Before the Literary Bar

From the November 10, 1980 issue of New York Magazine.

PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, our first and only witness will be the defendant, Norman Mailer.

THE COURT: He has waived his rights?

PROSECUTOR: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right, let’s put him on.[The defendant is sworn]

Mr. Mailer, I will remind you of the charge. It is criminal literary negligence. On this charge, the court may find against you for censure in the first or second degree, or for reprimand. You may also be exonerated.

MAILER: I am aware of the charge, Your Honor.

PROSECUTOR: Mr. Mailer, I am holding in my hand a work entitled Of Women and Their Elegance, which has your name on the cover as author. Would you describe it?

MAILER: It is a book of photographs by Milton Greene, with a text of 50,000 words by myself.

PROSECUTOR: Fifty thousand words is the length of the average novel?

MAILER: Maybe half to two thirds the length.

PROSECUTOR: Would you say this work presents itself as an autobiography by Marilyn Monroe?

MAILER: Originally, I wished to title it Of Women and Their Elegance, by Marilyn Monroe as told to Norman Mailer, but it was decided the title could prove misleading to the public, who might think the interview had actually taken place. I suppose it would be better to describe the text as a false autobiography. Or an imaginary memoir, since the story, but for a few recollections, only covers a period of three or four years in her life.

PROSECUTOR: It is made up.

MAILER: More or less made up.

PROSECUTOR: Could you be more specific?

MAILER: Much of the book is based on fact. I would say some of it is made up.

PROSECUTOR: Are you prepared to offer examples of fact and fiction as they occur in your pages?

MAILER: I can try.

PROSECUTOR: Let me read a passage to the court, written in the first person, which purports to be Marilyn Monroe’s voice. The Amy she refers to is one Amy Greene, Milton Greene’s wife. I will enter it as Exhibit A. It is taken from page 24 of Mr. Mailer’s book.

THE COURT: All right, go ahead.

[The prosecution reads Exhibit A, page 24]

I went out shopping with Amy. She took me to Saks and Bonwit Teller’s, and people lined up to look at me as soon as I got spotted. Women were ripping open the curtain in the dressing room, which was enough to do Amy in, if she hadn’t been made of the toughest stuff. First, she discovered I wear no panties, and to make it worse, a bit of my natural odor came off with the removal of the skirt. Nothing drives people crazier than a woman with an aroma that doesn’t come out of a bottle. Maybe I should use deodorant, but I do like a little sniff of myself. It’s a way of staying in touch.

Anyway, Amy turned her head at the sight of my pubic hair, which is, alas, disconcertingly dark, and then the curtains flew open, and shoppers gawked, three big mouths and big noses, and a tall, skinny salesman came over to shut the curtains and croaked, “Miss Monroe!” and disappeared forever. I had to laugh. I knew I’d changed his life. I think, sometimes, that’s why I do it.PROSECUTOR: Now, Mr. Mailer.

MAILER: Yessir.

PROSECUTOR: Did this scene occur?

MAILER: Yes. Mrs. Greene told me that hordes of shoppers did indeed gawk at Marilyn.

PROSECUTOR: And ripped open the curtain to the dressing room?

MAILER: It is my recollection that Mrs. Greene told me something of the sort.

PROSECUTOR: In a tape-recorded interview?

MAILER: [Pauses] Perhaps, in casual conversation. I am old friends with Mr. and Mrs. Greene, and we have had many unrecorded conversations about Marilyn Monroe as well.

PROSECUTOR: And you drew your impressions of Miss Monroe from these conversations, recorded and unrecorded?

MAILER: Some of my impressions.

PROSECUTOR: So Mrs. Greene told you that Miss Monroe was wearing no panties on this occasion?

MAILER: I don’t recollect that Mrs. Greene told me that.

PROSECUTOR: Then how did you arrive at such a conclusion?

MAILER: On the basis of many conversations with many people who knew Marilyn Monroe, it seems to be established that Miss Monroe did not like to wear panties.

PROSECUTOR: So you took the liberty of deciding she was wearing none that day?

MAILER: It seemed a fair assumption. You try to be fair.

PROSECUTOR: You weren’t just trying to sell copies?

DEFENSE: Objection. The witness is being manhandled.

THE COURT: Overruled. I want to hear the answer.

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.

“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.

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.

THE COURT: Would Mr. Mailer define “wimpy”?

MAILER: Muscles like cold spaghetti might do it, Your Honor.

THE COURT: You are saying that women feel about elegance the way men feel about machismo?

MAILER: Well, sir, I would say many men decide to reject machismo. They see it as a trap that can dominate them. I expect many women feel that any undue longings toward elegance might direct them from more individual solutions to their lives. Nonetheless, I expect no man puts down machismo without a little uneasiness, and I think it is the same for women and elegance. The rejection of elegance can be haunting. Miss Monroe, having her voluptuous figure and no neck, was not free of the desire to be elegant. In fact, I think it was a major force in her life, a true source of motivation.


