New York Magazine

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Before the Literary Bar

PROSECUTOR: Mr. Mailer, concerning Exhibit A, which has just been read, you say you do not malign Miss Monroe but find her charming.

MAILER: Yessir.

PROSECUTOR: I will not argue with your conception of female charm. I will ask you instead to read aloud from Exhibit B, pages 83 and 84. May it please the court, Exhibit B is selected from a later part of the work but is concerned with earlier episodes in Miss Monroe’s life when she was still in Hollywood. I believe this comes under the technical heading of “flashback.”

MAILER: You could call it that.

[The defendant reads Exhibit B, pages 83 and 84]

Now, of course, even in those days I had a sheltered life. I wasn’t respected, but I was sheltered. I might be considered the property of the studio and so be sent at a moment’s notice with ten other girls to Denver or Modesto to help out with publicity, knowing full well that in such situations, the studio liked to hold the broadest view of publicity, that is—breed a little goodwill. I wasn’t being sent out in my sweater to strew ill will. All the same, it was a sheltered life. I might have to go through certain experiences with a big laugh when I was actually feeling a little queasy inside, but, still, who ever had to be afraid of a local movie reviewer or a small-town theater manager? Most of them didn’t have poison in their system. In fact, they were really grateful, and some of them were nice people. Anyway, back on the studio lot, I also had to keep appointments. One day I saw three executives on the half hour—2:30 P.M., 3:30 P.M., and 4:30 P.M.—before going off to acting class in the evening, although, of course, those kind of assignments only took five minutes. “How are you, Mr. Farnsworth, how nice to see you again,” and he had you behind the desk. Sometimes he never got out of his chair. Sometimes you never got off your knees. I knew the pleats on some executives’ trousers better than their face. All the same, most of such people were not that rude, and I had an orphan’s philosophy: Cheer up, it could be worse. They could take off their socks and ask you to kiss their feet.

The key thing, however, was that I was on contract at the studio. A girl might have to do one little despicable deed or another, but you were not out there where you really had to know how to protect yourself. You were sort of more in the very bottom reaches of the middle class. You had to be obedient, that’s all.

PROSECUTOR: Mr. Mailer, thank you for reading from your work. Would you summarize for the court your sources for this material.

MAILER: I would say it is based on general knowledge. I have read many books about Hollywood, I have known many people who lived and worked in Hollywood, I spent a year there myself in just the period of which the exhibit speaks, and have also drawn on many stories I heard about Miss Monroe’s life during that period, or, for that matter, the life of many other starlets on studio contracts. I believe I can say that the scene described is not exceptional but common to life in Hollywood in the early fifties. It was well known that Miss Monroe had such a life during that period, and the scars of it were probably responsible in part for her future personality. I am trying to explain a woman of angelic appearance who, by the end of her career, was notoriously difficult to work with. Such scenes help me to understand her.

PROSECUTOR: Still, you are taking liberties with the facts.

MAILER: I would say this excerpt is factual. I can’t certify it as a fact, but I believe it is a fact. She had the life of a stock girl on contract in Hollywood studios in the fifties. Her drama coach, Lee Strasberg, who is one of the beneficiaries of her will and had the highest regard for her talent, did say, “She was a call girl…she was on call for things the studio wanted.” Arthur Miller once wrote, “She was chewed and spat out by a long line of grinning men! Her name floating in the stench of locker rooms and parlor-car cigar smoke!”

What is poignant about Marilyn is that all her life she wanted to become a lady. Elegance was as elusive and fearful and attractive and as awesome to her in these somewhat sordid early years as the hidden desire to be macho can feel to a young and wimpy intellectual.


Advertising
Current Issue
Subscribe to New York
Subscribe

Give a Gift

Advertising