As a young boy, when browsing through a San Francisco tourist shop that sold celebrity biography books, I asked my father to purchase the book on the rack with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. I’m not sure if my admiration for her started that day or through watching her movies.
Soon, as a teen, I bought the best seller book by Norman Mailer titled “Marilyn: A Biography.” In reading about her fascinating life and death, I learned that as a young woman, as Norma Jean Baker, she was crowned Castroville, California’s first ever Artichoke Queen. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, we often drove to Monterey, California, each time on the way passing Castroville and the sign reading “Castroville: The Artichoke Center of the World.” It was a small reminder, but it made Marilyn a little bit more of a “real” person.
Watching her movies, it’s easy to see why she has millions of fans throughout the world and remains an iconic figure to this day. As a young man, early on in my career while traveling on business, I had an opportunity to meet a woman who strikingly resembled Marilyn. Of course, there are and have been many celebrity impersonators of her, but this woman really looked the part. One of my most interesting tales about Marilyn happened when visiting my father’s mother in-law who lived in Westwood, California.
Already in town on business, I drove over one afternoon to say hello. While there, she said she needed to go shopping for groceries, so I volunteered to take her. After, she asked if I admired Marilyn Monroe, having heard through the grapevine that I did. She said she had a surprise for me and told me to drive in this direction then that until we arrived at a small, very private and quiet cemetery. It was Westwood Village Memorial Park where Marilyn’s crypt was located. There was no one there that day. As we walked, we passed over the famed Natalie Wood’s gravesite then soon we were at Marilyn’s crypt. The roses that ex Joe DiMaggio used to send her were no longer there. There were plenty of red lipstick kisses though left by fans. Wow! The whole iconic Marilyn image suddenly changed.
Ever since that visit, Marilyn has been more of a real person to me, not just an iconic image. Still, that iconic Marilyn image appears everywhere. On a trip to Hollywood, I was photographed with another look-alike. This time an “I Love Lucy” Lucille Ball impersonator was in the picture as well. On another Hollywood visit, despite not being a collector of all things Marilyn, I bought an original print from one of Marilyn’s last photo shoots. In the photo, taken on a beach in Santa Monica by photographer George Barris, she is wrapped in a white hoodie sweater.
Later, on vacation in San Diego, I visited the famed Hotel Del Coronado made famous as the site where Marilyn filmed one the all time great movies “Some Like It Hot” The film ranks No. 1 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 best comedies. Inside on one of the walls, there is a photograph of Marilyn standing on Coronado Beach just outside the hotel. It’s an image of Marilyn smiling, seemingly happy. It’s the way I remember her, the real Marilyn Monroe.