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Before the Literary Bar

DEFENSE: We wish to point out that the prosecution has offered excerpts that show Miss Monroe only in an unattractive or controversial light. Such passages are but a small part of this book, Of Women and Their Elegance, and give a distorted portrait.

MAILER: Yes, most of the time, in fact, since Marilyn Monroe is telling the story in her own voice, I did my best to show her as quintessentially charming.

THE COURT: Mr. Mailer, would you care to define your use of “charming”?

MAILER: Unpredictable but positive, Your Honor. We don’t know how we’ll get there, but we’re looking to find our way to someplace nice. Miss Monroe is presented in most of my pages as nice.

DEFENSE: Exhibit C, page 96, may be an example of this, Your Honor.

[Defense reads]

I didn’t like television because it made me want to burp. On the other hand, it was a little like having another person in the room. Nobody impressive, of course. Somebody who was pale and had a lot of stomach noises. Color TV was like they were putting makeup on that pale person. A very unhealthy person with a wheeze in his lungs and a twitch—if you got to know them well they would tell you about their operations. So I used to think TV was ridiculous. The entertainment industry, instead of understanding that they had this unhealthy individual who could only do a little bit, had it out instead working hard. Maybe one year it would come down with some awful disease, but in the meantime they were giving it dancing lessons.

DEFENSE: We will also offer Exhibit C, page 33, as typical of characteristic aspects of this work.

THE COURT: Do you object? I see you are standing.

PROSECUTOR: We will not object. Our case does not rest on the presence or absence of agreeable passages concerning Miss Monroe. It is based instead on one outrageously unfounded presentation of her character.

DEFENSE: I proceed to read Exhibit C, page 33.

[Reads]

Once in a while, to put myself to sleep, I would think of Amy’s underwear, which was not only immaculate but color-coordinated. If she was wearing a purple dress, why, she would also put on a purple bra and a purple girdle and a purple half-slip. “Why?” I asked her. “People can’t see what you have on underneath.”

“I like the feeling of being altogether in the color I wear.” I got it. She did everything for the inner feeling. I was so impressed.

“Besides,” said Amy, “if my husband comes wandering through while I’m getting dressed, I want him to see something pretty. Why should I show Milton cotton underwear? With his eyes!”

Her lingerie cabinet was like a rainbow. All those colors arranged in a fan. When I thought about it, going to sleep, the lingerie gave off sounds like organ pipes. I felt so much love for Amy because we could be friends, she who had every color of the rainbow for her underwear, and I who never wore any.

DEFENSE: Would you say, Mr. Mailer, that it was to balance such favorable impressions of Miss Monroe that you invented the scenes concerning the imaginary man named Bobby?

MAILER: No, not to balance the portrait so much as to disturb it.

THE COURT: To disturb it?

MAILER: Yes, Your Honor. I did not wish to add to Miss Monroe’s legend but to shock its roots. So I decided to take a chance.

THE COURT: Can you expatiate on this chance you were taking?

MAILER: One reader, close to me, so hated the section in question that it spoiled the manuscript for her. She is a practical woman, just the sort of levelheaded reader one looks for, and I knew her reaction would be common to many. Yet I felt no desire to remove that part—indeed, I knew I would keep it. For to contemplate my book without such a passage is intolerable. The work would then present Miss Monroe as sweet, charming, madcap, a natural soul. That could only deepen the confusion surrounding her life and her legend. We would be farther away from understanding how it is that someone so attractive could end so badly.

DEFENSE: Yet the prosecution has asked in effect why you chose the explanation you did.

MAILER: That still bothers me. The tone of the episode itself. There may have been a failure of invention. It is not easy to conceive of one powerful dramatic episode that will substitute satisfactorily for the sum of a thousand smaller episodes.

DEFENSE: Yet, what is this sum—to use your word—that you are trying to show the reader?


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