Old Movies, Marilyn Monroe, and Me

Didja ever get that burning feeling in the upper part of your throat behind your nose that says to you “you’re gonna get a cold, Pav?” Well, you’re not Pav, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, I decided to lie low while Eva was at work and Liv was at school, drink lotsa liquids and watch a movie. We’ve got AppleTV so we can rent movies from iTunes for a small fee—we can even buy many of them.

So I laid myself on the couch facing the 42-inch flat screen HDTV that Eva bought so her kids could watch sporting events on a large screen. We get to watch our stuff too.

Marilyn Monroe and Louis Calhern in “The Asphalt Jungle”

I like old movies, especially the classics, so I thumbed the little clicker over a bunch in this genre and watched the trailers Ben Hur, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and Charade. I stopped at The Asphalt Jungle for at least two reasons: Marilyn Monroe acts in it; and, I am currently writing the “Brooklyn” portion of my memoir of years 1937-1958, having lived 5½ years in a portion of this borough of New York City that was, indeed, such a “jungle”—and during the era portrayed in the film. The location of the story, however, was in the Midwest, possibly Cincinnati.

Marilyn has a small but critical part: the mistress of the character played by Louis Calhern, always elegant even when he’s a bad guy as in this film. Marilyn does the not-so-ditzy blond very well. More about her, and me, later.

The other actors, all excellent and at the top of their respective forms, were James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen. The film was directed by the masterful John Huston.

Jean Hagen and Sterling Hayden in “The Asphalt Jungle”

Sterling Hayden became a favorite person for me when we both lived in the same general area. I was in San Francisco and he was living on a houseboat in Sausalito, near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. I believe I saw him during an occasional visit to this “so European” small town.

Hayden had important roles in Dr. Strangelove and The Godfather, two of my favorite films. My major reason for liking him was that he sailed to Tahiti with all four of his children on his boat “the Wanderer,” which is also the title of an acclaimed book he wrote. Also on board for the Tahiti trip was “The President of The Pacific Ocean,” Spike Africa, a very colorful and accomplished sailor.

Sam Jaffe is also a favorite actor. I remember him well in Lost Horizon as the High Lama, and in The Day the Earth Stood Still in which he plays the character Professor Jacob Barnhardt, an Albert Einstein-like mathematician.

But back to Marilyn Monroe.

She came upon my scene as I was about to turn 17 years old, when she appeared in the first issue of Playboy Magazine, December, 1953. I had been marginally aware of Marilyn, having seen her in the film “All About Eve” with my parents in 1950, and having seen her as a bathing-suited pinup in various magazines and calendars.

Playboy was then, compared with today’s men’s magazines, rather mild, playful and quite literate. But, it was also shocking to show females in the nude, however tastefully, in a magazine that was aimed at the general reading public. Her poses in Playboy reminded me of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau statuettes of nude female figures owned by some of my relatives. In other words, I was not only happy to see an attractive nude woman, but I appreciated her as art, as well. It sounds corny, but it’s true and since then I felt Marilyn was sort of related to me. She was 11 years my senior; I felt she was teaching me something about The Female, an entity quite mysterious and compelling to me since the onset of puberty at age 14.

So, I followed her life through magazines and newspapers and the occasionally movie, just like any star-struck teenager.

Marilyn married Joe DiMaggio a few days after I joined the Navy in August, 1954. I was happy for both of them but saddened and confused by their divorce just a few months later.

Less than two years later she married Arthur Miller, whom I admired but thought too much a sourpuss for Marilyn. They divorced 5 years later. In observing her marriages to older men, by reading of her unhappy childhood, especially regarding an absent father, and by gaining personal knowledge through my own marriage and life in general, I saw the tragic pattern underlying her life. I began to worry about her, as I would an older sister who was following a destructive path.

Things got worse. It was widely rumored she had a one-night stand with President Kennedy, and that she was the mistress of his brother, Robert Kennedy.

One year before her death at age 36, she acted in her last film, “The Misfits,” written for her by her soon-to-be ex-husband, Miller.

She died in Los Angeles under mysterious circumstances, and there are several theories propounded by people who focus on such things.

These sad and poignant memories were in parallel to those elicited by the film’s realistic portrayal of life in the “Asphalt Jungle.” I recommend the film as one of the best of its kind, the progenitor of many films in this genre to follow; and, where you can see the lovely young Marilyn Monroe, as yet untouched by the impending tragedies in her short life.

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About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate Californian living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles and creative writing.
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