When Clark Gable, my mothers childhood idol died in 1961 I saw my mother cry for the first time…and I didn’t understand why. A year later I understood.
Early on the Sunday Morning of August 5 1962 I was sitting at the breakfast table eating a bowl of Trix. With Motion Picture magazine open before me, I was reading all about the adventures of Liz and Dick in Rome. That summer I was so engrossed in the incredible drama and getting a real education at twelve all about morals and Hollywood, and how mean the ladies on my block could be about a divorcee. Liz and my Mother were the most famous divorced women that anyone on my block knew of. Between them they kept the hens of Orchid Street clucking and pecking for hours. Suddenly in a crackly transistor radio second Shelly Fabares’ Johnny Angel was cut off by the announcer. “Actress Marilyn Monroe was found dead this morning in her Brentwood Home……..” I burst into stinging tears.
All I could think was…”Gee if only she had known me I could’a helped her.” I found out over the years that lots of kids thought that very same thought. My friend Lane’s brother Cameron who was turning 12 wanted only one thing for his birthday on that very August 5th and that one thing was Marilyn Monroe, nothing else, just Marilyn. Imagine how HE felt when he heard the news.
Later that day my father picked me up for mandatory visitation. When I got into the car he noticed my red rimmed eyes. “What’cu been crying about now?”
“Marilyn Monroe” I barely managed to whisper her name. I knew what was coming but I at least owed her the courage of the truth. Someone owed her some kind of respect or something on this day….didn’t they?
Geez kid what are you crying over her for? She was a dumb stupid lush and a slut. Grow up and be a man! She ain’t worth thinking about. She was just a dime a dozen movie star. Geez you and your damn stupid movie stars. Stop being such a sissy for Christ sake or I will give you something to really cry about!”
The best thing my Mother ever did when it came to my father was to divorce him.
I knew deep in my gut that he was wrong, that Marilyn was worth thinking about. She had changed us by being on the screen. Especially those of us who were children in her time on earth, children who were in trouble, unloved, abandoned, different. She spoke to us in ways adults couldn’t hear. And we understood and loved her for it. She was one of us.
(MARILYN ESCORTED TO THE PREMIER OF “RIVER OF NO RETURN” BY HER CO-STAR TOMMY RETTIG)
But with her gone I had no role model. On that Sunday morning as I rode beside my father in the Chevy Bel Air on the way to the beach in Santa Monica we passed under a bridge on Olympic Blvd, the old deco bridge that connected the two lots at Twentieth Century Fox. There across the bridge in huge gold letters a word shimmered with the promise of what would change my life for ever. “CLEOPATRA” it screamed. “Coming Soon!”.
That is another story.