What can you tell us about Marilyn at Rainbow’s End?
Published on the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, my biography is the culmination of a lifetime search to solve some of the mysteries surrounding one of my all time favorite obsessions. I went looking for the key to unlock a closet door that led to one of the most intriguing lives of the 20th Century.
As a world traveler and author, since 1960, of hundreds of editions of the Frommer travel guides, I was able to track down and encounter both major and minor figures in MM’s life—whether they were uncovered in a remote backwater in Arkansas or in a manor house in England. Some people had fond memories; others had tawdry tales to tell, but many key witnesses provided fresh insights.
More than fifty witnesses to her life, from author Truman Capote to director George Cukor, are cited on the book’s dedication page for sharing their memories, good or bad, about Marilyn. No one was more helpful than her closest confidante, Jeanne Carmen, a major source, who was willing to talk only after key figures were dead—the Kennedy brothers, Sam Giancana, Johnny Rosselli, and others.
In addition to the rich, often lurid, details associated with what led to Marilyn’s demise, the biography reveals heretofore unknown secrets of a tempestuous, even outrageous life. These range from her sexual trysts with Elvis Presley to her seduction of Teddy Kennedy during the final year of her life.
The book offers the most detailed overview of her relationships with all three Kennedy brothers of any biography heretofore published. But it also exposes her tortured relationship with such figures as Frank Sinatra, whose child she aborted.
Many of the secrets of her private life are written about for the first time, including details associated with Joe DiMaggio, Jr., (the baseball player’s teenaged son), who wanted to marry her and was dangerously jealous of his baseball hero father.
Revelations are brought to light from key witnesses who were either silent or misleading during the 1960s. When interviewed later in life, particularly near the end of their lives, many witnesses changed their initial testimonies. A prime example of that was housekeeper Eunice Murray, who said, “I’m old now and why do I have to keep covering up what really happened that night?”
2. You interviewed Marilyn when you were editor in chief of the Miami Hurricane in the 1950s. Can you tell us something about your experience of talking to her?
Before I ever formally interviewed Marilyn, I encountered her when she was a guest at the Helen Mar Hotel on Miami Beach, circa 1950. Her bill was paid by Ronald Reagan (“between marriages”), who was staying down the beach at the more luxurious Roney Plaza Hotel. My mother, Hazel Triplett, was the Helen Mar’s assistant manager. She was told to look after Marilyn, then relatively unknown.
Ms. Triplett had designed a white bathing suit for Linda Darnell in the movie she filmed with Richard Widmark, Slattery’s Hurricane. Marilyn was going to star in a movie with Widmark—Don’t Bother to Knock. She asked mother to design a white bathing suit for her. (Ms. Triplett was a seamstress/dress designer on the side.)
I visited Marilyn’s suite with my mother. The blonde star was gracious and charming to me, and had no inhibitions about pulling off all her clothes and standing nude in front of a thirteen-year-old boy. She liked the bathing suit but was concerned in particular that her derrière not appear too fat. She referred to her derrière as “one of my deformities,” and claimed that it was her most unattractive feature, although thousands of men around the world disagreed.
Marilyn was sweet, unassuming, and natural. During the fitting, she asked me to go across the street and bring her back a cheeseburger because the hotel had no food service. After I returned, when she was eating the burger, she had to go to the toilet. She continued eating the burger on the toilet. I had never seen anyone do that before…or since.
An actual interview with Marilyn occurred about five years later, when I was 18 years old and editor-in-chief of The Miami Hurricane at the University of Miami. Marilyn was in Miami on a publicity tour. At the University, I encountered a completely different personality. She did not remember me, but she recalled my mother and the bathing suit. By 1957, she’d become Marilyn Monroe. Her look, her mannerisms, and her dress were promoting a sexy image. Even her voice had become breathless. It was obvious that she wasn’t going to reveal any details about her personal life. So I switched the interview to a discussion of her goals and hopes. I tried to get personal quotes as a means of revealing a sense of her newly created personality.
She said, “I don’t know why girls like Jayne Mansfield or Mamie Van Doren try to be me—I don’t like being me.” She also said, “A woman should not listen to promises men make while lying on a pillow at night beside you. By the time they’re in the bathroom shaving the next morning, all promises made are to be forgotten.” She also said, “My goal in life is to find a man who will love me for myself and one who doesn’t want to marry Lorelei Lee.” Another comment: “When I was a struggling actress, I met many men who I thought would advance my film career. Today, many men attach themselves to me to advance their own film careers.”
