Marilyn Monroe Tells The Truth
Every time Marilyn Monroe picks up a newspaper or a magazine these days, she crosses her fingers. Because she never knows what wild-eyed tale she’s likely to read about herself. America’s “best undressed woman” hits the public press more often, with more pictures and more prose, than any other personality in the world. But a lot of the things that are being written about her, she says, are far from the truth.
“Let’s get to the bottom of it,” I said to her, as we sat down to thrash it all out, “so we can give the true low-down on your private life for a change.”
“Nothing would suit me better,” was Marilyn’s reply. “There is very little one can do about printed untruths, unless some one like you comes along and gives me a chance to straighten things out. And right now is a wonderful time to do just that.”
“Well,” I said, “I’m going to start with something a little ticklish. Did you know that your ex-sister-in-law is trying to sell all sorts of stories about you around Hollywood?”
Marilyn nodded: “Yes, I know. I read about it. That’s the way I learn most things about me, true or untrue—by reading the news- papers. So I investigated and found out that one publication had bought a story from her, but that another magazine had turned down another story she wanted to sell them, because they didn’t want to print anything about me that wasn’t firsthand.
“You see, my sister-in-law hardly knew me at all. And I knew her very little when I was married to Jim Dougherty. She was married at that time, and had three children. And we were all busy, so we had little or no contact. She is married to another man now (I didn’t know her name was Nelson until you told me), and I understand that he is a writer of sorts. They need money pretty badly, probably, and I guess she thinks this is a good way to get some.”
There was not a trace of rancor in Marilyn’s voice as she said this. It was a simple statement of fact—as direct and as frank as her answer when she was first questioned about posing in the nude for that calendar. Remember? She said then, “I was hungry and the fifty dollars I earned paid my board at the Studio Club. They had been carrying me along way past the time limit. I did nothing wrong and I am not ashamed to admit I posed for the pictures. Mr. Kelly took them and his wife was present.”
This same honesty and simplicity set the tone for our entire interview. Marilyn is twenty-six—give or take a year—and she stands accused of faking a tearful biography to give people the impression that she is far younger than that—and far more interesting. No one could be more eager than Marilyn to get the facts sorted out from the fiction.
Here is her story, just exactly as she told it to me, frankly and informally, in direct and spontaneous reply to a series of questions I knew the readers of Photoplay would want to have answered:
“There’s been a lot of talk about your name,” I said. “Why did you call yourself Norma Jean Baker?”
“When 1 was a tiny little tot, I was told that was my name. I did not choose it. So far as I knew, I was Norma Jean Baker, and I never heard anything to the contrary until I was in my teens. You see, my mother was married to a Mr. Baker. But he was not my father.”
“How about this Edward Mortenson, who is mentioned in some of the stories as being your father?”
“I never called myself Mortenson at any time because Mr. Mortenson was not my father. He proved that to the satisfaction of the authorities, and for that reason he had no financial responsibility for me.”
“What about your own father?” I asked.
“All I know is that he was killed in an automobile accident before I was born. My mother has not told me anything else about him. In giving the data for my biography at the studio, I told them just what I had been told myself. But I have been accused of lying since, because people came to the conclusion—on their own— that Edward Mortenson was my father.”
I was reluctant to phrase the next question that popped into mind: “You’ve also been accused of telling untruths about your mother. Some of the stories say that you gave out information that she was dead.”
“Again, people jumped to conclusions.” Marilyn was unevasive. “I told them I had become a charge of the State of California and the County of Los Angeles because my mother was incurably ill and could no longer take care of me. They assumed when I said, ‘incurable,’ that she had subsequently died. But they did not ask, ‘Is she dead?’ ”
Then I asked about the story that was printed recently that said she has an invalid brother who does not know he is related to her.
“I have never had a brother,” she said. “I do have a half-sister, though—a very nice girl who lives in Florida. I met her through Mrs. Anna Lower, one of my guardians, and the woman who came closer to giving me a true mother’s love than anyone else in the world.”
“How did that happen?”
Mrs. Lower located Bernice, her half- sister, Marilyn said, when she herself had no idea at all where she was. “Two years ago,” Marilyn recalled, “she came here to Hollywood to meet me. She is a lovely person. We have the same mother, but different fathers. It seemed strange to meet when we were already fully grown, but we liked each other on sight.”
“Is it true that your ex-husband, James Dougherty,” I asked next, “is now a police officer in Los Angeles and that he discusses you and his marriage to you very little?” “Yes, that’s quite true.” She smiled. “He seldom discusses me, because his wife prefers that he doesn’t. He has children now, and perhaps they would like the children to think he hasn’t been married before—it could be something of that sort.”
“The story that’s told, Marilyn, is that you married without love—and that what you really wanted, even though you might not have realized it, was just to have a home of your own. Is that so?”
Marilyn did not answer that immediately. She thought it over carefully, then said, “It’s so hard to define reasons for something as emotional as marriage—especially if you’re as young as I was. But I suppose you could say that having a home of my own had something to do with it. But there were other considerations—just being in love with love, or sex, or whatever you want to call it. We both realized soon that it wasn’t going to be a success.”
