Not the work—I mean the demands—the crowding at me all around. Working too hard, and yet they want to string me out on a limb. It’s terrible.”

I wasn’t sure what, exactly, was so terrible, but I said, “That’s Hollywood, isn’t it?”