Goodbye, Marilyn

One hot summer, like the one that’s upon us, an icon died. I was just a kid, so you wouldn’t think it would have affected me much. But it did.


It was 1962. Marilyn Monroe died while I was at camp in the California mountains. I stared at the cabin rafters. Skipped the afternoon swim. Picked at my mess hall chow.

How can I explain why her death impacted me the way it did? She was older than my mother. 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. 11329522-some-like-it-hot-movie-posterI’d watched her sensuous faux-naiveté 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 (whatever that meant) all at the same time.

They say pizza 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 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.

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 saddest thing is that ultimately Norma Jean Baker, Marilyn Monroe’s creator, didn’t know herself.

Her platinum hair, her breathy voice, her teasing “I-don’t-realize-how-I’m-affecting-you” sensuality, Conov10were the conscious inventions of a comedic genius, once a smart middle school brunette who edited the school paper. 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 understood what people wanted, but not who she was.

Yes, Marilyn Monroe was the face of desire. But by the time I’d 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, but 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 Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Goodbye, Marilyn

  1. Eliza Ayres says:

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. yakpro2015 says:

    Hi Mitch, I was taken by your blog post on Marilyn however I have to disagree with you on”But the saddest thing is that Norma Jean Baker, Marilyn Monroe’s creator, never knew herself.”I believe Norma Jean knew herself quite well. Although broken, she was so very smart and was actually able to achieve quite a lot  (not just as an actor). She was her own producer, without apparent screen credit and made great breakthroughs on behalf of Ella Fitzgerald.  She understood  the system, what was expected of her and played the game and worked the game as well.  (I will never believe her death was suicide and there seems to be much evidence that it wasn’t.) She wanted to be the First Lady and JFK couldn’t let that happen. Good Catholic man that he was) BTW have you seen the photos of her in a dark wig, looking remarkably like Jackie? Sorry I digress… Recently, I had the opportunity to watch an online reading of “Marilyn, Mom and Me,” a play by Luke Yankee, son of Eileen Hackert. His mom costarred in “Bus Stop” with MM. His script is from his mom’s first hand experience and close relationship with MM. It is quite revealing as to just how smart this woman Norma Jean was. She had been abused her whole life, first in foster homes, the studios and her husbands. She wasn’t going to take it and fought the best way she could. One of her problems was the same as Rita Hayworth who said, “My husbands thought they went to bed with Gilda but woke up with Rita Cansino.” They thought they were marrying MM when they actually were marrying Norma Jean, an intelligent and formidable woman. It is most interesting to see what possessions she had in her home when she passed. Mostly books, some art. Not much in clothes or shoes or “things” actually pretty utilitarian by most standards. Susan Strasberg said, she could walk down the sidewalks of Manhatten with Norma Jean without anyone seeing Marilyn Monroe. However, Norma could “become Marilyn Monroe” and create a mob scene. She even talked about Marilyn Monroe in the second person. “You need to tell her…” “Who?” “Marilyn of course.”

    Thanks for reading.blessings dear friend.

    Joseph Yakovetic 4480 Powderhorn Place Drive Clermont, Florida 34711

    mobile: 909.241.6088

    SDG Soli Deo Gloria “To God Alone the Glory”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was born on Marilyn’s 19th birthday. That’s the only thing we share. In many ways she is a tough biographical subject. Complicated, beautiful woman. The facts on pizza and the analogy to Marilyn were, for me, the most creative portion of the memoir. Well said. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Michelle Denness says:

    I don’t think that she was ever broken-none of are broken but she truly did experience incredible highs and the saddest of lows. A beautiful woman and a lovely read… thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting post, Mitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. revruss1220 says:

    Elegantly said. She was truly a force to be reckoned with, but a deep enigma at the same time.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Love this post, Mitch! I also love the ending!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoyed your beautifully written tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Reading the varying perspectives in the comments was quite interesting as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. equinoxio21 says:

    And now she is “forever young”.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Judy Kim says:

    Great post, Mitch. Marilyn Monroe was both beautiful and intelligent, people misunderstood her intelligence. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  11. gpavants says:

    Hi Mitch,

    God knows how to ground our fantasy image of the perfect woman into a real one perfect for us.

    Thanks for sharing,


    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Summer Treats on Wheels! | Mitch Teemley

  13. She gave all of us one powerful message: never allow anyone or anything to tell you who and what you should be. A mask will kill you. Your true self will make you shine in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I really appreciate the respect and candor you treat her with here. Always an enigma to be sure, and a tragic ending.

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: The Year My Conscience Awoke | Mitch Teemley

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