3. How reliable do you think her words were in that interview?
I think Marilyn sincerely believed everything she said at the moment she was saying it. In that sense, she was not a liar, as are so many other actresses in interviews. But she was self-delusional—and therefore, not reliable.
She was constantly “inventing” Marilyn Monroe as she spoke. As the years went by, she continued to alter her own autobiography. Of course, her great fame arrived during the conformist, uptight Eisenhower era, when adultery, promiscuity, and whoring were not viewed favorably. Nor were drug taking and alcoholism. She didn’t want the public to examine her life too closely, and she became terrified when Time reporters arrived in Los Angeles to investigate her life. She feared that too many revelations would destroy her carefully constructed image. She was a total narcissist, but wanted to conceal that. She would occasionally forget the character of MM that she was playing and make a bald statement: “To be a great actress is more than a dream or a career. It’s my whole mission in life.” Then fearing that that statement was too harsh, she would back off. “I don’t want my public to think I’m like that Eve Harrington girl.” She was, of course, referring to the ambition-crazed actress (played by Anne Baxter) in MM’s film All About Eve.
Whenever she feared she’d revealed too much, she’d say something more sympathetic: “I’m an orphan. Even today, I’m still an orphan. I thought Hollywood would adopt me and take me to its bosom. But it never will. It will only use me and then discard me.”
She would express a desire to be a mother. Then in a frank moment, she would say, “Oh, I do want a child. Or do I? Not really…not deep down.”
Being reliable in Marilyn’s assertions depended on whether a soft breeze was blowing in from the Pacific in the west, or else a sirocco dust storm was blowing in from the desert to the east.
4. What were your impressions of her?
In a world of boring people, Marilyn could never be anything but fascinating. In a loud room of boisterous voices, she would make an utterance with that small, rinky-dink voice of hers, and silence would fall over the chamber, so that its occupants could hear her every utterance.
America was having a love affair with her, and soon, the entire world did, too. “Take me,” she said to that world. “I’m yours to do with as you wish. I’m your angel.”
She was compliant, tender—dare I suggest, innocent?—yet stood for all those decadent pleasures we were forbidden to enjoy. She was that double-dip ice cream cone on a dog day August afternoon that you gulped down, despite whatever diet you were on.
She could be sexily bold, even ridiculously so, as when she walked onto the screen in Niagara and caused gasps of catcalls from the audience. Yet she was never vulgar like Jayne Mansfield. There was always a reticence in her invitation, even though you knew erotic thrills like you’d never known before awaited you. She was still the shy little girl known as Norma Jeane, yet a sexy cyclone of uninhibited lust. Was it perhaps true that after Valentino died (in 1926), he re-emerged, reincarnated, as Marilyn Monroe?
As her first husband, Jim Dougherty, then an L.A. police officer, told the author: “Call me insane, but I thought I was marrying a normal gal who’d become my lover, my housewife, and my partner through life. She went to my bed a demure bride and told me she ‘felt a little bit dirty’ afterward. How could I have known that this little teenage gal would go out and fuck the world…and that she would never die in our sexual fantasies?”
“The day she left me,” Dougherty said, “she told me I’d been like a brother to her. A brother, god damn it all!! I wanted to be her lover, her conqueror, her master, her thrill of a lifetime. A brother!”
Everything about her was a contradiction. A young Hungarian photographer, André de Dienes, found that out within five minutes of her arrival in his studio. “She was not a whore, absolutely not,” he said. “A nice, well-bred young gal.” In minutes, she asked me if I wanted her to pose in the nude. I did, and she did. She was so willing, I finally got the courage to ask for a private photo.”
According to de Dienes, “’I want to take a picture of your vagina, all open and everything,’” I told her. “Without a blink of the eye, she did what I wanted…and a lot more. When she left that day, she told me, ‘One day, I’m gonna be a great movie star, so, remember, that picture is just for your eyes only.’”
