The first time I ever saw Marilyn Monroe in a movie....well, I can't remember when it was...I do remember that she simply blew me away. I was in my teens and feeling like the ugliest duckling in the world, and then I watched a movie with this feminine, fragile woman...blonde, beautiful and delicate. I remember thinking that if my chocolate brown hair was platinum blonde, I'd be happier with myself. On my next trip to the local drugstore, I spent some hard-earned babysitting money on 4 packages of Roux Water Rinse #o1...positive in my teenage innocence that if one package of this great stuff made a brunette turn blonde, then surely 4 packages would really make an impression!
Needless to say, not having the understanding I have today of what makes brunettes blonde, I mixed up the packets of powder with water, just like the directions said...hot water, the hotter the better. After smooshing it through my hair for the required 15 minutes, I quickly rinsed the crud out of my hair, towelled it dry and slowly peeked around the corner of the bathroom door to see my newly blonde hair in the mirror. Of course, my dark brown curly hair was still dark brown and curly...not a platinum blonde like I hoped it would be. Crushed, I threw the packages in the trash, set my hair in brush rollers and pincurls and sulked for the rest of the day. Marilyn Monroe was a lucky girl....obviously she had better luck with Roux rinses than I was having!
Following her career as I grew up, watching the movies she made, reading the movie trade rags full of gossipy stories about her and her hunky male co-stars, I became a fan. Not the stalker-type fan we read about today, but a loyal fan who disagreed with the movie mags and their tawdry stories about her. When I heard on the radio that she had died, I was saddened to hear that this fragile and beautiful woman was gone. She was 36....that didn't seem very old to me at my age then of 17. Over the years following her death, I watched her movies, read the books written about her and every so often wondered what she might be doing if she'd lived. If people had been more caring and less critical, if movie producers and directors had been more sympathetic and less harsh, who knows what she might have done with her amazing comedic talents and her wispy but crystal clear singing voice.
Last week, I was in the mountains at an art workshop...I'm an artist, and this was a 2 week vacation from real life for me. After one of the day's sessions, I was walking along the main street of the sleepy little mountain town and stopped in front of a shop to look at a large and very clear black and white photo of Marilyn, matted and framed in a brushed pewter frame. She was leaning against a horse, with her arm resting along the horse's neck, and staring just a little to the right of the camera, lost in thought...her face sad, wistful and lonely-looking. I walked into the shop and asked the clerk where the photo came from. "Oh, they're all over here," she told me. "You know, she filmed that movie just south of here...stayed at Becker's Chalets, bungalow 33, I think it was..."
"River of No Return"....Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Rory Calhoun...I've only seen it once, a long time ago...and it was that movie that convinced me that Roux water rinses would make me a stunning blonde, like she was in that movie.
"Who's the photographer?" I asked the clerk. "Oh, one of the two old guys that used to own the photography business here. He sold it to this other photographer guy, who also bought all their negatives from the 40's and 50's," she explained.
I knew I needed to talk to the photographer, to ask about the photographs and find out the history around them. I found his name and phone number, called his home and spoke with his wife. "No, he's out on a photoshoot for one of the lodges here," she said. "But, you can come over to the house, if you like, and I can show you the photos...I've a ton of stories about Marilyn, when she was filming that movie here. The locals still like to share their memories of that year...pretty exciting stuff for a sleepy mountain town!"
We made an appointment to meet over coffee, and I drove to her house. After some pleasantries, she started telling me the stories and memories that she has collected from the older folks in town...one from a fellow who used to own a dance hall...Marilyn came there after filming on the weekends, just to sit and listen to the music. Another story she collected from a local man who was a skinny, awkward 12 year old back then. He and his buddies had a mission to meet the movie star, and they hopped on their bikes, scoured the backwoods by Becker's until they found her out walking. After some chit-chat, the 12 year old got off his bike and let her ride it. He ran alongside her as his friends pedalled along behind...none of them believing that this was truly happening to them....
Story after story poured out of her, and I listened carefully and respectfully. It was obvious that she had collected these with care and they were treasures to her. She excused herself for a few minutes, and came back with a stack of DVD's that she had ordered...Marilyn's movies, bigraphies that have been made of her..."You must get this one, it's really good," she insisted, handing one to me.
After a few hours of talking, I made arrangements with her to carry their line of matted and framed photos in my business. It seemed to me somehow symbolic that, all these years later, I'm still interested, still in awe of the talent and humour that Marilyn Monroe displayed to so many people in this little town, while she filmed a movie. It is symbolic to me that today I have a collection of some the most beautiful photos ever taken of her. Some I'll sell, because the photographer has exclusive rights to the reproduction of the photos, and I can re-order some when I need more. But, one I'll give my daughter, as a thank you for her helping me while I was away taking the art workshop in the mountains. One more I'll give to my granddaughter, who works in that sleepy little town and is as intrigued with the stories about Marilyn Monroe as I am.
The last one I'll hang on my office wall, right across from my desk, as a reminder that some things in this world aren't real...platinum blonde hair, the glitter of Hollywood and most of all, the fame that people can attain...it was the very thing that hastened Marilyn Monroe's demise. I want to remember her as she was when these photos were taken at a movie set along the river...a young and hopeful woman of 27, alive, beautiful and fragile. It will help me to remember that things are not always as they seem...