PROSECUTOR: Mr. Mailer is doing his best to be his eloquent best. Still, you are saying, if I may dare to summarize, that your imaginary autobiography wishes to study her desire to rise above sordid beginnings, to become elegant.

MAILER: Something of the sort.

PROSECUTOR: Please forgive these inelegant expressions of your elegant intentions.

THE COURT: Will the prosecution forgo this? The prosecution is elegant enough for all of us.

PROSECUTOR: Thank you, Your Honor. Mr. Mailer, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that every excerpt read in court until now can be justified by you, whether factual or not, as material that can reasonably have occurred in Miss Monroe’s life.


PROSECUTOR: Not literally true, but aesthetically true.

MAILER: Yessir. Well put.

PROSECUTOR: So you believe that up to here, through the exhibits cited, you have not maligned Miss Monroe’s nature nor denigrated her character.

MAILER: I believe that.

PROSECUTOR: Even though you mix the real and the fictional, you have succeeded in giving a portrait of her that, hopefully, is more true than fact itself.

MAILER: Yessir.

PROSECUTOR: Would you also agree that when a portrait cheapens a character, the portrait can hurt the reader’s mind, that is, injure his future powers of perception?

MAILER: Yessir. There are some who would say that is what the moral nature of literature is all about.

PROSECUTOR: How then would you characterize our next excerpt? Please read Exhibit B, page 88 to 91.

DEFENSE: Before Mr. Mailer begins, would the court again instruct the witness that he need only reply to the prosecutor’s questions. He does not have to expatiate on them.

THE COURT: Maybe Mr. Mailer thinks he is being paid by the word.

[The defendant reads]

We passed through several rooms, and one had knives and guns on the wall, and another with zebra stripes for wallpaper, and then a room with nothing but filthy pictures all nicely framed, and the last room was big and had a photograph and a table with drinks, and a lot of couches on which guys and girls, and guys and guys, were lying around in a very dim purple light, just enough to see that there was a lot of purple nakedness in this neck of the woods, worse—I couldn’t believe it. This was the first Hollywood party of the sort I’d grown up hearing about. I was used to walking in on a roommate who was under the covers with a fellow, but never anything like this. There were twenty people.

Then I saw our host. Bobby was naked except for cowboy boots and a Stetson hat, and he was walking a Doberman pinscher on a leash around the room, a huge female I suppose, because she had a diamond collar around her neck. But as the dog came up to one couple, it tried to mount, and I saw my mistake. She had a lot of male in the rear. Bobby was giggling like a two-year-old, because the dog kept jumping forcibly into all these lovers’ midsts, if you can say such a thing. There were screams and shouts galore—“Bobby, get Romulus away! Bobby, you’re a madman.”

I would have thought our host was horrible, but when he came up to me, he gave the sweetest smile I’d seen in a year, as if he’d spent his childhood eating nothing but berries and grapes, and when he kissed me, his mouth was tender. I couldn’t get over that, his mouth was as good as Edward’s, who had the best mouth I’d ever kissed, but Bobby was also strong. I’d never been introduced to a man who was naked before, you learn so much that way, and his skin felt smooth as a seal and terrific to the touch. I couldn’t keep my hands off. It was as if he was one boy who everybody had been rubbing love into since he was a baby. Oh, did his lower lip pout.

“Come on,” he said, “you and me are going to leave these people.”

He handed Romulus’s leash to Rod and took me down the tunnel to a room at the other end that turned out to be another apartment. I didn’t have time to look around; it didn’t matter. We were on the floor. I was embarrassed for a little while, for I reeked of Rod, but Bobby de P. loved smells, I think he had a nose instead of a brain, and besides, he had his own aroma, as I have said. Maybe something in him had the answer to my secret, or maybe I had just been prepared for Bobby by that crazy ride with Rod, and so had kept nothing, absolutely nothing, with which to protect myself, but it was as if the very inside of me was pushing to get over to him as desperate as the feeling you know in a dream.

We went on all night. Somewhere in the middle I said, “Oh, you’re the best, I never knew anything like this before,” and I hadn’t, I felt things start in me and go flying off into the universe or somewhere, they were sensations going out to far space, so I meant what I said, except even as I opened my mouth, I knew I had always had the same thing to say to any fellow who was any good at all, in fact I had said it to Rod as soon as he could hear me after the motorcycle stopped. I had even been tempted to compliment Mr. Farnsworth (after all, Farnsworth would say to himself, “Nobody sits in a chair like me!”), it was exactly the remark to make if you wanted to keep a fellow happy and on your string. I once had eight great lovers on eight strings. Three more and I would have run out of fingers. Saying it to Bobby was true, however, I meant it, maybe I meant it for the first time since I’d begun to say it, and Bobby just roared with a crazy kind of laughter. Then we just started reaching into one another as if we were really going to catch something never caught before.