5. You studied her extensively following this interview. What did this entail?
I saw every movie MM ever made—Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!; Dangerous Years; Ladies of the Chorus; Love Happy; A Ticket to Tomahawk; The Asphalt Jungle; All About Eve; The Fireball; Right Cross; Hometown Story; As Young as You Feel; Love Nest; and Let’s Make It Legal—plus her more famous films (several times each). I read every magazine story I could find, every book, every interview. I read every newspaper story.
But much more important, I talked to everybody I met in Hollywood, New York, London, New England, Florida, Mexico, who had ever encountered her, ever worked with her, or knew her socially. Over the years, I got to know or work in TV with many people who knew her intimately, from Peter Lawford to Jeanne Carmen.
In addition to that, I often met the confidants of people who were intimately linked with major figures in her life. Just two of them included Brooks Clift (brother of Monty), who fed me incredible behind-the-scenes information, and producer Rodgers Brackett, “discoverer” of James Dean, who gave me most of the inside story of Dean’s relationship with MM. I frequently went out with Susan Strasberg during her later years. The beat goes on from there.
Finally, with great difficulty, I hunted down the fifty or so people who knew the most about her private life during those final years. (Their names appear on the book’s dedication page.)
6. What made you want to write this book?
It really wasn’t my idea. It originated with Stanley Mills Haggart during the late 1950s. In Hollywood, during the 1940s, he was a friend of Robert Slatzer, an alleged husband of Marilyn (that quickie marriage and divorce in Mexico). Bob brought Marilyn to a party at Stanley’s home in the 1940s in the Hollywood Hills. Stanley was my partner for 25 years. (Together, with Arthur Frommer, we launched the popular guidebook series, The Frommer Guides). Originally, he was a TV producer. Stanley knew Marilyn for years, primarily because of his partnership with Milton Greene (her Svengali) and his longtime friendship with Arthur Miller.
Stanley wanted to co-author a book about Marilyn with me, but never got around to it. However, he gave me all his material and all his insights on MM, and I will be forever grateful.
I started the MM project back in the 1970s, but never had time to devote to the actual writing because I was traveling the world for Simon & Schuster, virtually day and night. My job lasted for 52 years with unrelenting pressure. In one year alone, I had to turn out 23 new editions of various travel guide titles for S&S.
When I finally sat down to write the book on the 50th anniversary of her death, it came relatively easy because I had all the material, all the research, waiting for me, already organized to some degree, in boxes.
7. Why do you think there is a big fascination, regardless of her suspicious death, surrounding MM, even today?
To be blunt, MM died at her prime and under mysterious circumstances—the best way to create a legend. And she was involved with the Kennedy brothers, especially the President, who in 2011 was voted the most popular in U.S. history. MM’s affair with him provided the world with a solid “foundation” for the construction of her legend.
But, of course, the fascination with MM transcends even JFK playing Marc Antony to MM’s Cleopatra. Talk about how to create a legend…
As Noël Coward put it, “God has a talent for creating exceptional women.” He named Helen of Troy and Marlene Dietrich. MM became one of the chosen few. Since Hollywood began, some 10,000 “name” actors have emerged, and each was a sort of household name in his or her heyday.
But history is cruel. Most “famous” personalities are forgotten within a generation of their death, yet a few names emerge to define an era. Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford, Valentino, Charlie Chaplin.
Through fickle fate, the public in its mind chose MM to represent 1950s America, and so she remains to this day, the pre-eminent icon of a forgotten and more innocent era, that in reality wasn’t all that innocent.
For reasons that can never be fully explained, the world chose her as the object of its love affair. She had what her clones such as Mansfield and Van Doren did not have. MM offered sex but it was not dangerous—she was not a femme fatale—but promised sweet delights of the flesh. She paraded boldly onto the screen in hundreds of darkened theaters and set off desires and fantasies that have stretched and survived over the decades. Her voice sounded so innocent, yet carried the thrill of erotic delights. She could speak like a child but offered a woman’s belly, a woman’s succulent breasts. We fell in love with her—and with her promise. And we have remained faithful to her ever since, because her youth will live forever in memory. No one ever got to see her grow old.
8. You are well known for your celebrity biographies. What makes someone good at this niche market?
Anyone writing about living celebrities today can’t be good because if truth were told, the celebrity might sue, as many have threatened to do. A good example of a “half-truth” biography is Andrew Morton’s tome on Tom Cruise. Perhaps 40 years from now, the truth will be told about this “Impossible” actor.
