This Is Hollywood, Isn’t It?
My Time with Marilyn
Apr 27 2012
A young, pre-bleach-blond Marilyn poses at a beach, location unknown. Likely taken in the late 1940s, during her early modeling career.
“Our friend John Hodiak,” she said, “would understand, and he would say they’re awful. He’s probably saying they’re so bad he can’t stand to see any more of it. That’s why he’s going to New York.”
I said I understood, but those moments I’d mentioned as being hypnotized were the ones that made it possible to do the other crap—certainly not that what she had done was remotely crap.
“Oh, it is crap!” she said loudly. “You know it is. We’re like fish in a dirty bowl.” Staring at me, she asked, “Where are you from?”
“LA,” I told her. “Born in General Hospital. Lived most of my life in Hollywood.”
“I was born in General Hospital,” she said. “In the charity ward.”
“That’s where I was born,” I said. “My mom was in labor and rode the streetcar downtown to the hospital. No money for a cab. She’d been a bit player at Metro—a pal of Jean Harlow.”
“That’s very strange,” Marilyn said. Her eyes seemed to shine, but shifted to a heavyset guy in blue gabardine coming toward us. She knew him but ignored him, and said to me, “I appreciate what you’ve said about being hypnotized, but are you saying hypnotized as if in a trance like a hypnotist puts you in?”
I felt like I’d blabbed myself into a corner. “If you want to look at it that way,” I said, “like if not hypnotized, then certainly captivated. A better word. Personally, as an actor I want to do something worthwhile, or like what you said about it.”
“What did I say?” she asked.
“You said ‘substantial.’ I know what you mean, like me wanting to play Montgomery Clift’s part in Red River.” She loved that film, she said. She loved Howard Hawks, even though he was always “getting mad” at her. She also loved Stagecoach, and she wanted “desperately” to do a picture with John Ford. She’d even dreamed of doing something like Pinky. “My hair is red in what I dream,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be black—” No, I said, it certainly doesn’t. “When one is hypnotized by a movie, do you suppose it opens something into a person’s self as they claim hypnotism is supposed to do?” she asked.
I said I imagined it could. “Like being in a kind of identity situation—”
“How do you mean ‘identity’?”
“Identifying with the character. Carrying it with you. Making it a part of your life, even if it’s only a yearning—”
“—for something better,” she finished for me. “What is the point of doing something if it’s not getting better? It’s like a person being sick in their bed and nobody comes to bring you even some toast.” I nodded, unsure what she meant. She continued, “I have to try this fucking number again,” and turned to the phone. She dialed long distance while I was looking at her shoulder and her neck. She got connected, and I politely moved aside.
The fat man’s face was blank as a pie tin; she was still ignoring him. He said her name several times, trying to get her away from the phone. They had to leave, he said. He smiled at me, and I said I was a friend of John Hodiak’s. “Oh?” he said. “Is John here?” I shook my head.
We waited while Marilyn completed a whispered, anxious monologue of a call, neither of us piecing together what she was saying. Finished, she said, “Fuck ’em. When someone is in doubt over something and they won’t try to understand, you have to say, ‘Fuck ’em.’”
The fat guy nodded, holding his hand out toward her, which she ignored. She whispered something and flashed a little smile—her demeanor instantly having snapped into a persona I’d seen on-screen. Even her voice changed. She dutifully started across the room toward a huddle that included Rocamora, Rory Calhoun, and Jean Howard.
After a few steps, she stopped. “Excuse me a sec,” she said to the fat guy, and held out her hand to me. I took it. “I’m glad you’re a friend of John’s,” she said. “He needs friends so awfully right now. I’d be a better friend, you know. I just love him, and it’s terribly sad what they’ve done at a time when he is so sad.”
I wondered if she meant his estranged wife, Anne Baxter, one of Fox’s stars who didn’t like Marilyn and wasn’t liked by Marilyn since All About Eve. She gave a quick kiss on my cheek, softly saying, “We must spend some time with John.”
I nodded, about to ask what was being done to John, but fatso said, “Marilyn… please?” She did a little backward wave to me, saying, “Ciao, la vedrò presto.”
Some weeks later, having brunch with Hodiak at Musso & Franks, he said, “Half the country’s being seduced by Marilyn. She’s the biggest moneymaker Fox has going. The world will be seduced, but the poor girl won’t find her place in it. She’s sweet, she’s shy, and she’s willful and narcissistic. She’s loaded with the equipment to make a mint for all those selling her, but, Jonathan, the girl’s in need.”
“What does she need?” I asked.
“You’re in the club now,” he said. “You find out and tell me.”
In truth, she’d bypass all speculation. When I told him about the Outpost party, about the couple times I’d seen her since, he used the word “snare,” a ploy of entrapment, “come-hither Italian words,” he said. “And there’s another word: ‘inveiglement.’”
I recall screwing up my face. “What’re you talking about?”
He smiled. “Seduction,” he said. “You’ve been seduced.”
“No, no,” I said. “It’s different than that. It’s this spiritual thing—it’s like connecting in a kind of inner way… It’s hard to put it into words.”
“I just did,” he said, nodding slowly, and kept on smiling.
Archival photos courtesy of John Gilmore
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