After a while, we moved over to the bed, and later he even turned on the lights, and there were a lot of mirrors. The room was full of antiques who sat there like rich and famous people, and I could see the Persian rug we had been doing it on, red and gold and purple and green. The bed was the largest I’d been in till then. We must have used every inch of it; he was one rich boy who wouldn’t stop. All through the night, there were knocks on the door and people yelling, “Bobby, where are you?” or “Join in the fun, for God’s sake,” but in the morning, when we wandered out (and by then I was so comfortable I wore nothing but high-heeled shoes, and Mr. de P. was back in his Stetson hat), we came to the dead smoky smell of old reefers and cartons of cigarette butts in ashtrays and nobody around but the dog. Romulus was lying in the middle of the floor with his diamond collar gone and his throat cut. His eyes were open, and he had the peculiar expression of a young pup learning to sit on his hind legs. A simple dog look. Plus all that blood on the carpet which you couldn’t see at first it was such a dark carpet.

Bobby started to blubber like a five-year-old kid. He cried and his belly shook a little and his big jaw looked really prominent the way a five-year-old kid with a big jaw can impress you with how mad they are going to be when they grow up. Then he came to a stop and knelt by the dog and got a little blood on his fingers and touched it to himself and to me, but so softly that I wasn’t offended, as if that was a nice way to say goodbye to Romulus, and then we went back to the bedroom and made love, which turned out to be sweeter than anything because it was full of sorrow, and I cried for the baby in my stomach who would soon be gone and the dead dog and for myself, and felt very sweet toward Bobby.

Later that day I asked him, “Do you know who killed Romulus?” and he nodded.

I asked, “Are you going to do anything about it?”

“You bet,” he said.

PROSECUTOR: We would like Mr. Mailer to continue directly to Exhibit B, page 92 to page 95. May it please the court, the new excerpt concludes the description after skipping over a brief account of the household of this Bobby de P., and his business connections, and his family.

[The defendant reads Exhibit B, page 92 to page 95]

Then I began to have this ferocious headache. When we weren’t making love, I felt nauseated and wondered if it was morning sickness, and slowly, day by day, Bobby de P. and me began to fight. Except they weren’t quarrels so much as savage displays, you might say, of bad nerves, after which we’d be off once more. All the while we’d talk about getting married. Only it was like we were flipping a switch. Maybe it was the benzedrine. He kept feeding us pills until I couldn’t sleep, and every time I came near to something fabulous, my chest also came near to exploding.

On the fifth day Bobby said to me, “You want to get married?”


“Well, I’ll get married.”

“Let’s,” I said.

“We can’t,” he said. “I’m married already,” and he bit me on the lip. I flung him off. “You said you were divorced.”

“She won’t give it.”

His wife was living with Rod. Rod, he told me, had killed the dog and then stole the collar. Of course, that diamond collar had used to belong to Bobby’s wife, except that Bobby had taken it back from her the day they broke up and put it on the dog.

“Rod is away now,” he said, “on location in Utah. Let’s go over and visit my old lady.”

“And tell her you want a divorce?”

He squeezed my arm so hard I could feel the bruise instantly. “No,” he said, “we’ll finish her off like the dog.”

What I couldn’t believe was the excitement it gave me. I was nearer to myself than I ever wanted to be. I saw inside myself to the other soul, the one that never spoke. It was ready to think of murder. In truth, my headache went away.

“Let’s drive up to her house,” he said. “I’ll do it and you watch. Then we’ll come back here. If we stick together, nobody can prove a thing. We can say we were in bed.”

I could see us looking at each other forever, one year into the next. I could see my pictures in the newspapers. STARLET QUESTIONED IN MURDER CASE. The pictures would be printed in all the newspapers over the world. A candle could burn in a dark church at such a thought. The idea that everyone would talk of me was beautiful. Killing Bobby’s wife felt almost comfortable. Maybe if I hadn’t seen Romulus with that funny expression on his face where he was dead but still seemed to be learning to sit on his paws, maybe if I hadn’t seen something in that animal lying there so calmly after his throat was cut, I might have worried about Bobby’s wife, but now I just felt as if it was all fair somehow. Maybe Bobby would even let me keep my baby. I remember thinking of how I felt when I first saw my face on film in Scudda-Hoo! Scudda-Hay! and decided I was very interesting, except I had what you might call a space in my expression. There was something in me that didn’t show itself to others. Like: I’m ready to commit murder.