To be a good Hollywood celebrity biographer, you have to be a senior citizen who’s already lived a spectacular life in Hollywood, New York, and London—and your subject must be dead. For example, Anne Edwards, a famous biographer, could not divulge what she learned about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, because Hepburn was still alive.
For most of the 20th century, biographers wrote books with only a limited hangout—and many still do to this day. Take, for example, two recently published biographies, each a “doorstopping” tome with in excess of 1,000 pages, on the lives of Richard Burton and Spencer Tracy. Neither of these books ever addressed the homosexual episodes of their lives. This is especially ironic in the case of Richard Burton, since he actually admitted, in interviews, to a gay past. So to be a credible celebrity biographer today, you need to have worked out a lot of personal issues already, and be unafraid to introduce concepts into the writing process which a generation ago would have been “unmentionable.”
So in the case of celebrity biography, being a senior citizen with a rich and sometimes baroque personal past, and a history of having known and interacted with a LOT of players is actually an asset. Because even if you’re a smashingly good writer, you might not write a good biography if you don’t have access to the information you need. So if you’re a thirty-year-old trying to re-create the life of a star of the Golden Age, in countless cases, there aren’t people alive who could give you any insight. The most recent two books about Joan Crawford, for example, are horrible failures, loaded, for lack of anything better, with the recitations of long, boring details associated with the plot lines of her movies.
So basically, a good Hollywood celebrity biographer should have lived and been intimately involved with Hollywood and Broadway life over the period defined by his or her book—or to have inherited a vast storehouse of material the way I did from Maria Jane Haggart and her son, Stanley Mills Haggart, who arrived in Hollywood when it was still a small town and who, like their friend Anaïs Nin, the diarist, documented everything.
Stanley, for years, was Hedda Hopper’s “leg man,” and I inherited all the material Hedda couldn’t print at the time.
Insider information is the key. If a biographer doesn’t have that, he or she will almost certainly produce a book that Marlene Dietrich would dismiss as “veak lemonade.”
9. When do you think the transition from being vulnerable to becoming one of the world’s leading sex icons came about?
She was sexy…sort of, in Don’t Bother to Knock, but many actresses could have played that role. She was mildly amusing in Monkey Business with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, a passing fancy in O. Henry’s Full House. But the birth of a future icon occurred in Niagara, with Joseph Cotten, which elevated her to the status of a full-fledged star. Her unique personality and special beauty attracted the nation’s attention. Her dress was cut so low you could see her knees. Even though audiences were supposed to hate her, they ended up loving her. She was not the idyllic MM at this point, but when she took “that walk,” seeming coming unglued, audiences across America let out a yelp.
In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with MM playing Lorelei Lee, the legendary MM emerged. She would fine tune her act, but essentially, the star that the world came to know as MM had emerged. She was perfect as the gold-digger whose eyes open for diamonds and close for kisses. Never had she been so alluring. MM’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” should be placed in a time capsule to be opened 1,000 years from now. She sang all her own numbers in a voice not heard before on the screen. In locker rooms, men’s toilets, dormitory rooms, the pictures of MM were plastered across the United States and eventually across the world. Bars in places like Buenos Aires and Nigeria were named after her. She was voted the number one woman that most men around the globe would like to go to bed with. After years of struggle, she had finally arrived.
10. Many books have been written to explore the cause of Marilyn’s death. Why should we as readers opt for yours above the others?
Many previous books, depending on when they were written, are now hopelessly out of date—or else they drew ridiculous conclusions. (“Bobby Kennedy personally killed Marilyn.”)
A great deal of the information about her death has emerged only in the 21st century, as dying people retracted their previous testimonies—examples include Peter Lawford, Norman Jeffries, Eunice Murray, Jeanne Carmen, Judith Campbell Exner, and an array of other minor players, including the owner of the ambulance company that was called to rush her to the hospital.
Basically, I approached my research like a member of a jury who heard months of testimony, much of which could be dismissed or disproved. As a member of that jury, I had to draw a conclusion, and I did, after weighing decades of evidence.
