>Tuesday, February 21, 2023. On a Sunday afternoon written on a Monday afternoon with the temps in the low 60s, not warm but definitely not cold, and a very quiet day, kind of sunny. The Monday holiday turns Tuesday into the beginning of the week.
The weekend. A friend had sent me a new book, non-fiction, called Frank & Marilyn. Sinatra and Monroe. I learned all this on the cover. And there was the subtitle: The Lives, the Loves and the Fascinating Relationship of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. By Edward Z. Epstein.
Truthfully, as much as I loved those two for their talents and their personas, and once upon a time even kinda idolized them — individually — I could only think, do I want to spend my time reading a book about their relationship, up, down, or all around? No. However, I told my friend that I would read it.
I spend a lot of time reading, often current non-fiction (which could often pass for real fiction), however a book about two famous American Hollywood Stars who both had allegedly wild sex lives also? OK, I can see the appeal as a sales point. Many are always open to reading about someone else’s sex life. And Marilyn and Frank? Who could resist?
MM became a legend, albeit a sad one; and he became the all-time-biggest male stars of the century. And evidently they had a “relationship.” All of which I’ve read a lot about over the years because of my personal interest in Hollywood and its “legends.” When I lived out there I had a natural desire to learn about “the neighborhood” and its dwellers. It was always endlessly interesting as a community with stars abounding — befores and afters and right nows.
So I picked up Frank & Marilyn with no expectation but knowing that I was going to be reading about two amazing performers as individuals. And that I might learn something about their lives that I didn’t already know.
And I have. To the point where I am having a hard time putting it down! It is the real life version of Sunset Boulevard which had Gloria Swanson acting the part that encapsulates the experience Marilyn Monroe would divine in her real life. But Sinatra and Monroe — who were very important in their professional lives — are the author’s device for placing the industry known to the entire world as Hollywood in our 20th century (American) history.
I was visiting my aunt and uncle in August in 1962 at their cottage on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire, sleeping on a screened-in porch since the guest bedroom was occupied by my girlfriend (and we weren’t married; 1962 rules), when she woke me up and quietly said: “Marilyn’s dead.”
I said: “Who?”
It was as if we were talking about someone very close to us, which is why I had to ask her who she was referring to. And we weren’t … very close to Marilyn Monroe. Nor had we like millions and millions of others on that day ever met Marilyn except on the screen.
My favorite Marilyn Monroe moment — although there were many of them — was a scene in How to Marry a Millionaire when she’s dressed up to go out and she proceeds to walk across the room to the front door; but in her direct path she walks straight into a wall (next to the door). It still makes me laugh to think of that moment and her perfect “dumb blonde” expression.
That was her strength and this book reveals it as fascinating, and intelligent, and damaged goods in some ways thanks to her experience as a child. But the book reveals a Monroe who was savvy and witty in her way, having transported herself into the world of the heavyweights. Her immortality was the good news and the bad news.
I was reminded of a story recounted by (Lady) Sarah Churchill. When her American grandmother Consuelo Vanderbilt died in 1964, she left each of her Churchill grandchildren a piece of her real estate portfolio. One of them was an estate overlooking the Mediterranean on the Rivera. The property was several acres and contained a guesthouse which the new buyers had leased out to Sargent Shriver, the Kennedy son-in-law. Sarah, knowing the Shrivers, went over to meet the occupant to have a last look at where she had stayed when visiting Grandma.
The house, she learned, was occupied by an American woman, and on a table in the sitting room was a framed photograph of Marilyn Monroe.
Sarah, naturally curious, asked the woman how she knew Marilyn (who had died only a few years before).
“I was her housekeeper,” the woman replied. The woman who found Marilyn on her deathbed in Brentwood, California in August of 1962.
I’m three-quarters through the book (I was intending to only read a few pages) and it has turned out to be a a very important piece of 20th century American history. That’s a big description for what on sight looks like a moviebook book. Which in a way it is because the film industry defined America and affected its psyche profoundly, disguised as “just a movie.”
If you are a movie fan or an historian, or just like a good story about people you know but never knew, this is the book.