By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
On most days, the cemetery is an island of calm just beyond the trauma of Wilshire Boulevard traffic, but every August 5 since 1982 it has drawn dozens of visitors to the Marilyn Monroe Memorial, an event sponsored by the Marilyn Remembered fan club, which installed a commemorative bench near Monroe’s crypt in the Corridor of Memories.
The club’s founder and president, Greg Schreiner, grew up in Orangeville, Illinois, a town of 500 “near nothing.” His obsession with Marilyn Monroe began as a child. “My parents took me to see Some Like It Hot at a drive-in,” he says. “I became fascinated with this creature on the screen, and I became a collector.”
Today, he owns 10 gowns (including the bottom half of Monroe’s sexy costume from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and furniture belonging to Monroe, along with her refrigerator. A small room in his home has glass display cases containing pieces of Monroebilia and many Monroe dolls, though he says much of his collection is in storage or in traveling exhibits.
Although the fan club’s Westwood services often draw Marilyn impersonators and people dressed in 1950s-style clothing, last August’s gathering would stick out for Schreiner.
“We’ve dealt with people thinking they’re Marilyn’s children ever since the club has been in existence,” says Schreiner. “We’ve had [such] people show up and most of them are mentally ill. I guess they’re just sick people latching on to Marilyn as an anchor in their lives.”
Schreiner says that as he addressed the assembled fans in the cemetery’s A-framed chapel, Sherrie Lea Laird and her daughter, Kezia, began inching toward the front. As he watched Sherrie and Kezia advance, he recognized a new presence: Another woman, much older than Laird and who also claimed to be Marilyn reincarnated, was advancing from behind him. Suddenly Schreiner was caught in a pincer movement of reincarnated Marilyns.
“I’ve got to speak!” announced the older reincarnate who, according to Ernest Cunningham, had knocked over a couple of wreaths during her advance.
“I’m sorry but this isn’t the time,” Schreiner recalls telling the woman, who then withdrew.
“She was in her 60s,” Schreiner says of the older woman. “You can’t be alive the same time that Marilyn was alive and later be reincarnated!”
Laird and Dr. Finkelstein’s ambitions extended beyond seizing Schreiner’s moment. Now was the time to announce to the world that the star of Niagara had been holed up in Laird’s body since 1963. Their quest did not go well.
“These Marilyn Monroe fans are so fixated on a dead idol, and most of them don’t believe in reincarnation,” the doctor ruefully recalls in the sanctuary of his Malibu office. “They were vicious.”
Laird knew many faces from Monroe’s past inside the cemetery chapel, but these now-elderly friends of Marilyn’s did not in turn recognize Laird, bringing her to tears. Many fans, Finkelstein says, were openly contemptuous. Today, during a telephone call from Toronto, Laird’s voice is completely guileless, her prairie-flat Canadian accent showing no hint of her Scottish origins.
“I attended on my doctor’s insistence,” she says of last August’s ordeal. “I wasn’t really prepared to go there but there was press from Japan waiting for me to show up. Doctor forced me to go up to George Barris.”
A moment of truth came when Laird, Kezia and Dr. Finkelstein cornered Barris, the Hollywood photographer who reputedly took the last photographs of the living Monroe, while the Japanese film crew recorded the historic encounter.
Laird introduced herself to the bewildered octogenarian, believing he would see in her eyes the Marilyn he beheld through his Nikon’s viewfinder so many years ago. Barris listened and stared at Laird. Then he spoke.
“There are many people who look like Marilyn,” Barris finally said to the stranger. “I wish you luck — that’s all I can tell you.” As the crestfallen Laird dabbed her eyes with a tissue, Barris turned to Dr. Finkelstein: “Whatever she wants to be, let her be.”
Although Laird was unknown outside of Internet fan sites prior to her appearance at the Monroe memorial, her reincarnation claim had nonetheless reached the attentive ears of MSNBC’s Scarborough Country and CNN’s Showbiz Tonight, both of which interviewed her and Dr. Finkelstein that week. The pair’s interrogators rolled their eyes on cue and MSNBC brought in media shrink Bethany Marshall to explain psychological delusion, but these appearances, along with the L.A. Timespiece, now entered a collective unconscious already tenderized by conspiracy theories regarding Monroe’s death. If the actress had been murdered by the Mafia or the right wing or on order of the Kennedys, why should the possibility of Marilyn’s reincarnation sound far-fetched?
Berth of the Hype
Today, Marilyn in death has become a bigger commodity than Marilyn in life. CMG Worldwide, in partnership with Anna Strasberg, owns the rights to license Monroe’s image and reportedly earns $8 million a year on royalties from companies marketing calendars, posters and T-shirts.