Marilyn at Rainbow’s End is the first book to actually publish brief bios of her killers. It names them, of course, and is the first book to print their photographs.
It is the most detailed recitation of what happened in Marilyn’s final days, including latter-day testimony from witnesses who were on the scene but denied it in the 1960s. It contains many previously unpublished interviews, including testimony from Jose Bolaños, the Mexican screenwriter who was her last lover.
Late-breaking testimony is included: for example, the assistant coroner in Los Angeles finally admitted that MM’s autopsy report was a fake that he was coerced into signing.
Incidentally, the great preponderance of books about MM are not about her murder, but claim that she committed suicide.
11. If she were still alive today, and you interviewed her again, what would you ask or say to her?
Immediately, a thousand questions spring to mind. First, if she were alive today, we could dismiss all questions about murder vs. suicide, since neither (in that event) would have ever happened. If MM were, say, eight-five, I’d ask her if she found the happiness she was seeking. I’d wonder how she faced up to the ticking time clock all of us must confront and endure, and how she adjusted to aging. Would she have accepted it gracefully, or, like Mae West, fought it every step of the way?
I’d ask her which, of all the men she’d loved in her life, still held a special place in her heart? I’d wonder if she had a toy boy in her life, since even at her age, she would probably be able to attract some handsome young man drawn to her image, at least, even if that image was a bit tarnished.
I’d like to get her comments about critics who asserted that she launched the sexual revolution during the 1950s—a revolution that culminated in the “explosion” of the late 1960s.
I’d ask her which actresses she interpreted as sexy today, if any.
By her eighty-fifth birthday, at least fifty books and perhaps twenty movies had been based on her life. I’d ask her if these authors and filmmakers got it right—or whether they failed to recapture her story.
I’d ask her if she ever found the roles that challenged her in the way she so often wished they would.
I’d ask her about her reactions to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy—and what the brothers had meant in her life.
I’d be very interested to hear her comments about the Hollywood she encountered after the war, compared to the Hollywood that exists during the 21st Century.
I could go on and on with other observations and questions, and she and I could talk and drink champagne until the next millennium.
But, alas, such an encounter with MM is not meant to be.
12. Having studied her for so long, do you have a favorite film of hers?
There can be no doubt. It is the role of Sugar Kane in Some Like It Hot. Of course, she hated the role. “How dumb could Sugar be, not to know Josephine and Daphne were actually men in drag?” Marilyn asked.
In the film, she is the perfect MM, a gifted comedienne who exercises all the tricks she’s ever learned in a lifetime spent in front of a camera. Her timing is perfect. She can be both outrageous and touchingly vulnerable. Her whispery numbers such as “Running Wild” and “I Wanna Be Loved by You” are masterpieces.
She comes onto the scene like a firecracker and throws off lively sparks until the end. She never looked better, as the fuzzy blonde who digs saxophone players and men in glasses. Her performance is one of such intrinsic quality that you believe she’s really being herself—and not play-acting.
She had no idea she had created a film that is today hailed by some critics as the greatest screen comedy of all time.
In fact, on the day of its hilariously successful preview, she had a miscarriage and went into a period of deep mourning.
Female First Lucy Walton
Darwin Porter is one of the world’s most visible, most controversial, and most celebrated celebrity biographers, with an oeuvre that encompasses insider overviews of the lives of most of the major film icons of the 20th century. He’s presently at work on at least two projects guaranteed to start conversations and dialogues on both sides of the Atlantic, including:
ELIZABETH TAYLOR: There is Nothing Like a Dame. All the Gossip Unfit to Print from the Glory Days of Hollywood. A comprehensive compilation of most of the secrets from the mercurial Dame Elizabeth, whose hedonism helped define the jet set of the tumultuous 60s and beyond. A compelling 500 page paperback, with photos. Available online and in bookstores everywhere in October of 2012. ISBN 978-1-936003-31-0
Inside Linda Lovelace’s Deep Throat: Degradation, Porno Chic, and the Rise of Feminism (available online and in bookstores everywhere in January or February of 2013). Darwin Porter was deeply involved in the Linda Lovelace saga as it unfolded in the 70s, interviewing many of the players, and raising money for the legal defense of the film’s co-star, Harry Reems. In this book Porter brings inside information, and a never-before-published revelation, on virtually every page.