Saturday, June 04, 2016

My Story

I'm glad I waited until this long to have a look at Marilyn Monroe's autobiography "My Story" written with Ben Hecht, who wrote the play THE FRONT PAGE which was then turned into one of the best romantic comedies of all time "His Girl Friday" (usually characterized as a screwball comedy.) I'm glad I waited because with all the research I've done for almost two years now, I have a good sense of what is true and what isn't when it comes to stories of Monroe's life.

It's less easy to tell how much the words are direct quotes from Monroe and how much they are Hecht's - and how many liberties Hecht took with the truth. One thing that struck me right away is that Monroe's legal guardian Grace McKee is often confused or combined with Monroe's favorite person in the world Ana Lower. Lower is actually mentioned in the book, but she's called Aunt Anna - an extra n.

There are some scenes in the book that other sources said were Ana, but My Story turns her into Grace. For example the recounting of waiting in line to buy stale bread.

But even more so in the section where Monroe tells "Aunt Grace" about her new movie role:
Aunt Grace beamed and went to the stove for coffee.  
"The people are all wonderful," I said, "and I'm going to be in a movie. It'll be a small part. But once I'm on the screen -" 
I stopped and looked at Aunt Grace. She was still smiling at me. But she was standing still. Her face was pale, and she looked tired - as if life was something too heavy to carry much further.  
I put my arms around her and helped her to the table.
"I'm all right," she said. "The coffee will fix me up fine."
"It'll be different now for all of us," I said. "I'll work hard."
I have no doubt that this was actually Ana Lower described here. She died right after Monroe got work in her first movies. The description sounds very much like someone with a heart condition - Monroe's "Aunt" Grace was an alcoholic by this time and died by suicide in 1953, when Monroe was achieving stardom. Not only a heart condition though - Ana Lower was a Christian Scientist and eschewing medication for coffee sounds exactly like what a Christian Scientist would say.

My Story,  published posthumously, is really forthright about things that weren't spoken of in Monroe's day. She gives the entire story of her molestation  when she was eight years old, and even names the guy, "Mr. Kimmel." The best part of all is the portrayal of Kimmel as a grotesque, shameless hypocrite:

When he unlocked the door and let me out, I ran to tell my "aunt" what Mr. Kimmel had done. 
I want to tell you something," I stammered, "about Mr. Kimmel. He - he -" 
My aunt interrupted. 
Don't you dare say anything against Mr. Kimmel," she said angrily, "Mr. Kimmel's a fine man. He's my star boarder!"
Mr. Kimmel came out of his room and stood in the doorway, smiling.
"Shame on you!" my "aunt" glared at me, "complaining about people!" 
"This is different," I began, "this is something I have to tell. Mr. Kimmel -" 
I started stammering again and couldn't finish. Mr. Kimmel came up to me and handed me a nickel. 
"Go buy yourself some ice cream," he said. 
I threw the nickel in Mr. Kimmel's face and ran out. 
I cried in bed that night and wanted to die. I thought, "If there's nobody ever on my side that I can talk to I'll start screaming." But I didn't scream. 
A week later the family including Mr. Kimmel went to a religious revival meeting in a tent. My "aunt" insisted I come along. 
The tent was jammed. Everybody was listening to the evangelist. He was half singing and half talking about the sinfulness of the world. Suddenly he called on all the runners in the tent to come up tot he alter of God where he stood - and repent. 
I rushed up ahead of everyone else and started telling about my "sin." 
"On your knees, sister," he said to me. 
I fell on my knees and began to tell about Mr. Kimmel and how he had molested me in his room. But other "sinners" crowded around me. They also fell on their knees and started wailing about their sings and drowned me out. 
I looked back and saw Mr. Kimmel standing among the nonsinners, praying loudly and devoutly for God to forgive the sins of others.

Wow. I assume Hecht shaped the telling of this but it's all Monroe's story. And that ending is really something.