New York Magazine

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Before the Literary Bar

“You want to be the greatest actress in the world,” said Milton, “but you’re exhibiting neither class nor taste. They call you a dumb blonde, and they are getting away with it. You have to carry yourself different. Don’t walk around like you’re nothing. Never forget you have something fantastic on the screen.”

That was now prominent in my thoughts after meeting Norman Norell. I felt as if I was getting out from the carpet I had been living under all my life. I was beginning to see that class was not beyond me, nor was I beneath it.

PROSECUTOR: Would you say Miss Monroe’s conversation with Milton Greene is also based on skimpy facts?

MAILER: Less skimpy. I take it from Mr. Greene’s recollection. Of course, his conversations with Miss Monroe were held more than 25 years ago. In my case, I am not trying to delineate a boundary line between fact and fiction here. In this book, I want to explore the elusive nature of a most talented woman and artist.

PROSECUTOR: Let me now conclude Exhibit A with the rest of page 27.

It was the scene in The Seven Year Itch where I stand over a subway grating and my skirts blow up. Now I guess the studio had given me a white shmatte that night and tight white panties, and my hair had a hundred marcelled waves, and I certainly had no neck and lots of back and shoulders, where I was pleasantly plump, to say the least, but I paid no attention. I threw caution to the winds, which is one cliché I could die saying and hold it in my arms, I can’t help it, give me a ton of caution to throw to the winds. There were 2,000 people on the street, watching, and they had a million whistles. All the while Joe D. was on the outskirts of the crowd dying because he knew the secret of acting. Maybe it was because he was a ballplayer, but he knew it didn’t have to be false when you acted that you were in love; sometimes it was real, and when that happened, it could be more real than anything else. So I guess he knew—no secrets between husband and wife; that’s what the ceremony is for—guess he knew I was feeling a little moist every time my skirt blew up. Immortality would be immortalized if I ever took those white panties off. It’s true, I wanted to throw myself to the crowd.

PROSECUTOR: Mr. Mailer, did your researches bring you to ask various friends of Miss Monroe’s if, on this occasion when her skirts were flying, she wanted, and I quote from your text, “to throw myself to the crowd?”

MAILER: No, I asked no one.

PROSECUTOR: To your knowledge, she told no friends of such a feeling?


PROSECUTOR: Never mentioned it to you?

MAILER: I never met her.

DEFENSE: Would the court instruct my client that he need only answer the prosecutor’s questions. He does not have to add supplementary information.

THE COURT: Mr. Mailer is now twice instructed.

PROSECUTOR: Norman Mailer, you never met Marilyn Monroe?

MAILER: No, but I sat behind her once at Actors’ Studio.


PROSECUTOR: On the basis of the firm insight you gathered from having once sat behind her, you presume to write of Marilyn Monroe’s inner physical condition. You declare that she wanted to throw herself to the crowd.


PROSECUTOR: Would you call this a fair conclusion?

DEFENSE: Objection. The prosecutor is trying to make my client characterize his replies.

THE COURT: Sustained.

MAILER: I wish to answer anyway.

DEFENSE: Please obey the court.

MAILER: Your Honor, with all due respect to my own attorney, I wish to say that such perceptions and such liberties as I took on trying to enter Miss Monroe’s mind are considered fair in literary practice.

PROSECUTOR: Objection. I think this ought to be cut off.

THE COURT: You started it. Let him go on.

MAILER: I have been thinking about Miss Monroe’s life for many years. I have already written one other book about her, called Marilyn, and in that work did not enter her mind once. It was out of respect for the intricacies of her mind. I only dare in this case because I believe I know more about her by now. The experience of looking at Milton Greene’s photographs of Marilyn Monroe over several years is part of that greater knowledge. Sides of her nature are revealed by Mr. Greene’s photographs that I do not find anywhere else. I would also submit that I have been fair to Miss Monroe in my heart. In fact, I find her charming in those passages you read, and not at all maligned. She is a humorous woman.

Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift