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Before the Literary Bar

MAILER: I wasn’t trying just to sell copies, although I didn’t think the description would hurt sales—I’ll give you that much. What I was trying to do, however...

PROSECUTOR: We’re not interested in what you’re trying to do, Mr. Mailer, but in what you did.

THE COURT: Let him give it.

MAILER: I was trying to get across Miss Monroe’s sense of fun. She may not literally have been wearing no panties on that day, but it was in her nature to have been wearing none. I think she could certainly have been engaged in such a scene and have enjoyed it. So I chose to write it that way. It seemed right to me. That is what I must go by.

PROSECUTOR: I will continue with Exhibit A, page 24 to page 26.


After two days of such shopping, Amy said, “That’s it, kiddo. From now on, we stay in the St. Regis and have everything brought up.” I began to see how it worked. Some designers came by, friends of Amy’s; I could tell by the way she said the name of one that it was another case of Laurence Olivier, Milton Greene, Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, or Elia Kazan. First in category. So I said. “Oh, yes, Norman Norell, greatest dress designer in the world.” And he had a couple of the second-greatests with him—George Nardiello, John Moore. They were the nicest men. It was not only that they were well groomed and slim and fit into their clothes like a beautiful hand has gone inside a beautiful glove, but they were so happy inside their suits. It was like the person within themselves also had a good suit which was their own skin. Moreover, they liked me. I could tell. Oh. I felt open as a sponge. I knew they were going to help me. Norell said, “Marilyn, everyone has a problem. I have a friend who’s very ugly and she’s the princess of fashion in New York. She takes that ugliness and makes it dramatic.” Yet, he said, after she was done with her dress and coiffeur, she looked like a samurai warrior. You couldn’t take your eyes off her. Besides, she was smart enough to wear jewelry that clanked and gonged with every move she made. You could have been in a Chinese temple. “Her little beauty tricks, if tried on anyone else, would have been a disaster,” Norman Norell said and gave me my first lesson in style. “It’s not enough to find the problem,” he said, “and avoid it. Elegance is magic. The problem, presto, has to become the solution.”

Sure enough, Norman Norell got around to informing me very kindly that my neck was too short, only he didn’t put it that way. My neck, I was told, wasn’t that long. I wouldn’t be happy in a Vogue collar. Ruffles were death. “Let me,” he said, “show you a shawl collar.” I got it instantly. A nice, thin dinner-jacket set of lapels and a long V-neck. Society cleavage. I felt as if I had spent my life until that point being sort of very fluffy à la Hollywood. Now I could see the way Amy saw me with my head sitting on my shoulders like an armchair in the middle of a saggy floor. PROSECUTOR: Mr. Mailer, would you say your account of conversations between Miss Monroe and Mr. Norell is factual?

MAILER: Miss Monroe met Norman Norell, he designed dresses for her, he had many conversations with her. I attempted to capture the flavor of those conversations as they might have occurred. They are imaginary conversations, but, hopefully, not too far away in mood from what was said.

PROSECUTOR: Not too far away in mood. But not in fact. In fact, they have no relation to what was said.

MAILER: Most conversations are lost. We reconstruct the past by our recollection of the mood fully as much as by our grasp of fact. When facts are skimpy, one hopes to do well at sensing the mood.

PROSECUTOR: I will continue Exhibit A, pages 26 and 27.


Of course, this new interest in clothes had all started on the trip to Palm Springs, when I told Milton I wanted to be immensely respected and he told me, “First step: Don’t act like a slob.” He held up a finger. “Be a woman.”

“You say, ‘Don’t look like a slob.’”

“That dress you’re wearing,” said Milton. “It’s a shmatte.”

“A what...? No, don’t tell me.” I once saw a guy in a delicatessen spearing kosher pickles out of a barrel. That was what Yiddish sounded like to me. One more pickle on the prong.

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