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Before the Literary Bar

MAILER: I would say those passages are fiction.

PROSECUTOR: This Bobby, as he is called, he is based on no one?

MAILER: No one.


MAILER: She is imaginary.

PROSECUTOR: The man named Rod?

MAILER: Equally fictional.

PROSECUTOR: Do you have knowledge that Miss Monroe at any time in her life made a compact to help a husband murder his wife?

MAILER: To my knowledge, she never did.

PROSECUTOR: There is nothing on record anywhere that she ever contemplated such an act?

MAILER: Not so far as I know.

PROSECUTOR: Did anyone suggest this possibility in an interview?

MAILER: No one.

PROSECUTOR: Yet, in a fictional situation, you make Marilyn Monroe accomplice to a conspiracy to commit murder.

MAILER: I suppose that’s the legal description.

PROSECUTOR: How can you ever justify yourself? If Miss Monroe were alive, she could sue you for libel. And win.

DEFENSE: Objection.

THE COURT: Prosecution knows better than to draw conclusions.

PROSECUTOR: Forgive me, Your Honor. I consider the action of the defendant outrageous.

DEFENSE: Objection, Your Honor.

THE COURT: I’m putting the prosecution on notice.

PROSECUTION: You wrote Exhibit B, page 88 to 95, knowing there was no basis for them?

MAILER: No factual basis.

PROSECUTOR: What makes you think there is a fictional basis?

MAILER: I’m not sure a fictional basis is possible. I’m not even certain Marilyn Monroe could have gotten into such a situation, fictionally speaking, and still be Marilyn Monroe. I’ve pondered the question. All the while I was writing this book, I kept asking myself, Is this true to Marilyn?

PROSECUTOR: Are you telling us that you doubt your ethics?

MAILER: I call them in question.

PROSECUTOR: You think yourself guilty of literary malpractice?

MAILER: I hope not, but it’s possible.

PROSECUTOR: We rest our case.

THE COURT: Let’s take ten minutes.


DEFENSE: Your Honor, while court was out, I discussed his testimony with Mr. Mailer, and he has made clear to me again that he is not interested in an adversary proceeding so much as to ask the court for a discovery of his motives. That is the legal position out of which my questions will be asked.

THE COURT: You want to let us know where your questions are coming from.

DEFENSE: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: I hope they are not coming from left field.

DEFENSE: It is my fervent hope, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Please proceed.

DEFENSE: Mr. Mailer, when you conceived this work, did you plan to have such scenes with the character named Bobby as are described in Exhibit B?

MAILER: I can say that I planned to have such passages, yes. There is a period in Marilyn Monroe’s life about which very little is known. I would locate it during 1948, 1949, and 1950, sometime after she became a model but before she made The Asphalt Jungle. In those years, she was one of many girls around Hollywood, and there is no telling what kind of adventures she got into, or with what sort of men she went out, other than a few movie people we know she knew. So I thought I would try to invent some episode that might, in a few pages, capture the impact and probable horror of those years upon her.

THE COURT: Mr. Mailer, how did you form the conclusion that those years from 1948 to 1950 were horrible for Miss Monroe?

MAILER: On the basis of her later life, Your Honor. The tragedy that surrounds Marilyn Monroe is that as her career succeeded, so did she begin to come apart. It is tragic to be destroyed in the years of one’s success. Right when she was most happily married is when she became most unhappily married. There is no simple explanation for such matters. We have to assume there are buried matters in the psyche.

THE COURT: Does that justify endowing her with murderous instincts?

MAILER: It is my understanding of Marilyn Monroe that she was murderous. I would say she was a killer in the way most of us are. On the set, she killed time and slaughtered expectations. She wore people out, she chilled their talent. Finally, with her husbands, she exhausted their hopes. She left not one death but a thousand little deaths in many of the people around her, nice people and awful people both, at least by her measure of nice and awful. When we slay indiscriminately, I think it is a sign we are trying to hold off our own doom. Any portrait of Marilyn Monroe that restricted itself to showing how attractive she could be in the panoply of all her tender wit had to be an untrue portrait which would mislead the reader.

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