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
“All this time they were saying she committed suicide or overdosed,” Popp says. “It was important for us to say, ‘No, let this woman rest — her life was taken from her.’ I’d be spinning in my grave if all these theories and terrible things were coming up.”
“I wish they would let Marilyn rest in peace,” adds June DiMaggio. “The poor little thing.”
The DiMaggio-Popp book is only the latest in a long line of memoirs that, to put it mildly, strain credulity. The late Richard Slatzer got the ball rolling in 1982 with a book in which he claims to have been briefly married to Monroe. John Baker, a Canadian, took it a step further in his self-published My Day With Marilyn, in which heclaims to have picked up a homeless, schizophrenic hitchhiker in 1984 who was Marilyn Monroe.
Last year, self-described Monroe confidante Jeanne Carmen’s self-published biography, Jeanne Carmen: My Wild, Wild Life As a New York Pin Up Queen, Trick Shot Golfer and Hollywood Actressalso appeared. Written by her son, Brandon James, many of the book’s 550 pages recount Marilyn-and-Jeanne I Love Lucyhijinks in which the two women appear as softcore versions of Lucy and Ethel — fun-loving gals who’d spank a naked Jack Benny in a steam room or ogle Rock Hudson scoring a very special hole in one with a younger partner on a golf-course green. Most of the men in Carmen’s book are incredibly endowed and on the make. She seems to have had a Zelig-like presence in Monroe’s life and was even watching from Monroe’s bedroom closet, she asserts, while the actress and her incredibly endowed husband, Joe DiMaggio, had sex.
Brandon James claims his book, written in the first-person voice of Jeanne Carmen, is “an artistic interpretation” of his mother’s life. That statement seems to wink at readers who may wonder about the biography’s improbable geographic details, its lack of hard dates, the fact that Carmen and Monroe pop Valium and Quaaludes before the drugs were even sold, and about why Monroe and others are quoted as using current slang.
When contacted, however, Carmen flatly says, “It’s all true.” And, like June DiMaggio’s mother, she knows who really killed Monroe.
“I guarantee you she did not commit suicide,” Carmen purrs in a Mae West–like voice. “I pretty much know who did it and it would astound you.”
Carmen has enjoyed a late-life, nostalgia-fed celebrity of her own, some of it the result of her alleged friendship with Monroe, some it from her own career as a pinup model and trick-shot golfer in the 1950s and early ’60s. She has appeared at the Marilyn Remembered memorials and as an expert on a 2006 episode of CBS’s 48 Hours Mystery program that kited a list of rumors about Monroe’s death. Carmen’s appearance, in which she claimed that Monroe called her on the night of her death begging Carmen to bring her sleeping pills, was blasted by gossip columnist Liz Smith, who, like many others, accuses Carmen of never having been Monroe’s friend. Carmen acknowledges also getting heat from Mark Bellinghaus, Ernest Cunningham and others.
“All these little, gay guys who have these clubs despise me and they weren’t even born [then]. I was her friend, why are [they] jumping on me?”
Yet Carmen shows no solidarity toward her fellow memoirist June DiMaggio.
“She’s the biggest liar that ever walked the face of the earth,” Carmen says. “I doubt she ever met Marilyn. She came out of the woodwork saying the craziest fucking things I’ve heard in my life.”
Carmen says she will no longer attend the Westwood cemetery memorials, following a confrontation with a stranger there.
“He jumped out from his car dressed in black and said, ‘You knew my father, John F. Kennedy. I’m John Kennedy’s son.’ I shook his hand but I had the feeling he was going to lay a bullet in my head.”
The Feminist and the Fans
“Here I am, one of the founders of second-wave feminism and I’m hanging out with the woman who was Voluptua, who was a Playboy centerfold!”
Professor Lois Banner is taking a break from reading student papers in her cluttered USC office to describe her involvement with the Marilyn Remembered fan club. She teaches “Gender and Sexualities in American History” and “American Lives: Biography and Autobiography in the United States Past” — two courses that entwine history with gender and the study of pop culture, and which discuss Marilyn Monroe. Banner says her students have shown tremendous interest in Monroe, and next fall she will launch a seminar devoted entirely to the movie star.
“It started out as a quest to find out about Marilyn,” she says. “It’s become a very major part of my life and I could not even tell you why. I think I find it a very welcome relief from the academic world.”
Banner’s published works include Intertwined Lives: Passion and Intellect in the Lives of Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead and In Full Flower: Aging Women, Power, and Sexuality. The world of Marilyn studies was unlike anything she’d been used to — it’s not as though the books by June DiMaggio, Jeanne Carmen or Adrian Finkelstein are peer-reviewed. Instead, she found an untamed frontier of pop culture to which she is trying to instill some amount of order.