Goodbye, Marilyn


Marilyn Monroe died while I was at camp in the Southern California mountains. I stared at the cabin rafters. Skipped the afternoon swim. Picked at my mess hall chow.

I mourned.

How can I explain, even to myself, why her death impacted me the way it did? She was older than my mother. And yet her sad-gleeful eyes, her spun glass hair and Birth of Venus figure were ageless. I’d been stealing glances at her infamous Playboy centerfold in a dirty old man’s garage ever since I started delivering newspapers, and desired her with a desire that had no name. 11329522-some-like-it-hot-movie-posterI’d watched her sensuous faux-naivete obliterate everything else onscreen in Some Like it Hot (still one of my favorite films), and longed to protect her and be naughty with her all at the same time.

They say pizza is the ultimate food because it combines all the essences our palates crave: savory, sweet, chewy, crispy. Marilyn Monroe combined all the essences the masculine palate craves: breathtaking beauty—someone to worship; yarn-chasing glee—someone to play with; in-heat sexuality—someone to desire and, even more importantly, be desired by. When she sang “Happy birthday, Mr. President” every man wanted to be John F. Kennedy, not because he was the most powerful person on the planet, but because Marilyn Monroe desired him.

But perhaps her most compelling—and real—trait was her vulnerability. Everyone, even women, wanted to protect her, to help Norma Jean find her way home.  But she never did.

Elton John’s song “Candle in the Wind” begins, “Goodbye, Norma Jean, though I never knew you at all…” But the sad thing is that Norma Jean Baker, Marilyn Monroe’s creator, never knew herself.

Like Archie Leach, the cockney music hall comic who turned himself into Cary Grant, she invented an on-screen persona that was far from who she was. The platinum hair, the breathy voice, the teasing “I-don’t-realize-how-I’m-affecting-you” sensuality, Conov10were the conscious inventions of a comedic genius, once a clever middle school brunette who wrote for the school paper and was voted “The Oomph Girl.” Born to a schizophrenic mother, eventually becoming a ward of the state, bouncing from foster home to foster home (she tried for years to find her father), she knew what people wanted, but not who she was.

So, while Marilyn Monroe was the face of desire, by the time I reached high school I was beginning to want to know girls for who they actually were. Indeed, to help them discover who they were, even as they helped me discover who I was. So my first girlfriend wasn’t a Marilyn, she was a Norma Jean. And the girl I married was a Norma Jean, a smart, creative and, yes, beautiful woman who knows herself.

I still mourn Marilyn.

But it’s Norma Jean I love.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, Memoir, Popular Culture & Entertainment and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Goodbye, Marilyn

  1. Erika Kind says:

    That was lovely and touching, Mitch. We don’t need to know people personally to have a connection to them. I totally understand you. I mourned and still do about MJ.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. DoesItEvenMatterWhoIAm? says:

    What a wonderful tribute! ♡

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Marilyn impacted just about everyone, didn’t she. Even years after her death, we mourned the beautiful young woman who seemed to have everything, but never found stable, long-lasting love. In the final analysis, it’s the latter that matters–not the fame and fortune. And it’s the firm, eternal love of Jesus, that matters most of all. Each person must decide: Do we accept, or reject?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Very interesting. This reminds me of what happened here in the UK when Princess Diana died. It was so strange – we, the reserved, non-gushing British nation genuinely mourned someone we’d never met (there was still no gushing, just a quiet solemnity). The whole nation watched the funeral on the telly and millions lined the route of the funeral procession. We signed books of condolence and lit candles and left flowers; it was surreal. I think, somehow, we were mourning something of ourselves, something that was intangible, that had never really existed, but that we collectively identified with.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. jacobemet says:

    Great open, vulnerable, honest piece here. I admire your honesty most of all. It’s relatable and reflective. Keep em coming, Mitch.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Norma Jean was 36 years old. Many of people die young. So sad.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks. I think you’ve exactly caught the essence of her attraction and why on screen it will never die. Beautiful women are always on film but the combination of qualities she had is very rare. Regards Thom.

    Liked by 2 people

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  9. Lucie says:

    It was (and still is) for me her vulnerability….as a woman, part of me wanted to dislike her because she was so darn beautiful and because her sexuality enticed every hot-blooded male that I knew/know, but what really “got to me”, what really “touched me deeply” was the innocence underneath the physical beauty…in some ways, she reminds me of Judy Garland, a beautiful, talented woman, used by the movie industry and then “taken too soon”……Nice piece, Mitch…. 🙂


  10. Paul S says:

    The thing about Marilyn is that she was beautiful. And for the most part, she always had a huge smile on her face. But we all know how her story ends. It’s not with a smile. Yet her smile is so truthful. It seeps right into you.
    You can be the most beautiful person in the world, but still, when you come at home at night and you need a hug, you don’t know who to trust. How can that be? Marilyn was as human as the rest of us, but we expected more. I guess that’s why it’s such a sad story.
    Marilyn is a symbol of everything that is beautiful. You don’t have to be blonde and sexy to be beautiful; you just need to have a heart. We loved Marilyn’s heart more than anything.

    “Goodbye Norma Jean,
    from the young man in the 22nd row,
    who sees you as something more than sexual,
    more than just our Marilyn Monroe”.

    Except it’s isn’t goodbye, because Marilyn Monroe will live forever.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I recently watched a documentary about Marylyn and their conclusion was she didn’t commit suicide but was done in by the Kennedy’s…it was like hearing about her death for the first time. You know, we ladies loved her too. When I was a girl, we all wanted our hair and make-up to be like hers. She reflected something everyone wanted. Even now, my grandsons are in love with her and when they see pictures and posters they say, “There’s that really beautiful lady again!”

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. JulieAnn says:

    How gorgeous! Singer Kylie Minogue reminds me so much of Marilyn – that snazzy sexy yet shy demeanour. Maybe we feel a connection to her because she represents the tender, caring and compassionate nature in us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. mitchteemley says:

    Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:

    Marilyn Monroe died 54 years ago. I still mourn her. But it’s Norma Jean I love.


  15. I’m sure Marilyn would be so very touched by your tribute. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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