We got into Bobby’s car and drove across Bel Air into Beverly Hills, and in one of the houses off Rodeo Drive was where she lived. It was dark, and there were no cars outside, and the garage was locked, so Bobby and I went to the back of the house. He found the wire to the burglar alarm and cut it and cracked the latch on the window. There we were standing in her kitchen. He looked in the rack for the carving knife and found one. Then we went up the stairs to her bedroom. I remember it was on the side that would have a view of the hills above Beverly Hills, and all the while he was doing this, despite the benzedrine, I never felt more calm as if, ha ha, I was on This is Your Life, and they were talking about me looking for the woman’s door. I even held Bobby’s hand, the one that did not have the knife.

There was no lock to the master bedroom. By the light of the street lamps coming through the window, we could see that there was also no woman in the bed. The house was empty. We went through every room, but it was empty. Bobby’s wife must have gone on location with Rod.

We went home. Before the night was over, Bobby beat me up, or at least he started to, but he was too drunk to catch me. I was awful sick of sex. I grabbed up my clothes and ran out the door and had the luck to find a taxi on those lonely streets and went home to Hollywood. I didn’t even cry in the back seat. It just occurred to me that Bobby didn’t even know my phone number or address, or even my last name, just my first, and maybe he would never try to find me, and he never did.

Two days later, I had the abortion. Whenever I looked into my mirror now in my apartment in the Waldorf Towers, on the 37th floor, I could still see how something ended in me that day, I don’t know what, but it is still in my expression.

PROSECUTOR: Mr. Mailer, concerning these last two excerpts, what percentage of fact and fiction would you estimate are there?

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.

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.


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?

MAILER: It is Marilyn Monroe’s unrecorded years in Hollywood. They must make up a large-size bag of foul encounters and small ruthless impulses that wakened in her one by one. In later years, I believe they were like a psychic cyst within her. Memories so bad cannot be called upon. It is exactly the memories we cannot face that destroy us. We are always carrying them uphill.

DEFENSE: So you felt it was fair to invent this extraordinary episode at the home of Bobby de P.?

MAILER: Yes. Fair to the reader, that is I wanted the reader to be jarred into comprehension of the size and spectrum of a movie star’s soul. There is more to a movie star than we think, not less. I wanted to deepen the legend of Marilyn Monroe, not sweeten it. I thought it would be better for our comprehension of many things if we understood that art comes out of more contracts than are written, and the artist’s inner negotiations with evil are often as comprehensive as the generosity of the artistic offering. So I do not think I was unfair to her at large. I expect the total of the little horrors she committed in those years would equal the one large horror I gave her. But whether I caught the taste and tone of her personality by that episode, or lost the flavor of her voice for a little while, is another matter.

DEFENSE: We rest.

THE COURT: A question. How would you feel, Mr. Mailer, if some other author were to characterize you in such extreme fashion after your death? Let me say I do not wish to rush that occasion. Still, how do you think you would feel?

MAILER: Your Honor, I have already been characterized in many books as if I were dead. Jacqueline Susann, from what I am told, depicted me as the improbable and repulsive villain of one of her novels. Mario Puzo once portrayed me as a fat man who smoked cigars and strangled a poodle with his bare hands on an airplane. That sounds more like a description of Puzo than myself. I also resent what Puzo’s fiction had me doing. I owned a standard poodle once, and he was a great dog and lived to be eighteen years old. I do not go around killing poodles. Another writer gave one of his characters my name, literally!, and then had him drop his pants obediently at gunpoint, for which compliance, he—I should say I—was shot in the anus and killed. There have been other such portraits. I do not say that because I have been, on occasion, poorly treated in print I have a right, therefore, to distort Marilyn Monroe’s life. I say, rather, that I think uneasily of her opinion, and I hope she accepts, wherever she is, the equation I drew between her many lost episodes and the single one I gave her. For if I have been unfair to her, as I believe those authors have been unfair to me, then I must shift uncomfortably before any bar of judgment, since I know how deep is the contempt I hold for authors who would write about me and yet do not have the imagination to come up with some equivalent of my life that may be extreme but is fair. I would not like to think Miss Monroe feels an equal contempt for me. I guess that is all.

DEFENSE: Can we ask for an immediate verdict of exoneration?

THE COURT: Some might think your client lucky to escape hanging. I am going to take this under advisement. There is a lot to mull over here, and I am hardly going to let you off on the spot. I will say that I have read the book and consider it a serious enough work to give Mr. Mailer a fair opportunity of avoiding outright censure. But there is no escaping the conclusion that what he has done is downright dangerous. He almost certainly will be reprimanded for making up false and sordid episodes concerning public figures. What if a lot of bad authors were to act as Mr. Mailer has?

DEFENSE: They have, Your Honor. Ever since Gutenberg.

THE COURT: Well, I’m going to have to live with this for a while. Let me tell you that once again Mr. Mailer has done his best to take over my weekend. I’m going to close this court for now.


Before the Literary Bar