From “Album of Marilyn Monroe”

The deadline for the Monroe book began to loom over our office, seemingly blocking out the light of day. At last her intermediary said she would see me, without fail, on Wednesday afternoon at two. On Wednesday morning, my agent telephoned to say that she was having lunch with my editor that day, expected an answer about my novel, and would telephone me after lunch. I explained to her that I would be incommunicado with an author of my own. I asked her to telephone my wife and give her the news. I would call home as soon as I could. I alerted Laura to the plan.

That afternoon, at five to two, I was in the lobby of the Waldorf Towers with a dummy copy of the book. I gave the concierge my name and asked for Miss Monroe. He rang. There was no answer. I knew that she went almost daily to classes at the Actors Studio, and I asked if she had gone out. He said he had seen her go out that morning but his lunch-hour relief had seen her come home a while ago.

I sat and waited fifteen minutes. I asked him to ring again. This time she answered and said she would see me soon. Another fifteen minutes. Another half hour. I clutched the dummy book wetly. Two anvils pressed on me. I had to see her today, had to. I also wanted to telephone Laura for the news that might be waiting. There was no pay phone in the lobby, and I didn’t dare go to look for one because in the interim, however brief, Monroe might call down and be cross if I weren’t there, or she might go out. I sat, under my two pressures, on broken glass.

At half-past three, an hour and a half after our appointment, she called down to say that she would see me. I hoped that she had been busy, but no one came down in the elevator, and no one was waiting on her floor when I arrived.

I rang the doorbell, and she opened almost at once, blonde and glowing. Also barefoot. She looked as if she had just showered. She was wearing a white terry-cloth robe, tightly belted. The top billowed out just a bit. I wondered if this was to compensate me for my wait. She said nothing about the wait. She just took my hand and drew me inside. At the touch of her hand, my resentment vanished.

It was a two-room suite. This was the living room, and through the open door, I could see the bedroom. I was there on business, of course, but I couldn’t help realizing that I was alone in a hotel room with the current sex goddess of the wide, wide world. She was in a bathrobe and barefoot.

But there was another part of my mind. After greetings had been exchanged, the first thing I had said, alone with the globe’s Aphrodite, was, “May I please telephone my wife?”

She replied, in that breathy voice that had whispered into every male ear on earth, “Sure.” Almost with childish pride, she said, “I have two phones. One here and one in there.”

I said I would go inside so that I wouldn’t disturb her. It would take only a moment, I promised.

I went inside and telephoned Laura. “Guess where I am,” I said.

“Where?”

“I’m in Marilyn Monroe’s bedroom, sitting on her bed.”

“Oh, come on,” said Laura impatiently.

The news from home was good. I went back into the living room, and when my hostess offered me a drink, I felt like having a little whiskey, unusual for me at that time of day. She had an assortment of bottles on the table, and she served me. She drank bottled water. We sat together on a sofa, and I felt trebly incandescent, being with her, knowing my private good news, and the whiskey. I took up the book. I showed her the foreword, and I turned the glassine-envelope pages. She nodded and said, “Mm-hm.” When I finished, she said she wanted a few days to think about it. I supposed she wanted to consult someone. Of course, I said, but I mentioned the deadline. We made an appointment for Friday at three. Sam Shaw would be there.

On Friday I was ushered up promptly. Shaw was alone in the living room. He explained that Marilyn was at the Actors Studio and was due back at any moment. He said that Marilyn loved the book but had a few ideas. I said I was anxious to get them, to get anything, so that I could send the book off.

Very soon she came in from her acting class. This time she was not the world’s goddess. She wore a sweatshirt and slacks. There was a bit of belly. The knees were slightly knocked. Her hair looked tired, as if it were exhausted by all that had been done to it through the years, as if it were taking a day off. The best thing about her appearance was that she didn’t seem to care about our seeing her like that, off duty.

She was pleasant again, and in a few moments she settled down with me on the sofa, with Shaw seated on a hassock facing us. She held the dummy book, and she turned the pages studiously. For some reason, I got the image of a high school senior turning the pages of her yearbook, even though all the pictures were of herself.

She came to an inserted slip of paper, marking a place. I had included a picture of her sunk back in an easy chair, looking tired after a long day on the set. She said she didn’t like it. I said I had wanted to show that filmmaking is hard work.

She shook her head. “When people look at me, they want to see a star.” I said the picture would come out. …

I asked her for a souvenir, a signed photo. Shaw pulled out a publicity still from The Seven Year Itch, a famous shot. She sits on the arm of a gaily striped sofa, wearing a white pantsuit with a wide-collared shirt and tight trousers, holding a drink, her left leg extended, her white, high-heeled, wide-strapped shoe pointing. She is smiling toward the left of the picture. She looks perfect. Like a star.

Shaw gave her a pen, and she asked him what she should write. He told her. She picked up a piece of paper and practiced the inscription. “Thank you, Mr. Stanley Kauffmann, for your sensitive insight. Love and kisses.” Then she wrote it on the photo and signed it.

It is hanging on the wall in front of me right now.

I visited her once more. A week or so after the book had gone into production, I was told that she wanted to see me. I went over, was shown up promptly, and found the living room crowded with agents’ underlings and advisers on makeup and hair. She was inside with still another hairdresser, I was told, being readied for an appearance at a huge conference in the Waldorf later that afternoon.

About twenty minutes later, one of the makeup women rose to go inside. I asked her to tell Miss Monroe that, as requested, I was here. After a few minutes, the makeup woman opened the bedroom door and beckoned to me. I went to the doorway. Monroe was seated before her dressing-table mirror, lavishly gowned, her hair fluffily but carefully arranged. People were around her. She saw me in the mirror and waved at me as someone did something to her dress. I waved back.

The woman next to me smiled at me and closed the door.

I suppose Monroe had wanted something or other when she sent for me. I’ll never know what it was. But at that very moment, in that split second, I promised myself that someday I would write about our encounter. The wave in the mirror, quick, almost apologetic, settled the manner.

The paperbound book came out called Marilyn Monroe as the Girl, which was the only name given to her role in The Seven Year Itch. The book didn’t sell particularly well.

Our excuse to ourselves in the office was that people could pick it up at a bookshop or at a newsstand, flip through it, and put it back. We had another excuse: people may have been looking for girlie pictures of Monroe. The book was neither a girlie book nor a substantial book.

Time passed. At the end of 1955 I left publishing. Laura and I went to Europe for something over a year. We were in London for about six months at the same time that Monroe was there making a film, but I didn’t see her. I made no attempt. We returned to New York. I went back into publishing. I wrote another novel. I left publishing and never wrote another novel. I concluded that there was a kink in my head that tied novel-writing with editing.

In August 1962 came the news of Monroe’s death. Oddly, a few people, who had seen my signed photograph, called me up to console me. That response would have been a bit grand, I assured them. Still, I felt my own stab of sadness. I remembered our two talks, especially the first afternoon when, though she didn’t know it, she shared some good news with me. I saw again the wave in the mirror, like an escaped prisoner who had been recaptured.

There was a touch of pity, too. I remembered how she had kept me waiting in the lobby, and I saw it differently now. She had been getting a child’s revenge on a world that had abused, then used her. Now revenge had run out.

By Stanley Kauffmann