I wanted to know if it was true that she lived near Culver City while married.
“I never lived near Culver City, though that story’s been printed again and again. I lived in Van Nuys, California. And it was there that I worked for the defense plant.”
“Did you have a movie career in mind at that time? Were you studying drama?”
“I never thought about a career when I was working in the plant,” she said. “In fact, I never did anything about it at all until after my divorce. In some article recently, it said that I started studying with Phil Moore during the defense-plant days. But that’s not so. I first started to take lessons from him about a year and a half or two years ago.”
“But you had had some sort of movie break, hadn’t you, when you were in the defense plant?”
“Some Army public relations men used me in films of a defense plant in action, and those films were the basis for my getting started with the studios. It was those films, and nothing else.”
“How about the story that you used to live across the Street from Howard Keel and had a terrible crush on him?”
“True,” Marilyn said. “He was Harry Keel then. I was about eleven or twelve, and he didn’t even know I was alive.”
I wanted to know about the story that she took a guardian into court with her, when she signed with Twentieth. “Was that to fool the studio about your age?”
“Of course not. The studio lawyers knew that, as a married woman of eighteen, I was not legally required to have a guardian in order to sign a contract. I took Mrs. Goddard with me at Twentieth’s request. Since I was under twenty-one, they thought it was advisable.”
“There was also a story about your mother being a Mexican.”
“That’s absolutely untrue. Her maiden name was Gladys Pearl Monroe. She is a direct descendant of President Monroe.” “All right now, how about Joe DiMaggio? Are you married to him?”
“No! I am not! And, on that subject— some people at the studio tell me it would be better for me to remain unmarried. They seem to feel I would lose some of my public if I settled down to a life of domesticity. I am very serious about my career. But if I decide I want to marry, I will not let my career stand in the way. When the time comes, I shall do as I please. But so far, I have not had to make a decision.” “It’s true, isn’t it,” I then asked, “that the late John Hyde and Joe DiMaggio are the only two serious romances you’ve had since your divorce?”
“Just those two.”
“Is it true that you once tried to make a home with your mother, and that it didn’t work out?”
“That is absolutely false.” She sounded distressed. “None of the doctors who have worked with my mother, and none of the people who’ve been responsible for me, have ever suggested such an arrangement. They’ve all known it wouldn’t be fair to either of us—since there’s no common ground on which to make a home.”
I hated to ask the next question, but I felt I had to. “It’s been said, Marilyn, that you have been negligent about your mother’s support.”
“I have contributed to her support when she needed help, ever since I’ve been making enough money to do so. But she’s earned for herself a great part of the time. She was a cutter at RKO, and she did work at Columbia for a while.”
Then we switched to a lighter subject—clothes. “The stories about your wardrobe run to the two extremes—that you have only a few very simple, inexpensive dresses—or that you have a lavish wardrobe of designer frocks.”
“I don’t have many clothes. I can’t afford an extensive wardrobe yet. I have some cottons that run anywhere from ten dollars to thirty-five. And I have a few expensive items—dresses that cost over seventy-five. When I have to dress for a studio occasion, I use the wardrobe department.”
“How about furs?”
“I don’t own any. But I’ve borrowed fur coats from the studio. And I’ve also gone to evening parties in a cloth coat of my own, and I’ve been perfectly comfortable. I love clothes, but I don’t worry about them. I think people are much too apt to confuse the trimmings with what’s underneath them. Anyway, I don’t need many elaborate clothes. I don’t go to night clubs—and I’ve never been to a premiere.”
“Things are going awfully well for you financially now, aren’t they?” I asked next.
“Oh, yes,” Marilyn said. “And I never buy anything now without being sure 1 can afford it. But in the old days, I was always getting in too deep. When I first started in movies, I bought a record player on time payments. But, before I finished paying for it, I lost out at Twentieth—my option wasn’t picked up—and that was the end of the record player. And then another time the finance company took back my car. All that taught me a lesson.”
Marilyn isn’t easy to catch for an interview these days. There are too many demands on her time. The studio casts her in one picture after another, since she is top box-office— “Don’t Bother to Knock,” “O. Henry’s Full House,” “We’re Not Married,” “Monkey Business,” “Niagara,” and just no w she is rehearsing and preparing wardrobe for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” But once she arrives at the interview she buckles down to it seriously and doesn’t cut corners in time or detail. Only once, in New York, she told me, the pace became too strenuous for her.
“One woman asked me how long 1 thought a whale could remain submerged before it would die. Since I hadn’t the faintest idea, and any guess I might make could look ridiculous in print. I asked her why she wanted me to answer such a strange question. ‘It’s a kind of intelligence test,’ she said. I wondered whose intelligence was at stake—hers or mine. But I learned long ago that you have to take the bad with the good. And that it doesn’t pay to lose your temper when untruths are printed. “Sooner or later, the truth always comes out.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1953