Since this is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, and since her fame continues to grow ( a new twist includes some feminist writers claiming her as one of theirs ex post facto), aeqai is reprinting an article I wrote in 2004 and was picked up by Weston (Conn.) Monthly, where the incidents in the memoir actually took place. Monroe was married to Arthur Miller then, and it turned out, by accident, that they were near neighbors of ours. With the Warhol polaroids show about to open at CAC,my Monroe piece seemed even more timely.
When Arthur Miller, America’s greatest playwright, died a few months ago I remembered not only seeing his play Death of a Salesman in New York when I was a child, (my first non-musical drama), but also the circumstances under which I happened to meet him, and his wife, Marilyn Monroe, in Connecticut in 1958-60. Miller had not yet written his play After the Fall, which has long been presumed to be based on his problematic marrage to the iconic actress. The much immortalized Monroe was, to us growing up in the ‘50s, the ultimate movie star and “sex goddess.”
My mother’s brother lived in Weston, Connecticut for a decade from the mid-50s to the mid 60s. Weston’s an area of rolling hills, berry patches, streams and ponds (the Salem cigarette commercials were filmed there, catching me and Robby Taylor smoking in the streams). I spent idyllic summrs there, often picking berries in the lanes with Nan Cheever, the writer’s niece, while my cousin Nick courted and became engaged to her sister, Sue Cheever. Much of my summers were spent taking tennis lessons (in “tennis whites” on clay courts at the Westport Country Club, in preparation for tournament play in Cincinnati).
Liquor was sold only by the half-gallon in Weston, at a small mom-and-pop grocery store; people drank heavily there (Cheever territory, of course). We’d go to the store to pick up, where we’d run into Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe regularly. They lived a few blocks away. The store did carry sturgeon, smoked salmon, the New York Times, a little food, but mainly liquor. The store could only accommodate six people at a time, including the proprietor and cashier. Surrounded by woods, the dark interior of the store clashed with the dappled sunlight, showing through the slats. It was around morning the first time we ran into them at the store.
And there she was in blue jeans and sunglasses, a babushka covering her head, red lipstick, no other makeup. My twelve-year-old heart and eyes raced. I asked my non-plussable mother if I could ask for an autograph.
“No, you may not. This is where she lives and they are entitled to their privacy. If we happen to meet at the cash register, you may say ‘Good morning, Mrs. Miller’.”
The four of us met at the cash register. “Good morning, Mrs. Miller,” I said.
“Hello, little boy,” she said, unsmilingly. She looked so sad that even I was baffled at twelve.
We all went our ways. “Mom,” I asked, “Why did Marilyn Monroe look so sad? Doesn’t she have everything she wants? And who is that old guy she’s with?”
And so I learned of the existence of Arthur Miller and some of the troubled background of Amreica’s most famous actress, of the love that Yankee ballplayer/ex-husband Joe DiMaggio still carried for her, of her strange marriage to an American intellectual much her senior, a possible father figure/protector/guardian for her. For him? Who care, then?
The approximately three-mile drive from Weston to the Westport Country Club took us past the Miller’s house, three days a week, for ten weeks for two summers. My uncle Harold and his fourth wife, Vera, had a son together, Charles, who was three years old and a beautiful, soft-spoken child. We’d stop the car on the way to the club at the foot of the Miller’s driveway to give Marilyn Monroe some berries we picked. Miller’s/Monroe’s house was closest en route (and they weren’t berry pickers).
Charles got out of the car to offer her the berries. She sat on the edge of the lawn, her white dress between her knees, and sunglasses on top of her head. These were long hot summer days in the country.
She fell in love with Charles. My aunt Vera asked me to walk him up the small hill, which we climbed, over and over again those two summers. We no longer stopped to give her berries; we stopped so Marilyn could see Charles. She’d stroke his jet-black hair, peer longingly into his green eyes (a family trait, those eyes), and cuddle him between her legs. A variation of the theme occurred three days a week, without fail. Sometimes she’d cry, and we all came to understand her deep sadness.
In the course of those summers, we’d run into Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd, the author William Styron, and many others who were well known people in American arts and letters.
But nothing, no one, could stop a twelve-year-old boy in his tracks like seeing Marilyn Monroe for the first time in a small country grocery store.
Lovely story. Thank you for sharing.