Saturday, August 9, 2008

This Year's Blonde

By Pat Browning

Marilyn Monroe, she’s everywhere. And why not? She was never just last year’s blonde. She was more than “a mess in a beaded dress.”

That judgment comes from gossip columnist Liz Smith, whose article, “The Marilyn You Don’t Know,” was the cover story for Parade magazine on July 27. Smith writes, “I don’t believe Marilyn planned to die. I think it simply happened to her that night—one wretchedly unhappy night she couldn’t escape.”

Homicide, suicide, or accident? Who can say? All the players are dead. Does it really matter? Probably not, but somewhere in all this is the nut of a novel. It could be a ripping good mystery in the right hands.

What we do know is that she died young—beautiful, famous, and unhappy—but her ex-husbands lived long and prospered. Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio died in 1999 at age 83. Playwright Arthur Miller died in 2005 at age 89. James Dougherty … James who?

James Dougherty lived in the shadows cast by Marilyn’s white-hot spotlight. He wasn’t as famous as DiMaggio, or as brainy as Miller, but he did very well for a man destined to go through life as Marilyn Monroe’s first husband.

Miller painted an unflattering portrait of Marilyn in his play, “After The Fall.” It seemed a tacky thing to do, but everything’s grist for a writer’s mill. DiMaggio apparently was jealous of her fame, but he didn’t kiss and tell. From Broadway Joe to Joltin’ Joe to Gentleman Joe, he seemed to be one of the few constants in her life.

James Dougherty must have been dumbstruck when his child bride, Norma Jeane Baker, reinvented herself as Marilyn Monroe but if he had regrets, he kept them to himself for most of his life. He was a Los Angeles cop for 25 years, retired, and settled in Maine, where he was a county commissioner and taught at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Dougherty died in 2005 at age 84, but not before co-authoring a book, To Norma Jean with Love, Jimmy. In it, he claimed they were madly in love when they married. If you can believe what you read on the Internet, Marilyn always said it was a marriage of convenience.

In a 2004 documentary “Marilyn’s Man,” Dougherty claimed to be her true love, and the inventor of "Marilyn Monroe." The New York Times is quoted as saying that when he was informed of her death, Dougherty replied, "I'm sorry."

That’s hardly sinister or even callous. What would you expect him to say? Joe DiMaggio took charge of Marilyn’s funeral, and the guest list apparently didn’t include Dougherty.

Why the ongoing public interest in Marilyn Monroe, who died 46 years ago? She was beautiful. She was famous. Her life was a mess. It’s the stuff of romance novels and TV series. It’s some kind of comfort to know that the goddesses are not so different from the rest of us. Life dumps on everyone. It brings to mind a famous exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway:

Fitzgerald: The rich are different from you and me.
Hemingway: Yes, they have more money.

Whatever her problems, Marilyn Monroe left us some wonderfully funny and romantic movies: Bus Stop, Seven Year Itch, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Some Like It Hot, one of the funniest movies ever made.

There’s a great YouTube video of a scene with Marilyn singing “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis arguing in the background, and Joe E. Brown waving from the audience. You can find it at:

You can watch the entire movie at There’s a little Search box in the upper right corner. Just type in “Some Like It Hot.”

Marilyn had a reputation for showing up late, or not at all, for filming. We can thank her for showing up long enough to make this one. She’s at her beautiful best, and we get one of the best lines in movie history—Joe E. Brown’s parting shot: “Nobody’s perfect.”


Ben Small said...


Talk about coincidence. I haven't seen Some Like It Hot in years, and the very day you post this, the movie was being shown at the Las Vegas bookstore where I was signing books. Movies in a bookstore? Yeah, strange. But a lot about Las Vegas is strange. The sound was muted, but just seeing some of those scenes made me laugh. I have got to order that movie.

Count me among those who think Marilyn was murdered.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree. Marilyn was murdered. I once interviewed Joe DiMaggio at an American Legion Baseball tournament here in the cowboy state. He absolutely refused to discuss Marilyn, although I understand he had roses placed on her grave for many years.